Grappling with Girls? Piper Says, “Just Say NO”

illustration-_wrestling_oubw3In the April 11th edition of WORLD magazine (a bi-weekly publication that contains news and commentary written from a Christian point of view), John Piper gives his views on the inclusion of girls in high school wrestling tournaments.

Piper, a Reformed Baptist theologian, preacher, and author of numerous books on missions, Christian world-view, and God’s sovereignty, urges fathers to make a stand, saying to their sons, “Over my dead body are you going to wrestle a girl.” Such a refusal, Piper says, represents a “bigger, noble vision of what it is to be a man. Men don’t fight against women. They fight for women.” He says of high school student Elissa Reinsma‘s participation as the first female to compete in Minnesota’s high-school wrestling tournament, “Some cultures spend a thousand years unlearning the brutality of men toward women. This is an odd way to make history. Relive prehistory maybe.” He alludes to Jesus’ description of women as “the weaker vessel.”

I’m afraid that while I respect Piper, and tend to agree that girls and boys shouldn’t be wrestling each other, I have to say, this argument just doesn’t ring true for me.

Before going any further, I must admit that I’m not a big wrestling fan; I’ve only attended one wrestling match, in which there were no girls involved. My son is not a wrestler (though I’ve seen him wrestle his sister plenty of times). I’m not really “up” on high school wrestling culture (I’m probably more acquainted with WWE/WWF type stuff, mostly from Project Runway’s Ring Divas” episode and the well done steroids documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster, which is something, but not much).

What I am acquainted with are countless movies and TV programs of my childhood, where girls showed no physical prowess whatsoever. More often than not, they’d end up on the ground, rubbing the ankles they’d just twisted. Or they’d complain of breaking a nail. Or they’d be on their knees, groping for their glasses. Or, heaven help us, they’d have no power, control, or say whatsoever in the man-heavy victim scenarios that the writers/producers had dreamed up. I don’t think that participation in wrestling is necessarily the answer to gender equality, but I do think that Piper’s idea of “manly gentleness” can certainly foster the kind of wrong-headed, helpless female caricatures with which we’re all so familiar.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think that coed high school wrestling encourages the brutality against women that Piper suggests it does—at least not in a sportsmanlike, supervised environment. And maybe I’m naïve, but last time I looked, there were plenty of men and women competing against each other in business, conducting military exercises side by side, plowing through crisis and tragedy together in government service, civilian roles, and their private lives. There are also boys and girls all over the world smacking tennis balls at each other, engaging in hard-core academic competition, and, yes, working together in constructive, community-enriching service projects. Do these sorts of things do nothing to offset the fears that Piper has articulated?

I don’t think that girls should be in the wrestling ring because, darn it, it’s just sexually inappropriate. Then again, so are non-married actors in a steamy love scene, I suppose. Adults are one thing…but, then again, perhaps they’re not. Food for thought…and a topic for another day.

Yes, boys should be willing to “lay their lives down to protect girls,” as should any Christian to lay down his (or her) life for a friend (or for the cause of the Gospel), but women have been put at a disadvantage for too long in the name of protection (think, among other examples, of the Taliban‘s oppressive, misogynistic rule in Afghanistan). I don’t think that coed wrestling is going to cripple boys’ attitudes toward women, just like it alone probably won’t cripple their attitudes toward other boys. By all means, we should take a stand against girls in the ring, and a stand for boys growing into men—but let’s at least do it for the right reasons.



  1. Lorraine said,

    April 7, 2009 at 5:30 am

    At the very least these girls are learning some holds/grips (what are they called?) that could maybe come in handy one day!
    I think the gender thing is about the human thing – if we could just treat everyone with respect, wouldn’t it be a great world to celebrate life and laughter in?

  2. scheirmad said,

    April 7, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Good one on the holds joke! Thanks for the laugh!

    Yes, respect. I’m reading a book right now called “Love and Respect,” about husbands and wives respective (no pun intended) needs. The book suggests that what women want most is love and what men want most is respect; I agree that this tends to be true, but I think that everyone needs at least a little bit of both.

  3. Shelby said,

    December 10, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Hi, I am, right now, on my schools wrestling team. Yes, I am a girl. Though I may not have the upper body strength of most of the boys I wrestle, I am still pretty good. Even though I respect that chivalry is not dead, the thought that a girl cant use a grambi or a russian arm throw on sombody her own size is now false. We may have a longer way to go, but we can rub some faces into the mat like any other guys. By the way: any sexual moves thought of during a match can leave your opponents window open enough for a double leg or a half nelson.

    • scheirmad said,

      December 10, 2009 at 10:33 pm

      Hey there, Shelby! Thanks for the comment!

      Good for you for being on the team. I actually went to an all women’s high school in the pre-co-ed wrestling era, so this isn’t an area that I know about firsthand. It’s interesting to hear about it from someone who’s doing it. My impression is that the capable, competitive, and committed among us don’t have much that distracts them from their goals, whether wrestling or not. And I think that their capable and committed competitors, for the most part, respect them for their accomplishments. Has that been your experience?

      By the way, how’s your season going?

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