In 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.