Monday, January 07, 2008

Don't touch me there!: The politics of co-ed wrestling

Since I get so many hits from people looking for information on female wrestlers and because this story is just rife with issues about gender and sexuality, I couldn't pass up commenting on it. This article in the Press-Telegram out of Long Beach, CA came out at the very end of last month and I actually read it while at my family's on Christmas Day. Some discussion ensued.

It's no secret that women and girls are are entering the sport in ever increasing numbers. And it's no secret that this has created much consternation. [Again, I recommend highly the documentary Girl Wrestler as a good example of the issues faced by young girls who want to participate in the sport.] But even with growing participants there is just not enough critical mass yet to have girls' teams (though some colleges are starting women's wrestling teams). So high school teams are going co-ed.
And given that wrestling matches are organized by weight categories, the concept of girls wrestling boys should not be all that disturbing. Our Christmas Day discussion included the concept of upper body strength. But if that were really the main concern, disparate muscle strength, then there would not be so many people (parents, boy wrestlers) ever so concerned about a boy losing to a girl.
No the main concern, the one that came out in my family's conversation and in the article, is the touching. There's the "skin to skin contact" and the various holds in places where boys and girls are not supposed to touch--allegedly. In any other situation a girl should be offended, one coach says, that a boy would grab her crotch. Well, I would think that boys grabbing other boys' crotches would also be cause for offense.
It's so very interesting that we live in such a homophobic society and yet no one seems to even pause at the idea of boys grabbing each other in their "private parts." Wrestling is one of the most homoerotic sports out there. But it's all okay because it's a sport and all the touching is in pursuit of a greater goal: winning (and thus proving manhood). It's legitimate male touching in an all-male world. And the presence of women and girls disrupts and calls attention to that.

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