“Those don’t look like women, they look like football players.”
“They are football players. They’re also all women.”
“Yeah but they move just like male football players.”
That’s how the conversation started. We were way out in middle of nowhere Brooklyn having just attended my brother’s Rugby Match. It was an exciting game with a last second score to send his team through to the championship tournament; the kind of play that sent everyone (myself included) sprinting down the sidelines with the team as a fortuitous bounce sprang a breakaway to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. After a celebratory sideline beer we came upon two women football teams warming up for a game. Jogging as a group in the distance, the local team looked small and slow compared to the strong and sleek ladies from Pittsburgh casually tossing the pigskin in front of us. They didn’t look like men, they looked like athletes. They looked awesome.
So when conversation turned from, “that’s awesome” to “I hated watching girls wrestle boys when your brother was in high school” I was unprepared. The physiological differences between men and women are well documented but they are hardly reason enough to automatically assume an unfair advantage. My mind races back to this story (Rick Reilly. Killin’ it.) about a highly touted Iowa wrestler who chose to forfeit his first state tournament match rather than wrestle a girl. This girl, one of the first two to qualify for states (she went 20-13 pre-tournament) wasn’t some attention seeking hormonal kid hoping to rub naughty bits with boys or some hyper-feminist trying to make a point; she was there to compete having proven that she could.
The conversation shifted rapidly from “boys and girls are different” to “girls playing softball was made okay by girls playing baseball” to “baseball is not the same as wrestling” to “competition is competition” to “boys shouldn’t be encouraged to pin girls to the ground.” Who are you protecting by saying girls can’t wrestle boys? The boy who spent years learning techniques to throw and hold another person to the ground but wouldn’t have become a rapist if he hadn’t been allowed to practice on a girl that one time? Be serious. If you’re protecting the girl who says “yes I can wrestle a boy, let me at him” well I’m sorry but that’s not your job.
“Society: 3a: an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another” – Merriam-Webster.
Society tells girls they shouldn’t place themselves in combat situations. It tells boys to protect girls because they are less capable of protecting themselves. It also tolerates rape culture. Society told me not to take dance class when I was a kid. I must have been seven or eight years old when my mother asked me if I wanted to. I totally did but something told me that dance class is for girls so I said no. The same mother who now has a problem with girls wrestling boys actually tried to encourage me at the time by citing examples of other boys who were taking dance; it didn’t matter. I was too scared to get made fun of for being weak.
Which, compared to my classmates at the time, I totally was. Aside from my natural string-bean frame, being born in April meant I was a full 8 months younger than some of the kids I was comparing myself with. That’s nothing now (you should see some of those guys as adults) but when you’re eight years old, six months is 1/16th of your entire life. Those guys were better in many ways because they were just bigger and stronger than me. It’s an unfair model of comparison that leads to disparity in opportunities for skill development (check out Malcolm Gladwell’s awesome book, Outliers for more on this) but it’s also just life.
Come to think of it… this may be why I know so many sports-hating artists who are born between March and July… curious…
The decision not to take dance is one of those “what if” regrets we all become so familiar with as we get older. After singing in choir since I was three years old and hurling my “look at me and like me or else” attitude at the theater I was a solid double-threat in the high-school musicals. If I had that dance training, would I have pursued a musical theater degree? Heck, would I have been less afraid of the weight room and found myself playing sports? The answer to those questions is a solid, “maybe” but part of growing up is realizing you like who you’ve become instead.
Based on my casual observations it came as no surprise to learn that the Pittsburgh Passion dominated the New York Sharks in that football game 35-0. In spite of this lopsided result there is still a large part of me that would have loved to stay and watch to support the continued demolition of masculine/feminine requirements in our society. Instead, I hustled my butt home so I could make sure dinner was prepared for my girlfriend who was coming off a long day at work.