I recently found out about this story from October, in which Pennsylvania’s Catholic hierarchy decided to take a brave stand against the perceived scourge of male/female high school wrestling:
“The diocese therefore believes that it is incompatible with its religious mission and with its efforts to teach Gospel values to condone competitions between young men and women in sports that involve substantial and potentially immodest physical contact,” said Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg in a letter to students.
Given the nature of this blog, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I don’t believe that male/female wrestling is immodest. I’ve been doing marital arts of various sorts for almost twenty years, and sparring or working self-defense techniques with someone of the opposite sex is a given. This can include anything from punching and blocking drills to executing throws and holds that require total body contact. Believe me, when you’re being tossed or choked in a martial arts setting, sex is not going to be on the radar, because your first priority is getting your opponent out of your personal space or off your body. The strength differential between the sexes doesn’t really come in the martial arts environment because you’re supposed to be exercising control anyway, unless you’re in a full contact tournament or something like that. I think it’s good for female students in particular to practice with men, so that if they should ever find themselves in a self-defense situation, the idea of having to hold their own against a male attacker won’t seem quite so foreign.
Many of the people who object to mixed sex wrestling also object to women wrestling women because it is perceived to be “unfeminine.” For example, the article indicates that while girls are prohibited from playing on boys’ tackle football and rugby teams in diocesan schools, a Catholic boys’ football or rugby team would not have to forfeit if they played an opposing team with a female member, whereas a Catholic boys’ wrestling team in the same situation must forfeit. Why the difference in policies between these sports? The only reason I can think of is that religious conservatives, with their belief in rigid gender roles, take more offense at girls who wrestle than girls who tackle.
I have noticed that religious conservatives have a real problem with the idea of women fighting, whether in war or in competitive martial arts. These days there are so many female soldiers who are getting blown up and killed just like the men, so they can’t explicitly state their disapproval without coming off as disrespectful to the military they claim to revere, but it’s definitely there. On the martial arts side of thing, I recall a poster of the traditionalist persuasion on the “Catholic Answers Forum” who was obsessed with female MMA fighters, and claimed that this was a particularly egregious affront to God. He also didn’t approve of women doing sports of any type, since it would be a “stumbling block” for any men present. Because everything a woman does should be judged by how it affects men, am I right? [/sarcasm] (I find this blanket condemnation of female athletes to be particularly ironic, since conservotrads men will carp nonstop about “evil feminists” who use birth control, yet are the first to complain about women who “let themselves go.” I guess conservotrad women are supposed to pray away the pregnancy weight, since exercise is off-limits.)
Fears over the supposedly immodest nature of male/female wrestling seem to stem more from a dislike of the idea of women who fight than concerns about possibly inflaming young adult hormones; the modesty issue seems to me to be a red herring. The fact that the thousands of mixed sex martial arts classes that occur every day in this country don’t degenerate into orgies is proof that male/female wrestling competitions won’t become dry humping spectacles. Besides, given how most girls are socialized in this country, I don’t think that male/female wrestling matches are going to be a common sight, at least not for the foreseeable future. Personally, I think everyone should learn the basics of some kind of combat art, if only for self-defense purposes, but I’m probably in the minority on this issue.