Boys vs Girls

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Joel Northrup.  He’s a home-schooled Iowa wrestler who qualified for State with the Linn-Mar Wrestling Team.  When he got to his first round, he discovered he was paired with Cassey Herkelman of Cedar Falls.  Cassey and fellow wrestler Megan Black are the only two girls to qualify for State since its inception in 1926.

When Joel discovered that he was slated to wrestle Cassey, he “defaulted” on his match – he gave it up and took a loss – rather than wrestle her.  In a written statement, he said:

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa.”

Herkelman and her family support his decision, and in their response, they were gracious: “It’s nice to get the first win and have her be on the way to the medal round. I sincerely respect the decision of the Northrup family especially since it was made on the biggest stage in wrestling. I have heard nothing but good things about the Northrup family and hope Joel does very well the remainder of the tourney.”

Grace, on both sides.  But it brings up an issue that I wrestle with, a couple times a week.

Josh is in Tae Kwon Do.  There are at least two girls in his class, one is just one belt under him, and one is a beginner.  He’s a “low green”, which is still in the beginner-ish ranks.  But here’s my moral dilemma.  I generally teach him that he does not raise his hand to a girl.  But then he gets into the “ring” in class, and he’s paired with a girl for sparring!

So the other side of me says, “well, she put herself there, she knows how to defend herself, so he shouldn’t hold back.”  And, from a girl’s perspective, I would not want my male opponent to hold back – for two reasons.  One, I placed myself there as his equal, regardless the ‘equipment’ I have on my natural person.  Two, I am in a martial arts class, in part, to learn self-defense.  If I can’t trust my male partner to give me his best shots in the ring – a guy that I trust because we train together, and I know won’t hurt me, but knows my moves and counter-moves – how can I be sure that, when the time comes to really defend myself, like on the street when I’m being mugged, that I can?

So, the moral dilemma endures.  How do I teach Josh, a 7-year-old boy who doesn’t really understand nuance yet, the difference between sparring with a girl in the ring, and not hitting a girl on the playground when she lands a swing on him?

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7 Responses to Boys vs Girls

  1. SKL says:

    Hmm. I do think there is a difference between TKD and playground scraps. When you are doing martial arts, it’s your job to engage with the opponent, trusting that the instructor matched you up properly. It’s not a “down and dirty” sport like some. It’s not even really violence. Maybe talk about the difference between a sport and “violence,” which is what I call it when kids swing at each other when they aren’t supposed to, focusing more on hurting / bullying versus honing/testing a skill while respecting your opponent.

    It’s like when you go to the doctor, he/she might touch you or look under your shirt, but if you were both anywhere else, that would be totally outrageous. Now in some countries, they don’t allow male doctors to treat females, but I don’t think we need to take the “respect” thing that far.

    I took a karate class for a while as an adult. It was a mixed class and I had no problem going up against the guys. There were some things I could do far better than they could (roundhouse kick, anyone?). Other things I sucked at, but oh well. Nobody was going to get hurt, and if anyone did, it would be because of distraction or making a mistake, not because someone had more brute force than someone else.

    I agree with you about the HS wrestling match, though, for a few reasons. One, wrestling is probably more dangerous / likely to cause pain. Two, some of the moves could involve touching body parts that boys & girls shouldn’t be touching on each other, and it’s unfair to expect them to ignore the sexual / embarrassing aspects at that age (plus there was at least one case where a girl sued for being touched “that way” during wrestling). Third, they were at an age where the gender differences in strength were significant, which is not the case with Josh. I feel that it was inevitable that the girl’s opponents would either forfeit or take it easy on her, meaning her matches could not have been fair overall. They should have had a girls’ competition and a boys’ competition.

  2. Joy says:

    What’s so funny about this story is my mom asked me what I thought of it when I was with her last week. She heard it on the radio and I didn’t. I came and was going to write a post but I was so glad I looked in our queue first so I saw that Laura had beat me to it. BTW, it’s still all over the news here. Everyone seems to have an opinion on it. I didn’t see it be my mom said they talked about it on The View and The Talk yesterday.

    I don’t see a high school wrestling team the same as martial arts. In my head, I never connected the two of them. I think martial arts is more in trying to keep control and stay above the ” fight.” I think it’s more about self control. I know kids who take classes try and “beat” each other but isn’t most of it about inner peace? I took a few karate classes as self defense lessons but we were never supposed to use it as a weapon. We were taught to be calm and stay focused and it was more about not fighting.

    Now, to me, wrestling is trying to pin someone down so they can’t move. The object is to do that. To get one persons shoulders down for a certain amount of time. This is the problem I have with boys and girls wrestling.

    You can say what you want about the same weight and basically the same body types but boys and girls are different and wrestling is a one on one sport. My boys have played ball with girls. They each had a girl on their teams back in the day but to me, that’s different. They weren’t trying to pin the girl down and basically try and grope her and and do whatever it took to hold them there not letting them move. In a “team” sport, you’re all for one and one for all. In wrestling, you want to beat your person. It doesn’t really have much to do with being on a team. It’s more personal.

    I’ve heard a bunch of stuff on this. Probably because it’s so close to us but my take is that we teach boys not to hit girls and to respect them. I did anyway. I tried to get them to realize that girls are special. Call me a chauvinist but I had them let girls go first and to open a door and to be a gentleman. Now was all my teaching thrown out the window?

    I don’t think boys and girls should wrestle. I don’t care if I’m sexist or not. We try and teach our boys this stuff and you know as well as I do that there’s always that one girl who either wants to buck the system or just wants attention. The girl that Toby played ball with didn’t deserve to be on the team but she made it because her brother was on the team and the coach almost had to take her. Her dad wanted her to play. She didn’t want to play with boys and she took a lot of guff. Now the girl Jason played with was a damn good ball player and she did deserve to play so yes, there are all kinds but I do think a lot of girls who choose to do stuff like this are attention seeking or her parents are really pushing because the parents want to relive something. I may be rambling but do you know what I mean? Some parents force this kind of thing. This girls dad thought it was great that the boy forfeited and she “won.” She didn’t “win.” The boy backed down. I think her dad is the force behind this girl. I’m not even sure she wants to be doing this.

    I just feel bad for the boys. We try and teach them to be gentlemen and to be respectful of girls and then we name call him when he has a problem pinning her to the mat and holding her there. I’m going to bang my head against the wall.

    • SKL says:

      I agree that the parents are probably pushing this and that they are conveniently forgetting that her gain is another kid’s loss – and not in the way the sport intends. I read that she lost badly when a boy did wrestle her the next day. Who knows whether she got to her level by having most boys take it easy on her or forfeit? It just doesn’t sit well with me.

      One commenter on another site pointed out that this whole “equality” thing is always one way. They don’t let men play on the women’s basketball team, do they? Why not? Well, because they obviously would have an unfair advantage. Yet women think they should be able to play on a guy’s team and we’re supposed to ignore gender differences in that case. Somewhere the logic just isn’t there.

  3. Nikki says:

    Oh gosh, so many different ways to look at this. On one hand, these girls thought of themselves as equals and it’s not fair to the boys to not treat them as equals. But that does go against what most parents teach their sons. I know Bailey would never wrestle or fight a girl in a competitive sport. It goes against everything he knows. It’s not that he thinks they are weak, but he knows you don’t treat females in this manner. In a ring, or elsewhere. He played football last year, and there was a girl on the opposing team. He had to cover her, and he hated it! He wasn’t aggressive with her, even though his coach came out and said, “she thinks she’s tough enough to play with the boys, don’t hold back.” That’s not in his nature.

    I have no problem with girls doing karate or wrestling, but I think they should have their own bracket. Especially with wrestling, where you really use your strength. And that is just because we can’t expect boys to do their best, give their all. And that isn’t fair. Wrong or right, that’s just the facts of it.

  4. Sue says:

    It’s a ‘touchy’ subject isn’t it?! I don’t think it’s comfortable for anyone involved, but at the same time, they are putting themselves in that situation so you have to treat them like you’d treat any opponent. I would much rather have my son spar with a girl in Tae Kwon Do than wrestle her. Boys hands should not be those places on girls! Sorry! I also don’t think that the girl wrestler ‘won’ that match, but I am glad to see how gracious both sides were about the situation.

  5. Phyllis says:

    There is a huge difference between martial arts and wrestling. Martial arts are basically about skill, control and self-defense. With kids, it’s easier to match the skill level and technique during the match. I don’t believe girls belong on a boys wrestling team, at all…ever! If girls want to wrestle they should have a girls wrestling team. Even though I’m a product of the 50’s-60, I still believe that girls and boys shouldn’t compete on the same teams in combative sports. It’s a conumdrum. However, I seriously question the thinking of her parents. Surely they’re aware of the serious accidents that occur during contact sports. My brother was on his high school wrestling team. One boy smacked his head so hard during a take down that he had a neurological for the rest of his life. Another had a concussion. My brother ended up in traction. This was boys against boys! Are her parents aware of the damage that could be done to their daughter? Or are they figuring (rightly it seems) that the boys will hold back? Can’t always count on that! Another thing is this, I’ve noticed, with people I’ve come in contact with, that a lot of these girls feel justified in being abusive to the boys/men in their lives as they age. It often seems like they feel they have a license to inflict harm because they now consider themselves equal to or better than the boys/men. There are a lot of abusive younger women in the world nowadays and it’s sad as well as frightening if you are raising boys, teaching them to protect, and respect women. What a world!

  6. Laura says:

    I’m pretty much standing by my thinking in what I wrote… I tell Josh to go all out when he’s at TKD practice, even against the girls, because they’re pretty evenly matched, they’re both completely “armored up” (pads EVERYWHERE, even more than in the picture), and because of the “from the girl’s point of view” thing that I outlined. It’s fair that they both wail on each other equally.

    But another thought occurred to me, in regards to the wrestling, after I wrote this. What about from the boy’s point of view, especially in the higher ranks of wrestling. What happens when the girl beats the boy? Even if they both gave all, it was a fair match, etc., it’s always going to be “aww, you lost to a GIRL!!” And if he wins, it’s “yeah, but you just beat a girl, it’s no biggie. ANYONE could beat a GIRL.” Politically Correct or not, there is no way that guy could salvage his rep.

    So, on the wrestling front, I agree. And I’ll just keep walking the ‘nuanced line’ with Josh, telling him to give all in the ring, and go into ‘knight mode’ outside of it.

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