You may have heard of the latest tempest in a teacup last week, in which a girl won a match at the Iowa state wrestling championships for the first time ever. Cassy Herkelman won her opening match in the 112-lb. division by forfeit, because her scheduled opponent, Joel Northrup, refused to wrestle her.
Northrup said his strong religious faith led him to his choice. His father told the Des Moines Register, “We believe in the elevation and respect of women, and we don’t think that wrestling a woman is the right thing to do. Body slamming and takedowns — full contact sport is not how to do that.”
And everybody, right down to Cassy Herkelman and her father, have talked endlessly since the event about how you have to respect the boy for standing by his convictions.
To which I say: Bullshit.
Standing by your convictions is, to my mind, only worthy and admirable if your convictions are worth standing by. Nobody says, “Well, say what you will about Hitler, but the guy was really standing up for what he believed in.” Yes, I’m that guy, but understand that I’m not actually saying Northrup is in any way, shape or form like Hitler, just trying to point out the ludicrous nature of the argument.
Refusing to wrestle a girl who wants to wrestle, who is a capable and confident enough wrestler to have qualified for the state tournament, who is standing in the ring, ready to go, is not treating women with respect. Quite the opposite, in fact.
A Register blogger tells us, “Chivalry is not dead, at least not on the wrestling mat.” Chivalry is an outmoded, archaic idea, one that ought to go off to wherever most of its contemporaries – feudalism, burning “witches” at the stake, that sort of thing – have gone to die. This is 2011, not 1311 or even 1911.
Respect for women doesn’t mean treating them like delicate flowers who will wilt in the noonday sun and who must not be allowed to engage in any act any more physically strenuous than spinning or embroidery. Respect for women means treating them like they’re capable of thinking for themselves and deciding for themselves what it is they want to do. Respect for women means treating them like equals, not like pets or children.
In other words, Joel Northrup was being deeply and profoundly disrespectful of women all while couching his act in terms of respect for women. I don’t admire that. I don’t think it’s great that he “stood up for what he believes.” I think it was a shitty thing to do to a girl who ought to get to decide for herself what is or is not proper respectful treatment.
“But,” some say, “wrestling is a contact sport and boys shouldn’t have to touch girls in that way!” Okay, then explain why it’s okay for boys to grapple and pin and body slam one another in such a way, but not okay for a boy to do that to a girl. Or, for that matter, for a girl to do that to a boy. After all, Herkelman had a season record of 20-13 going into the tournament, and she had qualified for State, so it’s not as if she’s not capable of giving as good as she gets.
Look, if the kid’s just plain uncomfortable wrestling a girl, that’s okay. He gets to make his own decisions just as much as she does. But don’t let’s pretend that he did something noble or admirable by forfeiting the match, and certainly don’t let’s say, “He did it out of respect for women.” That kind of “chivalry,” that kind of “respect” for women is the same kind that meant that women didn’t get to vote in national elections in the United States until 1920. It’s the same kind of “respect” that leads to a depressing number of men today believing that women don’t own their own bodies and don’t get to make their own decisions about sex, reproduction and reproductive health care.
And that’s no kind of respect at all.