Wrestling With the Gender Issue

By Sasha Newton ’16 and Bella Oliva ’16

Recently, there have been many dynamic conversations surrounding gender in wrestling— a co-ed sport at PA. Many of these conversations are centered around inequality among genders in such a physically demanding and aggressive sport. From Assistant Coach and former wrestler Kassie Archambault’s perspective, there don’t appear to be any differences between a male and female wrestlers experiences. However, from a current wrestler Isabella Oliva’s perspective, we hear a more nuanced side of the story. Though both sides agree that there are not drastic differences between genders on the team, Oliva argues that there are a few discrepancies in how wrestlers are treated based on their gender.

During practices there are not major differences in how males and females train and run drills. Wrestling is a co-ed sport, and JV and varsity practice together.  There is almost no difference at all in drills, except that female wrestlers on the team sometimes learn modified moves in anticipation of increased upper body strength in male wrestlers. However, in Oliva’s opinion, some of the coaches do not pay as close attention to the females on the team. “It’s not like if you ask them a question they won’t answer. They make their rounds to critique athletes during a drill,” she reports, “but they tend to critique boys more females. They’ll call a last name, for example ‘Henderson, do this,’ but usually it’s a guy’s last name.” These small differences have an even greater impact when coupled with the hierarchical structure among the athletes on the team.

Unfortunately, according to Oliva, this past season the feeling among the wrestlers became even more exclusive of females. This dynamic was a result of many factors, one of which was what Oliva calls the “bro circle,” a dynamic in which the guys on the team form a tightly knit circle which is hard to “infiltrate” except with certain males, who are more inclusive. This forms a sense of exclusion for everyone else, because they are not able to form close bonds with their teammates, making it difficult to feel like an equally important part of the team. This feeling was perpetuated at the end of the season, when there was a call to clap for all females on the team. Oliva was disheartened to report that many of the boys did not clap in congratulation of the female wrestlers on team. Since female and wrestlers participated in every practice side by side, female wrestlers were left feeling like they did not get the recognition they deserved.

One of the biggest challenges in the sport for females who wrestle seems to be the modifier: female wrestler. It is difficult to be a female in the wrestling world because the dichotomy is so polarized that males often see females as if they were in a different class of wrestler — so much so that sometimes males even refuse to wrestle females in matches. Archambault also wrestled during her four years as an Andover student. She reflects on her experience as an Andover wrestler that some of the biggest challenges “came from other teams — wrestlers thought Andover put a female on the varsity team to make a statement. My teammates stood up for me and told anyone who doubted why I was there that I was a hard worker and that I had to beat two boys for that position.” Still more challenging for Archambault was the fact people would refuse to wrestle her based on her gender. They would forfeit the match, making her feel discouraged. As a lower on the Varsity Wrestling Team, people recognized her as a serious wrestler only after she placed 2nd at the Class A league tournament. She recalls that success: “When I returned upper year, more and more people just saw me as another wrestler and I received fewer and fewer forfeits.” Though the dynamic seems to slowly be changing from what it was during Archambault’s PA wrestling career, females on the Andover Wrestling Team still continue to face challenges. While Archambault knows there are challenges to face as a female in a male-dominated sport, she hopes that more females will join so that this traditionally male dominated sport can take a step in the right direction toward a more equal playing field — or, should we say, mat.

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