In my son’s first wrestling tournament, he was dominant. His preparation and good coaching were evident, as he pinned every opponent and won every match — that is, with one exception: a forfeiture.
The brackets were established by dividing the wrestlers on the basis of weight and age, with even some consideration given to experience. But one criterion considered inconsequential or nonexistent was that of biological sex. So, when my son was assigned to wrestle a girl, he forfeited the match. My wife and I had determined this course of action before the occasion arose. Even though, in the moment, my heart was inclined just to let him wrestle her, I gently explained to my young and highly competitive son why the nobler course of action was forfeiture.
Since that time, I have been burdened to explain my rationale to other brothers and sisters who might be facing some of the same pressures. In a world that is very confused regarding gender, sex, athletics, and fairness, I want to share the reasons I gave my son for why boys don’t wrestle against girls. Ultimately, it’s not because we think less of girls or their ability — it’s because we are committed to a way of life that honors women and seeks to develop reflexes of protection rather than dominance.
Because Boys and Girls Are Different
Though controversial these days, the truth that boys and girls are different is on the very first pages of Genesis, and that assumption runs throughout the Bible. Yes, boys and girls are equally made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and equally in need of salvation in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23–25; Galatians 3:28). That equality, however, does not erase the fundamental created distinctions between boys and girls.
I don’t think most parents who allow their girls to wrestle boys have erased the idea of sexual differences in their minds. They know that girls are different from boys. But some parents seem to have subtly bought into and thus propagated the modern lie that “you can be anything that you want to be.” Against this claim, we assert, “In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
Because Boys Should Relate Differently to Girls
Scripture and biology make the physical differences between boys and girls obvious. Less obvious — and sometimes less convenient — are the distinct ways we should relate to one another as a consequence of our sex. Some Christians acknowledge the seemingly undeniable differences between boys and girls, but then they hesitate to extend those distinctions into actions and relationships. While it might raise the ire of many, I am teaching my son (and my daughters) that God created them to relate differently to the opposite sex.
At the wrestling meet, another father shared the advice he gave to his son in preparation for wrestling a girl: “Son, you can’t treat her like a girl. You’ve got to think of her like a boy, and go out there and be aggressive.” I don’t think this father was operating from ill will or a deliberate attempt to deny distinctions of sex, but his advice illustrates the problem of confusing those distinctions. He counseled his son to act contrary to reality, as if the girl were someone she is not. He counseled his son to unthink his right understanding of sex distinctions.
As Christians, we know that male and female are more than just a box checked on a birth certificate or marriage license. In God’s wisdom, he created differences of sex to be relational in nature, helping us to interact with one another rightly. But what are some of those distinctions in relationships?
Because Boys Should Honor and Protect Girls
A commonly implied and often explicit command in Scripture is for men to honor and protect women in their spheres, beginning with the family (Ephesians 5:25–33) and extending to the nation (Joshua 1:14). Abraham’s cowardice is on display when he exploits his wife rather than protecting her. To some degree, his sin of deception pales in comparison to his abandonment of protection. Shockingly, Isaac repeats this abandonment a generation later. In contrast, the men of Israel march off to war to protect their nation and families. It would have been unthinkable for them to send their wives, sisters, and daughters into battle.
“When we deny the distinctions between boys and girls, we exploit rather than protect women.”
The disposition to protect is both ingrained and nurtured in our sons’ minds and actions. They need our help to cultivate the mature manhood that calls them to prize and honor the women they encounter. When we deny the distinctions between boys and girls, we exploit rather than protect women.
Many people today wave the yellow flag that acknowledging any difference between boys and girls will lead to girls being mistreated and oppressed. The assumption is that acknowledging differences undermines equality. On the contrary, I am teaching my son that a boy’s physical strength is not for dominating a girl, but rather for protecting her. In fact, this emphasis seems truly countercultural in an environment rampant with abuse: one’s strength is for elevating, not suppressing, others.
Wrestling with Objections
When I went to the scorer’s table to report that my son would be forfeiting the match, I anticipated some anger and frustration. What surprised me was the surprise. Those at the table were puzzled, as if they thought, Haven’t we moved beyond that? Then the objections started flowing.
But they are prepubescent kids.
My argument is not primarily about sexual arousal, although that would strengthen my position as kids mature. My argument is about a fundamental created distinction and a biblical call to treat women with dignity and honor. The need to instill appropriate patterns of relationship does not begin at puberty, although it does become more obvious at that stage.
What about other sports?
The position I’m describing does have implications for other sports, but perhaps we could recognize a few clear distinctions. There is a difference between the physical dominance expressed in wrestling and racing someone to the finish line in track. The expression of physical dominance and the danger to the other contestant are not present in track. So I might not object as strongly to some co-ed athletics.
But your son is the one who loses, not you.
“My goal is to train my son to stand with conviction, even when it’s costly.”
It is true and regrettable that my son is the one who has the loss on his record, and his peers might look at him differently. But my goal is to train my son to stand with conviction, even when it’s costly. While he’s still in our home, I can gently shepherd, comfort, and train him for the larger sacrifices that will inevitably come his way.
Prizing Honor Over Victory
I do not intend to come across as judgmental toward parents who would allow their girls to wrestle boys or their boys to wrestle girls. I simply want to call us all to live in light of Scripture. As Christian parents, we cannot affirm the erosion of distinctions between boys and girls. We must not teach our daughters that it is normal to be subdued by a boy, nor teach our boys that it is normal to subdue a girl.
Rather, we should affirm God’s good purposes by teaching that he created humans in his image, either male or female, and his design has implications for how we relate to one another. I think most parents who register their girls to wrestle boys are acting with a genuine desire for their girls’ good, but they have a flawed and misguided sense of good. In that sense, their actions and consciences need to be recalibrated in line with biblical authority.
So, what might we say to our sons for why boys don’t wrestle girls? “We don’t wrestle girls because God calls men to honor and protect women, and I am raising you to be a man. Yes, it will cost you to act with conviction. And I am so thankful that I get to walk alongside you as you grow into manhood.”