Wrestling has traditionally been a men's sport. During the original Greek Olympic games, women could be put to death just for watching the competition. During the latter half of the 20th century, however, women began to compete in high school and college wrestling. Co-ed matches are now a normal part of the sport.
Women have participated in wrestling since the 1970s, but the practice has expanded significantly since 1990. In 1987, only nine countries participated in the first women's wrestling championship - as opposed to over 100 in regular men's wrestling. By 2004, the number of countries with women wrestlers had grown to 41. In 2004, about 3500 U.S. girls participated in high school wrestling. The number for boys in that year was 250,000.
In many districts, a woman who wrestles takes her place among the men on her team and is expected to wrestle against men of the same weight. However, with the growing popularity of wrestling among women, Texas and other states have begun fielding women's wrestling teams that compete in parallel to the men's squad. Some tournaments also offer a women's division that is resolved separately from the men's. Unfortunately, as of 2010, Oregon wrestling coach Andy Brick notes that the women's divisions are not taken as seriously as the men's by the press or by college scouts.
Physiological differences between men and women put men at an advantage in wrestling. This is largely due to body composition. One secondary gender characteristic is that men tend to have a higher percentage of body muscle as opposed to fat, and an average woman has 7 to 10 percent more fat than men. Wrestling is classed by weight. This means a 130-pound man wrestling a 130-pound woman could have 10 or more pounds of extra muscle. However, these differences tend to develop during the late teens and early twenties, meaning that junior high and high school women wrestle at a smaller disadvantage.
Sexualization of women in wrestling takes two forms. The first is the sportsmanship factor. Wrestling involves intense body-to-body contact, including moves that target the chest and groin. Although some sexual harassment is reported each year, many women find this works to their advantage. Their opponents are often reticent to use some effective moves because they require contact that would make them uncomfortable. The second is in adult career options. Although men can make an adult career wrestling, adult female wrestling is dominated by the pornography industry. There are legitimate opportunities for female wrestlers - most notably in mixed martial arts - but they are substantially fewer than those for men.
- PBS Independent Lens: Girl Wrestler
- Andy Brick; Wrestling Coach; Hillsboro, OR