The Nation's Pulse

Groping for God and Country — and School

Is chivalry dead in high school wrestling and the U.S. military?

By 4.11.07

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My son attends an all-boy high school, as did I. One of the joys of that experience is the camaraderie shared by a rambunctious band of brothers before the inevitable attractions of the opposite sex dissolve the bonds that bind them together.

That said, it is imperative for young men to learn to respect women in the person of their mothers, sisters, and the women or girls they encounter in their day-to-day lives. This requires that a respectful, chivalrous attitude be inculcated in young boys or men during their formative years. In this way they come to appreciate the complementary natures and roles that men and women bring to their interactions in life up to and including marriage for those who choose that vocation.

My idealistic view of these matters ran upon the hard rock of reality when my son joined the wrestling team. We were soon confronted with the possibility that he might have to wrestle girls from other schools who participate in the same program with their male counterparts. Evidently, this is not uncommon in many of the programs in the area. My son's school may not be able to participate in some wrestling tournaments in the future.

As a recovering lawyer, I have some knowledge of the claims for sexual discrimination that could be brought because of hostile work environments created by male superiors, or their employees, predicated upon offensive words or actions -- groping, for instance. One basic rule is: "Hands off." Various Hollywood fantasies notwithstanding, these cases overwhelmingly involve men preying on women.

As for high school grappling, an athletic program that allows, nay, encourages, the manhandling of young women by young men, and vice versa, is one indicator of a culture in a very bad way. I am under no illusion that the young ladies cannot handle themselves, at least to the extent of avoiding injury or even embarrassment on the mats. On any given day a particular girl can beat a particular boy depending on relative skill, strength, speed, and the like.

What is troubling is the enforced physical contact between an adolescent boy and girl. It presumes a familiarity between the sexes far in advance of their years, not too mention their single state in life. Throwing a half nelson on someone, or pinning to the mat, a person of the opposite sex is not the way to encourage respect for that opponent's unique and complementary sexuality -- a respect that is essential to a harmonious marriage and family.

To put it another way, wrestling is not ballroom dancing which would be the ideal way to introduce young people to the opposite sex in an active, physical, yet relaxed manner, allowing for conversation and social interaction.

SADLY, THE MILITARY IS ANOTHER place where the concept of social space or respectful distance between the sexes is being obliterated in the tilt toward gender equality at the expense of a complementary, even chivalrous attitude towards women. Hand-to-hand combat training between men and women is now fairly routine in the Army whether it is between men and women, married or unmarried. Again, behavior very akin to groping is routine. In this case, it is government sanctioned and mandated.

Of course, an intrepid soldier, male or female, might resist or somehow deflect the orders of the drill instructor. But it is a brave soul, indeed, who would refuse what would have to be described as a lawful order.

Slate's on-line "Explainer" recently addressed the question, "Do Female Soldiers Get Any Privacy? How the army separates its men and women."

The Explainer, a/k/a Michelle Tsai, noted that claims of sexual assault in the military rose 24 percent in 2006, and that nearly half of all assaults in the Army take place in barracks. She went on to ask, "Given these dangers, how much privacy do women get when they're deployed in the Middle East?"

Not much evidently. In Kuwait, while awaiting deployment to Iraq, male and female soldiers are expected to sleep cot to cot under large tents that house 50 to 60 people. Women usually curtain off a single-sex section with sheets and ponchos, but this kind of "self-segregation carries the risk of alienating women from their platoon, depriving them of Army chatter, or making them seem as though they need special treatment."

"Women tend to get a little more privacy in Iraq," claims the Explainer. She goes on to say that groups of two and three share bunk beds in small barracks rooms, and women are housed in one part of the building. But the locks on the doors do not always work. "To ward off sexual assaults in the barracks, female soldiers below the rank of sergeant follow a buddy system at all times -- for getting around the base during the day as well as for making bathroom visits in the middle of the night." To be sure, all soldiers are supposed to practice the buddy system, but the Explainer's sources appear to put special emphasis on it from the perspective of the female soldiers for obvious reasons.

The circumstances described by the Explainer ring true. Gender equality, as currently misunderstood, diminishes respect between the sexes and their regard for the each other's unique, embodied personhood.

This trend is even more pronounced in the context of active combat roles for women, especially those with children, as highlighted by the recent capture of Royal Navy Acting Leading Seaman [sic] Faye Turney by Iranian pirates. In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, occasioned by this incident involving a mother of a young child on active duty in a hot zone, Kathleen Parker observed that "our military is gradually weaning men of their intuitive inclination to protect women..."

A RECENT LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL to bring back the military draft, for women as well as men, generated very little comment. While there may be a lot of reasons why America may never see a draft again, it is noteworthy that a congressman would include women in his proposal without a second thought.

The Air Force also has issues pertaining to decorum between the sexes. A few years back an officer working in missile silos underground, overnight, sharing close, confined accommodations with female officers, sought a "religious accommodation" because he viewed it as an inappropriate situation for a married man. Initially, he was able to obtain alternative scheduling until feminists suspected sexism, resulting in an extended controversy.

Daniel P. Moloney described this case in "Sex and the Married Missiler," in First Things (February 2000). Space does not allow for a full description of the Kafkaesque experience of this officer, but Moloney's opening sentence captures his dilemma quite nicely:

"At Minot Air Force base in Minot, North Dakota, a wife kisses her husband goodbye knowing that he will be spending the night alone in close quarters with a fit, talented professional woman officer."

These days it can be difficult to be both an officer and a gentleman.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.