Female Iraqi Wrestlers Face Hardcore Opposition

Girls on Iraq’s first all-female wrestling team in Diwaniya are being threatened and ostracized because people believe their participation in this sport is a “transgression” and could lead to promiscuity, loss of femininity or worse. Four girls have already quit out of fear, and I’m not surprised. One sexist tribesman said those who continue to wrestle should be “slaughtered.”Some of the female wrestlers said they are picked on and cursed out in public. A mother with five girls on the team started getting threats on her cell phone even though the girls’ practice is the most P.C. thing ever. A woman watches over the girls while they work out and a lot of them even wear head coverings. Upon leaving the wrestling gym, everyone is dressed head-to-toe in traditional garb. [NY Times]

But before you go cursing out the sexist and tyrannical nature of the Middle East, I gotta tell you, things are bad here too. As a female boxer, I face sexist comments and frustration every day. True, I’m not getting threatened on my cell phone nor am I ostracized at school. But all I’m saying is, for a country that has supposedly come so far, women who deviate from the norm are still treated badly.

The boxing gym where I work out is full of old men, most of whom hit on me as soon as I walk through the door. I have a pretty high tolerance for this sort of thing because I live in New York City, where every construction worker’s second job is to say something dirty whenever a girl walks by. But some of the men, who I see every day and are two, if not three times, my age say very inappropriate things to me. A few of them get in my personal space and make me uncomfortable. It’s worse than being called out on the street because, again, I see these guys every day. I have played other sports, and this sort of thing definitely happens less. I think it’s because the male-dominated nature of sports like boxing and wrestling makes men feel more confident and powerful.

I have also been told that I’m “too pretty to box” and that I should leave fighting to the “ugly, dykey” girls. On that particular occasion, I was rendered speechless, because the man managed to disparage women and lesbians in the same sentence. To make matters worse, female boxers are often fetishized, especially when they are fighting. And, honestly, I’m not surprised. Many female fighters just, well, suck. It is a well-known fact that a lot of male trainers won’t train girls and some of those that do purposely keep them from getting very good. I am lucky that my trainer treats me as an equal.

I hope that the women in Iraq continue to wrestle. I truly believe that seemingly small dissenting actions like forming a wrestling team make a bigger difference than any amount of diplomacy, talks and conferences ever can.

Kick ass, girls!