Wrestling with Gender Norms

A Look Into Being Female in a Male Dominated Sport


Photo courtesy of Erika Peterson

Fighting for dominance on the mat, sophomore Kylee Foulds competes in one of many wrestling tournaments in 2021. This year’s wrestling season will start in early November with the first tournament over Thanksgiving break. “I’m really excited for this season,“ Foulds said. “I’m expecting this season to be more challenging physically because of how short last season was because of COVID-19. It’s going to be tough to have to make weight for several months, and having several matches a week, but I’m glad that we have a full season this year.”

Isa Morgan, Reporter

Pacing on the side of the mat with music blasting through her headphones, pulling up the straps to her singlet, clicking on her headgear and anticipating her next match, junior Erika Peterson goes through her normal warm-up routine as she prepares to have all eyes on her when she steps onto the mat as one of only six girls on the school’s wrestling team.

“I’ve always had the same warm-up routine because I think that it’s important to remind yourself when it’s go time,” Peterson said. “Everyone has their own style of warmup; it differs [among people].”

With wrestling season officially starting in November, and a tournament held over Thanksgiving break, the team is starting to practice three times a week for about three hours. This year, there are around 30 male members and six female members on the team. According to Peterson, this is good growth from the 2019-20 season, when there were only two girls on the team. Even with the lack of girls on the team, the social division between the boys and girls is said to not be too drastic, according to Peterson.

Sophomore Kylee Foulds, who has been on the wrestling team since freshman year, explained that the girls typically keep to themselves because they are more comfortable with each other. Foulds said she wants to get more comfortable with the boys on the team in the near future to help build a better bond with the team and to get feedback from both sides to strengthen their skills.

“It’s just hard because a lot of the guys have been wrestling for their whole lives,” Foulds said. “Wrestling really isn’t a sport that people just kind of decide they want to do; it’s mainly things that they have been doing their whole lives. So it’s kind of hard because they’re a lot better.”

During tournaments and competitions, the members of the team are separated by weight and girls don’t wrestle boys. Instead, girls are put up against girls in their weight bracket in order to eliminate any advantages an opponent might have.

“I would rather not be wrestling people who are 40 pounds heavier than me because that’s not fair,” Foulds said. “It goes both ways; people that are smaller than me wouldn’t want to be wrestling me either.”

However, at school, the girls are partnered up with boys close to their weight bracket to practice and learn skills and techniques. While receiving feedback from their male teammates is helpful to the girls on the team, they would rather not compete against them because of their very different styles of wrestling, according to Peterson.

“Since guys are built with a lot more muscle usually and upper body that’s usually more how they wrestle,” Peterson said. “Not that they don’t have good technique, just they like to use their muscle a lot more with it and I think that girls have to use their flexibility and technique to their advantage.”

This is also one of the first times some of the boys on the team will be working alongside girls. After a shortened season due to COVID-19 restrictions in the spring, the team is trying their best to mix the wrestlers up and include everyone in order to make the best out of every practice, according to junior Matthew Sauers.

“We have this system called the sibling system where the seniors are taking on a freshman and we’re teaching them the basics of wrestling and lifting and kind of taking them under our wing,” Sauers said.

According to Sauers, the boys on the team agree that incorporating girls helps open them up to new opportunities and strategies of wrestling they can learn from. This overall gives them an advantage which helps with making the team the best it can be.

I think that a big part of it is that the girls kind of separate themselves because it’s intimidating being on a team with all guys. But the guys are good teammates and leaders and friends to us and they never put us down for being girls or anything.

— Erika Peterson

“The mix [of boys and girls on the team] is fine because when you [include girls on the team] it brings more people to the sport and it makes it more open,” Sauers said. “Wrestling is a very hard sport, the more people you bring into the sport, the better it is.”

While working with the boys on their team to build their skills, the girls also admit that connecting with them on a social level would also help build the relationship of the team. The only thing stopping them is their fear of stereotypes, according to Peterson.

“I think that a big part of it is that the girls kind of separate themselves because it’s intimidating being on a team with all guys,” Peterson said. “But the guys are good teammates and leaders and friends to us and they never put us down for being girls or anything.”

Even with the differences between wrestling styles and techniques the team is still able to meet in the middle to make sure that everyone is included and no one feels left out. According to Peterson, the boys on the team make sure to put aside their differences and focus on being a supportive team in order to make the best of their team.

“[The boys] wrestle so differently from girls [that] I have to wrestle in a different kind of way than guys have to,” Peterson said. “But they’re a really good [and supportive] team [and] anytime I’m on the mat, they’re on the side of it cheering me on.”

Anyone who is interested in joining the wrestling team can reach out to head coach, Andrew Peterson at [email protected].