Updated: Apr 30, 2020
“Wrestling with Identity: An Exploration of Female Wreslers’ Perceptions”
Written by: Macro, E., Viveiros, J., & Cipriano, N. (2009)
The study explores female freestyle wrestlers’ experiences related to identity, body consciousness, (hetero) sexuality, and (conventional) femininity, and the perceptions of females participating in a traditionally male-dominated sport. Data was collected from questionnaires distributed to 47 high school, university, and club female wrestlers and from in-depth interviews with eight university wrestlers. Based on the findings, the researchers suggest that female wrestlers are comfortable with their body; that public perception concerning their sexuality and femininity is not an issue of concern for them; and that they do not experience gender-role conflict nor engage in the female apologetic. The results are of particular interest because they differ from what other studies have concluded regarding the experiences of women in (traditionally male-dominated sports).
One of my favorite studies (above) looks at how these college level female wrestlers feel about their bodies. I love this article because it suggests, in 2009, that women are already feeling a sense of physical comfort within themselves in the world of male sport. Now remember, this was a time when women’s MMA was on the rise. There were more women joining high school wrestling teams than ever before. I believe this made it more acceptable to join such a sport.
It also gives me hope that these young women in my interviews from my own research (Cecchine, Mireles-Rios 2019) will gain this sense of self that Oyserman (2011) refers too in her studies. I have interviewed over 100 high school female wrestlers with the lens of gender identity and development. I am interested as a researcher why these young women are attracted to the sport of wrestling and what in the sport makes them stay, and what do they gain from it, both short and long term. In my own research I have found that wrestling helps women at a young age to find a sense identity acceptability, they are learning to be strong in who they are, and they are growing with their female teammates in ways that are empowering. Some athletes I have interviewed however do not express the same feelings when talking about their experiences in the sport.
The study reported a total of 125 excerpts from 40 different participants (73%) where the young women felt like they did not have an adequate female space. There were three different ways that female space was categorized: The first was positive feelings of acceptance in the male space (6 out of 78, 7%), followed by limited access to space such as weight rooms and schedules (21 out of 63, 33%), and lastly, a lack of body space and respect where the females felt “pushed out” by their peers (34 out of 63, 53%). With regards to positive feelings of acceptance in male space, two students mentioned in their interviews their positive experience. They stated,
It’s nice to be able to know that being a female and still being able to have that opportunity to participate in the male dominated sport... and being accepted by my team and my coaches...is good in a sense that no one really tried to shut me out or push me down... and they’re all really supportive so that’s always helpful for my self-confidence. (AGHS001)
I think in this generation the gap is kind of closing because they have our own--I think the gap between women and men sports is kind of closing we are kind of more equally—we have our—girls have their own wrestling teams and we can just do all the sports guys can do (NHS014)
The primary goal of programming is to create an empowering experience for all female wrestlers, despite their environment .
Dr. Cecchine, 2020
1. Cecchine, T. (2019). Female Wrestlers: Grappling the Head Locks of Oppression (Doctoral dissertation, UC Santa Barbara).
2. Macro, E., Viveiros, J., & Cipriano, N. (2009). Wrestling with Identity: An Exploration of Female Wreslers’ Perceptions. Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, 18(1), 42-53.