Gym classes neglect gender equality

Freshman gym is fenced off between the sexes – girls in one class, guys in the other. But the curricula are not the same.

The gym units split with a glaring and troubling irony that has gone completely unexamined: Is it okay that while the girls learn self-defense, the boys learn wrestling?

Putting aside that all people regardless of gender could benefit from self-defense skills, ignoring the fact that wrestling is a worthwhile sport with successful leagues for either sex, completely disregarding that separating gym units based on students’ anatomy seems outdated to begin with, there is a greater problem that needs to be examined.

The issue? For two weeks during Freshman gym, as the boys are encouraged to attack, the girls must learn to defend. But unfortunately, the girls’ scenarios aren’t for fun.

It’s a tough pill for a freshman girl to swallow when gym teachers tell her the world is full of “Robber-Rapist-Muggers” and this unit might save her life. The scary part is, they’re right. Though all people can be victims of sexual assault, the overwhelming majority of them are women.

According to the Rape Crisis Center, one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Among all rape victims, nine out of ten are women.

The gym unit split, on face value, makes sense. Wrestling is an aggressive sport, with a rich ‘gentlemanly’ history – so of course boys should learn it. On flip side, in response to violence against women, the Physical Education Dept. is doing what it can to teach girls how to defend themselves in likely assault scenarios.

But they can do even more. The answer to sexual violence isn’t giving some of the potential victims a shield. Real prevention means complete education – girls can’t be the only ones learning about the horrific reality of sexual violence. Both sexes must know how to stop it before it starts.

A possible remedy: an additional unit. For one week, freshman classes should be brought together in a co-ed space to discuss serious issues teenagers face. Issues like sexual harassment, gender roles, sex, relationships, and most importantly, consent – a hazy but hyper-relevant topic for all teens.

This “Let’s Talk” week is far from a complete solution, but it’s a start. It’s necessary for students to have a space to hash out these taboo issues. These topics must be addressed as early as possible, Freshman year at the latest. No, we can’t “just wait to have these conversations” until Sophomore Health. These issues have gone unexamined for too long.

For just a week, let’s talk openly about consent, about harassment and abuse. Let’s talk about the boxes we’re sorted into based on what’s in our pants. It’s about time someone raised their hand and asked the Physical Education Dept., “So really, ETHS, why do the girls learn self defense while the boys learn wrestling?” It’s time we acknowledge the split.