Fifty years after Congress opened the door to women’s sports by passing Title IX of the 1972 educational amendments, my home state of Nebraska officially sanctioned girls’ high school wrestling. The sport has surged in popularity, and is now the fastest-growing high-school sport in the country. SHE WRESTLES documents the lives and experience of girls who choose to wrestle – from farms, cities, Native American reservations and immigrant families across Nebraska. A former wrestler myself, I’m not making this film just because I love wrestling (though I do); nor because I’m passionate about equality (though I am). I’m also making this film because girls’ wrestling troubles society’s assumptions about female bodies, their athletic desires, and the intimate, consensual aggression of wrestling.
Wrestling was long understood to be a violent or aggressive sport – which is to say: a boys’ sport. As it traces how this assumption is being overturned, She Wrestles will show that wrestling is a great girls’ sport too. But even beyond sport, wrestling is a struggle – and in Spanish (the first language of many Nebraskan wrestlers) the word luchar signifies both. This film focuses on female wrestlers and wrestling but also “la lucha de la vida” – the struggle of life. As we see what these young women are wrestling with in life, their struggles on the mat take on metaphoric significance. In the words of one wrestler, “Wrestling is a way of coping with certain obstacles – like school, family, or depression – that we can’t always escape.”