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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Let male and female compete together

The abolition of gender categories in sport:  a sound argument?

As a follow up to my earlier post (see below), I am currently reading a book called "Genetic technology and sport: ethical questions".  And Chapter 15 of this book is titled "The genetic design of a new Amazon".

Below is an excerpt from that chapter.  I'm rewriting it, word for word, to build on what I wrote about in my earlier post regarding Caster Semenya.  I'd love some debate, and I know you would too!

"We have argued that it (gender categories in sport) should be abolished.  Women and men should compete against one another on equal terms on sports arenas.  The reasons for giving up sexual discrimination within sports, and for allowing individuals of both sexes to compete with each other is simple.  In sports it is crucial that the best person wins.  The sexual differences are simply irrelevant.  If a female athlete can perform better than a male athlete, this female athlete should be allowed to compete with, and beat, the male athlete.  If she cannot beat a certain male athlete, so be it.  If the competition was fair, she should be able to face the fact that he was more talented.  It is really as simple as that.  Sexual discrimination within sports does not have any better rationale than sexual discrimination in any other fields of our lives". - Tamburrin and Tannsjo, Genetic technology and sport
Your thoughts?  Let's throw that open to women everywhere and get their take on it, I'd love to hear.  One thing that strikes me is that we spend a lot of time "telling" and not enough "listening", so I'd love to hear an objective view on the above paragraph.

The debate - can women compete against men in athletic events?

The reason I make this point again, is that this scenario is invited by allowing Caster Semenya to compete as a female on the grounds that she may have a "natural" physiological advantage as a result of an intersex condition.  I'd love your thoughts - mine are expressed at the end of my previous post.

But, I would hope that the implications of this on the results from the next hundred years of competition would be obvious to everyone - no female athlete makes the top 500 of any athletic, swimming event each year, and so the chance that "a female athlete will perform better than a male athlete" at the top level of competition (Olympic Games) is basically zero.

The counter-points debated

But there's more to say on this.  The chapter continues to say the following, and this time, I've put my immediate thought in maroon alongside each argument, which I've put in italics:

"Many arguments have been readily called forth in objection to our proposal. Here are some of them:

  1. Sexual discrimination within sports is no different that the use of, say, different weight classes in certain sports, intended to make the result less predictable. We use sexual discrimination because we seek, to use Warren Fraleigh's term, "the sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome". Comments on this one below... 
  2. If women and men compete, and women defeat men, then this will cause violent responses from men. So we had better retain the discrimination. This point is, sadly, a possibility. But it's not grounds for eliminating discrimination. Fortunately, perhaps, it would never happen in athletics at the top level. 
  3. If we give up sexual discrimination in sports, then probably all women will find, because on average they perform poorly in comparison with men, that they are always defeated by some men. This will be discouraging for women in general and female athletes in particular.   This is exactly the point, except the authors of this piece haven't recognized that it's not a question of "average", but rather that the best female is more than 10% behind the best male - 12 minutes in a marathon (and 20 for most of the top women at the moment), more than 1 second in a 100m race, more than 1 meter in the long jump. These are massive differences, but more on this below.
"The first argument is mistaken. When we discriminate in some sports such as wrestling between different weight-classes, this has to do with the fact that weight is a decisive factor in wrestling, that directly affects the outcome of the competition. But there exist no sports where sex is a decisive factor in that sense: sex is only indirectly related to the outcome of a sports contest."

This is only partly true. Yes, sex is only "indirectly" responsible for the outcome. But it's influence is so large, according to my analysis, that the outcome would all but be decided by it. To repeat (apologies for repetition), the very best women in history do not make the top 500 performances in track and field athletics PER YEAR. In swimming, it may be narrower, but consider that Michael Phelps is a full 26 seconds ahead of the women's world record holder in a 400m medley and you get the idea.   

The result in athletics and swimming is too strongly influenced by sex for the ethical position argued here to hold. I would argue, for example, that a wrestler in the lighter weight division is MORE likely to have a chance of beating a heavyweight than the very best woman has of beating the very best man. Some may disagree.

Perhaps freed of "discrimination", women would narrow this gap.  This is what Tamburrini and Tannsjo argue.  But to leap up from outside the top 500 to challenging even the top 100 - physiologically, that's a stretch of the imagination.  

Tamburrini and Tannsjo, incidentally, continue to argue that in the face of the statistical evidence that no woman will outperform the best men (which they do eventually acknowledge), there should be genetic engineering to help women catch up with men, and that where possible, this should be desirable.  In otherwords, women should seek out genetic engineering to be able to remain competitive in sport!  I'm not sure what to make of this...


I'm going to leave it at that, and invite debate.  I can imagine I may face some hostile emails, and that's OK.  I believe the evidence speaks loudly enough, and I'd encourage people to look into it - look back at historical performances and ask where the women champions would finish in the men's events, and it should become clear.

The reality is that separation of male and female categories, while termed "sexual discrimination" by these ethicists, is actually fundamental to equality of sport.  To apply this to the case of Caster Semenya, what it means is that our categorization of males and females, as flawed and suspect as it may be, demands that the line be defended.  Or removed altogether, and then above is the situation.  But to commit only halfway and permit participation when the gender line is blurred (and seriously, how often does this happen?) is neither here nor there, and damaging for the sport, and the other female athletes in the event.

Physiologically, there is simply too much to overcome.  And I don't believe that's a bad thing.



Anonymous said...

Isn't the reality that women's sport is regarded as the "B" division anyway with the best women earning a fraction of what the best men earn (golf being the most obvious example)? Isn't part of the reason for this that we know in our hearts that the women, although very good, are not the best athletes in any particular sport in the world: Somehow it doesn't count because there are people out there doing it a lot better. Women's sport is merely a curiosity?

Nick said...

It may be argued that gender discrimination is necessary in sports where strength and endurance play a role.

But how can it be justified in sports where skill and strategy are the deciding factors? Sports such as snooker, pool, darts, bowls and curling still discriminate along gender lines as far as I know.

Even chess has a separate ranking for women! But then again the fact that there is only one woman among the Top 100 players in the world (Judit Polgar of Hungary, at #51) may have something to do with it.

Interestingly, motor sport does not seem to discriminate between the genders.

Boz said...

"Tamburrini and Tannsjo, incidentally, continue to argue that in the face of the statistical evidence that no woman will outperform the best men (which they do eventually acknowledge), there should be genetic engineering to help women catch up with men, and that where possible, this should be desirable. In otherwords, women should seek out genetic engineering to be able to remain competitive in sport! I'm not sure what to make of this..."


Leaving aside the health implications, this is gender discrimination in disguise.

If only women are allowed to use gene doping, it is discrimination.

If all competitiors are allowed to gene dope, the situation will be unchanged (women always losing).

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Anonymous

I don't see it as a "B" division. To me, it's a different division, but just as good. It doesn't necessarily mean the performances are any less worthy of reward or praise.

I hear your point on the money, and I think that historically, that has been part of the reason. But I think that women deserve just as much, because they put the same time and effort in, and have reached the same relative level as the best males. Provided they compete with one another, I think they deserve the same reward.

What I will say, and this agrees partly with you, is that the depth of competition in women's sport is lower. You see this in marathons, where you find 15 men together at world record pace, but usually only one, maybe two women.

That is something that I hope changes over time, it would make women's sport more entertaining to watch. But to say that it's a curiosity, I don't agree.

Watching the best women is every bit as rewarding and enjoyable as the best men - apart from Bolt at the Olympics, for example, I think that Dibaba and Defar were the best athletes to watch, it was a highlight.

To Nick:

Agreed, I was speaking specifically about those sports like track and field. I perhaps should have clarified this better in the post. But you're 100% right - sports where skill is a decider don't need separation. I can't understand why curling is separated, and thought as much earlier this year. We also got an email earlier this year that ski-jumping was completely excluded from the Olympics for women, which is just as ridiculous, because the best women actually outperform many of the best women.

I can't explain why few women rank in the top 100 for chess - perhaps this is social and cultural, and it should change.

To Boz:

Exactly, if genetic engineering is allowed for all, then the gaps still exist. You're 100% right.

Thanks for the discussion so far!


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Oh, and just to add to the response to anonymous:

The other thing I would like to see is that women compete over 5 sets at tennis grand slams, and not 3. I can't see why that would be the case.


bitz said...

I have to take issue with your point (and response) #2. You are feeding the aggressive violent male stereotype, and you are doing it needlessly. Imagine denying a team the chance at the Stanley Cup, simply because last time they lost in the finals there was a massive riot.

The last possible reason we should put forth for winning is that we'd hurt the losers feelings.

Greg Nicholson said...

The gender difference in sports:

MEN: "Great performance!"

WOMEN: "Nice hair, great outfit, good looking! Wonder what she looks like when she's cleaned up? Who won?"

Patrick said...

Gender segregation in sport seems generally unnecessary. I don't have a strong argument against it, but it seems to me if sport were desegregated we would find similar divisions to what currently exists, but there would be the upside of creating semi-pro and amateur coed competitions, which I think would be very interesting. Sort of a half-baked idea, but it's my general impression.

Anonymous said...

I’m a woman and absolutely agree with every point you make here. And I’d be surprised if you received hostile responses – and I’m assuming you’re indicating such responses would come from women. As you accurately point out, the division of men and women in sports that require strenuous physical exertion is not discriminatory in the same way that term is applied elsewhere considering that women are not and can never be as strong or as fast as men. I think all women know this and elite female athletes in athletics, tennis, swimming, etc. would never be in favour of this move – eliminating the boundaries of competition between genders – because that would mean the end of their careers and livelihoods, as a result.
As for the bit about the authors advocating for genetic engineering to help women 'catch up with men' in the sporting arena, that’s just downright bizarre and seems a ludicrous assertion to make in earnest if they expect to be taken seriously on the other points they make.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Bitz:

You've got completely the wrong end of the argument there.

First, point 2 is not mine - it is a direct quote from the book.

Second, my response is to say two things:

First, it's a sad truth that this scenario is possible. I am sure that it could happen. I think you and I actually agree on that point.

Second, it will not happen because women won't beat men, which is precisely the point of this whole post.

I'm not sure what you are trying to say, actually, because nowhere am I supporting any stereotype. I've said it's wrong, but I don't deny that it may happen.

No one wants to deny a team a chance to compete just because of the risk of a riot. But the riot is a real risk. End of story.

I can't follow your logic

Alison said...

I think eliminating the barrier between men and women in sport could actually be discriminatory as it would decimate funding that goes to women's sport and potentially drive women away from competition.

I live the host city of the 2010 Olympics where we have been focussed on all aspects of the games, and we saw very clearly that sport funding is based upon performance or expectation of performance. If women are competing in the same category as men in say swimming where, as you note above, they are nowhere near able to compete then how are they going to be able to get access to funding for training or gain sponsors?

There are other issues aside from funding. Where is the incentive to train if you are unlikely to crack the top 400 in swimming (or other sports) even if you're the fastest woman in the world? Top athletes are driven by the desire to win, not come in 372nd. I believe this would discourage women from competing in high level sports. And what about the loss of of female sports role models? Would we be losing the next generation of female athletes as girls don't have someone like them to look up to?

As a female athlete I'm not comfortable with Tamburrin and Tannsjo's argument.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Alison

Those are really great points, thank you for that. Especially on the funding and role-models. I had not even considered the depth of the argument you've put there.

I can only agree. The possibility that women would close the gap on men (as the authors suggested) would be completely negated by the fact that women's participation in sport would basically end, either due to lack of heroes or lack of funding.

Good points.


Rod said...

The arguments are madness. And the parallels with weight division in combat sports particularly appropriate - it simply makes no sense to create an "open" division when that basically leaves a huge gap. Tyson probably would have knocked JC Chavez or Pacquiao, but nowhere he is a better boxer.

I do think that some of these classifications are somewhat arbitrary, but in most cases they promote more level playing fields, interesting events, and the opportunity for athletes to excel. Otherwise, you could also argue that 800 m track races and 100 m are the same. Or to ban outright swimming styles and let them all race "as fast as they can".

I am especially astonished by the one point recommending "genetic manipulation" for women to compete against men. If I'd done that, I could be in the effing Tour de France.

The "riots" scenario is possible, but it already happens in all men sports when upsets happen. Hooliganism, anyone? So it's not a sport thing, it's a mob thing.

I was a B-level chess player and played with women and male masters sometimes. I strongly think women should attempt to compete with men in an open field in that discipline (chess is not a sport, despite whatever FIDE says), and that the gap between male and female is more on the external factors than internal. The Polgar sisters have been top 10 in the past.

Mark said...

Hi Ross,
For this gender issue, I believe you will have to take your scientist’s hat off. As you have previously pointed out, science already breaks down in defining precisely what separates male from female. Furthermore, to get a proper perspective, one needs to get away from the fairytale that sport is about fair and equal. Sport has probably never been fair and equal. From the beginning of time, sport has been about each competitor trying to be as “unequal” as possible within the rules – to gain as much fair advantage as possible.
Sport is really about entertainment and the business of entertainment. Money has highlighted this fact because good entertainment means big money, for the athlete and for all the activities surrounding the athlete. What the rules do is to try to level the playing fields as far as possible, not to make everyone equal, but to make the outcome of sporting events entertaining and unpredictable. Now and again, a sporting figure comes along who finds an advantage within the rules that results in them being streets ahead of the competition. Some sports tolerate this situation better than others. The more physical sports such as cycling, tennis and athletics seem to revere such an athlete and audiences still find them entertaining because of the manner in which they master the sport and their opposition. Motorsport however is not as tolerant of dominant competitors. Spectators and fellow competitors start having the perception that it is the machinery providing the edge and this quickly kills most of the entertainment value.
When we look at males and females competing against each other, it has to be seen in the light of entertainment and not on strict fairness, equality, or gender. The debate is actually similar to the prize money debate in men’s and women’s tennis. The real issue is not who is better or who has to work harder for the money. The question is: Is the women’s competition as entertaining as the men’s? If so, they deserve equal prize money. Athletics doesn’t have the same issue as tennis because the men and women take part side by side at all the big meetings, but it still boils down to entertainment. It is almost guaranteed that an athletics meeting which comprises only men would not be as well supported as a meeting with men and women competing. Women athletes are entertaining to watch and good to look at and people will pay money for the privilege of seeing them compete. If it becomes an open competition without any gender distinction, the entertainment value will diminish because firstly, no women are going to qualify to compete in the big meetings initially, and even if some did make it eventually, they would necessarily have to look and compete like guys in order to have any chance. This is as good as only having men competing.
In the Caster Semenya case, it similarly boils down to entertainment. Will people be entertained race after race by Semenya demolishing fellow competitors? Even if other women still entered the same event to come second, which I doubt they would, the entertainment value of this is minimal to all but the ANC. The primary reason for this is perception. People are entertained by Bolt streaking away from the opposition in every race because he is perceived as a natural and perfect running specimen who has developed his natural talent to an amazing degree. Semenya on the other hand is perceived in the same way as dominant motorsport competitors are. She is seen as having unfair “machinery”. This seriously diminishes her entertainment value. Regardless of what happens and what medical interventions she undergoes, she unfortunately has no way of removing this perception, except ironically by means of genetic engineering to make her look and act more like a woman. At the end of the day, Caster Semenya’s participation will be determined by her entertainment value and not by fairness or legality.

SteveQ said...

You remind me that in a local (running) race, it was originally female-only until it was pointed out that that was discriminatory. They then had separate events for men and women - it rained during the men's race, but not the women's; proving separate is NEVER equal. Trying to separate the genders never really works and I think that's one reason that female-only leagues in other sports get short shrift.

mcgrathe said...

Jeez, thanks for the facebook update guys, I might have missed this otherwise.
Firstly, I'm gobsmacked at some of the quotes from the authors above, especially their spurious logic when dismissing counter argument 1.
Counter argument 2 is farcical and has never really arisen in any similar previous cases e.g. women getting the vote, getting access to better education and outperforming men in exams. Counter argument 3 is well supported by Ross so I won't bother adding my 2 cents.
Regarding the first point, the authors suggest that sex cannot be considered a direct factor in the same way that weight is a direct factor in the outcome of a contest. To take boxing as an example of a weighted sport, I would argue that weight is not a direct factor, merely a convenient proxy for the physical attributes that do directly affect the outcome - i.e. punching power, reach, speed etc. Given the importance of reach, boxing could just as easily be split along height lines and probably retain its competitiveness. Hence to paraphrase the authors weight is only indirectly related to the outcome of a sports contest.
Similarly, sex is a useful proxy for the physical differences that are clearly directly related to the outcome of a sports contest.

On an aside to that and as a link into my second point, it is interesting to note that some of the top female amateur boxers are perfectly capable of competing with their male counterparts of similar size - probably due to the more technical and less physical nature of amateur ringcraft.
On this I am in complete agreement with Nick that skill and strategy sports should not be split (although there could be an argument made in cue sports for power being an advantage). It isn't that easy to think of mixed sports - motor racing of course, and any equestrian sport. Another interesting consideration is sailing - there is a justifiable divide at dinghy level where strength and weight can be really important, but no divide when theboats get much bigger - there are plenty of competitive mixed crews and a few all female crews and top class female solo sailors.

Finally, I'm not familiar with the authors in this area, so maybe Ross or Jonathon might be able to tell us whether this is a deliberately provocative chapter, given the title of the book, or is it something that is a theme of these authors.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment from Mark.
My thoughts came from a slightly different direction (grass-roots / mass participation sport). Particularly say running where you get age categories, weight categories even (Clydesdale) so everyone has a reason to strive. I suspect that if you abolished by-gender competition it would just creep back eventually, because you'd still have it at the bottom end.

Simon said...

Women can and do compete against men in athletic events; I'm forever getting "chicked" (as they call it here in Boulder) in 5k and 10k road races.

The issue is really one of reward and recognition. As an old git in the male 55-59 age group, I may get my legs torn off by a 40-year-old woman (Colleen De Reuck, Patty Murray - happens all the time)...but I may win my age group and get a shout out and a prize. So.. keep separate ranking and result, but let all races be open to all.

Joe Garland said...

Not on point, but something I found interesting from 1847 re women and athleticism, from Jane Eyre:

"It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."

Laura said...

Greg - That's only the case if you're male. If you're female, it's the other way around! ;)


It's interesting to look at the history of women's running. It piqued my interest in the book 'Marathon Woman' an autobiography by Katherine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon. During her HS career, female track participation was limited to events up to 800 m in length for fear their uterus would fall out. (Yes you read that correctly.) Obviously womens sports have come a long way since then! Remember the women's marathon wasn't even an Olympic event until 1984!!! (That's NINETEEN-84) Women greats in these long distance running events are decades, wait, no, centuries behind men.

That being said, I agree, physiologically it would be more than difficult for women to compete with men.

And the suggestion of allowing women to gene dope????? Bizarre. So if one gender can and another can't, isn't that essentially having all men compete anyway?

As a life-long female competitor I see immense value in womens professional sports. For reasons mentioned here, it's very hard to compare yourself to men's results, even if you can keep up with the local boys. Without these separate categories I think it would be easy for school systems, event directors, and professional ranks to completely shut women out of sport. Young women may not want to start if they have to play with the boys forever, and no young girl would sit at a the Penn Relays or watch the NYC marathon and think, 'Yes, I'm going to do that and win' when there isn't a separate women's competition.

But perhaps that is the ultimate goal of Tamburrini and Tannsjo....I don't know, I didn't read the book.

bitz said...

I guess my logic is in that admitting it is a possibility in that way is in fact admitting that a male athlete would be more likely to become violent if beaten by a female athlete than otherwise. And I disagree. I think violence upon defeat would be equally (un)likely despite the gender of the participants, both victorious and defeated.

I think it might even be less likely in a sport like hockey for there to be a fight between players of differing gender.

While you can say that violence is a possibility, that isn't the end of the story. It is a possibility right now in 'gender segregated' sport and I read your reply to the point as conceding that it would increase.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post! We have a local bike race here in AZ called the Tour de Phoenix. This year they changed the "Platinum" time (reserved spot at the start of their race series) from 3:15 for men, and 3:45 for women to 3:05 for both men & women. Only 9 women out of 1,400 entries beat the new Platinum time. I'm very curious what the feedback is going to be from the women racers in our area! I guess time will tell!

Jen G. said...

As a competitive woman athlete in endurance sports, I don't take any offense. Sure, I do beat a lot of men but even on my best day, I'm not coming close to the best men in my own age division.
How could it be an even playing field when physiologically, my muscle mass and lung volume are so much lower than trained males in the same category?
I wonder if anyone has mentioned Anika Sorenson (sp?) the one female pro golfer to take a crack at one of the men's majors a couple of years ago. She didn't make the cut.

donncha said...

re: swimming, the current (and historical) world rankings are available at swimnews.com.

Women's 100m Free, World No.1: 53.44

Men's 100m Free, No.1: 48:32
Men's 100m Free: No.100: 50:97

So, the fastest woman is still 2.5 seconds behind the 100th placed man.

More importantly, in swimming, countries are only allowed to send two athletes per event, subject to meeting the necessary qualification standard. Women would never qualify for the Olympics, or any other major international meet.

Anonymous said...

'That Craig Mottram - he is the fastest white man over 5000 metres!'. And.. 'Matt Shirvington ran the fastest 100m by a white guy this year!!'.

We could see a whole new range of titles bestowed on female athletes. For example, the "fastest, white, non-male athlete over 100m".

Alison's point was great - sponsorship & funding are crucial to athletes. Denying women a chance to win is not going to drive up participation rates.

Farhad N Kapadia said...

Maybe the marathon will serve as the model of future "equal opportunity" competitions, where it is open to all, but there are catagory prizes, in terms of age, sex (& national vs international)

Anonymous said...

Now my five cents worth of an opinion.

Most of it is already said, like no gender separation would kill female sports, because of funding, competitiveness ... also attractiveness. I mean of course I like watching well trained women competing, but besides that point women sometimes have a completely different approach to the game and that makes it interesting to watch.

But I want to add some points.
1. There are sports where skill is very decisive but even there are too many where an athletic advantage gives you the upper hand, e.g. Golf, there have been cases of HGH abuse because the players finally had the experience but were lacking the strength to drive the ball as far as they could as the have been younger.
I'm not so sure about snooker and darts, since I'm not really familiar with that, but in regard of curling, what makes we wonder is not, that there are female and male competitions but that I've never heard of a mixed competition.

2. One Race, different category prices is bullshit because it distorts the outcome. Sure it is done in Marathons and other mass events but seriously the pro runners at the marathon for example are running two different races in front the hobby runners' race, they all don't interfere with each other. It's just gives the race more attractiveness for more paying starters and realisability for the organisers. But for the mixing of so many levels of competitiveness in the big field has the effect that not necessarily the best in his category wins. That is even less "equal opportunity", it is only feigned.

3. Now I'm gonna say something which probably will make very unpopular to put it mildly.
While everybody accepts that there are differences in the physiology and therefor in the athleticism based on gender, there are also strong evidences that intelligence is also bound to gender and also race. But nobody talks about that because it is not politically correct. Sure, there are exceptions but to get to the mentioned chess example, while I may agree that there is only one female player in the top hundred is due to the circumstances(missing role models, "not for girls"-bullshit, aso) and not enough or none encouragement and I easily can imagine a woman being the no. 1 one day, the top ranks will always be dominated by white man. As the 100m dash is dominated by black man.

4. And a bit NO to any kind of doping. Although I believe there is no clean professional sports anymore, I want at least the impression everything is done against it. Also, their suggestion might mean ruining the lives of those women, see former GDR athletes that got doping without their knowledge.


Gene said...

Why stop with women? How about the disabled and the Para and Special Olympics? Then their's the younger set (if you have any doubt, think gymnastics and ice skating). I thought your putting "sexual discrimination" in quotes at the end was quite appropriate.

This 'ethical' argument from Tamburrin and Tannsjo is strikingly reminiscent of late 19th century 'Social Darwinism.' Need I say more.

The Caster Semenya issue strikes me as only superficially related. It is more in the intersection of gender differences and how they are treated socially in the context of competitive sports (or any other place where they might count).

Sam, Dawg Fan said...

So much.

1) I think it is farcical to have only one race. There do seem to be events where women and men could be far more equal footing so let them competed together (chess, poker, billiards, etc).
2) I played in an under-6 foot basketball league one time. The rule was that you could be 6 feet tall, but not 6 feet 1/8".
3) A reason women do not make as much in sports is that fewer people watch them than their male counterparts with perhaps 2 exceptions: gymnastics and figure skating. Sport is entertainment and much of the revenue is derived from TV, attendance and sponsorship. The latter being tied closely to the first two. A person cannot be compensated just because he/she puts in the same amount of effort.
4) Perhaps this "open" division should also allow anyone to take any drugs they want? (Just make it clear that the competitors are not tested).

Adam said...

On a related but slightly distinct track, this would correct the bizzare situation in Tennis, where at Wimbledon the women are paid far more on a per set basis - an inequality made even more problematic given the practice of forcing broadcasters to purchase the intrinsically less valuable coverage rights for womens' tennis if they wish to show the men - you end up with mens tennis, the real viewing spectacle (ironically, as they're all stronger than women, the tennis is less likely to degenerate to a simple battle of physical strength ala WTA) subsidising women.

Julie said...

In athletic areas, such as track and field, where basic strength and/or capacity in aerobic and anaerobic function are what determine outcomes, women will always be at a natural disadvantage. In which case, this is a pretty silly discussion to be having. I can no more expect a woman to "catch up" to her physically superior male counterparts than I can expect a man to be able to breastfeed, if he only tried harder.

But I agree that in skill-based sports (which I suppose I have trouble defining as "sport": Chess? Darts? Pool? Those strike me more as "games"), consideration of removing gender lines is reasonable.

As for the tennis argument, how do we know that women's tennis is inherently of less value to sponsors? Admittedly, I don't follow it, but there seems to be quite a high "ogle factor" there, so I figured men were tuning in as much as women were, albeit probably for different reasons.

Boris Hornbei said...

The discussion puts me in mind of an argument that J. Donald Walters makes in his excellent book, "Out of the Labyrinth: For Those Who Want to Believe, But Can't." Walters contrasts western either/or thinking with the view, traditional in India of "directional relativity." Values are relative, but directional. E.g., if Gandhi had decided to swap careers and become a car salesman, everyone would say "This man has fallen." But if a lazy slob... well, you get the point. It's pointless to compare Gandhi and the slob in absolute terms of "good" and "bad." What matters is whether they're doing that which give them greater happiness, at their own level. And happiness, as a central point of Indian philosophy has it, comes always by expansion of awareness - by "getting more" in enduring and meaningful ways. How does this relate to Caster Semenya, gender bias, etc.? It's fatuous to even argue if "equality" depends on whether men and women compete together. What counts is whether they're able to expand, each at their own level. How inspiring would it be, if men and women competed "equally" in the marathon? People would immediately begin to measure the women and men separately, evaluating performances in the obvious natural divisions. As a crusty old photography instructor used to put it, "Different is not the same."

Anonymous said...

I think a point is worth mentioning on the genetics side of things.

The point that women will eventually 'catch up' to mens performance cannot be possible on this front.

If we consider Mr Phelps on the swimming front - clearly genetically suited to swimming i.e. good height, short legs, long body, large wing span in proportion to height, very large VO2max etc etc

These genetically determined adavantages that he has over his competitors makes him the fastest swimmer in the world in a large number of events. If we then consider that in N years time, there may be an individual who is graced with an even greater genetically determined characteristics then performance times will drop (it is noted that these genetical characteristics are only advantageous when coupled with appropriate training, psychological factors etc etc).

Now consider a similarly talented female swimmer such as Rebecca Adlington, Janet evans, Leisal Jones etc. All once again have certain genetic characteristics that give them a competitive edge over fellow competitors.

With an evolutionary eye on this matter, i.e. the change in a genetic consititution of a population over time - when exactly will females attain similar values as mens when they are constantly adapting and improving too?

Zoe Brain said...

If we are going to make an arbitrary distinction between men and women when it comes to sports - and I think there are good reasons for this - the question then arises for Intersexed people: are they more female than male, or more male than female?

If you don't make the question that simple, then you run into all sorts of problems with genetically gifted athletes whose advantages don't involve sexual differentiation, but which outweigh the male/female ones in borderline cases. Intersexed men are not very male, intersexed women not very female. They physiologically can't have the normal advantages that are supposed to be the reason for the arbitrary dividion in the first place, at least, not to the same extent. A woman with Androgen Insensitivity may have far more testosterone in her system than is usual for women - but if she's insensitive to it, it has a lesser effect, so may be effectively less advantageous for her than a normal amount would be for a normal woman.

Whether someone is more male than female, or the reverse, has to be determined on a case by case basis.

Remember what was said back in the 1940's:
In the late 1940s, an Olympic official, Norman Cox, sarcastically proposed that in the case of black women, “The International Olympic Committee should create a special category of competition for them — the unfairly advantaged ‘hermaphrodites’ who regularly defeated ‘normal women,’ those less skilled ‘child bearing’ types with ‘largish breasts, wide hips and knocked knees.’ ”

He was referring to all African women, who were not deemed "feminine enough" for the standards of the time in comparison with their white counterparts.

In Ms Semanya's case, I think there's no doubt that she's more female than male. This should be an easy one to deal with, and the fact that we've had such problems is worrying.

In other cases, the situation is not so clear-cut. Moreover, with certain Intersex conditions that are "on the boundary", it's possible over the course of someone's lifetime to change from being "more female than male" to "more male than female". Or (very rarely) in the other direction.

See for example The 'Guevedoces'
of the Dominican Republic
and Rare gender identity defect hits Gaza families.

Then there's the two women in this video, neither of whom would pass the "can't have Y chromosomes" test, and one of whom is one of the rare "natural male to female change" cases I mentioned earlier.

All of these people have ongoing medical issues that, if they don't preclude them from competitive sport, do handicap them greatly, no matter what category they may be put in. But some IS syndromes do not.

Just as the more "classically feminine" european women had to put up with the "unfair advantages" that the more amazonesque women from parts of Africa had in the 1940's, and just as there are few Chinese athletes in the men's sprints today, I think they should just have to live with it. Or we'll be opening a whole can of wriggly worms - banning people who are too tall, too heavy, too muscular etc compared to some "human norm".

Anonymous said...

When you look at it from a medical perspective. Men are men.. women are women.. Men have XY chromosomes. Women have XX. Men have 15-20 times more testosterone than women therefore they have an unfair advantage as testosterone is a natural performance enhancing substance.
There should be a division between men and women's sports on an elite scale otherwise it would be unfair. We are different and it is of no advantage to compare women and men in sports. It is like comparing apples and bananas. They are both fruit but supply different nutrience.

Anonymous said...

There shoud be weight categories in women's tennis. It is not fair to an average size girl to compete against other females who are built like men.


Farhad N Kapadia said...

Maybe the marathon will serve as the model of future "equal opportunity" competitions, where it is open to all, but there are catagory prizes, in terms of age, sex (& national vs international)