Flat White

The stupidity of sex segregation in sport

25 January 2018

4:00 PM

25 January 2018

4:00 PM

When it comes to highlighting the extremism of the latest Leftist fad, The Conversation is the gift that just keeps on giving. Just when you think that they couldn’t possibly publish anything more ridiculous they give us this gem from Roslyn Kerr, arguing that “one way to move beyond problematic gender barriers is to eradicate sex segregation completely and replace it with a system similar to that used in Paralympic sport.” Yes, it’s time that those inherently sexist sports like netball to tear down the walls of discrimination and let the boys play too!

The ‘problematic gender barriers’ that Kerr bases her argument upon are those of a handful of female athletes who have had their gender come under official scrutiny. Rather than standardise what it means to be sufficiently ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, Kerr believes that the issue could be better resolved through the classification system utilized in the Paralympics, which is “based on functional ability rather than on medical conditions.” An example of her novel proposal looks like this:

If you think that there’s a striking similarity here with the recent re-definition of marriage you’re not wrong. Just as we now have “Party 1” and Party 2” (instead of the traditional “Bride” and “Groom”) Kerr is suggesting that the International Olympic Committee adopt the more non-discriminatory labels of “Category 1” and “Category 2.” Personally, I think that Dr Seuss had a much better idea when, in his classic The Cat in the Hat, he introduced the world to, “Thing 1” and “Thing 2.” Yes, that would be much more generic.

I was somewhat bemused to read what Kerr had to say because she is not only a former gymnast, but is currently a senior lecturer in the “sociology of sport” — yes, apparently, you really can get an accredited PHD in things like that — at Lincoln University, New Zealand. As such, I would have thought that Kerr would have seen the inherent weaknesses with what she is suggesting. Because Kerr’s proposal raises far more problems than it solves.

First, it is based on an incredibly complicated and subjective set of criteria involving muscle mass, fast-twitch fibres, height and VO2 capacities. And that’s just for a measly three events! If she thought working out the difference between a boy and a girl was overly complicated, just wait until she tried to consistently apply her model to all the other Olympic sports.

Second, what do you do with athletes competing in teams? Each one is going to have a mixture of people with different strengths and abilities. On a volleyball team for example most are going to be tall, but the person who plays the specialist position of ‘libro’ may be disqualified due to their genetic make-up. Sounds quite discriminatory really…

Third, from a marketing perspective it would be a complete disaster. Sporting companies target their audiences using clear cut demographics relating to gender. They don’t want complexity or confusion in being able to market their product. On a commercial level, it would involve dismantling international marketing strategies with countries that would never accept the new genderless model – i.e. China, India, Korean, Russia etc.

Fourth, rather embarrassingly for her thesis, what Kerr overlooks is that while the Paralympics distinguishes between athletes of varying functional ability, they have not obliterated all distinctions between men and women. For example, take the sport of archery, which requires similar levels of physical strength and yet still has sex segregation in the Paralympics.

Finally, why is it so ‘problematic’ to acknowledge that men are different to women? We don’t expect women to hit from the same tee in golf, or play five sets in tennis – could you imagine if that was the case at the Australian Open where recently temperatures on the centre court in Melbourne reached almost 70 degrees?

I was holidaying in the NSW beachside town of Forster recently and came across a front-page article in The Great Lakes Advocate celebrating an all-female triathlon. Apparently, it was so popular that entries sold out and they had to turn people away. According to Forster Triathlon Club president, Dave Fitzharding, the purpose was to give “girls of all abilities the chance to try their luck competing in a triathlon.”

As I read through the article I could almost hear the outrage in places like the ABC, the Guardian and Fairfax at the inherent sexism that this particular event was propagating. In fact, I even looked around the coffee shop in which I was sitting to see if anyone was up in arms about it. But it was all incredibly normal, in a “hetero-normative” kind of way.

At the end of the day, segregating athletes on the basis of their gender is surely a good thing. In fact, a lot of team sports would be totally destroyed if such a thing as “gender quotas” were to be introduced. And while occasionally there will be an incident involving an individual whose genetic make-up makes their gender more difficult to determine, with increased medical technologies is becoming easier to resolve.

The greater and more serious question that needs to be resolved relates to those people who are biologically male but identify with their “feelings” as being something else. That is where the true inequality and discrimination exists. But that is the subject of a future article.

Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield. 

Illustration: Columbia Pictures.

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