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Should We End Sex Segregation in Sports? Should Athletes Be Assessed by Anatomy And Physiology?

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An opinion piece by sociologist Roslyn Kerr, senior lecturer in sociology of sport,  from Lincoln University wrote an article on January 18th for The Conversation titled Why it might be time to eradicate sex segregation in sports where she argues against sex segregation in sports. She does publish articles on sports history, leisure studies and sports management and used to be a gymnast so she should have good knowledge—perhaps better than the general public—on anatomy and physiology and how they interact during elite sporting performances. Though is there anything to the argument she provides in her article? Maybe.

The paper is pretty good, though it, of course, uses sociological terms and cites feminist theorists talking about gender binaries in sports and how they’re not ‘fair’. One thing continously brought up in the paper is how there is no way to discern sex regarding sporting competitions (Simpson et al, 1993Dickinson et al, 2002Heggie, 2010), with even chromosome-based testing being thrown out (Elsas et al, 2000). which can be seen with the Olympics “still struggling to define gender“. They state that women are put through humiliating tests to discern their sex.

They use this to buttress their own arguments which are based off of what bodies of disables athletes did: whether or not one competed in a particular sport was not on their disability, per se, but the functionality of their own bodies. As an example, sporting bodies used to group people with, say, a similar spinal injury even though they had different physical abilities. Call me crazy, but I most definitely see the logic that these authors are getting at, and not only because I ruminated on something similar back in the summer in an article on transgendered athletes in sports, writing:

This then brings up some interesting implications. Should we segregate competitions by race since the races have strength and weaknesses due to biology and anatomysuch as somatype? It’s an interesting question to consider, but I think we can all agree on one thing: Women should compete with women, and men should compete with men. Thus, transgenders should compete with transgenders.

Of course I posed the question regarding different races since they have different strengths and weaknesses on average due to evolution in different environments. Kerr and Obel (2017) conclude (pg 13):

Numerous authors have noted that the current two-sex classification system is problematic. They argued that it does not include all bodies, such as intersex bodies, and more importantly, does not work to produce fair competition. Instead, some argued that other traits that we know influence sporting success should be used to classify bodies. In this article, we extended this idea through using the ANT concepts of assemblage and black box. Specifically, we interpreted the current understanding of the body that sex segregation is based on as a black box that assumes the constant superiority of the male body over the female. But we argued that with the body understood as an assemblage, this classification could be reassembled so that this black box is no longer given. Instead we argued that by identifying the multiple traits that make up the assemblage of sporting success, sex classification becomes irrelevant and that it is these traits that we should use to classify athletes rather than sex. Drawing on the example of disability sport we noted that the black box of a medical label was undone and replaced with an emphasis on functionality with different effects for each sport. This change had the effect of undoing rigid medical disability label and enabling athletes’ bodies to be viewed as assemblages consisting of various functional and potentially changing physical abilities. We used this discussion to propose a model of classified that eliminated the need for sex segregation and instead used physical measures such as LBM and VO2 capabilities to determine an athlete’s competitive class.

All of their other arguments aside that I disagree with in their paper (their use of ‘feminist theory’, gendered divisions, short discussions and quotes from other authors on the ‘power structure’ of males), I definitely see the logic here and, in my opinion, it makes sense. Anyway, those shortcomings aside, the actual argument of using anatomy and physiology and seeing which different parts work in concert to produce elite athletic performance in certain sports then having some kind of test, say, the Heath-Carter method for somatype (Wilmore, 1970) to a test of Vo2 max (Cureton et al, 1986) to even lean body mass (LBM).

Healy et al (2014) studied 693 elite athletes in a post-competition setting. They assesed testosterone, among other variables such as aerobic performance. They observed a difference of 10 of between men and women’s LBM and that it exclusively accounts for the “observed diffences in strength and aerobic performance seen between the sexes” while they conclude:

We have shown that despite differences in mean testosterone level between genders, there is complete overlap of the range of concentrations seen. This shows that the recent decision of the IOC and IAAF to limit participation in elite events to women with ‘normal’ serum testosterone is unsustainable.

Yes, this testosterone-influences-sports-performance is still ongoing. I’ve covered it a bit last year, and while I believe there is a link between testosterone and athletic ability and have provided some data and a few anecdotes from David Epstein, I do admit that the actual literature is scant with conclusive evidence that testosterone positively influences sport performance. Either way, if testosterone truly does infer an advantage then, of course, the model (which Kerr and Obel admit is simple at the moment) will need to be slightly revised. Arguments and citations can be found in this article written back in the summer on whether or not transgender MtFs should compete with women. This is also directly related to the MtF who dominated women a few months back.

Either way, the argument that once we better identify anatomic and physiologic causes for differences in certain sporting competition, this could, in theory, be used instead of sex segregation. I think it’s a good idea personally and to see how effective it could be there should be a trial run on it. Kerr and Obel state that it would make competition more ‘fair’. However, Sanchez et al, 2014 cite Murray (2010) who writes “fair sports competition does not require that athletes be equal in every imaginable respect.

At the end of the day, what a lot of this rests on is whether or not testosterone infers athletic advantage at the elite level and there is considerable data for both sides. It’ll be interesting to see how the major sporting bodies handle the question of testosterone in sports and transgenders and hyperandrogenic females.

Personally, I think there may be something to Kerr and Obel’s arguments in their paper (feminist/patriarchy garbage aside) since it’s based on anatomy and physiology which is what we see on the field. However, it can also be argued that sex/gender is manifested in the brain which then infers other advantages/disadvantages in sports. Nonetheless, I think the argument in the paper is sound (the anatomy and physiology arguments only). For instance, we can look at one sport, say, 100 m dash, and we can say “OK, we know that sprinters have meso-ecto somatypes and that combined with the RR ACTN3 genotype, that confers elite athletic performance (Broos et al, 2016).” We could use those two variables along with leg length, foot length etc and then we can test—both in the lab and on the field—which variables infer advantages in certain sports. Another sport we can think of is swimming. Higher levels of body fat with wide clavicles and chest cavity are more conducive to swimming success. We could use those types of variables for swimming and so on.

Of course, this method may not work or it may only work in theory but not work in practice. Using lean body mass, Vo2 max etc etc based on which sport is in question may be better than using the ‘sex binary’, since some women (trust me, I’ve trained hundreds) would be able to compete head-to-head with men and, if for nothing else, it’d be good entertainment.

However, in my opinion, the logic on using anatomy and physiology instead of sex to segregate in sports is intriguing and, if nothing else, would finally give feminists (and non-feminists) the ‘equality’ they ask for.

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17 Comments

  1. Thomas Richardson says:

    Respect for thinking critically about this rather than dismissing it immediately because it came from a feminist; something i’m sure many others will do

    Like

    • RaceRealist says:

      I’d have disregarded this five years ago. My main interest (and what coincides with my own personal work) is anatomy and physiology. I think the argument provided by Kerr and Obel is sound and makes a lot of sense. This isn’t to say that I don’t believe in biological sex, just that in terms of sports, classification of body’s and physiology that contribute to performance in that sport can be looked at and then you can group athletes based on anatomy and physiology.

      I personally think that this could work for the transgender problem in sports. If it were based on anatomy and physiology then we wouldn’t have the problems (to this extent anyway) that we currently do. It’s also worth noting that the Olympics has a tough time classifying gender in regard to sport. I think that needs to be taken care of before more discussion is had on this point.

      I saw people disregarding the argument on Twitter but I doubt they read the paper anyway. Feminist/patriarchy shit aside in that paper, it’s well argued and makes a ton of sense.

      Like

  2. I confess I’m not sure what the intended practical outcome of this would be. If a teenage girl is scoring too many points in a highschool soccer league, can the girls on the other team demand to have her booted over to the boys’ team because she’s “too big/tall/athletic/wrong somatype” for a girl? Or do we have a committee (that someone has to pay for) that comes and evaluates all of the girls and boys before sorting them onto rosters? Or is this only for elite-level sports, like the Olympics and professional golf?

    I’ve long thought that people should stop trying to find a “rule” they can apply to all situations and just be more flexible (maybe this is one way to be more flexible.) When I was a kid, competing in swimming matches, I always got bumped down a year or two to compete against younger kids because I was the physically quite small. (I still didn’t win, so this wasn’t giving me an unfair advantage. I just wasn’t losing quite as badly and the other kids didn’t have to wait around as long while I finished.)

    But in practice, I could see this being hard to administer, depending on how it’s actually done.

    Like

  3. ron burgundy says:

    wtf?

    no sport with any entertainment value has any women irrespective of any official segregation policies.

    as mammals go humans are quite sexually dimorphic.

    so what about sports like snooker or darts?

    it’s the same.

    as far as mental abilities go males have a larger variance which assures the top end will be exclusively male.

    in the recent past judit polgar was in the top 20 chess players and she played with men. chess has no segregation. that is, it has tournaments exclusively for women but it has none exclusively for men.

    still waiting for the first white yokozuna. no woman can ever be a yokozuna. obviously.

    humans are much more sexually dimorphic than horses yet how many triple crown races have been won by fillies?

    Three fillies have won the Kentucky Derby, and five, the most recent being Rachel Alexandra in 2009, have won the Preakness.

    Like

  4. ron burgundy says:

    there are no good arguments. these are just angry perverts, aka lesbians.

    the olympics should simply go with XX vs XY. so called “XY females” must compete with men or not compete. and the extremely rare “calico” people should simply not compete or compete with men.

    there’s no subtlety or ad nauseam argument here. it’s EXTREMELY simple.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      What if social constructs of gender discourage women from attempting sports. If for instance, the participation levels of snooker and darts were equal amongst men and women, could you provide me with a reason why men would outperform women?

      There’s some subtlety for you.

      Not so simple now is it?

      Like

    • Matt says:

      What’s the sport? And who gets to determine what constitutes a sport?

      Enjoy the nausea Burgundy. Enjoy 🙂

      Like

  5. Jimmy says:

    Could something plz post this on pp’s site

    thanks

    Fenoopy = pumpkin person

    Lyrion falling for a PP sock puppet has got to be the most hilarious example of misplaced schizophrenia that i have ever seen.

    If Lyrion was so obsessed with that sock puppet and still couldn’t figure out who he was then that’s a clear sign of inferior intelligence

    why ?

    if you were that obsessed then you should have noticed that

    Fenoopy is the only poster who has a comment posted and then deleted after it contradicts his imaginary character bio
    Fenoopy has even had his posts “deleted” and then reposted after he has been asked questions on a topic that he feigned knowledge in .

    Deleting and then reposting his comment gave Fenoopy time to research the topic.

    PP then reposted fenoopy’s comment with the responses to it .

    Fenoopy has made some of the most laughable statements that no one who had his imaginary character bio would make

    I just don’t have time to list all of his statements

    Someone as obsessed as you should be able to list many

    Fenoopy appeared shortly before i was banned. In fact, I was banned after i said that i knew who fenoopy was

    clearly my ban was a pre-emptive strike to prevent me outing him

    whenever Lyrion/truthteller or his other sock puppets would put a little heat under PPs feet he would start making fenoopy sound like me

    examples:

    Saying that he had a software engineering background
    saying that he worked in the U.K
    saying that he was an American
    saying things about jews and asians that sound exactly like something i would say even if those statements would completely contradict his previous pro-jew/asian statements

    I could go on and on but i just don’t have the time to list 50 reasons why fenoopy being pp is so obvious.

    Lyrion/truth teller is such a mentally disabled untermensch that he simply does not have that ability to see through PPs little game

    He fell for every dummy that PP sold him

    It was both amusing and sad to see such a pathetic excuse for a human

    He even started displaying some kind of messianic complex where he thought that he alone knew the truth and PP was stopping him for exposing Jimmy.

    what the sad little untermensch was incapable of seeing was that PP wasn’t censoring his comments to protect me. He was doing it to protect himself.

    Lyrion :

    I sense some hostility and irritation in your comment PP, not sure why

    nearly 🙂

    PP thought that posting comments accusing me of being fenoopy would lead to me outing PP as the real fenoopy

    He was right because that is exactly what is happening now

    as for pp, you are such a pathetic and desperate clown.

    You saw how the number of comments crashed after you banned me so you tried and failed to create a new me.

    If it wasn’t for phil and mugabee, i would have probably taken down your site .

    I am thinking about creating my own blog to post everything i know about PP.

    He looks exactly how you would expect someone of his personality and background to look

    it didn’t have to end this way pp

    so sad

    Like

    • Lyrion says:

      This accusation is especially ridiculous as it would imply PP knows a lot about islam and berber tribes. You are the only one to have show this level of interest and knowledge on these subjects.

      It’s really ironic you are calling me an untermensch as you are the perfect definition of it as the disgusting semitic scum you are who need to lie and portrayed himself as an aryan so that people give him some credit. How pathetic is this ?

      Like

  6. Jimmy says:

    hahaha

    Lyrion thought that he was a genius detective who saw what no one else saw but he now realizes that he was just a sad little schizo with too much time on his hands.

    Lyrion said

    “This accusation is especially ridiculous as it would imply PP knows a lot about islam and berber tribes. ”

    hahahaha

    if correct then the logical conclusion of your statement is that every western intelligence service must be heavily berber/muslim

    but of course that’s not the case. Only an untermensch like you would think that .

    It would take minutes on google to find the answer to any question about berbers/islam

    even with google a lot of what PP posted was factually wrong

    I dont have time to list all of his factual errors

    The fact that you read what PP(fenoopy) posted about berber tribes/Islam and still feel the way you do is embarrassing

    I think you have spent too much time around your maghrabi hooligans in the south.

    you seem to have adopted their schizo personality

    RR, Why doesn’t my first post have numbers or bold text ()

    oh and your site would be much more user friendly if you increased the default font size of the text.

    yes i know how to adjust it with my browser but most people will just disregard the site when they see the tiny font size

    Like

  7. Lyrion says:

    Yeah, yeah Jimmy the white supremacist from California subtly calling himself a “nordic specimen” bizarrely goes ballistic anytime someone dare not worshipping is beloved Arabs and Berbers.

    That much exaggeration and emphasis on the insults show very low confidence on what you have to say.

    Again we see the true face of the disgusting semite putting himself forward and diminishing others with insults and lies.

    Like

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