Feministing was an online community website that discussing women’s rights and ideology. It ran from 2010 to 2020 covering topics from politics, popular culture, and contemporary issues. The online community was targeted at a younger demographic. The site also encourage grassroots activism. Users could also contribute to the community blog. There was one short post that by Vicky Chatwin that is of interest. A simple question is proposed : why can’t women compete against men in sports ? The author even notes the most obvious reason. The impact of sexual dimorphism influences physical fitness capacity. There are obviously exceptions and cases of overlap. Chatwin’s argument is that by having women’s leagues this constitutes sex segregation. The second case is that it is denying women equal opportunity. Then there are some feminists who think that sex differences are nothing more than sociological constructions. Biology is not a sociological construction, yet third wave feminists want to dispute known facts about sexual dimorphism. Women can compete in mixed competitions if they have the skill and physicality to do so. Having women’s divisions is not discriminatory nor is it excluding women.
The most elite women in sports would not be able to physically challenge the elite men. Physical strength differences and body size give men in advantage. Sports such as boxing, weightlifting, or powerlifting require certain amounts of muscular strength. Studies have shown that women may have advantages in muscular endurance and oxygen utilization. It has been theorized that women may have an edge when it comes to running in marathons. Sprinting which requires more muscular strength, women do not perform the same as men. Depending on the sport, there is a different level of skill and fitness required to master it. The skills of tennis differ from that of soccer. Being just strong and fast does not automatically make a person a great athlete. Men have more muscle and bone mass making their physical fitness capacity higher than women on the same training regimen. Women’s bodies can experience muscular hypertrophy, but not to the same degree as a man. This is related to endocrine function and the amount of natural strength prior to exercise. If men have more muscle to start off with training adds to their strength.
Women still retain more fat mass in comparison to their male counterparts. The structure of male and female bodies differs. Men have broader shoulders and more upper body strength. Women have wider pelvises. That makes running speed slower. Heart and lung size are smaller in women which effects VO2max. Accounting for body size, women weigh less. These sex differences in physiology and anatomy would make it hard for the vast majority of elite female athletes to keep up with males on their level. This would mean there would be fewer women competing in sports being a part of men’s divisions. Chatwin states ” I know the usual arguments – men are bigger and stronger, it’s not fair to women – but how true is this?” in the opening paragraph. She then provides a personal anecdote that she has seen women who beat men easily at sports. Oddly, She does not mention which ones. The biological factor is a big one when discussing sports performance. There is truth to this up to a certain age. Women competing with men in sports also raises safety concerns.
Women competing with men in sports raises safety concerns. If male bodies are bigger and stronger, women could get seriously injured. Contact sports from this perspective would be difficult for women to compete with men in. For younger children its not an issue because their bodies have finished developing. Boys and girls can compete in mixed competition. The physical changes brought about by puberty is what causes the strength gap. Women’s skeletons and muscles do grow, but they do not experience the dramatic strength spurts of men. Around age 13, the strength gap appears between the sexes. This is why it is ludicrous to keep girls off of boys sports teams. Boys and girls between the ages of 1 to 12 have no difference in physical fitness capacity. What some third wave feminist fail to realize is just how wide the difference in physicality can be after the physiological changes during puberty. The average man has more strength compared to the average woman. A woman how trains seriously can either attain the strength of a man who does not train or be close to it. The strongest trained male could possibly be stronger than most women.
Rugby, football, ice hockey, mixed martial arts, wrestling, lacrosse, and roller derby are sports that involved huge amounts of body force. If women if at their highest level of fitness can have the strength of an average man or slightly above, the risk for injury could be higher. Boxing would be impossible for women to compete with men considering the difference in upper body strength. The only way such matches in contact sports to work is if men were restricted from using their full physical force. All sports are not contact based. Race car driving or equestrian sport does not reliant on muscle power. Semi-contact sports may see a few women able to compete.
Having women’s sports divisions does not constitute sex segregation. Unlike Jim Crow America and apartheid South Africa these governance systems were designed to oppress. It was not only to control a population based on because of their race, it was also to isolate them from the wider society. Women’s divisions and sports teams are the opposite. They allow more women to compete. The differences in speed and physical strength between the sexes is the reason there is separation. Looking beyond sex, this is why their are weight classes between athletes. Boxing does this with lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight athletes. Wrestling also has weight classes. This is not segregation of smaller athletes, rather giving them a platform to compete. Otherwise, the biggest and strongest people would always dominate sports. The separation is more of a matter of weight class. This does not mean smaller athletes or women are inferior. It is an attempt to make competition fair. The only way discrimination could occur is if a skilled female player is qualified to play on a men’s team is denied. If a woman can handle the physical demands and has the talent, there is no legitimate reason to deny her an opportunity to play.
There also is another counter argument to this. If women can compete on men’s teams then can men play on women’s teams ? The question becomes complex if one wants to make competition fair. The reality is that competition is not completely fair because each person may have a unique physical advantage. If a person is devoted to full equality, then it should function the same for both sexes. Title IX ensures that girls get access to sports in schools and few states have restrictions on boys playing on girls teams in America. There are no restrictions on women competing in men’s divisions in the Olympics. The only restriction is the ruling on the amount of testosterone a woman’s body produces. This ruling has been debated and criticized in terms of its scientific foundation. Such a ruling must be discarded altogether, considering athletes cannot help the way they were naturally born. Women’s teams are not an example of sex segregating, rather an expansion of women’s participation in sport.
Women have already competed with men in sports. Mixed sport is more of an integrated model of competition. Tennis, badminton. korfball. mixed pairs bodybuilding, and swimming have done pioneered this. Pairs of men and women compete in what is a perfect example of inclusion. This should be what third wave feminists support. Power feminists however take a less harmonious approach. Competing with men is not about equality, rather they just want to attain more power.Some want all the power and influence in particular areas. This does not appeal to the majority of women who rather see men as their equals and partners. Excessive girl power has become more confrontational, rather than celebrating women’s achievements.
Mixed sports may become more prevalent in the future. Mixed relays are going to make a debut at the Olympics. This seems like a significant development in terms of promoting equal exposure of athletes regardless of sex. The third wave feminist narrative as men being all antagonist falls apart, when some men see women’s participation as a positive development. The biggest problem for women in sports is not that they are in separate leagues. Unequal pay, lack of media exposure, and sex prejudice are the biggest concerns.
There is nothing really stopping certain female athletes from competing with men. Sports organizations can ban them from doing so. This is an obvious act of sex discrimination. There are cases in which girls have to compete with boys seeing as there are no girls teams in certain schools. Wrestling and football have some girls playing with boys in elementary and middle school. Their competitive years could end by high school seeing as boys are experiencing the increase in fitness capacity from puberty. Girls would not be able to keep up seeing as they do not make significant strength gains. The only solution would be to build a girls team, so female athletes could continue to compete. If women had to try out for teams with mostly males, it would reduce the total number of women competing. It could be done with sports that do not require an immense amount of brute strength. Race car driving, equestrian sport, gymnastics, and marathon running could be sports in which women could compete directly. Certainly, there are women who can compete with men. The system that is place is more about placing athletes in a weight class, rather than their sex. The growth of more women’s teams or leagues is not hindering women. It enables them to be on a competitive platform.