Here is an essay from Leah Libresco, whom I’ve read off and on for years now, and of whose intellect I hold a high opinion – one sharp cookie. However, sometimes she takes positions or raises questions that seem very much divorced from reality – hey, it’s no great knock to say this, she’s smart, her mind runs interesting ways, some of which are, in my opinion, dead ends. This essay is such a case.
Background: There is a woman athlete in some difficulty with the governing authorities in her sport because she naturally produces more testosterone than women typically do – and this is seen as an unfair advantage.
Before we move on, note the obvious logical difficulty here, expressed as a syllogism: having more testosterone gives an athlete an unfair advantage; almost all men produce more testosterone than almost any women; therefore, almost all men have an unfair advantage over almost any woman.
…the thread turned into a question about why we were trying to preserve the two-sport system, split by gender, at all, and whether our aims (whatever they were) would be served by any rule that resulted in “median” women (with regard to female hormones/biology/etc) being shut out of the highest echelons of competition by intersex/ambiguously sexed/long tail women.
Setting aside what a ‘long tail woman’ is (I am not going to google it – I’ve learned my lesson), let’s point out the weird problem statement: women “being shut out of the highest echelons of competition by intersex/ambiguously sexed/long tail women.”
This idea here is simply wrong. Women are not shut out of “the highest echelons of competition” due to the presence of intersex/ambiguously sexed/long tail women, nor by any rules, nor judgement calls by officials, nor bizarre medical tests – they are shut out by biology. They are shut out because they are women.
The highest echelons of competition are not dominated by men – they are exclusively between men. In every sport where speed, strength, jumping and throwing are involved, women – those people typically with much less testosterone than men – are at a huge disadvantage. Women – I hope you’re sitting down – are typically, like 90%+ of the time, not as strong or as fast as most men. So in competitions where strength, speed, quickness and leaping ability don’t figure into it – curling, for example – women and men should and do compete on an equal basis. Otherwise, the most outstanding athletes are, and have been through all of recorded history, men.
It’s not close. It’s not like 7 of the top 10 fastest people are men and 3 are women – it’s 10,000 of the top 10,000 are men. It’s not like 4 out of 5 of the best basketball players are men – it’s 10,000 out of 10,000. Or more. And this is among people – men and women – who are the finest athletes in the world, and have trained and practiced for years.
Having to even say this means that we’re dangerously close to the border of Crazyland. People who want to blame cultural bias for men being, generally, 6 inches taller and 40lbs of muscle and bone heavier than women are, frankly, delusional. It’s called sexual dimorphism. Biologists tell us sexual dimorphism exists due to two causes: where heavy sexual selection pushes males to become more and more flashy – think peacocks – and where the behaviors of males and females within a species are markedly different – say, the males hunt while the females don’t (or, as in lion prides, the other way around). These causes are not mutually exclusive.
Human beings are a sexually dimorphic species. The males are almost always much larger and more heavily muscled than the females. While other primates – gorillas and chimps, for example – are also sexually dimorphic, others, such as Neanderthals, were not, at least through part of their existence. What this suggests is that men and women, as well as male and female gorillas and chimps, follow survival strategies that differ by sex. Neanderthals maybe didn’t – the women were as built for taking down a mammoth as the men were, so maybe they all hunted together and did all other things together up to who gave birth and nursed babies. But men do the hunting among homo sapiens, and so benefit from the sturdier construction, as well as from greater aggression, strength, speed and so on. The evolutionarily determined physiology and behaviors (those always go together) of women means their darwinian survival was achieved in a way physically and behaviorally differently than men’s.
This is basic biology. Behaviors and physical characteristics evolve together. Sharp teeth only matter if you use them, after all. Stealthy hunting doesn’t work unless you have the means to kill at the end. Thus, it is not a cultural theory, but a biological theory, to account for the different physical characteristics by means of looking at different behaviors, and visa versa. Men are larger and stronger, and have a strong instinct to protect their women; women are smaller and weaker, and have a strong instinct to cling to their men; there are a million other differences as well. Neither can survive, evolutionarily speaking, without the other – these traits evolved together and work toward mutual survival together. There is no right or wrong here, better or worse, any more than it is right or wrong for a queen bee to live her entire life in the hive and do nothing but lay eggs – it is simply what worked.
But – going way out on a limb here – we are not merely animals, and evolution does not explain everything. We want to be fair now, in a way that natural selection cares not a whit about. But it will never be fair, and merely drive one insane, to pretend that the natural differences between men and women are somehow unfair. Let’s be as kind and fair and loving as we can within the context nature and nature’s God have given us.