Snowboarding Women and Unisex Slopes: What’s a Feminist to Do?

by Heather Mac Donald

In a preview of the U.S. military’s planned integration of females into combat positions, female skiers and snowboarders have been wiping out at disproportionate numbers at the Extreme Park in Sochi. Unlike traditional ski runs, which vary in difficulty according to whether they are designed for males or females, the course for highflying snowboarders and freestyle skiers is largely unisex: Females are expected to navigate the same jumps as the males. The result has been an avalanche of female falls and injuries: Of the 22 accidents that either forced athletes out of the competition or required medical attention on the final run, 16 involved female skiers, reports the New York Times, even though far fewer females than males actually essay the course.

For the Times, this state of affairs presents both an insuperable puzzle and a painful dilemma. The “question” why females are crashing more is a “difficult one,” claims the paper’s male sports reporter. Really? As a purely factual matter, the answer is simple: Females have less strength and muscular control than males, making them less able to navigate the greater physical challenges of the extreme course.  

How to properly respond to the female crash tally, however, is difficult. Ordinarily, anything bad happening to females is a sure sign that they are being victimized by sexism. So the default feminist reaction to the female wipe-outs is to blame the course designers. Kim Lamarre, a Canadian bronze medalist in slope style skiing, is happy to oblige: “Most of the courses are built for the big show, for the men,” she told the Times. “I think they could do more to make it safer for women.”

Uh-oh! Gender-studies red flag! “Making it safer for women,” as in: recognizing female difference and adopting a chivalric attitude towards the female sex? Big, big problem. The Olympics’ history of “trying to protect women from the perils of some sports” by creating easier ski courses is “sexist, perhaps,” agonizes the Times’ reporter. And yet, the “equality” at Extreme Park comes at the “possible detriment of the female participants.”

The true feminist will blithely have it both ways, indifferent to the contradiction: The unisex course is sexist because it injures women and trying to protect women from injury is sexist. Likewise, feminists toggle at will between the position that there should be gender quotas for women in political positions, say, because females bring a special sensibility to political problems, and the position that men and women are identical in every way and thus that any disparities in outcomes — whether in advanced math and physics attainment or in the predilection for public debate — must be the result of sexism. As injuries build up for female combat soldiers, expect to see the same confused thinking. The Army will be blamed for not doing enough to protect females while also being pressured to pretend that females are the absolute equal of men and thus need no protection. 

(View NR’s slideshow of Sochi spills — male and female — here.)

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