Girls and Women Deserve Single-Sex Sports

Natalie Woolfolk competes in the women’s 63kg Group B snatch weightlifting competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 12, 2008. (Yves Herman/Reuters)
A biological male just smashed the women’s weightlifting record. Expect more former males to dominate women’s sports.

Our culture is so steeped in the idea of equality (in most ways, a very good and noble commitment) that we lose sight of obvious but important facts that we must acknowledge if we are to create a truly level playing field and make functioning equality possible.

Take sports. Today, most people recognize that participating in athletics is associated with positive benefits for both males and females. It’s just as important to encourage our daughters to join a team as it is to encourage our sons. Individuals of both sexes have the capacity to be great athletes.

This is why, over the last 40-plus years, our policymakers have been focusing on making sure that both men and women have access to athletic programs. They have often gone overboard in trying to require colleges and universities to have as many female athletes as male athletes — going so far as to cut men’s teams to make the numbers show gender parity in athletic participation.

Yet now, with growing concern about those who do not fall neatly into the category of one sex, we are revisiting the reasons that we separate people into girls’ and boys’ teams in the first place. Is the existence of single-sex teams just another manifestation of our culture’s propensity to put girls in pink tutus while handing boys trucks?

No. These distinctions are made, not to discriminate against girls and keep girls out of athletics, but to encourage and facilitate their participation in it. There are separate girls’ and boys’ teams to help girls, to make sure they are competitive, and to prevent boys from dominating athletic competitions.

Let’s be clear: If we let boys enter girls’ competitions, girls, with rare exceptions, simply won’t win.

The records don’t care about political correctness: The world record holder in the 100-meter dash for men had a time of 9.58 seconds. The women’s best time is nearly a full second (about 10 percent) slower, at 10.49 seconds. The men’s world record for running a mile is three minutes and 43 seconds; the women’s record is just under four minutes and 13 seconds — a half minute slower. When you look at the world records in weightlifting, the women’s best lifts are generally around two-thirds of what the male record holders lift. These female weightlifters are extremely strong, but they would not qualify for any championships if they had to compete against men.

It is no surprise at all that a biological male, Mary Gregory, who was allowed to enter the 100% Raw Weightlifting Federation competition this week, smashed four women’s weightlifting records and won the nine events in which she competed. Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies got it exactly right when she explained that “a woman with female biology cannot compete” and characterized this as a “pointless, unfair playing field.” People who experience puberty as a male become stronger and have greater lung capacity and speed. Women simply don’t have the same physical capacities. Recognizing this isn’t rejecting women’s equality. It’s accepting reality, which we have to do if we are to protect women’s interests and ensure that they can fairly and fully participate in athletics.

Just as athletic associations around the world have had to create rules for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, they now need clear rules governing who qualifies to participate in women’s athletics. The rules must give priority to the interests of biological women. If they do not, then expect a growing number of women’s world records to be held by people who did not begin life as biological women. Expect more and more professional and college athletic teams to be dominated by former males. This trend threatens to undo recent decades’ progress in encouraging more women to play sports. And it sends the message to girls that they really shouldn’t bother competing in sports, since they are doomed to lose.

Carrie Lukas is the president of the Independent Women’s Forum.

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