The Atlantic: We shouldn’t separate school sports by sex

September 19, 2022 • 1:15 pm

Matthew called my attention to a tweet that highlighted this article. I was disturbed to read it, because it’s full of half-truths, distortions, and false claims that I didn’t expect in a magazine of the The Atlantic’s quality. The author, Maggie Mertens, is a writer and journalist living in Seattle.

First, what is Mertens calling for? Apparently for an end to the segregation of “school sports” and “youth sports” by sex.

So what are “youth sports”—do they extend past puberty? Because if they do, then you’ll have to deal with the issue of the differences in bone, muscles, grip strength, and other athletic-related traits that arise men and women after puberty.  Since Mertens doesn’t give an age range, and doesn’t mention the word “puberty” in her piece, I’ll take “school sports” to mean sports from elementary until the end of high school: that is, from first through 12th grades, or roughly between the ages of six and eighteen.  (Mertens implies below that high-school sports are included). In women puberty occurs between ages eight and thirteen, and in men between nine and fourteen, so nearly all high-school sports (8th or 9th through 12th grades) will involve youths who have already gone through puberty.

That means that the biological differences between men and women (Mertens attributes some of them to socialization—training—which may play a minor role) will already be manifesting themselves in the most widely-followed brand of youth sports: high-school athletics. Now I have no opinion on whether sports should be segregated by sex before the participants reach puberty, as I don’t know a good study of strength, muscle, and other relevant differences at that time. But we know a great deal about biological differences that, mediated by hormones, occur after puberty, giving males a performance advantage in virtually every sport except for very long-distance running. (I’m not sure about sports like shooting or archery, but am referring to ones that are heavily dependent on musculature, mass, speed, and strength.) I have discussed these in detail in previous posts. 

Here are a few bit of Mertens’s piece I object to. Her quotes are indented, and since I’ve given evidence for biological differences before, I won’t repeat them here. But you can easily Google those differences or click on the link just above.

A.) Mertens constantly conflates “sex” and “gender.”  The issue is one of biological sex: men versus women. There are just two of these, while gender can come in many varieties because they are social roles.  Nevertheless, Mertens keeps using “gender” when she should use “sex”. After all, sex is the issue, not whether people who identify as binary should compete against one sex or another. The exception, of course, is if you consider “transsexual” a gender role, and in that case the issue has always been whether transsexual women who have had medical interventions during their transition should compete against biological women. (There should be no issue about biological males who claim that they are really of female gender should compete against biological females. They shouldn’t.) Few girls should have any medical treatment until they’ve gone through puberty, or so I think. My emphasis in the quote below:

School sports are typically sex-segregated, and in America some of them have even come to be seen as either traditionally for boys or traditionally for girls: Think football, wrestling, field hockey, volleyball. However, it’s becoming more common for these lines to blur, especially as Gen Zers are more likely than members of previous generations to reject a strict gender binary altogether. Maintaining this binary in youth sports reinforces the idea that boys are inherently bigger, faster, and stronger than girls in a competitive setting—a notion that’s been challenged by scientists for years.

No, it’s the sex binary we’re talking about. If we’re talking about gender, there may be a gender bimodality, with one mode at “male gender” and the other at “female gender”, but it’s more bimodal rather than binary because a fair number of youths assume other genders. Her statement in bold is about sex, not gender. And, for post-puberty youths, it’s just wrong.

B.) Men don’t have average biological advantages over women in athletic performance. Scientific research says that for virtually every trait you can measure after puberty that affects athletic performance, males have more of what you need to succeed than do women. That’s why we segregate sports by sex in the first place, for to do so would be unfair to women, who would almost never win in mixed competitions. Granted, some women are athletically superior to some males, but we’re talking averages, and the distributions are in general so widely separated that were the Olympics always a mixed-sex competition among school-aged athletes, you’d almost never see a woman on the podium, for that’s where people stand who are in the upper tails of the distributions.

Mertens says this:

Decades of research have shown that sex is far more complex than we may think. And though sex differences in sports show advantages for men, researchers today still don’t know how much of this to attribute to biological difference versus the lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential. “Science is increasingly showing how sex is dynamic; it has multiple aspects and also shifts; for example, social experiences can actually change levels of sex-related hormones like testosterone in our bodies in a second-to-second and month-to-month way!”

First she admits what she denies above: that men have no inherent advantages over women in athletics. But she achieves this dissonance by saying that the differences in strength, speed, musculature, and so on might be largely attributable to differential training, a form of socialization.  I would argue, however, that, given the uniformity of results despite big differences in training of a given sex among schools, nearly all the athletic advantages map to biology and not training. The variation and “dynamic” nature of sex baffles me. Yes, testosterone levels may fluctuate, but not in a way that would average out the huge difference between males and females after puberty.

C.) Mertens’s dependence on anecdotes. Here’s Mertens’s argument for NOT separating school sports by sex:

The insistence on separating sports teams strictly by sex is backwards, argues Michela Musto, an assistant sociology professor at the University of British Columbia who has studied the effect of the gender binary on students and young athletes. “Part of the reason why we have this belief that boys are inherently stronger than girls, and even the fact that we believe that gender is a binary, is because of sport itself, not the other way around,” she told me by phone. The strict sex segregation we’ve instilled in sports at all levels gives the impression that men and women have completely different capabilities, but in reality, she said, the relationship between sex and athletic capability is never so cut-and-dried. “There are some boys who also could get really hurt if they were competing against other boys in contact sports.” Researchers have noted for years that there may even be more diversity in athletic performance within a sex than between the sexes. One recent small study in Norway found no innate sex difference when it came to youth-soccer players’ technical skills. The researchers hypothesized that the gap they did find between girls and boys was likely due to socialization, not biology.

Check out the Norway study, based on 16 men and 17 women, all past puberty (high school age). The skills analyzed were passing and receiving the ball (not diverse “technical skills,” as Mertens implies). But you don’t have to be a genius to know that success in soccer is dependent on speed and strength as well, and shooting as well as passing and receiving. Her reliance on this study as a reason to implement mixed-sex teams in school athletics is duplicitous.

D.) If we have mixed sex teams, how will we decide who gets to participate? Currently, at least in high school, your participation on an athletic team is based on your ability and achievements. If you did that for, say high school football or basketball, the teams would wind up nearly all male. Women would be disappointed non-participants—unless there was a quota system, a kind of athletic equity. When I tried out for Little League baseball, I was immediately cut from the the tryouts because I couldn’t handle grounders; I lacked the ability to play at even that level of sport. (I still remember the hurt I felt, and how I had to hide my tears from my dad, who was himself a great baseball player.)

E.) Mixed-sex teams are unfair to (biological women). Title IX assures women equal access to sports, as it should. Mixed-sex teams, if put together on ability, at least after puberty, would deny women that access. Further, Mertens seems to miss an important reason for separating male from female sports in schools.  Emphasis below is mine:

While the need to separate athletes by sex is still held firmly by many as a way to protect girls and women from harm, many people advocate for moving to a more integrated and inclusive approach. The Women’s Sports Foundation, founded by the tennis legend Billie Jean King, offered guidance on how girls and boys can equitably compete with and against each other: “If the skill, size and strength of any participant, female or male, compared to others playing on the team creates the potential of a hazardous environment, participation may be limited on the basis of these factors, rather than the sex of the participant.” In other words, if a girl on the football team needs to be assessed for her size and strength for safety reasons, so should all of the boys.

I still maintain this creates unfairness for female athletes given the biological differences between the sexes. It would still exclude women disproportionately from participation. But what I object to most strongly is the first sentence.  The separation of the sexes is, I think, not mainly to protect women from harm (really? in tennis, high-jumping, running, snowboarding, ski jumping, and a gazillion other sports?). Rather, it’s to allow women to participate and excel, which wouldn’t be nearly as possible on mixed-sex teams.

I should add that Mertens does cite some women participating on men’s teams in high-school sports:

But some young people seem intent on challenging the binary sports system. In 2018, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations, 2,404 girls played high-school tackle football, up from fewer than 1,000 in 2008. Around the country, the number of girls on wrestling teams increased to 28,447 in the 2019–20 season from just 4,975 in 2005. In 2019, Trista Blasz, a then-12-year-old wrestling phenom, was denied her request to join Lancaster High School’s junior-varsity boys’ team through the New York guidelines.

But note that this is for women playing on traditional men’s teams, while the issue is biological men playing on traditional women’s teams. I have no objections to having teams labeled “women” and “other” to deal with high-functioning women athletes, or some have suggested a third, intermediate category. But that has never been a solution for gender activists.

F.) Mertens’s “solution” is unworkable. Here’s what she envisions:

A different youth-sports world is possible. Musto has observed a swim team in California, for instance, whose athletes are separated by ability rather than sex; it has changed how the kids view one another. “It wasn’t a big deal if they had to share lanes with one another or they were competing against one another during practice. Gender wasn’t the primary thing that was shaping the perceptions of who was a good athlete or not,” she said. But as long as laws and general practice of youth sports remain rooted in the idea that one sex is inherently inferior, young athletes will continue to learn and internalize that harmful lesson.

For one thing, I don’t see youth sports as “rooted in the idea that females are inferior”. They are rooted in the fact that, at least after puberty, men and women are different, and different in big ways with little overlap. That difference mandates separation of the sexes on grounds of fairness, a fairness that allows women who want to do athletics to have a chance to compete and excel.

But seriously, how could you have basketball or football or soccer divided up by ability? That would create many different (and much smaller) teams within a school. How many football teams can you have? And, for most but not all sports (wrestling, archery, and individual rather than team tennis could be exceptions), this just isn’t practical.

Finally, I’d like to know what Mertens thinks about athletics beyond high school: college and professional sports. Why, given her assertions about biological equality of sexes and the effects of socialization, shouldn’t those be subject to her suggestions as well?

Read the article (it’s not long) and feel free to disagree below.


91 thoughts on “The Atlantic: We shouldn’t separate school sports by sex

  1. One sport that might benefit from mixed-sex competition is golf. Events could allow female players to tee up closer to the green. Or, matches could be limited to Par 3 holes.

    1. But how much closer? The women wanting a better shot st the big purses would argue for a lot closer. The men wanting to protect their lock on those big purses would argue to have them only a little closer. No one really likes people who get head starts , even if they “deserve“ it.

      There is no reason to integrate golf or any other sport that requires a fan base to thrive financially.. Making concessions and indulgences to weaker, less proficient women would only dilute the game, to no one’s benefit. Let them have their own leagues, with biological men excluded of course. If enough people will pay to watch or sponsor their game to make them rich, more power to them.

    2. Tennis has the most easily applied system for balancing competition between the sexes: men have to play the doubles lanes and are limited to a single serve (meaning they have to be cautious in trying to hit big serves for aces).

      Perhaps not coincidentally, tennis is also the sport in which the pros play mixed doubles at the major tournaments.

      1. They tried that. 35-year old Martina Navratilova vs 40-year old Jimmy Connors. Although he only had to defend half of the double lanes. He whipped her handily.

    3. tl;dr Competitive golf can’t be fair and be mixed-sex. TMC sorry if you already know this, others might not.

      Recreational golf already has a handicapping system that is based on each player’s typical good score relative to the course difficulty and relative to the tees from which the player hits the ball. Males and females use the same handicapping system; a strong talented younger female might hit it far and play from the longer back tees; an older weaker less talented player (like me) might not hit it far and would play from the shorter forward tees. The guy with the higher handicap like me gets several (or many) strokes over the girl who shoots the lights out. Then everyone has fun and everyone has a similar (not equal) chance to win. But cf. “sandbagging”.

      OTOH competitive golf is just about scoring, and everyone plays from the same back tees. Women are not competitive with men mainly because of strength and distance; men hit the ball farther so they can use a shorter more lofted club from the same distance, no matter whether everyone is playing from the back or the front tees; high lofted ball flight means greater accuracy and ability to stop the ball on the green; so men can hit with greater accuracy and leave themselves shorter putting distances. And golf score is about putting more than any other single part of the game.

    4. Or more simply, give men heavier balls. Or less dimpled ones. Claibrate them so that on a set hole (a test hole for each links, perhaps) the player can only just make it into a particular distance bracket.
      That calibration should remove (largely) the distance variation from speed, and leave the direction variation (and the experience variations in judging cross winds). Enough there for skill and experience to remain in a sport from which the physical element has been stripped. Which would be a good thing – get rid of the jocks and thugs departments of schooling.

    5. Being placed into male tournaments where she couldn’t be competitive at all was a big factor in derailing Michelle Wie’s once very promising career though.

        1. Absolute claims like;

          “In long distance, open ocean swimming, old women have proven superior to everyone else.”

          are dangerous to make as they are easily disputed.

          Women do hold a number of long distance swim records (some are amazing!) One, Sarah Thomas, has the record for longest swim ever – a loop route in lake Champlain. She swam for 168.3 km! WOW!

          But most are held by men.

          1. Thanks Leslie. For those that didn’t, Diana Nyad completed the (nb EdwardM) 180 km swim from Cuba to Florida at age 64 on her fifth try, earlier attempts being thwarted by storms and jelly fish stings. This was a stunning accomplishment for any human and not since repeated.

            Of course this says nothing about mixed sex athletics – which in most sports merits as much discussion as flat earth theory. I seriously wonder if only a tiny minority give it any credence. However, when The Atlantic publishes such a story it needs to be smacked down hard.

        1. An intrinsic difference between men and women?
          You know the way to the burning grounds. Please join the Heretic’s Queue. Please have enough cash about you to pay for carbon-offsetting your immolation.

  2. In basketball, both professional and collegiate, players’ heights are strikingly different from the general population. Average height of NBA players is 6’7″, and there are scarcely any players less than 6 inches above the general population. Given that height is a mere social convention, generated mostly by socialization and by training, we must put an end to the system of oppression which systemic heightism represents.
    We need basketball in which players of all sizes are equally represented, hopefully in exactly each height’s frequency in the general population.

    1. I’ve made this point before; but it’s relevant here. The NFL (American football) players are 67% black. Black’s make up about 13% of the population. Why is no one crying out for racial equality in the NFL? According to Kendi, the existence of an inequality in outcome is proof of systemic racism.

  3. Now that it has become nearly impossible to claim, without significant backlash, that men and women do differ at all, how can one possibly argue for athletic contests in boxing or martial arts or wrestling, for example, being divided by sex?

    1. To this point I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a woman athlete arguing that men should be able to pummel them in the ring. Although, there are instance of girls on wrestling teams in the US.

  4. School sports are typically sex-segregated, and in America some of them have even come to be seen as either traditionally for boys or traditionally for girls: Think football, wrestling, field hockey, volleyball. However, it’s becoming more common for these lines to blur, especially as Gen Zers are more likely than members of previous generations to reject a strict gender binary altogether.

    Conflating sex and gender seems to be the new sport. Categorizing sports which could be played by either sex as rightfully “belonging” to one or the other is gender. Having wrestling teams for girls or field hockey for boys could be considered “rejecting a strict gender (sex stereotype) binary.”

    Putting adolescent males on the female team, however, isn’t rejecting a gender-binary; it’s willfully refusing to acknowledge facts about sex in order to make some ideological point. It’s interesting that the main anecdote Merten focuses on is a girl wanting to be on a boys team. There’s a lot less controversy there because nobody is worried that allowing girls on a boys team means fewer and fewer males will be winning spots & prizes. Disingenuous.

  5. In Merten’s introductory anecdote the subject ran into trouble in her Junior year in high-school, so clearly Merten’s doesn’t just mean kids. Still, it would be typical of the genre to elide the difference. I find it interesting that people who write pieces like this never address the history of segregated sports and the reasons for segregation. Mertens presents this as “exclusionary,” which I think if unfair, since girls are not excluded from sports.

    1. What is unfair is this:

      And though sex differences in sports show advantages for men, researchers today still don’t know how much of this to attribute to biological difference versus the lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential.

      That’s not an indictment of sexist conditioning against girls doing sports. Because sex differences are real, this translates into “guess you girls just aren’t trying hard enough.”

      1. Some time ago, we were discussing this same issue here and a commenter wrote that she believed that if boys and girls were given the same diet and the same expectations, they would show similar endurance and strength.
        I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember wondering how a person could grow up around other people and believe such things.
        The article just shows that variations of those beliefs persist.
        I still think it happens because fewer people these days are exposed to real work at a young age.
        With us it is hay bales. We want to get them put away before they get rained on, and there are thousands of them. Everyone eats at the same table, and everyone is expected to stack as many bales as they can. It becomes quickly apparent that there is very little overlap in men’s and women’s abilities.
        The military has been compiling data on this for years. On day one, there is considerable overlap of ability, especially among very fit females and very unfit males. After three month’s training, the sex differences have reasserted themselves.

        In casual sports, if there is such a thing at the high school level, mixing people of all abilities seems fine.

        As soon as it starts involving practice, training, and serious competition, coed sports become those where the girls do not get to compete, unless there are quotas, as mentioned in the text.

        1. In my view (and from my own hands-on experience) baling and putting up hay counts for not a little on a resume. (Also grabbing and crating chickens off the roost, working in a lumber mill and cleaning carpet come to mind.)

          I wonder what credit Ivy League schools give sweat-of-the-brow manual labor on an application.

          1. Well, I grew up on a large farm ranch doing these activities, spent K-6 in a one-room rural schoolhouse, etc. I am quite certain that this information was a plus plus to Harvard admissions when they admitted to the class of 1971.

          2. It is my favorite time of year. The family converges on the ranch, the work days are long, and the meals are huge. It is sort of like boot camp. When the last bale is put up, everyone is lean and strong, and we take the crew into town for a feast.
            We have not had chickens since I was little. We have some cattle. One of our neighbors has a great many cattle, and we help move them between spring and summer pastures, which is sort of a taste of old time cowboy life.

            But loading and stacking the small bales is a perfect test of strength and endurance. The bales are spaced fairly evenly, where they were dropped from the baler. There is some weight variance, but it is sort of random. The trailer moves at the speed it moves, and you either keep up or you don’t. You cannot fake it. I guess you could push yourself to match the pace for a day or two, but it would soon catch up to you, and you give up or get hurt.

          3. Thanks for sharing your remembrance of hay hauling. I worked for a trucking company that contracted with ranchers to bring in their hay (no baling experience though). 1968-1970 I worked 10-12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, May through September (during school months I only worked weekends or when I was suspended). At typically 4 cents a bale I ,made more than my father.

  6. I’m glad to see the idea of desegregation is catching on. I don’t mind disagreeing with various opinions of some of the folks in my camp, though.

    > Men don’t have average biological advantages over women in athletic performance.

    It’s clear they do, just as it’s clear that members of certain ethnic groups have biological advantages over members of other groups, despite what the far left says. I haven’t seen many pygmies playing pro-basketball. Still, we choose not to segregate by ethnicity, even though not everyone will be able to play competitively. We don’t need to create special leagues so we can claim that the physically disadvantaged are playing at the same elite level. Segregation is just too ‘woke’ for me. We don’t need to give everyone a safe space to compete.

    1. Actually there may be a niche for a Pygmy BB player with excellent dribbling and passing skills at knee level of the giants as he runs like a cotton tail rabbit. Pro BB has become boring because of the lack of dribbling and passing.

      1. “ may be a niche for a Pygmy BB player with excellent dribbling and passing skills”

        Yeah, his name was Mougsey Bogues. He had a 13-year NBA career. He was not a gimmick.

  7. And a tangential comment, I was speaking with my brother out in Lincoln Nebraska, a big college town with a fairly liberal community, and said his grand-daughter in 2nd grade and other girls are required to wear sports bras during physical education. Gees, nothing has even sprouted from the epidermis yet. Ridiculous MAGA “christian” morals apparently. The family should move to Europe

  8. “If we have mixed sex teams, how will we decide who gets to participate?”

    Per the Supreme Court, I’d guess it would be based on sharing the coaches religion.

  9. But as long as laws and general practice of youth sports remain rooted in the idea that one sex is inherently inferior

    Well, in the area of physical competition I that’s pretty much proven to be the case, at least on average.

    Here’s my anecdote to “prove” it:

    At school I was pretty rubbish at sports. I could count myself as above average at cricket but girls played rounders, not cricket (which is an indictment: girls played rounders, hockey and netball; boys played football, rugby and cricket and never the twain shall meet). However, at cross country, I was good enough to make the school B team. I would say I was just within the top 10% of boys.

    In one run, probably my third or fourth (I would have been 10 or 11) I found myself following a girl. It was a shock to realise that I was following the absolute 100% best girl the school had at cross country. She held all the records for this particular school and not only had I caught her up, she was going too slow for me to follow comfortably. I overtook her and from that day to the end of my time in school I was never beaten by a female at cross country. I wasn’t unusual. When I was at what Americans would call high school maybe fifteen boys out of a hundred in my year could say the same thing.

    Tennis was another matter. I could beat any girl with the same skill level as me or perhaps a bit more just with power. Unfortunately, there were very few girls who were that bad.

    1. The women’s record in the mile is 4:12.33. Seventeen high school boys have broken a 4 minute mile since 1964. Those elite female athletes must just not be trying hard enough.
      (That was sarcasm, for anyone too woke to realize it.)

      1. And long-distance running is one of the less segregated sports by results, as it doesn’t engage certain systems where males have a larger advantage nearly as much as other sports (e.g. fast-twitch muscle, muscle mass, upper-body strength, and so on).

  10. I read it (and am an Atlantic subscriber). I noticed the same muddled argument that you did, particularly conflating sex and gender.

    Let’s put that aside and suppose that Mertens gets the sex-blind youth sports that she asks for. How many girls will make the football team (assuming a 50 student roster)? How many will be on the baseball team? How many will wrestle on the varsity team? How many will be starters on the lacrosse team? Tennis has some great female players, so I can certainly envision some female tennis players making varsity high school tennis teams. Same with swimming. Same with bowling. (I played varsity tennis in high school and, indeed, I was also on the varsity bowling team—an all boys team even though girls were allowed). The practical outcome of sex-blind sports in schools would disappointment, as many girls would not be able to compete. My mother played field hockey in high school. For that sport, there was no male team, as field hockey was regarded as a girls’ sport. If boys suddenly took an interest in field hockey, even this traditionally girls’ sport would probably end up being dominated by boys.

    Female representation might be improved by (1) encouraging more girls at a young age to engage in traditional boy’s sports and by (2) extending a sincere welcome to girls to try out. So, one could imagine more girls competing successfully than do so today. And maybe we should do both of the things I just mentioned. But there would still be lots of disappointment. This is because so many sports depend on size, speed and strength, which no amount of socialization can change. I doubt that Mertens has in mind a sports infrastructure where girls will always be at a disadvantage.

  11. This web site compares the track and field scores of the top under 18-year-old high school boys of 2016 to those of the 2016 female Olympians. Ironically, the top three finishers in the 800-meter race that year were intersex individuals with male levels of testosterone. The controversy surrounding the trio caused the various track and field bodies and the International Olympic Committee to set maximum testosterone levels for female and intersex competitors. They would have finished 9th, 10th and 11th against the high school boys that year.

  12. This post stimulated my ongoing etymologico-linguistical-scientific-terminological quest which is mine. Apologies in advance for thinking this out here – I am not criticizing anyone’s writing here :

    bicuspid : consisting of two cusps, or points.
    bivalve : consisting of two valves
    binary : consisting of e.g. two real numbers or digits
    bisex or bisexual : consisting of two sexes as established by gamete size and motility.

    Thus, an example of a scientific claim, written out, if the reasoning above is accurate, would be :

    Squirrels, chimpanzees, and humans are bisex, or bisexual.


  13. The assumption that the observed performance difference between men and women is due to “socialization issues” and “differential training” implies, bluntly speaking, that female athletes around the world across disciplines are stupid and/ or lazy, otherwise they would train as hard and smart as their male counterparts and do just as well. I don’t quite see how that is any less sexist than the obviously correct statement that men and women simply have different bodies.

  14. I didn’t see an age for girls playing tackle football, nor did I see what position they might have played or what string. This matters, at least in my experience with playing football as a kid. I could see peewee league football not being nearly as much a problem as freshman high school. I played my freshman year, 6’4”, but barely 150lbs soaking wet. I could only just handle myself as a 2nd string guard/tackle against other 2nd string players, was basically shoved wherever the opponent wished in most cases, and generally got my d*** knocked in the dirt, as they say, against many more muscular and masculine sophomore players when we practiced with them. That’s why I quit, I knew I’d be dead meat otherwise. I can’t imagine how a person smaller and of equal or lesser strength might fare, excepting maybe as a kicker, where you don’t block, tackle, or get tackled. Granted there’s probably a significant number of girls of greater strength than I had at that age. I was better at tackling books.
    I’m not against the idea, but I don’t think it’s a good one, either. Maybe this is something that just has to happen. I fear many of these culture issues have to be allowed to happen, damn the torpedoes.

    1. The FINA rules are timely and well-reasoned. They deal with circumstances under which men who identify as women can play on women’s teams: they cannot if their puberty passed beyond Tanner 2. This would be a one-time only atteststion by a doctor that puberty was suppressed or aborted as soon as the earliest signs appeared.

      This is a different proposition from determining when boys and girls should no longer play together on co-ed teams. This would require before every game and practice a ritual of what the army used to call short-arm inspection by coaches, not physicians, to determine if this week was the week the boy could no longer compete with the girls. From personal memory, being the last boy to start showing a small ring of pubic hair would be a humiliating experience enough to put him off sport forever.

  15. It appears to me that there are good reasons for females to play softball and not baseball. In particular, the pitching form : I surmise it would be uncomfortable for a females of certain dimensions to pitch overhand. Softball is definitely a “youth” sport.

    As for underhand pitching, I can’t understand it at all – seems out of control, from simply trying it myself, as a non-softball player (asoftballist, if you will).

    1. Yes, girls play softball in HS and college and boys play baseball. However, softball is not entirely a youth sport – I and many other older guys played highly competitive fast-pitch softball well into our 40’s, and some of the top pitchers in the nation were also of that age.

    2. Not knowing a whole lot about the game because I sucked, I am circumspect about opining, but when women play baseball, they pitch overhanded. And in softball, only the pitches to the batter must be underhanded. Throws elsewhere including by the pitcher are typically overhanded, unless an underhand toss, e.g., short to second on a force, is suited to the play.
      Women throw underhand because they play softball (or fastball as women here call it), and softball is an underhand pitched game. Developing an accurate repertoire of overhand pitches that can strike out a good batter is a highly developed skill that few of either sex can master.

      1. [ my comment disappesred]


        Imagine an MLB pitcher, really winging it in there. Look at the form – very precise. Now [ … sigh… how do I express it …] imagine that same pitcher wearing a Baby Björn, and how the throwing arm will sweep across it.

        I don’t think that will be comfy.

        1. Whereas, e.g. riding a bicycle with a saddle in your testicles, or running or wrestling or kicking with your reproductive organs flopping about on the outside would be comfy?

          1. The subject is pitching underhand in softball, as compared to overhand in baseball.

            You are suggesting…. what, precisely?

  16. One reads of all the chemicals in our planet’s environments, notably estrogen mimics that occur in plastics and pesticides and many other chemicals. Micro plastics are ubiquitous . How are these chemicals affecting neural and sexual development in animals? Is the sudden upsurge of trans kids somehow connected to environmental contamination?

  17. Good grief! The Atlantic? I used to read it to deepen my understanding. What’s become of it? Martens has produced an atrocious article and the Atlantic bought it. Probably to establish some kind of credibility with the woke community in their midst. Maybe cred with the new-hires coming out of Oberlin.

  18. You do not want contact sports to be mixed-sex. The moment a female is injured by an aggressive group of males, the lizard-brain reaction will be explosive. The reaction will apply even if a male of the exact same height and weight would have been injured in a similar manner. It doesn’t matter if this is called a sex binary or a gender binary, it is a fact of society.

  19. Thank goodness for WEIT: it is a break from the constant woke-ness from the two periodicals I subscribe to: the Atlantic and the New Woke Times. (sigh)

  20. I have so many young girls relatives who play sports, and not a single one has ever (to my knowledge) tried to play on the boys teams or wished that their sport was not segregated by sex. Some of them are high-level, competing for scholarships, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they don’t want to play with or against boys.

    I’ve said this many times before on this subject, but it bears repeating: the greatest women’s ice hockey team the world has ever seen regularly loses to high school boys teams (it’s how they’ve scrimmaged in the past — you know, to get in experience against roughly equivalent competition — though I haven’t seen news of that in a few years, so they probably stopped so people wouldn’t keep noticing this). The greatest women’s football (soccer) team the world has ever seen regularly lost to under-15 local boys teams (again, they were scrimmaging against what they felt was similar competition).

    When Venus and Serena Williams pronounced that they could beat any man outside the top 200 (already a pretty low bar, considering the women we’re talking about), a man named Karsten Braasch stepped up to play a set against each of them. He was ranked below 200 in the world, had just played half a round of golf, had two pints, and was a smoker (there’s a reason you’ve never heard of him). He beat them each 6-1, saying that he let them win a game just to be a good sport.

    Sports must be segregated by sex so women and girls have the chance to play against equivalent competition, receive the benefits of playing both lower- (fitness, camaraderie, self-esteem, etc.) and higher-level (scholarships, money, etc.) sports. If you don’t segregate sports by sex, you end up with only boys playing, and nobody but the most ardent activists of a very particular and niche but powerful ideology wants that.

    1. While Serena said after the set that they could certainly beat someone outside the top 350, she said this a few years ago: “Andy Murray has been joking about myself and him playing a match. I’m like, ‘Seriously? Are you kidding me?’ Men’s tennis and women’s tennis are two completely different sports,” Serena Williams said. “If I were to play him, I’d lose 6-0, 6-0 within 10 minutes. Men are a lot faster, they serve and hit harder. It’s a different game.”

      Also, I was mistaken in saying that they both lost 6-1. Venus got two games, but Baarsch was also 40 years old and said he played more “like a 600 player” and served at only 50% of his capability.

    2. And another more fundamental point…why are these elite women’s teams scrimmaging U-15/U-16 boys in the first place? I don’t even need to know the results of these matches…I can infer that these matches must be challenging to the women, otherwise why play them?

      I mean, does the US Men’s national basketball, hockey, soccer team etc. ever feel the need to scrimmage the U-15 boys side in their sport? Of course not! The notion that this would be competitive matches is beyond absurd! Could you imagine the results of such contests if the men took them seriously?

      Just a moment’s reflection on the above should tell you something about the current gap in elite men and women in sport.

      As wetherjeff notes further down, the failure of these folks to connect the dots for such simple lines of reasoning is indicative of very poor critical reasoning skills.

    3. Just another anecdote – at Pepperdine, we had a lunch-bunch group of guys ages mid-20’s to mid 50’s playing basketball. Occasionally we would scrimmage against the women’s varsity Division I team – and we always won.

  21. Tae Kwon Do :

    From what I gather, the “youth” practice has been both male and female together. I guess wildly this has been the case for a few decades.

    The Olympics separate males and females – Judo too.

  22. “One recent small study in Norway found no innate sex difference when it came to youth-soccer players’ technical skills. The researchers hypothesized that the gap they did find between girls and boys was likely due to socialization, not biology.”

    Isolated tests of football (soccer) skills without context aren’t that informative…as a football coach myself I have seen many U-8 to U-12 players who can waltz through technical drills, juggling the ball 100s of times, dribbling around cones and so forth, but lack the athleticism to express this skill on the field against live opponents. What people may not understand is that merely performing a “textbook” skill move around a cone may not be enough…it has to be done with speed as well as precision. For example, a slick “stepover” move in football may be useless unless it is performed with the explosiveness required to fool an opponent.

    Isolated technical training has its place, mind you, as no player gets to the elite level without ball mastery. But it would have been better if they had run a series of small-sided games, say 3 v 3 or 4 v 4 girls vs boys to see the expression of this technique in a game-like situation.

    From experience in coaching both boys and girls, it would generally not fare well for the girls. Pre-covid, I had the pleasure of working with a highly ranked U-16 girls travel team. They were so good that we often scrimmaged boys teams…and lost every game. And these were very low level boys, nowhere near the best male players in the area. But what they lacked technically they more than made up for with superior speed at virtually every position. One of our female players said that playing the boys teams felt like playing against a team of 15 players (football teams normally field 11 per side).

    After puberty, the differences in speed (and related qualities like acceleration, agility and power) favor boys quite starkly in my experience, at least in the sport of football. And these qualities are often the hardest to improve through training. For instance, I can help you get marginally faster and perhaps improve your conditioning to preserve what speed you have over the course of a match, but we cannot turn a slow player into a fast player. Speed, acceleration, power…these seem to be qualities that are largely innate among athletes.

    Oh, and don’t forget, the boys after puberty also enjoy a marked size advantage…and football is still very much a contact sport. So female athletes would not only be giving away speed, but size as well.

    Given this, I just don’t buy the “socialization” explanation for performance differences in the crucial areas . For that to be true, people like Mertens would have to explain how girls have received enough football training to achieve high levels of technical skill almost to the level of the boys (per the study she cites), but somehow this same football training did not close the speed and power gap. This would be a strange sort of “socialization” effect.

    1. I agree with all your points. I’d go further and say that not only does the study that Mertens cite not support her claim (or the researchers’ conclusion), it undermines it.

  23. It’s through silly statements like this that people reveal their lack of critical reasoning:

    “For example, social experiences can actually change levels of sex-related hormones like testosterone in our bodies”.</i

    Implicit in this argument is the idea that testosterone can significantly influence athletic performance, and here the author is absolutely correct.

    However, the extent to which social experiences can affect testosterone levels is very limited and transitory. As such these changes are unlikely ever to have a significant and lasting impact on a person’s athletic performance. Males have MUCH higher levels of testosterone than females, either during or after puberty, and individuals at the higher end of the distribution are almost exclusively male. Even healthy males who are at the lower end of the testosterone level distribution still have around a fivefold greater concentration of androgens in their blood, when compared to those at the highest end of the female distribution.

    If we agree that androgen levels are a positive influence on athletic performance – which is implicit in her argument – she would have to explain why females at the top of their distribution remain unable to beat men.

    I guess she could claim that androgens don’t improve performance. But, if so, why did she mention testosterone in the first place?

    Can’t have it both ways.

  24. In reference to point B, has does Mertens explain the fact that female Olympians, who were probably socialized to athletics very early and devote most of their lives to excelling in their given sport, put up numbers that are usually on par with the best males at the high school level, which is at least 3 or 4 rungs down from male Olympians.

  25. Serena Williams, probably the greatest ever women’s tennis player, on how she’d do against Andy Murray: “If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes.”

    If sport wasn’t separated by biological sex women wouldn’t just not podium at the Olympics, they wouldn’t be at the games at all.

    1. That is, of course, mitigatable. Not having picked up a tennis racquet for decades, I’m not sure if you’d need to put a maximum length on mens’ racquets, or a minimum, but adjusting the equipment would be one way of mitigating the physical differences. If men can accelerate their arms at (say) 3g to achieve a 100kmph serve, with a shorter racquet (or a heavier one) they might only achieve 80kmph. Whatever the relevant numbers for actual tennis play.
      Actually, since someone mentioned golf up-thread … aren’t golfing equipment regulations regularly updated to reduce the performance of the physically stronger players – that being easier than relaying the greens on the links? So there is both precedent and an example rules regime. (Yes, you’d need to update the regulations regularly. Shrug.)

      1. Yep, everyone would love to watch men play under (physical) handicaps. That’s why you see so much of that in men’s sport. What’s the point? We could load the men in track and field with sacks of sand. But why would anyone want to do this?

        Destroy sport to make it equitable?

        Skip the sport and just hand everyone championship trophies.

  26. There are some FIFA stats about running in soccer:

    “The average distance over three games covered by women was 10.2 km (6.3 miles) and men covered 11.4km (7.1 miles). This works out as a 14% difference.”

  27. Mixed-sex competitive sport will become male-only for perfectly obvious reasons. And there is nothing sporting about that.

      1. My problem is that I feel girls (we are talking school sports here, so ‘girls’ is correct) deserve to enjoy sports. They will not appear on school teams if all the places are taken by the stronger boys. Surely you don’t regard that as desirable?

    1. The way things are going, mixed-sex sports would turn into escalating attempts to minimize the “privilege” males have due to what can only be unfair socialization. Look to see boys and men wearing weights, manacles, and eye patches. Paging Harrison Bergeron to the white courtesy phone.

  28. I had mixed sex school sports lessons through all grades, including in at least part of that time mixed changing/locker rooms (never a problem, I suspect this can no longer be done now). But then, school sports in Germany is a completely different animal from the US version. It’s not competitive, it’s mainly about staying fit and getting to know the different sports. Boys and girls played in one team always, although I remember that getting hit in the face by a ball kicked by a strong boy was way worse than a girl’s ball. You got grades, and I assume that there was some consideration of differing sex standards there. But there were no school teams, no jocks, no girls in the bleachers, no cheerleaders, no sport scholarships, no glory in school sports, just exercise.
    Competitive sport in Germany is mainly organized by private associations/clubs, of which many exist everywhere, and membership fees are very modest, especially for children. The competetive stuff done by the clubs was/is of course sex-separated, except where this clearly isn’t necessary, like equestrian sports or target shooting.

    1. In the US sports lessons, what is typically referred to as gym class, in school from kindergarten through high school are not typically segregated either. As you say, the purpose of gym class is not competitiveness but fitness.

      Sports teams typically are segregated of course, but they are an entirely different thing from gym class. Although it is not unusual for a school to have a special gym class specifically for people on sports teams this type of class is in addition to the regular gym class and is often open to anyone. These classes are basically just advanced fitness classes that often include training in weightlifting and more advanced running and cardio training, more akin to track and field training.

  29. Thinking about my sports “career” in school, I just remembered that we noticed that boys are better at short distance running and throwing the very first time that we did such a thing with a timer/measuring band, I think in third grade, way before puberty. There were boys who threw a ball 60 meters, none of the girls got even close. Boys were certainly not better at coordination tasks.

  30. Not to distract too much from the specific topic, but I have a question if anyone wants to address it. When arguments like this are made do you think it has more to do with trying to elevate the status of women that they are in no way inferior to men, or does it have more to do with recent attempts to eliminate the idea of biological sex altogether and have simply one big pool of humans.

    1. I’m pretty sure your first option is not the case. People concerned with the status of women, including females and feminists, seem overwhelming to be against desegregating sports, in my experience.

      Your second option is much closer to the mark I think. But it seems to me that there is an underlying ideological reason for many of these people that are engaged in attempting to eliminate the idea of biological sex. The denial of biological sex and the real differences that it accounts for is merely a rationalization that both fits naturally with many of the philosophical inheritances of the ideologies many of these people share, for example PM, and helps them validate their rigid ethical views. And more importantly allows them to validate vilifying people that don’t agree with them. Not just disagree, or even strongly disagree, but vilify.

      The real tragedy to me is that if their goal truly is to achieve equal rights and respect for transgender + all genders, denying the fact of biological sex and the significant differences attributable to it is completely unnecessary. Worse, since it is so laughably wrong it is a serious detriment to that good cause. All in my opinion of course.

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