While we’ve managed to eliminate sex and gender segregation across many different fronts within the last decade, there is still one place remaining where men and women are strictly kept apart: sports.
A broken culture exists that cleverly justifies why men and women supposedly cannot compete together. The truth is, women are no less capable than men and all athletes are deserving of the opportunity to compete on the same platform.
“This is the most common argument against gender integration in sports; integrated sports teams shouldn’t exist because men are stronger than women,” PBS reported.
Such an argument, however, isn’t that simple. For example, “research suggests there is no clear connection between a person’s gender and their sporting ability. Instead, the argument that men are superior to women in sport is based only on statistical averages,” as reported by the New Zealand news organization, Stuff.
In fact, within the last century, women athletes have been improving at a rate far greater than men. This comes as a result “because women have increasingly had more access to the things that athletes need to better themselves—like more invitations to major events, and better equipment, training, and coaching,” according to PBS.
Providing women with the same opportunities as men has allowed female athletes to “catch up” and compete at the same level as men. Due to this fact, women could hold their own in co-ed competition.
Even if women were not meeting men’s records, gender would not be a strong enough indicator of someone’s physical ability and potential.
Roslyn Kerr, Canterbury doctor of sociology of sport, says “she believes there are alternatives to male/female sports categories, based on physical attributes that result in superior performance in that particular sport. For example, those playing basketball would be categorized on height advantage and not necessarily gender,” according to Stuff.
This type of categorization has already been put into action in the Paralympics. Rather than labeling teams as male or female, they divide athletes based on physical abilities within their specific sport.
“In each sport, it would be possible to identify the characteristics which make up a successful athlete and create categories based on those rather than on sex,” The Conversation suggests as a possible alternative to the current system.
For example, “in an endurance sport, athletes could be classified according to muscle mass and lung capacity,” The Conversation recommends.
Gender division in sports is harmful for a variety of reasons, including the fact that this classification continues to downgrade femininity. Its greatest failure, however, is in its complete alienation of anyone who does not fit in the gender binary of male or female.
“In 2012, several women underwent surgery in order to meet the requirements to compete in the women’s events at the Olympic Games, even though they had always identified as women and externally appeared to be women,” according to The Conversation.
With gender segregation in athletics, there is virtually no room for transgender or intersex individuals.
If all genders competed together, however, individuals’ perceptions of women’s capabilities, as well as those who do not identify as male or female, could improve.
“Several studies have found that the more men play against women, the more they come to accept that women can be good athletes, which suggests [gender integration] is worth pursuing,” as reported by The Conversation.
Perhaps there is potential to extend this kind of acceptance to all athletes who do not perfectly fit the male/female dichotomy, assuming all athletes are allowed the opportunity to play together, regardless of sex or gender.
Replacing this outdated system with a far more logical one based on sport-specific physical abilities would not only be a massive step forward for gender equality, but it would make athletics a far more inclusive space for all.