Contro la discriminazione sessuale nello sport

Against sexual discrimination in sports – Values in Sport: Elitism, Nationalism, Gender Equality and the Scientific Manufacturing of Winners – Torbjörn Tännsjö

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Esistono ambiti sociali in cui la discriminazione femminile si pratica ancora senza alcuna vergogna: per esempio lo sport. Come farla cessare?

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Introduction

Sexual discrimination is a widespread and recalcitrant phenomenon. However, in Western societies, explicit sexual discrimination, when exposed, is seldom defended straightforwardly. There is one remarkable exception to this, however. Within sports sexual discrimination is taken for granted… Even by radical feminists this kind of sexual discrimination has rarely been questioned. This is strange….

Note:NELLO SPORT LA DISCRIMINIZZAZIONE SESSUALE È ACCETTATA

The thesis of this chapter is that it is not. Even within sports, sexual discrimination is morally objectionable. No sexual discrimination should take place within sports.

L’ECCEZIONE È GIUSTIFICABILE?

The reasons for giving up sexual discrimination within sports, and for allowing individuals of both sexes to compete with each other, is simple. In sports it is crucial that the best person wins. Then sexual differences are simply irrelevant.

Note:RAGIONI PER ELIMINARLA

These are the main arguments for sexual discrimination within sports – some of them, no doubt, striking an indistinguishable (yet false) chord of special concern for women: Sexual discrimination within sports is no different from the use of, say, different weight classes in certain sports, intended to make the result less predictable. We use sexual discrimination because we seek, to use Warren Fraleigh’s term, ‘the sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome’. If women and men compete, and women defeat men, then this will cause violent responses from men. So we had better retain the discrimination. If we give up sexual discrimination in sports, then probably all women will find (because on average they perform poorly in comparison with men) that they are always defeated by some men. This will be discouraging for women in general and for female athletes in particular. Female sports are different from male sports. They represent a unique value, and if we gave up discrimination this unique value would be foregone. A similar argument can be devised with reference to male sports, of course.

Note:ARGOMENTI AVANZATI DI SOLITO PER TOLLERARLA

Sexual discrimination as no different to the use of weight classes?

I have sometimes met the objection that sexual discrimination in some sports is no different to the use of weight classes in, say, boxing. We have such weight classes in order to ascertain that the outcome of a competition is not too easily predictable.

Note:OBIEZIONE DEL PESO

Such classes are constructed with reference to crucial characteristics of the individual athlete, characteristics with relevance for the capacity to perform…Sexual discrimination is different: it takes place on the ground that, on average, women perform less well than men in certain sports. This is objectionable….Perhaps this is a mere statistical accident. Perhaps it is due to socially constructedAnd even if the statistical correlation is due to biological sexual differences (more below about sexual differences, and how to define them), and even if it has a law-like character, it is still only a statistical difference….women, who are not (statistically speaking) ‘typical’, perform better than many (most) men do….

Note:LA DIFFERENZA CON LA DISCRIMINAZIONE SESSUALE

It is ‘discrimination’, then, not only in a factual sense (in the way the term is used in this chapter), when a competent woman, who can and wants to defeat a certain man, is prohibited from doing so, on the ground that women in general do not perform as well as men in general. But it is also ‘discrimination’ in a moral sense, and such discrimination is morally reprehensible.

Note:DOPPIA DISCRIMINAZIONE

sexual classes (sex is only indirectly and statistically relevant to winning in boxing).

Note:CONCLUSIONE

Sexual discrimination because of male aggressiveness?

Not only boxing, but also many other sports, are aggressive and involve a considerable amount of physical contact and encounter between competing athletes. Now, if women and men are allowed to compete against each other, and if some women defeat some men, then this would trigger violent responses from these men, or so the argument goes.

Note:I VANTAGGI DELL’AGGRESSIVITÀ: L’UOMO CHE LA BUTTA IN RISSA

it would be wrong to surrender to the argument, for there is another way of responding to the phenomenon of male aggressiveness against women. I am thinking here of the possibility of rendering impossible the aggressive response. This could be done if the rules of the game in question were changed. Aggressive assault on competitors could be punished much more severely than it is in many sports currently.

Note:RIMEDI ALTERNATIVI ALLA DISCRIMINAZIONE

Take tennis as an example. In modern tennis, the service is of enormous importance: an efficient service presupposes a lot of physical strength from the server. At the same time, an effective service tends to render the sport rather boring: it kills the game by taking the elegance out of it. An obvious solution to this problem would be to introduce a rule saying that a service is not successful unless the receiver has successfully returned it.

Note:ESEMPIO DEL TENNIS

Women will be discouraged?

even if it is a good thing from the point of view of sexual equality when a woman beats a man, is it not a bad thing, from the same point of view, when the best women in certain sports find that they cannot compete with the best men? Wouldn’t this fact be disappointing for these women?

Note:DONNE SCORAGGIATE?

This is basically the case in many other fields of society. There are men within certain sciences and arts, such as mathematics and musical composition, who perform better than all women (there is no female Gödel or Bach, for example). Should this be disappointing for women? I think not. I think rather it should be considered a real challenge, for we do not believe that it is because of their biological sex that no women solved logical problems like Gödel or composed like Bach.

Note:MUSICA E MATEMATICA

From Pausanias’ references to dropping women from the side of a cliff if they even observed the ancient Olympic Games, to de Coubertin’s ideal that the goals that were to be achieved by the athletes through participation in the Olympic Games were not appropriate for women (de Coubertin 1912), one can easily see that the place of women in sport has been, for the most part, foreign at best. It is this basic idea, the idea that sport (or sometimes even physical activity), particularly high-level competitive sport, is somehow incompatible with what women are, or what they should be, that must dominate any discussion of the unique issues for women in sport. Philosophies of ideal sport, and ideal women, lie behind discussions of permitting women to compete, of choosing the types of sport in which women can compete, in developing judging standards for adjudicated (as opposed to refereed) sports – contrast gymnastics and basketball – in attitudes to aggression, and competition, and indeed to the very existence of women’s sport as a separate entity at all.

Note:LO SPORT COME COSTRUZIONE SOCIALE

I believe that, if such obstacles are eliminated, if new weight and length classes are introduced in many sports, if the rules are changed so as to render it impossible for aggressive athletes to punish their competitors, and if severe punishments are introduced for violations of the rules, then women can actually compete successfully and safely with men in many sports.

Note:CAMBIARE LA REGOLE

One of my colleagues, who likes to go to further extremes than I do,2 has objected to my argument in the following way. If we should abolish sexual discrimination within sports, he asks, why not abolish species discrimination as well? Why not have men competing with animals? Why not have Carl Lewis running over 100m against a hunting leopard?… However, if the differences between men and hunting leopards were merely statistical, so that some men could beat some hunting leopards, then I am not sure that competitions between men and beasts would seem so outlandish; after all, they used to have such competitions during antiquity….

Note:LEWIS CONTRO IL LEOPARDO

Female sports represent a unique value

It may seem that female sports are different from male sports, and so they represent a unique value. To give up sexual discrimination would therefore be like giving up valuable existing sports. It would be like giving up soccer or baseball, or basketball or hurdles in running.

Note:OBIEZIONE: C’È UN’UNICITÀ DA TUTELARE NELLO SPORT FEMMINILE

to the extent that there is a grain of truth in it, this grain of truth does not warrant the conclusion that we should retain sexual discrimination in sports. Rather, it does warrant the conclusion that many aspects of sports need to be reformed, so that ‘female’ qualities are added to them or, even, so that ‘female’ qualities are exchanged for ‘male’ ones.

Note:FEMMINILIZZARE LO SPORT

To put it drastically, therefore, I think it is fair to say that, in many sports, women compete against each other in masculinity, narrowly conceived. It is hard to find any special feminine qualities in such competitions… I find the fact simply degrading, to both women and men. I also find that, if some women do want to compete in masculinity, why should they restrict themselves to a competition against each other?

Note:MITO DELLA FEMMINILITÀ NELLO SPORT

there may still be a grain of truth in the saying that women’s sports in some aspects have unique qualities. I think, then, of qualities that are less to do with mere physical strength and more to do with inventiveness, sensibility, cooperation, strategy, playfulness, wit, and so forth. There may be more room for these qualities in women’s competitions. And, to the extent that this is true, I think we are dealing with genuine and unique (female) qualities. However, there exists an obvious and better way of retaining these qualities than to retain sexual discrimination within sports. These qualities should be introduced in all sorts of sport, and they should not only be added to existing qualities but, in many cases, be exchanged for existing qualities.

Note:SE LA FEMMINILITÀ NELLO SPORT ESISTE ANDREBBE CULTURALMENTE ESALTATA ED ESTESA

We tend to think of the possible sports as a somewhat fixed group of those currently available. Yet even basketball and football are of very recent invention. Since women have been virtually excluded from all sports until the last century, it is appropriate that some sports using women’s specific traits are not developing, such as synchronised swimming. (English 1995: 287)

Note:INVENTARSI LO SPORT

Sports without moderation means competition in aspects such as mere strength…The problem with our fascination with strength is that it has a ‘fascistoid’ value basis,

Note:OGGI TROPPO INTERESSE SULLA FORZA

Genetic engineering, once it becomes possible, will be just as inevitable in sports as doping – unless we can render its application to sports impossible. And a way of rendering the genetic design of winners impossible is to change sports and to allow moral virtues to become crucial, for there are hardly any genes for inventiveness, sensitivity, cooperation, playfulness and wit in sports.

Note:INGEGNIERIA GENETICA E LA FINE DELLA FORZA BRUTA

All this means that, when we admire the winners of reformed (moderated) sports, our fascination for the winners will no longer bear a similarity to fascism, which is certainly an additional gain to be made.

Note:LO SPORT DEL FUTURO

A reductio ad absurdum of sexual discrimination

What are we to test for, when we test whether a certain athlete qualifies as female or male? Three options are open to us. We could test for genitalia, for gender, or for chromosomal constitution.

Note:COME DISCRIMINARE

There are many problems connected with testing for genitalia. First of all, the criterion is vague. We are operating here with a continuum. After all, even if rare, there are examples of hermaphroditism. Second, it is not clear that the test for genitalia is a valid one. In what sense are genitalia relevant? In what sports could genitalia be relevant? I blush when I seek an answer to that question. Finally, genitalia can easily be manipulated with: such tests are bound to be inefficient when it comes to people who (in an attempt to cheat) are prepared to undergo surgery.

Note:PROBLEMA CON IL CRITERIO DEI GENITALI

The problems associated with testing for gender are even more obvious. First of all, this criterion is extremely vague.

Note:GENDER… ANCORA PIÙ VAGO

What, then, about chromosomal tests? These tests are what we rely on today (see Berit Skirstad’s discussion of them in the Chapter 8), and I suppose that, pace Skirstad’s opposition to gender tests as such, if we want to retain a system of sexual discrimination within sports, then chromosomal tests are what we have to rely on even in the future.

Note:IL TEST CROMOSOMICO REGGE

a problem with our sex chromosomes is that, even if most people conform to a typical male constitution (they have the genotype XY) or a typical female constitution (they have the genotype XX), not everyone does. There are individuals with only one X chromosome (they have the genotype X0; that is, they suffer from what has been called Turner’s syndrome), and there are individuals with two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome (they have the genotype XXY; that is, they suffer from what has been called Klinefelter’s syndrome).

Note:NON UNIVOCITÀ

All this means that, if we want to be consistent, and if we want to be true to the rationale behind sexual discrimination, we should go a step further and even introduce new discrimination categories (people suffering from Turner’s syndrome and Klinefelter’s syndrome, and people exhibiting other aberrations such as XYY, to mention just three examples)…However, this may strike most of us as downright absurd….

Note:SPORT RISERVATI AI SESSI INTERMEDI

We could add an even simpler argument to this. If we have sexual discrimination in sports, then (in order to avoid cheating and fraud) we need to have tests for sex…However, it runs counter to a highly plausible idea of genetic integrity that information about a person’s genetic constitution should ever be forced upon him or her (Schneider and Skirstad both seem to agree about this). We have a right not to know our genetic makeup, if we do not want to know it. Compulsory chromosomal tests for athletes violate this right.

Note:DIRITTO A NON CONOSCERE IL PROPRIO SESSO

Three desiderata of moderation should be met, when interventions in the development of sports take place: Non-moral virtues (such as strength) should be given a less important role, and moral virtues (such as playfulness, inventiveness, sensitivity, cooperation and wit) a more important role, within sports. Sports should be developed in a direction that renders our admiration for the winners of sports competitions more decent. Sports should develop in a direction that makes it possible to abolish without any cost all kinds of sexual discrimination within sport.

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