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Friday, April 19, 2013

Stereotypes about male and female athletes

Brittney Griner, recently of Baylor and now of the WNBA, came out a couple days ago, and the media has fallen all over itself congratulating itself for not making a big deal about it.

I've read at least four articles to this effect in the past 24 hours.

I agree that it shouldn't be a big deal, though I'm not so sure the media should be quite so self-congratulatory: by making a big deal about the fact that they're not making a big deal, they are in effect making a big deal about it.

But what really throws me is the resentment the media seems to harbor about stereotypes about male and female athletes.

The NY Times article on the subject this morning was typical: Female Star Comes Out as Gay, and Sports World Shrugs.

The gist of the article was that while it was wonderful that Griner's coming out didn't seem to faze anyone, it is also reflective of a pernicious stereotype in the sports world, that female athletes are much more likely to be lesbians than male athletes are to be gay.

Patrick Burke, an advocate for LGBT athletes, was quoted as saying, "In sports right now there are two different stereotypes -- that there are no gay male athletes, and every female athlete is a lesbian."

No one in his right mind thinks that there are exactly zero gay male athletes and exactly zero female heterosexual athletes. So Burke is of course setting up a straw man with his statement.

But what Burke is trying to imply -- that the stereotype of male athletes being by and large straight and top female athletes being more likely to be lesbians is misguided -- is itself misguided.

Sports are, for the most part, a testosterone contest. He -- or she -- with the most testosterone wins. (Of course, it's more complicated than that, but there is a very strong correlation, which is why athletes take steroids.)

Away from muscle, testosterone is also correlated with a host of other characteristics, not all directly related to athletic ability. For instance, the shoulders to hips ratio, the depth of the voice, hairiness, and aggression. It's also highly correlated with sexuality.

So the best male athletes are often big, strong guys who are more likely to be accused of rape or of having multiple children out of wedlock than the average guy.

And the best female athletes are much more likely to be lesbians. This is neither good nor bad; it's just the way it is.

My guess is that most individual reporters realize this, even if collectively they all feel obliged to toe the politically correct line. Take a look at this Brittney Griner interview; you'll see -- and hear -- why no reporters were all that stunned when she came out.

Griner strikes me as a perfectly fine person. But both her athletic ability and her sexuality were in large part determined by her hormonal mix.

Stereotypes almost always exist for a reason -- because they're so often true, despite the media's constant attempts to deny biological reality.

The media's message, as always, is that our diversity is our strength -- but don't you dare point out that we're actually diverse in any meaningful way.


W O D said...

I'm into surfing and female pro surfers were nearly all bull dykes 15 - 20+ years ago.

I've known a few over the last 5 - 10 years and they to are lesbians (more feminine though, long hair, faces look very girly)but there are way less lesbians and the last few world champs have had boyfriends and seem much more feminine (not sure where I'm going with this heheh!)

I always use the line "you know why sterotypes exist?, cos there true"

John Craig said...

W O D --

Women's professional golf, tennis, and basketball all have those reputations for a reason. There's certainly nothing wrong with being a lesbian -- but there is something wrong with denying reality, which is what the NY Times spends an inordinate amount of energy doing.

bluffcreek1967 said...

Geez, I watched the video interview of Brittney Griner and I was amazed at how deep her voice was. If I had not known she was a female (I think?), I would have assumed a male was talking.

When I first looked at her picture (without her talking), I noticed some obvious masculine features. There's no doubt in my mind that she has an abnormal amount of testosterone in her. Yeah, I wasn't too surprised either that she came out publicly as a lesbian.

John Craig said...

Ambrose --
Yeah, I did a double take when I first heard her voice too, and it wouldn't shock me to hear that she has the Caster Semenya thing going on. Her voice aside, though, she actually strikes me as pleasant, decent person, and I'd emphasize that whatever she is genetically and hormonally, it was just something she was born with. Unlike all those athletes who take PED's for artificial boosts, she is not cheating.

There've been plenty of others over the years whose testosterone levels shaped their sexuality as well as their physiques. Martina Navratilova always comes to mind; she had legs and arms like a guy's, lean and muscular, and I don't think anybody was shocked by her being a lesbian either.