POLITICS OF WEAKNESS by Steven GoldbergnIn the 1980’s the doctrine of sexual equaHty is increasinglynbeing misapplied. The current discussion of women’snsports provides a graphic illustration. The central premise ofnthe sexual egalitarian is simple: It is unjust to reward ornsupport a woman less than a man, when the womannperforms on the same level.nMany would agree that this should be the minimalnexpectation of a just society. Reward based on performancensatisfies the requirements of both fairness and the socialngood. The egalitarian who really believes in equal opportunitynand rejects gender as a determinant of reward will letnthe chips fall where they may. He will accept the possibilitynthat reward based on ability—a criterion that serves womennwell in all but athletics—will result in lesser rewards fornwomen athletes. Such an inequality is the unavoidablenresult of rewarding ability, a policy that in all other areas ofnlife is regarded as consistent with fairness.nSometimes, however, egalitarianism is no more than anpolitical device to be jettisoned whenever it fails to reward angroup that has been targeted—jusdy or not—to receivenspecial privileges. In this case, the egalitarian will not worrynabout consistency, for he wishes to have it both ways:nequality of opportunity when it will bring about equalnreward for the group he represents, and equality of resultnwhen equality of opportunity will be of no avail.nIn the case of educationally disadvantaged groups, onenmight argue that a temporary suppression of equal opportunityn(i.e., “compensatory socialization”) will permit thenreintroduchon of a merit system. Such an argument may ornmay not be correct but is not, on the face of it, absurd. Onnthe other hand, it is absurd to suggest that by temporarilyngiving equal reward to the inferior athletic performance ofnwomen we shall eventually enable women to compete, onnan equal footing, with male athletes.nThe blunt truth is that women are terrible at sports. Tonsay this is to make a statistical statement that is less thannabsolute, as is the case with virtually any statement to benmade about men and women. When we say that men arentaller than women, we do not deny that some women arentaller than some men. We only mean that at any equivalentnpercentile of men and of women, the men will be taller.nLikewise, Martina Navratilova is undoubtedly a betterntennis player than 99 percent of males, but she would beneasily defeated by the best 200 or 300 male players. Nonwoman is ever going to run as fast as the ninth-grade malenchampion of her time or be as strong as a strong ninth-gradenmale. There are 100 high-school basketball teams thatnwould defeat the best female team in the world by 50 points,nand the same could be said for any other sport. Thenincreasing use of male hormones to build up the strength ofnfemale athletes makes the point all too plain.nThere is an astonishing regularity over a wide range ofnmeasurable sports, in the relationship of male and femalenSteven Goldberg is chairman of the sociology departmentnat City College, City University of New York. He is thenauthor of The Inevitability of Patriarchy.nworld records. Nearly always the difference is approximatelyn10 percent. This doesn’t sound like much until we remembernthere are, depending on the popularity of the sport,nhundreds or thousands of men whose performance is withinn10 percent of the record. It is true that the male record fromn50 years ago is, in a few sports, inferior to the female recordnof today. But this only demonstrates that records arenreduced by far more than 10 percent per half-century andnthat all physiologically rooted differences are outcomes ofnvarying responses to environmental cues. If females werenforced to do endless hours of weightiifting, while malesnwere prohibited from all physical activities, it is theoretical-n”!-,nly possible that females would be stronger. But this is nonmore relevant than an experimental program for forcefeedingnwomen and starving men.nA consistent belief in the central premise justifying sexualnegalitarianism would be disastrous for women’s athletics.nSex-blind sports are single-sex sports, and the sex is male.nThere are, at every college, hundreds of males who arenunable to make the men’s team but who are still better thannsome of the women on the women’s team in any givennsport. Also, there are many men better than any woman onna women’s team. The silliest argument for equal expenditurenredefines superiority in women’s sports in terms of formnand beauty, This will become a serious argument when thenWomen’s Wimbledon Championship is awarded to thenmost graceful or beautiful player.nFor professional sports the issue of equality is fairlynstraightforward. Reward depends on the ability to attractnspectators. While this is not identical to excellence ofnperformance, the correlation is very high—far higher, fornexample, than in literature or music. Magic Johnson andnLarry Bird, for instance, are paid enormous salaries becausennnJUNE 1987/21n