Performance in Mixed-Sex and Single-Sex Tournaments: What We Can Learn From Speedboat Races in Japan

Yves here. On the one hand, I must confess to having a general tendency to question received wisdom, since conventional thinking is often wrong or incomplete. And I am particularly leery of studies on gender-related behaviors, since any remotely-decent statistician will tell you that the differences within groups as large as “men” versus “women” will be greater than the differences between groups. Thus studies that find that “women/men are generally like X” tend to reinforce stereotypes that do a lot of disservice to particular men and women. And in particular, propagating the idea that a group is “less good” regularly becomes self-fulfiling, as expectancy theory has demonstrated. More specifically, if as this paper presumes (as it does, see its first bold heading) that “women perform worse when competing against men,” how can it be that, as has been regularly reported, women are better investors than men, and in particular, better hedge fund managers?

For instance, many of you gave me very sympathetic comments about my having been bullied by a woman on the street a couple of nights ago. I realized later in the evening, and even sent a message to Lambert to that effect, that while I let myself be successfully browbeaten by a woman, I would probably have stood up to a man, not by arguing but by body language, such as by making eye contact, shaking my head dismissively and walking on. Even though the apparent outcome would have been no different (the harasser would have kept after me for a bit), how I felt about the encounter would have been very different.

I say that because I’ve gotten men to back down multiple times in the past when there was a latent or even live physical threat (in one case, I could see the guy consider slugging me but he didn’t because I held eye contact). Now I carry a shooting stick all the time, which doubles as a bludgeon, so I have even less reason to be physically intimidated.

I suspect most women are afraid to confront men directly because they have internalized that they could be beaten up. I was larger by a lot than all the boys up until 6th grade, and even after was bigger than almost all of them well into my teens. Plus I often hung out with boys and generally got on well with them. I also managed to miss entirely the normal girl acculturation of being subordinate to/currying favor with men, which for women is another big inhibitor to competitive behavior. By contrast, I was bullied repeatedly and very successfully by girls. Despite this being a regular feature of my childhood, I never developed effective responses.

Louis CK has a good take on this phenomenon:

To put it more clinically, many women resort to forms of psychological intimidation/retaliation as an alternative to direct physical confrontation, given the high odds of having the crap beaten out of them if they try that.

There are specific reason to wonder about this study, despite it being based on a very large data set. First, it uses Japanese data, when Japanese women are acculturated even more than women in the West not to challenge men. Japanese women literally speak different Japanese than men do, with a more restricted vocabulary, in what amounts to a special version of “politeness” and they typically pitch their voices in an unnaturally high register to sound young/cute (one Japanese woman politician was famed for speaking in a low pitch, this was seen as open defiance of gender norms). Second, the authors (which is good of them), state the hypotheses they were testing, and as written, they were looking for evidence that women were less competitive when set against men.

I’ve asked mathematician Cathy O’Neil to have a look at the study. If she’s interested, I’ll report on her take.

By Alison Booth, Professor of Economics at the Australian National University, CEPR Research Fellow and Eiji Yamamura, Professor of Economics, Seinan Gaikun University. Originally published at VoxEU

Regardless of their stage of development, most economies exhibit significant gender gaps in wages and other labour market outcomes. A growing number of studies explore whether or not such gaps might be due to gender differences in attitudes to competition or to risk. However, economists have not yet reached consensus about whether observed differences in economic preferences are innate, or instead differ across the environments in which men and women find themselves. If they are not innate, then policy may play a role in reducing gender gaps in labour market outcomes.

Experimental studies have found the competitive choices made by men and women differ according to whether they are competing against men or women (e.g. Gneezy et al. 2003, Gneezy and Rustichini 2004, Niederle and Vesterlund 2011). Moreover, observed performance also varies with the gender of competitors, as in Gneezy et al. 2003. Further studies have explored the role of nature or nurture in explaining these differences, and found that these competitive preferences can be modified through nurturing (Gneezy et al. 2009, Booth and Nolen 2012a).

Why Do Women Perform Worse When Competing Against Men?

To investigate this, in a recent paper we analyse unique performance data from a real-world activity – speedboat racing in Japan – that is by its very nature competitive, and where the potential payoffs from winning are high (Booth and Yamamura 2016). The novel features of these data are that participants are randomly allocated to either single-sex or mixed-gender groups for the competition, and that the equipment (boat and engine) used by each participant on race-day is also randomly assigned. Moreover, women and men compete under exactly the same conditions.  Detailed information about the institutional features of this sport can be found in our paper (Booth and Yamamura 2016).

Speedboat races in Japan

There are 24 speedboat racing stadiums throughout Japan and boat races are randomly held about four days per week in each stadium. Racers go to many different stadiums to compete. In each racing fixture, there are 12 races, and six racers compete in any given race. The circuit is a large artificial pond or sectioned-off body of water 600 metres in length. Competitors race around it three times, leading to a total race-distance of 1800 metres.

Women represent approximately 13% of all speedboat racers. The rules of the races are strictly monitored and any breaching of the rules results in disqualification. The potential payoffs are very high and are sourced from betting. Average annual earnings range from 5 million Japanese yen for racers in the bottom grade up to 33 million yen for racers in the top grade.1

Races are tightly monitored, and severe sanctions on disqualified racers mean they cannot participate, resulting in a fall in annual revenue. Consequently, racers have strong incentives to follow the rules in order to win the race. But they also face trade-offs because, in order to win, they may have to engage in risky lane-changing to improve their position.

Figure 1 Racing around corner at the stadium at Suminoe in Osaka


Source: wikipedia

Using data from seven stadiums with complete information on all racers’ records over 18 months, we explore how female and male performance and strategies in the mixed-gender races differ from the single-gender races. Our data are in panel form, where we have information for each racer’s performance time and strategy across all the races in which they have competed. Thus we have a total of over 15,000 women-race observations and over 127,000 men-race observations – a far larger dataset than used by other studies to date.  Note that because of the preponderance of men, the majority of participants in the mixed-sex races are male (this mimics the position of women in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.)

Our Conjectures About Behaviour

  • Hypothesis 1: Women racers are faster in the single-sex races than in the mixed-sex races, while men racers are faster in the mixed-sex races than in the single-sex.

What underlies this conjecture? A society’s prescriptions about the appropriate modes of behaviour for each gender might result in individuals experiencing a loss of identity should they deviate from the relevant code (e.g. Akerlof and Kranton 2000). If women are in general expected to behave less aggressively than men, they are more likely to follow this behavioral code when they are in a mixed-gender race than an all-female race. This is because the mixed-gender race – to which they are randomly assigned – triggers in them an awareness of their gender identity.

  • Hypothesis 2: Women racers follow a less aggressive strategy than men, and this will be more pronounced in the mixed-sex races.

This conjecture follows from findings from an earlier study that shows gender differences in risk-aversion vary across single-sex and co-ed environments (Booth and Nolen 2012b). Racing involves skill not only in maneuvering the boat but also in jockeying for a desirable position, since the inner lanes confer an advantage. While lane-changing can bring benefits, it can also bring costs (strict rules, leading to tough penalties). If men are more confident and less risk-averse, they will be more likely to adopt an aggressive strategy. Within our dataset, ‘aggression’ is proxied by lane-changing.

Owing to the rules of speedboat races, racers who behave aggressively are more likely to break the rules and be disqualified. If Hypothesis 2 is found to hold, we have a further hypothesis:

  • Hypothesis 3: Women racers are less likely to be penalised than men in the mixed-gender race.

The racing start is based on the premature start system in which lane-changing occurs. Prior to this, each race participant runs a short solo exhibition run, during which the participant obtains information about the boat they have been randomly allocated and reveals their prowess to the betting fraternity. Clearly strategy will play a big part in the actual race, but it will play a much smaller role in the solo exhibition run, where participants do not compete directly with the other racers. Thus, jockeying for position is not relevant.

Our Results

We investigate how male-dominated circumstances affect women’s and men’s racing performance. We control for individual fixed-effects plus a host of other factors affecting performance. Our estimates reveal that women’s times are slower in mixed-sex races than in all-women races, whereas men’s times are faster in mixed-gender races than men-only races. We also find the same results when we use as the dependent variable ‘place in the race’.  Thus, our evidence supports Hypothesis 1.

We also find that in mixed-sex races, male racers tend to be more aggressive – as proxied by lane-changing – in spite of the risk of being penalised for contravening the rules, whereas women follow less aggressive strategies. This supports Hypothesis 2. However, we find no difference in disqualification rates between genders, and thus no support for Hypothesis 3.

We suggest that gender differences in risk attitudes and confidence may result in different responses to the competitive environment and penalties for rule-breaking, and that gender identity is also likely to play a role.

The first finding above is of particular interest. It shows that female competitive performance – even among women who have chosen a competitive career and who are very good at it – is enhanced by being in a single-sex environment rather than in a mixed-sex environment in which they are a minority. The other findings listed above are also of great interest, since they follow from our investigation of the mechanisms through which our first finding operates. In particular, we suggest in the paper that male racers are aggressive but not imprudent by taking into account competitors’ condition as well as the risk of disqualification when jockeying for position.

The gender proportion in the mixed-sex speedboat races is skewed towards men. Women racers assigned by lot to a mixed-sex race will typically face five male competitors, and infrequently four. We argue that this gender imbalance is likely to trigger awareness of gender identity for both men and women, and that this might go some way to explaining our observed differences in behaviour across the mixed-sex and single-sex groups. For example, a man’s gender identity may lead him to view being defeated by women as more dishonourable than by men, and he will try to avoid it.

Our findings may well have implications for other activities in which men and women compete with one another and where the gender balance is skewed in favour of men. One example is in the STEM disciplines, where being in a minority may well affect the performance of the women. We hope that future research will investigate this further.

See  original post for references

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  1. Edward

    There was some study some years ago that found that girls were more assertive (and performed better? I don’t recall) in a single sex school then in a coed setting. Boys weren’t effected. While the study suggested girls wold fare better in single sex schools, it sounds like Yves would not have liked it.

    1. Stephanie

      I attended a single-sex women’s college and there was a lot made of “studies” in the recruitment lit to this effect, and that was back in the mid-90’s. I’ve never bothered to look them up. That said, my experience assetiveness in women is a product of age and/or affirmation. Even in a single-sex classroom, young women seldom spoke up. Generally any discussion that happened was between poorly accumulated me and any “non-traditional” (over the age of 26) students in the room (at that time non-trads were about 1/3 of the student body, most finishing their degrees after the kids were in school or after going through a divorce). The exceptions were classes with traditional students in those programs, all traditionally female occupations, in which the school was known to excel and which had very competitive entrance requirements.

      I could speculate a lot in why that was. In the case of the non-traditional students I think it had to do with being done with deference (at least to people they were paying to teach them). For the higher-achievers I think they felt validated by virtue of acceptance to the program and that they therefore had something of substance to contribute. Finding a niche and being granted some authority from her new status seemed to be key. I suspect that is or could be true in many mixed-sex schools as well.

      Fwiw, I think the same thing often happens to boys, in that they contribute based on how their contributions are treated/who has their back, but with subtle differences – for instance, being the class clown, a role in my experience that’s always filled by a boy, is a role even a “dumb” boy can fill and still be seen by peers and authorities as having something worthwhile to say.

      1. Edward

        The study I was referring to concerned pre-college students. I don’t remember what level.

        I think its true that the older students are more willing to ask questions. Although “young women seldom spoke up”, in many college classes students don’t say much. Hopefully, the studies in question control for such factors.

        As a student, I asked questions, and I had some experiences which made me wonder if there is a cultural bias against questioning. One time someone tried to warn me not to ask so many questions, although I could not figure out what his reason was. I had a class where one of your non-traditional female students was asking lots of questions. I liked her questions, but one time I overheard some other students complaining about this. Is it rude to ask questions?

  2. craazyman

    Looks to me like it’s hard to even tell who’se a man and whose a woman with those racing suits and helmets on. I don’t know about this one. Maybe there’s a measurement problem with the data. It sounds like social science. It woudl be good to try this study out in a bass fishing tournament before jumping to conclulsions

    It’s gettting that way these days isn’t it — it’s getting harder to telll who is who? Anybody remember the SNL skit about “Pat’. Even now you look at Burberry models and you can’tt even tell! Forget it. Even the trenchcoats for guys come down only to the hips like miniskirts. What a joke that is. James Bond would never have worn a miniskirt.

    This could be a good idea for math class.. Everybody has to put on a racing suit and helmet and you won’t know who is who. The girls can relax and if they want to doodle or flip through a fashion magazine’s website during class, well, that’s they’re choice.

    1. F. Korning

      remember the races have small numbers of contestants, 5 or so, and the initial parade gives plenty of time to imprint racing colours to genders. It’s a subconscious thing. Most adults immediately notice and track members of the other sex (or their preference) upon entering a room.

      1. craazyman

        they should maybe have these races in bkinis and that would settle it.

        If the data still is what it is, it would be a triumph for social science!

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        Funny, I don’t. have a certain degree of gender blindness and do take notice eventually. Plus I’ve worked in heavily male environments where desensitizing yourself was adaptive, so it may result from that too.

    2. Gman

      That’s a good point.

      What would be most interesting would be to see how mixed sex competitors might compete against each other without knowing the genders of their opponents or whether they might be competing in single and/or mixed sex races.

      Not sure how that could be done in a truly competitive environment though and how that could be reconciled with the betting side of things..

  3. Edward

    A more sinister use of gender differences is in sweat shops. The preferred employee is a teenage female because 1) they have better dexterity then males and 2) they will tolerate more abuse.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    I’d agree with all Yves cavaets about this type of study, and add the proviso that in my experience people involved in motorsports tend in general to be either part of a family with a tradition of those sports, or are independently wealthy (even the lower level motorsports are very expensive), so they are hardly a true cross-section of the population. I’ve a niece who chose sailing as her sport of choice specifically because she wanted a sport where she could beat her male friends, she had zero interest in competing with other girls, so there are all sorts of outliers like this who are likely to be involved in powerboat racing. I also find it kind of interesting that those sports where men and women compete in mixed events tend to be expensive sports (motor sports, equestrianism, sailing), but thats a different topic.

    By a coincidence, I was at a training event yesterday in mediation, with a focus on dealing with aggression. One person at the event noted that people tend to react differently to a physically aggressive male than a physically aggressive female, and curiously this was brushed off by the trainers. I was thinking of this in the context of Yves unpleasant experience, because certainly most people I know (including myself) will behave differently if faced with an angry man than with an angry women. Part of it is the knowledge that a man is more likely to be violent, and more likely to be able to do damage if he becomes violent, but also that you are probably going to be in a more legally awkward decision of you retaliate against a male than a female. Its a complex issue, which in my experience is avoided by a lot of these studies.

    1. Steve H.

      PK, in ref to your second paragraph, from ‘The Transition to Parenthood‘:

      “A few years ago when Dr. Jessica Bell of the University of California asked a group of such wives why they pressed home their attacks so ferociously, she got a surprising answer. In almost every case the women reported that their aggressiveness was really an expression of powerlessness. They said their husbands subtly controlled the pace and tempo of arguments through their stonewalling. Frustrated at not getting through, these wives said they often upped their attacks in hopes of breaking though that wall and evoking some kind of human response – some kind of connection. Typically at some point in the conflict the Destructive Fighting wife does get through, and just as typically the result is a cycle of escalation and counterescalation. Annoyed that his distress signals have been ignored, the besieged husband launches a fierce counterattack, producing sadness and fear in the wife, who after regaining her momentum then launches a more ferocious counter-counterattack. At that point the argument usually spins out of control and becomes about nothing but inflicting misery and pain on each other.”

      This could be seen as chronic v acute infliction of misery. What’s relevant to this post is the criteria of analysis, in that what is marked is a higher activity of lane-changing, which is also riskier and more likely to result in destruction, but that’s what is noticed, what Stanislavski calls ‘the bright spots’. The post does not give actual win-loss percentages, but in mixed-gender races a better criteria might be average finishing position, and a restricted variance amongst the minority. Danica Patrick has made over $12 million with an average finish position of about 24, smack in the middle of the pack, as were her points in 2016. But she’s in the top quarter of the field at finishing races.

  5. SK

    Since the times (and placings) are not independent of the other competitors, perhaps men do better and women do worse in mixed-gender races simply because men are better than women (at obtaining the choice inner lanes and obtaining any other benefit that is available) and so they will place better in mixed-gender races compared to single-sex races (and the opposite for women) ? Is it possible to test explicitly for this by checking whether men/women obtained such advantages during the race ?

    1. skk

      I wanted to do a Bayesian analysis on this not the p-value, “star-gazing == *** highly signficant etc” stuff so I located the original paper – – there’s a lot there but I’ve got as far as looking at Table 2.. In single gender races,
      women’s mean time was 112.8 secs
      men’s mean time was 112.7 seconds.

      Thast’s not much of a diff, compared to mixed gender races – where women’s time increases to 114.2. and men’s drops a 1/10 of a second 112.6.

      Is the single gender time diff ( 112.8 v 112.7 meaningful – ( I won’t use the word significant ) ? they give a t-statistic of 2.38 which is *** in star gazing terms. Wellll… they don’t give the standard deviation but by reverse iterative calculation using an on-line t-test calculator – assuming identical sds I get an estimate of sd of 4.5 seconds..

      When your mean is 112.x and your standard devation is 4.5 … is a .1 difference in the mean meaningful ? You’ve seen what star-gazing, p-values says. I’ll do a Bayesian analysis on it

      Interestingly, since this is funded by betting and the stats theory I prefer is De Finetti’s which is based on gambling odds, I’d love to see what the betting data is.

      1. craazyman

        that could be accounted for by fuel type — it’s very subtle. You wonder if the women are as skilled as the guys are at filling up their gas tanks. It could be the women get distracted and leave the gas cap loose or get a few water drops in with the fuel do possibly to less muscular arms and mobility issues and that slows the engine down.

        Also, with only five racers — as we can see in the photo — any statistical tests are going to have huge standard errors.

        This might be social science at its best or it might be an excuse to watch boat races. I mean, both are OK but you certainly wonder. A Bayesian prior would require a hypothesis. Remember confidence intervals are a frequentist notion and frequentist don’t compute probabilities of hypotheses. The p value is never a probability of the null hypothesis being true, only a probability of the null hypothesis being rejected assuming it’s true.

        If this is how they waste time in Japan, I’d say it’s not bad. It looks entertaining.

        1. skk

          Last things first – Indeed I’m gonna try and indulge in some time-wasting too. I’ve emailed the Australian author of the paper asking if I can get access to the dataset – so lets see.

          I know there’s a lot of aspects to tease out here – tracks, the unequal ratio of men:women, the 5 grades of races, the unequal participation in race grades, the unequal number of races in the various grades.

          Enough for me to spend lots of time doing just data exploration, that’s before any Bayesian modeling.

          For priors btw, they do a time-trial ( exhibition in their terms ) before the actual race. So that would be a good prior for calculating the race time posterior. After all that’s the number that’s used by bettors.

          I can see there’s data here – potentially –

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Oh, since you are going to so much trouble, I’d LOVE to get your findings and turn them into a wee post.

            This is one of the of-reported problems with studies, that having invested time and effort, researchers are highly incentivized to come up with something, even if it is pretty strained.

            1. skk

              I got a response from the co-author – she’ll consult her co-author and get back to me regarding the data – and yes, if this pans out – I’ll share my data exploration and stat results with you, for NC.

  6. UserFriendly

    I think some times people read too deeply into studies like this. I’m not at all surprised that there is a perceptible difference in aggregate. Obviously not every woman would be less aggressive, nor every man more aggressive but I can certainly point to examples of people who are like that. It would be interesting if we could get more data using a significant contingent of gay men and lesbians; where all participants sexual orientation was known to each other. That could be interesting to see if it is something hard wired to gender or just potential mates.

    1. reslez

      If you knew going into it that male racers tend to be aggressive when they’re racing against you, you might choose to drive a bit safer to avoid getting knocked off your boat or colliding with them. I’m pretty sure I would.

      It sounds like women-only races might be pretty unusual if women are only 13% of the racing population. I wonder what circumstances cause those races to be held and what effect that might have.

      Overall I’m pretty dismissive of gender-related studies like this due to the reproducibility crisis. The evidence is overwhelming that most of these studies are probably garbage. That said, this looks like a study with better evidence than the usual (seems like most of these studies consist of like 20 subjects, all of them undergrads) so it might hold up better than most.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      How is that a factor in single-boat racing? Can men can make sharper/tighter turns because they can throw their body weight against the boat to keep the boat from capsizing? If so, that would be a huge, basic oversight in the study, since men would gain more from strategies like lane changes relative to the risk of losing points.

        1. Paid Minion

          What he said. Given a fixed horsepower, the lighter weight vehicle will usually be faster.

          See NHRA Pro Stock motorcycles. A high percentage of the riders/drivers are women. Usually under 100 pounds. As close as the competition is, 20-30 pounds makes a difference you can see in the timers.

          Anyone can tell you that the biggest difference between winners and losers in motorsports is the size of the racing budget. Does this study differentiate between experience levels? “Experience” = track time = money

          1. F.Korning

            a valid point, but while females might get less track time, fewer resources, etc, what’s controlling that is the fact that the same women are being compared in all women regattas or even solo chrono race. If you see a net drop for the same female pilot when racing men, it signals something is up. but it could be that dealing with lane change aggression is a different, more stressful game, and penalises the uniniated. you would need a few women who havec raced in mixed groups all their careers to control for that.

  7. Anonymous

    On the self defense issue: in a lot of ways, as Yves says, women are acculturated to believe that if they get into a direct physical confrontation with a man, they could get beaten up. But the martial arts can be–they they are not necessarily, since a high level of skill is required–a great equalizer.

    A Welsh friend of mine told me that he saw an aikido demonstration in London in 1972 in which a five foot tall Japanese ‘girl’–his words, I assume he meant a teenager–threw five British marines who were attacking her simultaneously until none of them could stand up anymore.

    Another interesting story comes from a friend who practiced the Chinese internal martial art, Hsing i. A married couple in his class, probably in their twenties, would goof around throwing mock strikes at each other at home. One day, the wife, who was quite petite, inadvertently knocked her husband out. Unconscious out.

    On the other hand, Bessel Van Der Kolk writes in his book, ‘The Body Keeps the Score,’ about women who had studied martial arts after being raped. In some cases it did not keep them from being assaulted again–it’s as if their mindsets immediately reset to ‘victim’ when confronted with an actual threat–but in other cases, it allowed them to control the situation and to intimidate their attackers. One women went into her fighting stance and shouted, ‘Alright! I’ve been looking forward to this! Who’s first?’ and her attackers ran off.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      As I’ve mentioned before, there are courses that are not properly labeled as self defense to train you how to deal with attackers. I took one taught by the guy who developed the hand to hand combat training for the Navy Seals. And you don’t need years of martial arts. You can learn this in a weekend.

      The reason this is not “self defense” is the premise is that if you are being attacked, you need to hurt the other person first to the point of disabling them. They go on the assumption that you are smaller, slower, and weaker than your opponent. The trainers (which included really smart guys, one was a lawyer and another was a PhD) used sanitized terminology like “inflict trauma on the human body”. They also train you how to deal with multi-man and weapons attacks.

      You need to hit two targets in close succession, like the balls and the solar plexus, and shut their central nervous system down.

      But you have to keep hitting targets (vulnerable spots) until the attacker can’t go after you, at least for long enough to get away. That can mean gouging out eyes, breaking feet, ankles, wrists.

      About 40% of the class was guys who had studied martial arts. They said they had to unlearn a lot of their training since a lot of the targets were off limits in martial arts.

  8. Ernesto Lyon

    Could it be ancient inbuilt evolutionary tendencies?

    Women prefer mates who are stronger than them because it increases the chances of their offsprings’ survival? Men know this innately and want to appear stronger than the women to increase their chances of being selected as a mate?

    We’ve only been in the industrial age for a blink of the eye on the evolutionary scale. Undoing ancient instincts just because we have technology that makes physical strength and capability no longer a necessity for survival isn’t going to happen over night.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t like this line of argument because there is plenty of evidence that acculturation and social cues are remarkably powerful. Merely giving some a gift as trivial as a can of soda predisposes them to your sales pitch. Expectancy theory has demonstrated again that teachers merely being told their students had the potential to outperform in fact led them to outperform.

      So this idea of brute force being deterministic is way out of date. People in the Andes have adapted to thin air and limited diets I believe in 10 generations. That is actual physical adaptation.

      Caesar and Alexander the Great were not physical brutes, yet they were the uber alphas of their era. There are tons of other examples of men from 400 BC onward who were highly desirable mates who were not great physical specimens but got where they were out of their political/social skills.

  9. The Trumpening

    My teenage son recently started playing rugby and has been having trouble getting into tackling. I made jokes about him following in Deion Sanders footsteps but no one gets that joke where I live (Sanders was so great at pass coverage that he got away with not tackling, but there is not really pass coverage in rugby). Then in his most recent match he was lined up against a very good female player who was larger than my son. But the first time she got the ball my son dived in like a seasoned pro and perfectly tackled her.

    I have no doubt he was motivated at least in part by the ribbing he would have received if a girl had run over him or if worse he would have done a weak arm tackle attempt on her. The tackle was quite a breakthrough and later my son was even tackling boys although he did still throw weak arm tackles at a few of the larger boy beasts who were playing. So at least for this minor antidote it was very true (IMHO) that mixed sex competition made my son more aggressive.

    I’m increasingly getting bothered by the replacement of the term “sex” by “gender”. Sex, or biological sex, is 99% of the time a scientific fact, in that it is testable — although there rare are cases of sexual ambiguity (intersex). Male and female are the terms that describe sexes.

    Gender OTOH s a social construct (but often informed by biological reality). Masculine and feminine are the terms that describe gender. Pink being associated with femininity in Western culture is an example of the social constructability of gender; in other cultures pink could just as easily be associated with masculinity.

    Is it Anglo-Saxon squeamishness about the word “sex” that is leading to the increasing use of the term “gender” to describe the state of being male of female?

    Due to sexual dimorphism males on average have 15% more body mass than females. Females on average have only 40-60% the upper body strength of males, and 70-75% the lower body strength. Men also on average have 30% more lung capacity than women.

    These are averages but will hold true for men and women at the same percentile ranking. So for example these disadvantages will hold true for woman in the 99th percentile of a given female category against a man from the 99th percentile of the same male category. But a female basketball player from the 90th female percentile will totally dominate a male from the 20th male percentile.

    Transsexual activists obviously have a strong interest in referring to sex as gender, since it being a social construct makes it is possible to change (or select) your gender). Changing you sex is biologically impossible.

    In Alain de Benoist’s recent essay on Gender he describes two poles of feminist thought. On the one hand there is a tendency towards universalism, a form of monotheism where the differences between male and female are downplayed-to-denied with the ultimate utopian goal of eliminating gender differences and creating a basically unisex society (with the given that there will always be the “incidental” slight biological differences). The other pole of feminism is a more particularist, gender “nationalist”, sexual separatist ideology where women should be separate and protected from men and where segregated female social opportunities should be maximized and where female difference from men should be celebrated.

    The recent push for trans -“genderism” is basically saying an individual’s gender (sex) category is optional and can be chosen and changed at will. No boob jobs, long hair, shaven facial hair, or the adoption of a cute girl’s name is required for a man to now become a woman. He just has to self-declare his identity as female.

    In a society where sexual segregation is still the norm in locker rooms, sports teams, and toilet facilities, this is going to create tension, especially between the two camps of feminists: universalists and particularists. Eventually males at say the 60th percentile are going to demand to play on female basketball teams, where they would be average players. But as time goes on the ability of the men choosing to play women’s basketball will go up as competitive pressures give colleges an advantage in having higher percentile men taking more female places on their rosters. Eventually women will not have any places left on sports teams unless some sort of skill-level / physical size limits are created to replace the failing sexual categories which are turned meaningless by the self-declaration of sex. But these trends towards sexual universalism will be strongly resisted by the female “nationalists”.

  10. BeekeeperRorie

    The bit about men facing dishonor should they be bested by a woman certainly holds true here in the US, at least on construction crews. I was working for a solar installation company not long ago (my off season work), yes, hauling solar panels up onto the roof and installing them. They’d not had a female installer in all of their dozen years in business, until me, and even though I was approaching fifty, they seemed thrilled to have me.

    They passed me around among four installation crews, switching things up every few days or so. It turns out that every crew I was on, whenever I was on it, increased in productivity. Sure, my background in building was a boon– most of them were electricians and were lousy, or ineffective at best, at carpentry tasks. But truly the greatest benefit was that every job I was on came in under schedule, which can mean many hundreds added to the profit column rather than the expense column as the projects concluded.

    My effectiveness as a carpenter was beneficial, and the gender politics were pleasing to the customers, but the bottom line really improved consistently because all of the men I worked with on each crew became more effective just by my presence on the given project, since they did not want to suffer being bested by a woman, and an aging one at that. I was not the oldest installer, there were two guys my same age. Most of the other fifteen or so guys were between 23-35 years of age. I was 48.

    So while most crews established a rhythm with the same members, a group cohesiveness conducive to efficiency, I was the floater. Which again, was partially due to my skill set, as in this project needs a small wall built, and that one needs safety rails assembled and installed, etc. AND my presence increased the overall efficiency of each crew, which increased profit overall, which everyone was watching, it being a collective.

    We never talked about it. We just acknowledged it and went with it. To give voice to the phenomenon would have potentially ruined the effect.

  11. Uahsenaa

    Japanese women literally speak different Japanese than men do, with a more restricted vocabulary, in what amounts to a special version of “politeness” and they typically pitch their voices in an unnaturally high register to sound young/cute (one Japanese woman politician was famed for speaking in a low pitch, this was seen as open defiance of gender norms).

    I would modify this claim a bit, though the underlying point, that Japanese women are strictly acculturated, is spot on.

    It would be more accurate to say that there are more and less feminized/masculinized forms of the spoken language that anyone can deploy. Also, there is a more or less neutral form of the language that, in practice, tends to read as more feminine, despite being, basically, what you would read in a written text (which gets you into historical discussions about literary Japanese being “feminine”). However, Yves’ point is sound, because feminized speech is used by men, generally, in very specific contexts, to whine/complain or to admit to weakness/despondency. So, saying itte nai mon (“s/he’s not going [with]”) is much whinier than the more neutral itte nai yo. Conversely, masculine speech is seen as much more aggressive/domineering/assertive, so it’s quite often used by women when yelling at someone for their incompetence or asserting pride in a job well done. Also, it’s common for gay men to use feminized speech (especially atashi instead of watashi) in much the same way Western gay men sometimes adopt a higher pitched lilt as a form of overt signaling.

    In other words, gender is coded quite explicitly into the language itself, not just how people use it or who says what.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks I knew what I was saying was overly crude to the point of not being quite right, but I couldn’t reach any Japanese speakers when drafting this post.

  12. justanotherprogressive

    I remember back in the day when I took a gender studies class. The professor had us read “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton. May was the perfect societal example of what a woman should be and how a woman should act, particularly against rival women. We all considered ourselves liberated but it was amazing at the time to see of much of May we still retained. It is going to take more than a couple of generations to remove that cultural bias that was so implanted in us. And according to my daughter-in-law who spent many years in Japan, it is going to take Japanese women longer to break their social adaptations than it will us, since the Japanese place such a high value on social conformity.

  13. ckimball

    Just a little something to add

    and then…What kind of a boy will let himself be beaten by a girl and in front of his comrades.
    and Girls.. always know when the boys are there. Chemistry is deep

  14. Liberal Mole

    I wonder if a study like this could be made regarding the sexes in collegiate sailing. Currently there are two divisions, Co-ed and Women’s. However virtually all of the skippers have grown up sailing in mixed fleets and thus are used to sailing in the same boats, on the same course, at the same time, as the opposite sex. The first time a female skipper may sail in an all women fleet might be in college, and being small is not a great disadvantage in double-handed collegiate sailing. The coach will assign you a crew suited to the wind strength.

    The only difference I have noted is that there are few women skippers on the college team racing (3 on 3 in a race) teams, which puts a priority on aggressive sailing.

  15. Paid Minion

    What I’d like to see is a study on how much more aggresive/violent young women are today, vs. 30 years ago.

    (Example conversation with youngest daughter, direct quotes:

    D: “Will you come down and bail me out of jail, if I kick her ass?

    Me: “No……..why are you even talking about kicking someone’s ass??”

    D: “Because she deserves it”

    1. Oregoncharles

      What are you teaching your kids?

      Seriously: it’s very individual. For instance, Camille Paglia, linked here a few days ago, has been known to get into fist fights. She’s a Baby Boomer.

      Rene Denfeld wrote a book about this; I believe it was first published in the late 90’s: “Kill the Body, the Head Will Fall: A Closer Look at Women, Violence, and Aggression”. Her point being that women are perfectly capable of extreme violence, if need be. She was an amateur boxer; you wouldn’t have wanted to fight her. IOW, I’m not convinced there’s been a big change; if there has, you can chalk it up to equality.

      Which doesn’t mean you want to be bailing your daughter out of jail. Give her credit for the sense to call you about it first.

  16. BeekeeperRorie

    Endocrine disruptors are changing us. Generationally and individually. They’re in the food, the groundwater, food packaging, scented laundry detergents, hair care products, etc.

    I’ve had more than my share of testosterone, that’s for sure. I cleansed and rebalanced my body through herbs and homeopathy, and I have to say, I sometimes miss the testosterone. It’s useful stuff.

    1. Oregoncharles

      Now that’s an interesting assertion. Useful, how?

      I once saw an account (long time ago, no link) by a woman who’d arranged to take testosterone for the personality effects, I think for business. She said that it did make her more assertive (placebo effect?), but she lost her “charm” – her word – which was important, because she was selling real estate. Just one straw in the wind, but similar to what you’re implying.

      Where were you getting testosterone? I thought most endocrine disruptors were estrogen imitators. Sperm counts have dropped, but not enough.

      Athletic “steroids” are androgens.

  17. Buttinsky

    On the general issue of athletic performance by the two sexes, I’ve always assumed the obvious: there is an enormous psychological factor based on gender expectation. One can see evidence in the male track and field records from a century ago that get bested by women now.

    Of course, one can argue that given the best training techniques for both, one will always find a gender difference, but my favorite counterexample is the triple Axel jump in competitive ice skating. It depends on technique, not brute strength, and in fact skaters tend to jump higher for a double Axel than a triple Axel. You see a few daring women skaters struggle to include it in their program, while it is pretty much required of men. And yet men’s world champion Stéphane Lambiel had to drop it from his program when he couldn’t reliably land it.

    There seems to be no physiological reason whatsoever for this discrepancy in performance between the two sexes.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I hate to say it, I can come up with one: joint laxity. Women are more prone to knee injuries than men in sports like soccer, where the knee is subject to torquing.

      Now skaters presumably self-select for tight joints. But at the elite level there may still be a difference between sexes and that may account for the lesser risk-taking, that it’s rational based on sensing the limits of their bodies and not reflecting lack of aggression/competitiveness or trainer prejudice.

  18. lyman alpha blob

    This would seem to be a sport where sex wouldn’t make much of a difference so I found the result that women’s speeds were better in single sex races surprising.

    Another activity where you’d think both sexes could compete equally is pool. I suspect the reason contests are still mostly segregated by sex is because the men would be embarrassed if they were to start getting whooped by women.

    The article says boat and engine are randomly assigned. Did anybody test that in the study? Maybe there’s something similar going on here as I suggested above. Were I the researcher, before I spent a lot of time and effort crunching the numbers trying to prove the various hypotheses that rely on how women might ‘feel’ about certain situation (not exactly rigorous if you ask me), I’d check what motor oil they’re using in the women’s boats.

  19. Savonarola

    I have a lot of experience in an individual competitive sport (fencing) that does mens, womens or mixed competitions. Women always perform better in single competition. Men expect to beat women, even when they shouldn’t because the women are better fencers. They are also physically bigger and taller as a rule and can therefore reach further or push a woman around to some degree physically on the strip. Many men are not above hitting really hard to make a woman more hesitant to attack, that kind of thing.

    But the real issue seems to be confidence. Men seem to feel more like they can beat a girl. Women seem to go in more or less the same regardless initially, but get overpowered in some situations. They also have to use a different strategy against the much bigger opponent than they do against another similarly sized opponent.

    All I can say is that in mixed competitions, really strong women come out much lower than they are ranked a lot of the time.

  20. bob

    “If you’re going to have kids, have a boy, then you only have to worry about one dick.

    If you have a girl, you have to worry about EVERY dick.”

  21. SeanL

    One of the key insights of this study compared to other studies into gender heterogeneity is that: men ‘over-compete’ in mixed sexed races compared to single sex competitions. It’s not simply that women ‘under-compete’ in mixed competitions which a lot of studies have shown (identity/stereotype threat).

    I have to disagree with Yves about Japanese women. Having been married to a Japanese (which also means extended family), and worked in Japan in banking I can say I find Japanese women stronger and more determined than Western women. Japan has distinct social contexts, and in many of these Japanese women hold sway and the men don’t. I think you will find the blokey male dialect of Japanese also quite constrained. And.. there are also a hell of a lot of wimpy ‘vegetarian’ men in Japan!

  22. Oregoncharles

    I wonder. In most social animals (birds and mammals, anyway), makes and females each have their own peck-orders (dominance hierarchies). They interact, of course; a high ranking mate raises your own rank. But when males and females interact, size differences and potential mating behavior complicate things. (Human formal hierarchies, as in work places, serve as an attempt to overcome those complications.)

    Another example is Yves’ run in with the animal-rights vigilante: she has practiced defenses against male power plays, not so much against female ones.

    A single-sex race is an exercise in pure hierarchy. Perhaps women are more motivated when competing against other women – because, in evolutionary terms, it matters more. And conversely, in mixed races the guys are showing off – as well as desperate not to be beaten by a woman.

    I like thinking we have biological motives we aren’t even aware of; it’s a lesson in humility.

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