Sex and Gender Segregation in Competitive Sport: Internal and External Normative Perspectives
16 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2018 Last revised: 27 Mar 2018
Date Written: 2018
What are the justifications for mandatory sex segregation in competitive sport, and what are the arguments against it? This article takes up these questions. I argue that justifications of sex segregation in sport should be sensitive to two distinct perspectives that can come into play. The “internal” perspective emphasizes considerations rooted in an ethos of athletic competition. The “external” perspective brings into focus broader social norms such as anti-discrimination principles and equality goals. Both perspectives support the general idea of separate men’s and women’s competitions, at least in elite levels of sports that reward physical strength and power. The perspectives may diverge, however, on specific questions about who should be permitted to compete in each division, and more particularly, on the appropriate treatment of transgender athletes. What is important to see is that objections that arise from the external vantage point of equality and anti-discrimination cannot be fully answered by appeal to internal considerations about the competitive integrity of sport. Institutional decisions to exclude classes of individuals from participating in men’s or women’s competitions must consider not only what would be best for the sport, but what is required by antidiscrimination principles and genuine commitment to respect for gender identity and expression.
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