Taylor Swift’s new song and music video, “You Need to Calm Down,” has a message that should apply to just about everyone in the political world–particularly those who attempt to score political points in social media. It’s too bad that in the video, Swift instead chooses to traffic in stereotypes herself, casting white, gay-bashing, cowboy hat and flannel shirt wearing, trailer-park dwellers as the lone haters needing an education in tolerance.
Worse, Swift includes a petition in support of the Equality Act at the end of her music video, suggesting that this legislation would end the unfair treatment of the LGBT community and ensure “our laws truly treat all of our citizens equally.” The Equality Act has much broader implications and could have particularly pronounced–and decidedly unfair–impact on biological women.
The Equality Act would make it illegal to discriminate based on gender identity. That certainly sounds like a triumph for fairness. We don’t want anyone denied job or educational opportunities based on their gender or sexuality, and this includes those who are transgender or who have any non-conforming gender status. There is broad agreement in the public that people should be judged on their merits and free to pursue their own vision of happiness, regardless of sex, race, gender identity, sexual orientation or essentially any other group membership or characteristic.
However, there are times when fairness requires that we recognize and account for differences. We differentiate between people based on age and ability in determining eligibility for activities, occupations, and educational opportunities. We don’t let teenagers enter competitions meant for five-year-olds; we don’t let high school football players join peewee leagues; we don’t let children into R rated movies until they are 18. All of this is a form of discrimination, but one that is recognized as having a legitimate purpose.
There are also times when fairness requires discriminating between the sexes. Take athletics. By the time children are pre-teens, they are regularly separated into boys and girls teams. This isn’t just an antiquated practice, akin to painting boys’ rooms blue and dressing little girls in tutus. There are fundamental biological differences between males and females. Separating between sexes ensures that each sex has equal opportunity to participate in athletics.
If we end sex-based discrimination in athletics, biological women will lose any hope of winning in most major sports. In fact, women will rarely even make the team. Men have physical advantages in terms of speed, endurance, and strength. No one was surprised when a biological male shattered the world records for women’s weight lifting or won a state track meet. Women’s world record weight lifters generally lift about two-thirds of what male record holders lift. Any competitive male weightlifter who switched to the women’s competition would dominate.
Men’s edge may be most pronounced in weightlifting, but persists in most other sports. Men’s world record running times are consistently and significantly lower than women’s. Men have similar advantages in skiing, tennis, swimming, jumping, throwing, which means it would impact just about all team sports, including soccer, lacrosse, hockey, basketball, rugby, volleyball, and the list goes on.
Acknowledging this reality doesn’t undermine the tremendous accomplishments of female athletes. But it is necessary to make sure those accomplishments continue. Throwing this kind of “discrimination” between biological men and women into legal question–so that any male claiming to identify as a female can enter a competition meant for biological females–could have a serious and negative impact of female athletics.
That would be a tremendous shame: Women’s advocates have worked hard over the last forty years to build a recognition that athletic participation is just as important for girls as it is for boys. Policymakers have worked with educators and community leaders to make sure that both men and women have access to athletic programs. We shouldn’t jeopardize that progress.
Of course, communities can and should treat transgender women with respect and seek to include them whenever possible, including in athletic programs. However, they should do so in a manner that ensures that biological women are not disadvantaged and displaced. Leaders of sports leagues and communities are seeking to find nuanced solutions. They should be encouraged to continue to do so.
Sadly, the Equality Act will short-circuit this process, making any differentiation between the sexes legally out-of-bounds.
The Equality Act’s limitations on sex discrimination have implications beyond athletic fields. Under the Equality Act, will female-only prisons still be allowed? Or domestic violence shelters? Would programs meant to encourage women’s participation in science and technology fields, or business startups, still be allowed?
We can be respectful, fair, and supportive of transgender women and men without the Equality Act’s dictate that we can never recognize or acknowledge any of the implications of the very real physical differences that exist between those born male and female. We can be calm and respectful about it, but we shouldn’t outlaw common sense.