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The Educational and the Political

In March of last year, the medical school I attend was on the front page of Fox News. The headlines: “Indiana medical students subjected to DEI instruction on gender” and “First-year medical school students exposed to woke ‘sex and gender primer’ lesson.”

The lesson in question was delivered in our first-year anatomy course which, when I took the course, was included in a broader lecture on the embryology of the reproductive organs. This material, though, was explicitly labeled as political — even indoctrination — by commentators at Fox: to quote the latter article above,

“It’s dangerous for one major reason, and that is that these kinds of ideas are very controversial amongst Americans, and to have a medical world pick one side, if you will, pick one sort of approach in a very controversial ideological area just breeds mistrust.”

The same commentator continued:

“Politicization of the idea about gender is something that’s harming children in America, and that’s something we’re very much against, and political ideas shouldn’t be taught in a course on anatomy.”

Education has always been a topic of political interest, but the rhetoric has recently seemed to reach a fever pitch. Book bans. Bans on Critical Race Theory and the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.  The partisan destruction and reconstruction of New College in Florida. The list goes on, and the debate has likely reached your doorstep, just as it has mine. But even in a heated debate, the core of these arguments deserves our scrutiny, and this instance centering on medical education provides us with a case study.

What happens when education and politics collide?

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The purpose of medical education is to train physicians — to take students with limited experience in medicine (if any) and prepare them to be excellent clinicians. The adjective excellent here is important: competence is the minimum standard, but excellence is the goal. Take a look at the mission statement of any medical school, and you’ll see this idea repeated over and over — and for good reason. You do not just want a competent doctor, you want a good doctor; you may take a competent physician in a pinch, but the doctor you want is one who not only understands the basic pathology and treatment of your malady, but is also kind, compassionate, and attentive. You want a doctor who seeks to understand the larger picture of your health, who understands your goals, who makes you feel safe, comfortable, and heard. Doctors who don’t integrate these facets of medicine into their practice may be competent, but they are not successful.

As such, a key part of the medical curriculum extends beyond the basics of pathophysiology and treatment: medical students are not only expected to be competent in the science of medicine, but also demonstrate the virtues of a good physician. In the clinical curriculum at my medical school, an attending physician provides feedback to students through a 14-point rubric — only four of which are related to medical knowledge. The remaining 10 encompass these broader attributes: how does the student seek out and account for a patient’s social context? How do they communicate with patients and their families? Do they demonstrate integrity as a member of the healthcare team? Do they recognize and respect cultural differences? Are they empathetic?

It’s important to reiterate that the reason students are assessed in this way by their attending physicians is that attending physicians are assessed in this way by patients: medical knowledge is only part of what you want from a doctor. This is why, before students reach the clinical phase of their education, the first two years of medical school are spent in the classroom, where we not only learn what causes such-and-such disease, but also the social determinants of health and how we can cultivate the “soft skills” which are fundamental to clinical practice. As part of this, we are intentionally exposed to a variety of experiences designed to contextualize the idea of health in its social moorings: we learn about how to safety plan with victims of domestic violence, how people of different ages or cultures may have different expectations regarding communication and treatment planning, how to care for people with disabilities, and how, for some patients, spirituality will play a large role in their health care. We also learn from members of the LGBTQIA+ community and are taught how to be a supportive ally. All of these experiences are important for training excellent, empathetic physicians.

With this context, we see that the claim made by the commentators at Fox — that a sex and gender primer is a political intrusion into medical education — is both wrong, and a vast oversimplification.

Above, we discussed how medical education involves training in both clinical and social knowledge and skills — and the lesson at the center of this controversy is an excellent example of teaching at that intersection. The early slides define the terms to be used: it defines sex as a primarily biological construct, and gender as a primarily social construct. It further breaks down both of these terms, drawing the distinction between genotypic and phenotypic sex and elaborating on the differences between gender identity and gender expression. These are useful distinctions to draw in clinical medicine, because all of these concepts are independent of one-another: genotypic sex does not entail a phenotypic sex (or vice-versa), and gender identity and expression can vary in their overlap. Further, an entire section of the lesson is devoted to elaborating on how students, as future healthcare providers, can be inclusive of gender- and sexual-diverse patients: for example, using appropriate pronouns and person-first and anatomy-based language. All of this is important information for medical students, who will care for people across these spectra, to know: with this knowledge, students will be better prepared to build a therapeutic relationship with these patients and provide the excellent healthcare they deserve.

The lesson also provides students with the scientific, clinical knowledge which one would expect of a medical school lecture. It makes the scientifically correct claim that sex and gender are non-binary; and though it is only briefly summarized (as, in my curriculum, the material was covered in detail in another course), the lesson shows how differences in sexual development can place individuals along an entire spectrum of sex. You can have two X chromosomes and male-like genitalia; you can have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome and female-like genitalia. A biological, scientifically-informed concept of sex admits to no binary, and medicine has understood and discussed these differences in sexual development for nearly 50 years. Again: medical students will care for patients with these differences in sexual development, and understanding these differences is a vital part of building a therapeutic relationship and providing excellent healthcare.

We see, then, that the content of this lesson is immediately and well-connected to the purpose of medical education. I do not contend that this content is politically uncontroversial, but we see, here, a very different picture than that presented by the commentators at Fox. This lesson is not indoctrination, it is not ideological, and it does not represent the insertion of political content into an educational context. Rather, pre-existing educational content which aligns with the stated and agreed upon goal of medical education — the training of future physicians to provide excellent care — has been politicized. And though it may seem like splitting hairs, the distinction is incredibly important: there is not a flood of politically-charged content into medical education at Indiana University, but a flood of politically-motivated criticism of medical education’s established curriculum and mission.

But in these terms, the debate takes a very different contour: a commentator can only decry the inclusion of this material in medical education if they disagree with training physicians to provide compassionate, socially-informed care to gender- and sex-diverse communities. And maybe they do. But I won’t put words in their mouth, and, instead, I’ll state the broader point to be had here. Politics and education frequently collide, but the blame should not always be placed on education: in many cases, the educator does not decide to be political, but the politician decides that the educator is. This is why debates about political content in the educational context are, frequently, missing the point: we should not always debate whether or not political content should be discussed in the educational environment, but we should also consider whether or not content which is well-connected to an educational mission should be considered political. I believe that, in the case of the sex and gender primer in my medical school and in many similar cases, the answer is no, and the mechanics of the debate deserve to be questioned.

Race, Gender, and the Civic Virtues: Creating a Flourishing Society

aerial photograph of people in a park

The increasing polarization of American society is perhaps most evident when it comes to issues of race and gender. In 2016, 57% of Hilary Clinton supporters said that it is a lot more difficult to be a Black person in the United States than it is to be a white person, with that number increasing to 74% of Joe Biden supporters in 2020. The number of Trump supporters, however, who thought that it was a lot more difficult to be Black, actually shrank from 11% in 2016 to 9% in 2020.

A similar dynamic has occurred with gender issues as well. Only 26% of Clinton supporters agreed that the obstacles that keep women from getting ahead are now largely gone, a figure that then decreased to just 20% of Biden supporters. For Trump supporters though, the percentage that agreed such barriers were largely gone increased from 72% in 2016 to 79% in 2020, making the issues of race and gender marked illustrations of the increasing divide between liberals and conservatives.

How has this polarization affected American society? In very polarized environments, citizens are likely to become more tribal, increasingly shutting out those of a different political persuasion. We spend more time with people who look, talk, and think like us, making the political opposition more and more unfamiliar.

This uptick in tribalism then allows citizens to become more uncharitable. By interacting less with those on the other side of the aisle, it becomes harder to empathize with their perspective and far easier to see them as either ignorant, or even downright evil.

Finally, as voters become more entrenched, they are likely to be more antidemocratic. Because the political opposition cannot be trusted, citizens are more open to leaders who seize political power in ways that undermine typical democratic processes.

None of these tendencies, of course, will help heal the sharp divide on issues of race and gender. As citizens become more tribal, uncharitable, and antidemocratic, the fault lines between camps will only become more severe.

Furthermore, when polarization occurs on issues of race and gender, the tribal boundaries are increasingly drawn along racial and gendered lines. Black and Hispanic voters remain overwhelmingly Democrat, for example, while white voters lean Republican.

And in an emerging trend, there is now a growing political divide between men and women as well. The gap between how young men and women identify politically is rapidly increasing.

One approach to improving the current political climate is by focusing on educating for the civic virtues. While talk of citizenship or civic virtue might sound quaint or old-fashioned, the civic virtues are simply the habits that citizens need to support a healthy, well-functioning political community. These virtues are especially critical for liberal democracies, as democratic nations ultimately depend on the political engagement of their citizens.

Let’s take the former challenges raised by polarization. To begin with, the civic virtue of tolerance can combat the rise in antidemocratic sentiments. A tolerant person accepts the beliefs or practices of others even if they view those beliefs and practices as objectionable. This acceptance does not require, of course, that the tolerant person takes on these beliefs and practices as their own, but only that they permit others to continue with their ways of life.

Toleration merely requires refraining from coercing and controlling others, but the civic virtue of mutual respect calls people to a deeper appreciation of their fellow citizens. Also called civic egalitarianism, mutual respect encourages citizens to acknowledge the value that others bring to the political process and view them as well-intentioned, rather than regarding them as either ignorant or evil.

Finally, the virtue of neighborliness can help us overcome our growing tribalism. Instead of giving in to permanent transience, we can get to know those around us regardless of their political persuasion. This will then help us to be more empathetic with those whom we disagree as we come to realize that they are our friends and neighbors.

Of course, even if citizens become more tolerant, respectful, and neighborly, this will not solve all of our political problems. Real issues would remain, and civic virtue will not answer some of our deepest and most abiding questions about how to live in community, but decreasing polarization would put us in a better position to tackle those challenges together.

At the same time, though, the civic virtues can do more than simply helping us overcome polarization. The virtue of justice is integral for a well-functioning society, and if we as citizens become more just, this will then help us to tackle both individual and structural injustices related to race and gender.

Civic virtue, then, can play a much larger role than just reducing polarization. Education for the civic virtues isn’t just about getting along, it’s about creating citizens that are equipped to create a flourishing society.

Diversity of What?

photograph of the legs of people waiting for a job interview

Affirmative action privileges individuals who belong to particular social groups in processes of hiring and institutional admission. The practice still receives a great amount of endorsement from those in higher education, despite widespread public disagreement over the issue. The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling thrust the issue into the limelight, fueling further debate. While there are a variety of moral arguments that can be employed in support of affirmative action, one of the most prominent is that affirmative action policies are morally permissible because they promote more diverse colleges and workplaces.

However, it is clear that not all forms of diversity should be included in the scope of affirmative action policies. We would balk at a college seeking a diverse range of shoe sizes amongst applicants. Similarly, we would scratch our heads at a company choosing employees based on the diversity of their culinary preferences. So which kinds of diversity should affirmative action policies target? In order to answer this question, we must first consider which kinds of diversity colleges and workplaces have reason to promote.

There are different kinds of reasons for action. For the sake of this discussion, let’s consider two distinct sorts of reasons: moral and prudential. Moral reasons are those which apply to individuals or groups regardless of the particular goals of that individual or group. Prudential reasons, on the other hand, apply only when an individual or group has particular goals.

I have a moral reason, for example, to be honest when filing my taxes. However, I might also have a prudential reason to lie, insofar as it would be good for my business’s bottom line to avoid paying a lot of taxes. But moral and prudential reasons need not only point us in conflicting directions. Oftentimes we have both moral and prudential reason to perform a particular action. For instance, I have a moral reason to keep my promises to my friends as well as a prudential reason to do so. If I want my friends to remain in my life, this gives me a prudential reason to honor the promises I make to them.

The moral/prudential reasons distinction is helpful in determining which kinds of diversity colleges and workplaces have reason to promote. Let’s start with the category of moral reasons. Some claim that our societal institutions bear a moral responsibility to privilege certain groups in admissions and employment. Typically, this argument is applied to racial minorities who have been subjected to historical injustices. If such a moral responsibility really does exist, it provides societal institutions with a moral reason to engage in affirmative action along racial lines.

The challenge for the proponent of this style of argument is to both defend why such a moral responsibility applies to all societal institutions (as opposed to merely some) as well as to explain why this moral responsibility trumps all other competing responsibilities and reasons that such institutions might have. Put differently, even if institutions have a moral reason to favor racial minorities in admissions and employment, a further argument must be given to show that this moral reason isn’t outweighed by stronger, countervailing reasons against affirmative action.

Now we can turn to the category of prudential reasons. Given the goals of colleges and businesses, what kinds of diversity might they have reason to promote? In the United States, affirmative action tends to be race- and gender-based. But if we consider the underlying goals of universities and employers, it’s not immediately clear why these are the types of diversity they have most reason to promote. Of course, there are important differences in the foundational goals of businesses and institutions of higher education. Colleges and universities are presumably most concerned with the effective education of students (as well as staying financially viable), while businesses and corporations tend to aim at profit maximization.

The spirit of open-minded inquiry that characterizes institutions of higher education seems to provide reason to promote diversity in thought. If the ideal college classroom is a place where ideas are challenged and paradigms are questioned, intellectual diversity can aid in achieving this goal. However, it is not immediately obvious that racial or gender diversity promote this end, particularly since the majority of individuals advantaged by affirmative action are from similar socio-economic backgrounds. In order to defend affirmative action along the lines of race or gender, a case would have to be made that selecting for these categories is a highly effective way of selecting for intellectual diversity.

A similar point holds true in regards to affirmative action policies put in place by employers. Given the fundamental goal of profit maximization that businesses and corporations possess, these institutions have prudential reason to choose individuals who best help achieve this end. There does exist compelling empirical evidence that more diverse groups tend to outperform less diverse groups when it comes to problem-solving, creativity, and other performance-based metrics. However, these studies tend to demonstrate the upsides of a team possessing diverse skills, rather than diverse racial or gender identities.

Thus, it appears businesses and corporations have prudential reason to create teams with diverse skills, but more argument must be given in order to make the case that selecting for racial or gender diversity is an effective way of achieving this goal. Insofar as proponents of affirmative action seek to defend the practice on the grounds that it promotes diversity, it is imperative we get clear on which kinds of diversity our societal institutions have the most reason to promote.

The (un)Fairness of Cis-Only Sports

photograph of staggered starting blocks for track competition

On February 12th, three families sued to make women’s sport in Connecticut exclude trans athletes from participating. But this is just one event in a trend of anti-LGBTQ legislation and litigation in 2020, including bills in South Dakota, Florida, and Colorado that would make it a felony for medical professionals to provide healthcare to trans minors, despite the American Academy of Pediatrics’ statement in 2018 advocating for a “gender-affirming approach” to care for minors.

These teens in Connecticut are not alone in pursuing action for trans exclusion in sport: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Washington all have Republican-sponsored bills under consideration “prohibiting transgender student athletes from participating in gender-segregated sports in a way that’s consistent with their gender identity.”

Attorney Christiana Holcomb (using transphobic language that erases the fact that trans girls *are* girls) made the claim: “Forcing girls to be spectators in their own sports is completely at odds with Title IX, a federal law designed to create equal opportunities for women in education and athletics.” Note that if the plaintiffs have their way, girls who aren’t cis aren’t simply being forced “to be spectators in their own sports,” but rather are being excluded completely from competition.

Identifying gender with an underlying biological feature is actually pretty difficult from a biological perspective. In 2018, the Trump administration attempted to define gender biologically and received a great deal of criticism from medical and gender specialists alike. “The idea that a person’s sex is determined by their anatomy at birth is not true, and we’ve known that it’s not true for decades,” said executive director of the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, Dr. Joshua D. Safer. Chromosomes, hormones, or external anatomical features like genitals are insufficient indicators to categorize the population into two rigid gender binaries. Further, two percent of the population have differences of sexual development (sometimes self-identifying as “intersex”) – this is roughly the same portion of the population that has red hair.

So why are athletes clinging to identities given to them based on apparent anatomy at birth?

One of the teen athlete plaintiffs, articulated their position: “That biological unfairness doesn’t go away because of what someone believes about gender identity. All girls deserve the chance to compete on a level playing field.” The “biological unfairness” alluded to here is the supposed competitive advantage that trans women have over cis women. The statements made by the teens make many appeals to fairness in sport and making sure everyone gets “their chance.”

“Fairness” may be a common value that we appeal to pretty frequently, but it doesn’t describe a stable state of affairs: it means different things in different contexts. Being fair to employees may mean giving the same salary to those who do the same amount of work, or it could mean giving more money to those who have been employed for longer at the company. Being fair to individuals in a classroom may mean not making discriminations (say, in awarding grades) on the basis of health and likely lifespans, whereas in the context of determining organ transplant recipients, health and likely lifespans may be a morally permissible standard for discrimination.

In competitive sport, “fairness” is a complicated standard. Competitors are understood to be looking for and developing advantages over their opponents. If an athlete perceives a weakness in an opponent, taking advantage of it is often the appropriate response. Outside of competitive sport, taking advantage of a weakness can be a textbook case of exploitation.

Basically, in sport, having a competitive advantage is not the same thing as having an unfair advantage. From there, the fairness issue gets complicated further because there is empirical evidence that trans women do not achieve a “significant” competitive advantage after transitioning. The advantage that is found can be estimated “from 2-3%.”

Competitive sport is competitive in the sense that training and in-sport strategy is largely concerned with garnering advantages for one’s own side and diminishing advantages for one’s opponent. Living and presenting as one’s gender is not the same thing as seeking these advantages any more than having a disposition for a particular height may give an advantage for some sports. However, the claim made by some who are attempting to exclude trans women is that any advantage they may have over cis women in virtue of being trans is an unfair one – is different than the advantage gained by happening to be a particular height. It is important to acknowledge that different sports privilege different physical presentations. In basketball, for instance, being tall represents a considerable advantage – more than 2-3% – while in gymnastics it represents a disadvantage.

The range of differences in gender performance in competitive sport is also significant: in the Iditarod, women frequently win overall, and in many endurance sports the gender gap is quite small, but in competitive weightlifting the gap reaches nearly 37%. These gaps receive a great deal of interpretation; during the 20th century, women’s sport achievement improved at a remarkably fast rate and the previously wider gap decreased. The increased access to resources, training, and competitions fostered women in sport. It is difficult to predict, given advances in sports science, training, and hopefully further progress in gender inclusion, how the performance gap will behave in the future.

A systematic review of the literature pertaining to sport policies in transgender people in 2017 concluded: “there is no direct or consistent research suggesting transgender female individuals (or male individuals) have an athletic advantage at any stage of their transition (e.g. cross-sex hormones, gender-confirming surgery) and, therefore, competitive sport policies that place restrictions on transgender people need to be considered and potentially revised.”

If we grant the 3% advantage, and determine this to be an “unfair” advantage, this does not necessarily lead to one clear call to action. For instance, in 2018, ethicists considering the advantage that trans women may hold in competitions concluded not that this should lead to exclusion from sport, but rather a more critical attitude towards male/female categories in sport in the first place. In 2019, ethicists suggested traits that are relevant to particular sports’ skill be the determining factor to segregate classes. For instance, we could consider dividing basketball into height classes, which would allow for shorter, skilled players to compete. This could mirror weight classes in boxing and martial arts competitions, for instance.

While the underlying value that the plaintiffs are appealing to is “fairness,” their aim is to exclude their fellow athletes from competing. A more critical analysis of why the aim of a fair competition and success in sport is required for these athletes to move forward. Perhaps they should consider why the the American Civil Liberties Union is on the other side of their case: though the plaintiffs are appealing to Title IX’s gender protections, the ACLU has said it will represent the transgender teens: “Attorney Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, said transgender girls also are protected by Title IX.” Women get to play sports.

Affirmative Action and A Medical University’s Attempt at No Girls Allowed

Slightly angled view of the exterior of a large complex of buildings known as the Tokyo Medical and Dental University with a stand of trees in front

On Friday, August 3rd, the Japanese government urged Tokyo Medical University to uncover the results of their investigation into allegations that the entrance exams of women were altered to prevent them from qualifying as applicants. In 2010, successful female applicants reached 38 percent and sources report that efforts began to reduce this increase in potential female doctors, resulting in 10% of successful exam scores being lowered.

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has an economic platform that touts equality, with a focus on improving women’s place in the workforce. With initiatives that together have been dubbed “womenomics”, Abe’s policies have been praised as beginning “a new era in female success.” He aimed to achieve gender equality in the workforce by 2015. Currently, 3.7% of executives of Japanese companies are women, 73% of Japanese companies have no women at the management level, and 57.7% of women are engaged in “non-regular” employment. A new era is badly needed because Japan has been sliding down the World Economic Forum’s world ranking of the gender gap. In 2008, it ranked 80th, but it was down to 111th in 2017 and 114th in 2017. This slipping has brought skepticism to the effectiveness of Abe’s womenomics initiatives.

It is an uphill battle to reverse the gender issues in the workforce when Members of Parliament publicly claim that single women are a burden on the state and should be producing more children. Yet it was the sexist conception of women as worse candidates because of their association with family responsibilities that was the very prejudice cited as motive behind Tokyo Medical University’s application falsifications.

The difficulties in meeting the goals of workforce equality has made Abe revise his goals this year: “In 2016 the government revised an ambitious national target of filling 30% of senior positions in both the public and private sectors with women by 2020. The new targets were 7% for senior government jobs and 15% at companies.” Setting such goals and quotas is controversial, and some executives and government officials worry that these policies may increase the “quantity” of women in the workforce while allowing the “quality” to decrease.  

The concerns with setting goals to increase representation in the workforce or universities are not new, and invoke the debate over strategies of affirmative action. “Affirmative action” refers to steps taken to increase the representation of marginalized groups, either in university systems, government, or the workplace.

In 1965 in the US, the Civil Rights Act included affirmative action language that barred companies, unions, or other institutions from discriminatory practices. In particular, the Department of Labor put into place regional numerical goals to increase fair representation in the workforce.  

The use of gender and racial preferences in hiring and admissions is, of course, controversial. In their favor is the consideration that giving marginalized groups preference is just, given these groups’ previous exclusion: this preference rights the harm, therefore evening the playing field. This consideration has been attacked because the wrong is systemic but the redress individual. In other words, someone could get preferential treatment who may not have faced discrimination themselves in their individual life.

Further, this preferential treatment may come at the cost of the non-preferred groups who are not responsible for the systemic problems faced by the marginalized groups. We could think of the harm in terms of an applicant or employee receiving “less consideration,” or in terms of not getting their right (if there is one) to “equal consideration”. Thus, appeals to justice, rights, and harms can be brought out both in favor of bringing race and gender into play when making workplace and university choices as well as leaving them out.

However, the very pervasiveness of privilege given to white people and men is often cited as justification for giving preferential treatment to the less privileged. James Rachels and Mary Anne Warren point to the likelihood that non-marginalized individuals have benefited or would benefit from their privileged positions as justification to use preferential practices as a way of neutralizing this imbalance. This can be taken to mitigate the concern about the systemic versus individual level of harm and reparation.

The use of race and gender as criteria for employment and admission seems to some to be problematic in principle, whether used to increase or decrease an applicant’s favorability. For instance, Lisa Newton’s objection to affirmative action is that it uses race and gender to distinguish among people, which is what was objectionable in creating conditions of marginalization in the first place: “Just as the previous discrimination did, this reverse discrimination violates the public equality which defines citizenship” (Newton 1973, 310).

In practice in the US, affirmative action in the workforce has been implemented since the ‘70s in order to be in line with anti-discrimination policies — rather than on the justification of righting past wrongs, offsetting unfair advantages, appropriately rewarding the deserving, or producing some social goods. Instead, the preferential treatment righted the discrimination that would continue from practices that were permissible before the Civil Rights Movement.

The quotas and goals that Abe and his policies aim towards in Japan would impact the workforce considerably. Expectations of women and men have varied significantly and the efforts to close the gender gap would have far reaching effects (some estimate increasing women’s presence in the workforce would increase Japan’s GDP by 13%). Preferential hiring practices may be one tool in altering the workforce’s landscape, but there are social features that also need to be dealt with.  

In 2016, while the percentage of men and women with university degrees did not vary significantly (59% of women and 52% of men), the family and household responsibilities certainly did: women completed an average of 4.26 hours of housework a day versus 1.38 hours completed by men, and while women spent an average of 7.57 hours with children, men spent less than half that much (3.08 hours). Japan faces a childcare crisis, making it difficult to lighten the household responsibilities on women and allow them in the workforce.  

The underlying attitudes about the roles of women loom large in the efforts to close the gender gap in the workforce as well as Tokyo Medical University’s recent efforts to keep that gap in place in medicine. A key tool to deal with a history of discriminatory practices has been affirmative action, preferential weighing of marginalized groups in order to reach some desired level of representation. The effectiveness of this tool and the grounds of justifying the preferential treatment come with difficult questions of equality and distributive justice. Policies themselves won’t change bigoted attitudes, of course, and perhaps ideally gender and race wouldn’t be parameters that would matter in hiring practices. They demonstrably affect a person’s outcome in the workforce, however, and have throughout history.


For Testosterone Testing in Sports

Image of numbers on the lanes of a running track.

In my last post, I explained that the IAAF has a new policy on testosterone testing for female athletes. See that post for the details. I presented an argument against testosterone testing in sport and now I’ll present an argument for it. Which is the better argument? You decide. (Full disclosure: I don’t know.)

The first thing we need to consider is why sports are gender-segregated. It’s not because there’s a need to segregate people with different gender identities (why would we do that?). Sports are gender-segregated for reasons having entirely to do with bodies. The crux of the matter is that people with female bodies would be at a tremendous disadvantage if they competed against people with male bodies. Averaging over different sports and different individual people, male bodies have a 10 percent advantage. With gender mixing, the female-bodied wouldn’t as often qualify for and win events. To enjoy all the goods associated with sport, people with female bodies have to compete amongst themselves.

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Against Testosterone Testing in Sports

Image of hurdles on a track.

The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) has returned to the policy that female competitors must have circulating testosterone under a certain level. The policy had been suspended as a result of a judgment by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, after a complaint was filed by Dutee Chand, an Indian runner with DSD (differences of sexual development, also known as being intersex). For now, the new policy will apply only to mid-distance events—400 meters to a mile—and to people legally recognized as either female or intersex (which presumably includes trans women). More details on how the policy will be implemented are here.

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In the Boy Scouts, Making Room for More than Just Boys

Photo of Boy Scouts saluting.

In October of last year, the Boy Scouts of America announced that the organization would begin admitting girls.  Cub Scouts, the organization for youths 7-10 years old, will begin welcoming girls this summer.  The program for youth 11-17—The Boy Scouts—will change its name to Scouts BSA and will begin accepting girls, providing a pathway for young women to become Eagle Scouts.

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When Men Dominate the Film Industry, What’s the Problem?

Watching the Oscars recently, I was struck by the fact that, for all the emphasis on women over the last year because of the #metoo movement, the winners were still mostly a parade of men. Greta Gerwig did not win for her wonderful movie Lady Bird; Guillermo Del Toro won for the overly contrived movie The Shape of Water. Yes, there were female winners in the acting categories, but there have to be: those categories are gender-segregated.

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An Experiment in Inequality at the Street Food Stall

An image of a street food vendor preparing a sandwich

During February, Saartj, a New Orleans food stall serving Nigerian lunches, has been conducting a social experiment. In response to a rapidly growing wage gap between white people and people of color in New Orleans, they are offering lunches for $12 and suggesting that customers who identify as white pay $30 instead: the adjusted price that represents the disparity in income between African Americans and whites. Chef Tunde Way set up his pop-up food stall in order to stimulate discussion of the wage gap and to spread awareness of the statistics of the incomes in New Orleans. The social experiment has been collecting data, asking customers to complete surveys through February 28. Preliminary results suggest that 80 percent of white customers select to pay the $30 rate for their meals. The extra money collected is to be redistributed to minorities who frequent the stall (though not many have signed up for the money).

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Is There a Problem With Scientific Discoveries Made by Harassers?

A scientist taking notes next to a rack of test tubes.

The question about bias in science is in the news again.

It arose before, in the summer, when the press got hold of an inflammatory internal memo that Google employees had been circulating around their company. The memo’s author, James Damore, now formerly of Google, argued that Google’s proposed solutions to eradicating the gender gap in software engineering are flawed. They’re flawed, Damore thought, because they assume that the preponderance of men in “tech and leadership positions” is a result only of social and institutional biases, and they ignore evidence from evolutionary psychology suggesting that biologically inscribed differences in “personality,” “interests,” and “preferences” explain why women tend not to hold such positions.

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Lord of the Flies and the Ethics of Genderbending Film Adaptations

A photo of a coconut on a deserted beach

On August 30, Deadline reported on the announcement of an upcoming film adaptation of William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies. This would not be the first adaptation of the book—there were versions in 1963 and 1990—but the twenty-first century remake promises at least one peculiarity: this time, it will be girls instead of boys trapped on a desert island.

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Gender Segregation: Empowering or Exclusive?

A black-and-white photo of a movie theatre during a film.

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With over $400 million dollars in North American profits, Wonder Woman has set the record for the biggest U.S. film opening with a female director. Even before setting this record, the 2017 comic book adaptation was heralded by many as a feminist film, including actress and former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter. Despite its success, the film was not without criticism, with some women claiming that they did not find the film empowering, and even that it ignores non-white women. Perhaps the biggest controversy surrounding the film has to do with a Texas movie theatre, which offered “women-only” screenings of the film back in June. This decision was met with a wave of retaliation, accusations of discrimination, and even a lawsuit. Is it sexist to provide a women-only screening of the film? Is it fair to call the movie theatre’s actions as feminist? And most importantly, how does this reaction reflect American society’s tolerance, or lack thereof, of gender segregation?

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Mike Pence’s Marital Practices: Workplace Accommodation or Discrimination?

On March 28th, a Washington Post profile on Mike Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, emphasized the closeness in their marriage by reiterating a controversial policy of theirs: Mike Pence does not eat alone with any woman besides Karen, nor does he attend any event that has alcohol present without her. While some laud this commitment to honoring and protecting his marriage, others have voiced concerns about the practicality of following such a rule and fairly performing the roles of his professional position.

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Between the Lines of National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution”

In its 128th year of publication, National Geographic has put the spotlight on gender issues. As a renowned culture and travel magazine with significant resources, National Geographic has tremendous influence on how important issues are perceived by its wide audience. “Gender Revolution” is inherently a weighted title for their latest project, implying that a deep-seated problem is in need of revolution, and that their project sheds light on this problem. National Geographic interviewed over 100 nine-year-olds from around the world to gain their perspective on gender, as well as shared stories of many individuals who identify as more than male or female. The “Gender Revolution” is a battle for the fluidity of gender that encroaches more sensitive subjects besides gender.

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Masculinity Across Sports

When conjuring up the perfect image of masculinity in your mind, most people imagine the typical high school jock. He plays football, basketball, ice hockey, or a similar hypermasculine activity. Rarely does a runner, swimmer, or this sort of “second tier” of masculinity in sports arise. By assigning masculinized predispositions to certain sports, could the conversation surrounding masculinity become skewed from a young age? If so, this would certainly create a problematic discourse around certain sports and limit a conversation for LGBTQ+ communities to have a voice within this realm.

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Rape Culture, In and Out of the Locker Room

Last week, President Obama signed the Sexual Assault SurvivorsRights Act into law. Peyton Carper, writer for Uloop, a college politics news website, summarized: [t]he legislation states that survivors must be informed of the results of their rape kits, which, shockingly, was not a requirement before this bill. More importantly, the kits must be preserved for the states maximum statute of limitations, and survivors can request that the kits be preserved for longer than that period if need be.

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Multiracial Representation in Japan

In March 2015, a daughter of Japanese mother and African-American father, Ariana Miyamoto, was crowned Miss Universe Japan. In September 2016, a daughter of Japanese mother and Indian father, Priyanka Yoshikawa, was crowned Miss World Japan. Both are the first biracial representatives of Japan on the stage of international competitions. While it is a celebratory news, some controversy has arisen amongst the Japanese about sending “non-Japanese” people into  the world to represent Japan.

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A Collegiate Fear of Discomfort

College, particularly at a liberal arts institution, is a time for young adults to gain exposure to a wealth of new ideas and perspectives – typically, in order to become more open-minded and responsible members of society. A certain amount of discomfort is guaranteed to come with this notion. Having one’s beliefs and previous notions challenged can be difficult to process at times. However, today’s generation of college students are increasingly becoming less willing to participate in this discourse in the name of offensiveness and mental health. Additionally, on some campuses, “trigger warnings” have become a normal preface to any topic that could potentially be considered sensitive to someone, and the quantity of topics included in this range only continues to grow.
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