A Useful Bibliography

Next time someone tries to tell you that there is no evidence that male bodied persons retain a physical advantage in sport, here is a useful bibliography. With thanks to Greg Brown, whose own lists helped me fill this out.

Brief Submitted to House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status Women: Participation of Women and Girls in Sport

I offer the Committee the following submission as a Canadian woman who has long been involved in sport as a competitive amateur and masters athlete, in rowing, hockey, and soccer, both women’s and mixed. I am also a professor of philosophy at the University of Saskatchewan and have done extensive work in the philosophy of sport and with respect to feminism and sexuality. I have also recently collaborated with an internationally respected researcher to produce a series of reports for Sport Canada on high-performance women’s voices in sport in Canada. My submission is largely drawn from that work.

The Committee is concerned with the safety of women in Canadian sport. If Canada is to shake its growing reputation as a country that does not learn from its own sporting scandals it must ensure that women and girls who dare to speak up about unfairness and injustice in their sporting environments can be heard. Being heard, or even permitted to speak, is precisely what has been denied to women in sport and, if anything, the pressure to comply with fundamentally abusive structures has only increased in recent years. It has become clear that speaking up is actively discouraged and a sure way for an athlete to become shut out of their sport.

For example, recent efforts to enhance inclusion have had the opposite effect for many women and girls, who may be required by their sport organisations to comply with arrangements that constitute safe-guarding risks, such as having to accept sharing accommodation and changing rooms with opposite sex teammates or competitors, often without being informed, and having no option to refuse. To add to the injury to female participants, we have testimony that they are directly discouraged from expressing their views on this and fear repercussions in terms of their ability to compete if they do. Further, that their physical performances are compared by coaches unfavourably with transwomen athletes, and reference to the biological sex of these athletes is considered transphobic. This is a grave and unjustifiable infringement of those women’s explicit Charter protections.

Appropriate age and sex classifications in competition, whether at elite or community level, are critical to keeping girls and women in sport. Physiologically informed sporting classifications are essential to maintaining participation levels in sport, and ultimately, whether Canada will continue to be able to field elite level women’s teams. The current science in this area provides ample and emphatic evidence that sex-based physiological differences post-puberty are effectively insurmountable, even after many years.

Despite the frequent claim that the numbers are minute and that no male bodied competitors are taking places from women or young girls, we are increasingly finding women excluded (or indeed self-excluding) from their own competitions and thus denied the advancement for which they have worked, usually for many years. Inclusion is a value that we all share but the approach that many Canadian organisations currently follow will have diminishing returns for women and girls in sport, and for Canada internationally as global federations move to more careful policies respecting fairness and safety than our own.

It is important to note the possible rights infringements that may accrue from institutional failure to address these concerns, most notably in relation to safe sport, respect, dignity, and privacy for female athletes. Inclusion policies which permit athletes to self-identify as the opposite sex by way of gender identity commonly require no disclosure of transgender status. This has potential follow-on effects for safe sport, respect, dignity, and privacy rights of female athletes. For example, current CCES guidelines state, ‘[n]o information should be given out concerning someone’s gender identity or stage of transition status, without the individual’s express consent’ and ‘[n]or should there be any requirement for disclosure of trans status.’ Further, that ‘[t]rans athletes generally should be assigned to share hotel rooms based on their gender identity’. The CCES transgender guidelines remove the autonomy of female athletes to decide for themselves, and consent or otherwise, to the situations in which they feel comfortable and safe, including the sharing of rooms with transwomen (biological males). This cannot be considered to be in line with the requirements of the Universal Code of Conduct to Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Sport (UCCMS).

This submission should in no way be interpreted as opposition to the inclusion of transgender athletes in sport. But safety, fairness, and justice, which are constitutive values in sport and constitutional rights in Canada, must be protected for women and girls. Inclusion does not require that these be overridden and doing so will have the long term effect of excluding women and girls from sport at all levels. There are other options besides eliminating the opportunities that women have fought so hard for and won so recently, such as maintaining both open and protected categories on the basis of biological sex, or providing additional transgender categories. Sport is a human good, one with profound significance and benefit for those who choose to pursue it. But sport is not a human right and no one’s legal right to participate in a specific sport overrides the more basic rights of other human participants, or in the case of women, their Charter-grounded sex-based right to equality and safety, dignity of the person, or speech. Canadians talk a good game about equality and fairness; it is time to deliver on those values for women and girls by guaranteeing safety of competition and the right and the means of speaking out when these are threatened.

Yours respectfully,
Dr. Leslie A. Howe

New Response to CCES Review Paper

Cathy Devine, Emma Hilton, Leslie Howe, Miroslav Imbrišević, Tommy Lundberg, Jon Pike. “When Ideology Trumps Science: A response to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport’s Review on Transwomen Athletes in the Female Category”. Idrottsforum. 29 November 2022

When Ideology Trumps Science: A response to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport’s Review on Transwomen Athletes in the Female Category

Abstract: “The recently published ‘Scientific Review’ by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport about transwomen’s participation in female sport doesn’t deserve its name; it is wholly unscientific. This publication follows a familiar pattern. The body is not important anymore when it comes to categorisation and eligibility in sport; instead, it’s all about a psychological phenomenon: gender identity. This side-lining of the body (which makes the side-lining of female athletes and the inclusion of male-born athletes possible) is now reinforced by an attack on the bio-medical sciences. Their agenda is – allegedly – the oppression of minorities. Only the socio-cultural disciplines can give us the answers we are looking for (in sport), because only they understand the coercive nature of academic disciplines and institutions which focus on material reality, rather than on social identity. The CCES Review is another attempt to replace materially based eligibility criteria in sport with ‘social identity’ as a passport to inclusion. We (a group of scientists and humanities scholars) have written an expert commentary about the CCES Review, highlighting its shortcomings in methodology, and its sometimes incoherent, sometimes misleading argumentation. We argue that the CCES strategy is a continuity with the history of the exclusion and oppression of female athletes in sexist, misogynist, patriarchal sport structures whilst, at the same time, masquerading as inclusive, anti-sexist and anti-misogynist.”

Many thanks to Miroslav Imbrišević for pulling these threads together.

On journals and proofing: a rant

115 days after uploading the final version, my paper on recognition, fairness, and excellence in sport has finally been published in a journal that is tied to one of the megalopolies of modern academic publishing. It should never have taken this long.

Granted, no matter how well we do our own proofreading and correcting, there are always a few things that escape notice, or favoured phrasings that few others will understand–we easily forget that how it sounds in our head and how it reads on the page don’t always line up. No doubt, there are some journals that still employ humans with academic backgrounds and trained judgements to do this task. Though this, too, can fail if the proofreader doesn’t understand disciplinary usage: while still a graduate student, I was hired to proofread a faculty member’s manuscript after someone else had had their book on causal relations “corrected” to be entirely about casual relations. In the most recent case, all my references to the Other and an other were converted to others and another.

Some publishers appear to use the editing equivalent of a chat bot, or humans that have no knowledge of the academic vocabulary of philosophy, or who have strange pseudo-grammatical obsessions, such as that every word combination must have a hyphen, or words must never appear as contractions. Or those who introduce so many “corrections” into your paper that your carefully crafted (sorry, carefully-crafted) sentences become logically incoherent. Or, sometimes, paragraphs are inserted randomly. Or references appear in lower case or upper case at whim. Some years ago, I used to receive proofs from another publisher that had inserted more mistakes into my text than it had left home with. This time around, new mistakes got introduced with supposedly corrected versions.

It would be important in any discipline, but in philosophy, precision in meaning is absolutely the point and I’m fed up with trying to scry an author’s meaning, not because they are obscure, but because the press has messed up the text. I have had repeated apoplexy-inducing experiences with one particular publisher, but my most recent experience puts them beyond redemption. Although the majority of my work has been published in journals they now control, I have decided that enough is enough and I will not publish anything in any imprint that they own. Well, cut off my nose to spite my own face, I’m not hurting anyone but myself, etc. Maybe, and not just because there is a no groundswell of demand for my work–except, apparently, from all those garbage “journals” like “Trends in Horticulture”, “Business and Industrial Marketing”, or “Orthopedics and Rheumatology” that send me illiterate emails about how impressed they are about my paper: [add random title], and praise my expertise in bone research (if you are reading this you know I’m not making these up).

But here is my point: I am a full professor with tenure and I can afford to have these sort of privileged principles. Of course, there are more pressing problems confronting many academics and the world at large, so, again, cue the world’s tiniest violin. So what if it pisses me off to have this delay in publishing my relatively meagre body of work. It isn’t only about me, though. For an early researcher for whom publications are essential for a career, this slapdash ultra-monetising approach to academic publishing is potentially more damaging, and those scholars are in a much more constrained position. What pisses me off even more is that publishers can take advantage of our need to publish and effectively bully scholars into putting up with crap proofreading and publication standards, if only by neglect. Scholars are effectively the indentured servants of these brokerage houses of human inquiry, the ones who do all the work in providing the raw material of publishers’ fatted existence, and who must continue to do so to have careers and retain their jobs and the existence of their departments, since the current corporate approach to academic institutions involves counting up the grants that scholars receive, which depend on counting up their publications, which depends upon….(you get the idea).*

Although I might think that we should refuse to simply put up with the conditions of modern academic journal publishing, it’s not clear whether such a stance is more than a flea bite to these corporations who prohibitively control all access to our work, so that so few can see it. How many times a week do you see requests from scholars for copies of articles needed for their own work, but to which they have no access? For which reason, I heartily endorse the sentiments expressed by Rebecca Lea Morris here: . Given all that, surely it is not unreasonable to expect that if the journal has already accepted your paper, we ought to be able to push the press to do it right, and refuse to sign that author’s agreement until they do it exactly right. Will it make a difference? Probably not. But it’s the very least, really the least, they could do.

*As it happens, my university has cancelled all journals carried by this particular publisher because the institution can no longer afford them.