by Selywn Duke
It’s difficult to say if the greatest drama of the 2012 Olympics has occurred inside or outside the athletic arena, but it’s hard for anything to compare to the controversy that recently surrounded 16-year-old Chinese swim sensation Ye Shiwen.
The story started on Saturday when Ye shattered the women’s world record in the 400-meter Individual Medley in a time of 4:28.43, beating the old mark by more than a second.
If a second constitutes a “shattered” record—and it does at that high level—you can only imagine what a 14 or 23-second difference is: it’s a vast ocean away. So it should surprise no one that those also happen to be the number of seconds Ye was slower than, respectively, the last finisher in the men’s 400m IM, and its winner, Ryan Lochte.
But you wouldn’t know it from the reportage, which, fueled by Ye’s anomalous final leg of her race, seemed content to rank race times like bowling scores. For instance, the first part of a Daily Mail headline read, “Ryan Lochte may be speedy…but this 16-year-old Chinese girl is even quicker!” the Guardian had a subtitle stating “Chinese 16-year-old swam faster than Ryan Lochte,” while Drudge jumped the shark with “Faster than any man!” Not surprisingly, such reporting left many readers—including someone close to me—with the impression that Ye actually registered a faster time than the male swimmers.
The confusion stems from the fact that Ye did swim the final 50m of her 400m race marginally faster than Lochte swam his last 50, which rightfully raised eyebrows. Yet there were men in Lochte’s race who swam that short stretch faster than Lochte (and Ye, of course), yet no one implies that they “beat” the men’s gold medalist.
And this certainly caused problems for Miss Ye. While her anomalous improvement curve and dusting of her female 400-IM competition already aroused suspicion, the silly notion that she beat the boys didn’t help. Accusations of “doping” flew among Internet commenters, countered by Chinese allegations of jealousy and “racism” (add to today’s one-world economy a one-world social arena: even foreigners know how to play the race card now).
Of course, experts also found her closing leg in the 400 IM suspicious, especially since China has a history of state-sponsored cheating. And, without going into detail, doping could account for unusual stamina that facilitates anomalous late-race surges. Moreover, while Ye has thus far tested negative, it’s often a couple of years before authorities can detect cutting-edge methods for artificially enhancing performance. But athletes’ body-fluid samples are kept for eight years, so hopefully time will tell if China’s triumphs are won in the pool—or the lab.
What I don’t need time to know about, however, are media methods for enhancing Internet traffic and social causes. And the reportage here was partially driven by a desire to attract eyeballs—“woman beats man” is a man-bites-dog story. But I believe there’s another reason.
It’s the same reason why we see unrealistically powerful female characters who outshine men on TV, specious science reporting that glorifies women and diminishes men, and the replacement of male figures in history books with women of dubious accomplishment: it’s part of the effort to portray women as the same as men and, when possible and beneficial, as superior.
Thus, before continuing, let’s place matters in perspective for the girl-power gascons out there. Ye may be able to beat the boys, but they’d actually have to be boys—and not high-level ones, either. For example, the 400m-IM record for under-18 boys in just one championship, the Junior Worlds (this isn’t even necessarily a world record), is 4:15.64, which is considerably better than Ye’s women’s world record. Or consider that while the women’s world record for the mile is 4:12.56, the boys’ American high-school record is 3:52. With some variation, this gap is reflected across events, and it reveals the silliness of comparing women to men in physical sports. For the best women couldn’t even measure up in a robust junior-boys or high-school environment.
I mention this not just to rub feminists’ noses in reality (although that is fun), but for a more important reason. We understand the different roles of birds and fish partially because we recognize the differences between them. We don’t, for instance, put a goldfish in a birdcage and then attribute its flopping and twitching to a lack of affirmative action; we don’t use Buff Tabbies in place of German Shepherds in a shipyard at night and then wonder in the morning why the place was robbed. Likewise, if we’re blind to the differences between the sexes, will we be able to establish the proper policies and social norms for them?
Consider the matter of women in combat. Whether it is or isn’t a good idea, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know if we’re confused about sex differences. And, really, whether you’re for it or against, we should all be able to agree on one simple proposition: our decisions should be informed by fact, not fantasy. We should agree to tell the truth.
So while I’m not going to write the book Men are Birds, Women are Fish (although, who really catches whom?), I do know that what follows from the notion that the sexes are the same is that they should be doing the same things. And the social engineers know this also. This is precisely why they seek to twist people’s perception of reality.
And it’s effective. When working with kids years ago in athletics, I encountered an 11-year-old boy who was under the assumption that the women’s mile record should be faster than the men’s. If people are raised with a grasp of reality like that, how can they possibly figure out what social codes, policies or politicians to support?
(Selywn Duke is a columnist and author)