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Gender in Sports with Joanna Harper and Heather Berlin, PhD (Re-release)

Ted Eytan via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
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About This Episode

How does gender impact performance in sports? On this episode, Neil deGrasse Tyson dives into the archives with Gary O’Reilly and Chuck Nice to break down the complex role of the gender spectrum in sports alongside neuroscientist Heather Berlin, PhD, and Joanna Harper, medical physicist, endurance runner, and expert on the performance of transgender athletes. 

Before we dive into gender’s role in sports, Heather first helps us establish a baseline understanding about the nuances of gender and sex. Find out why biology is not as binary as you may think. How do the biological interpretations of gender and the societal interpretations of gender coincide in sports? We break down common misconceptions about gender differences. Are there differences between male and female brains? You’ll learn how gender segregation from a young age can exacerbate societal patterns of gender separation in sports. 

We also discuss challenges that transgender and intersex athletes have faced in professional competition. You’ll find out about the process in which the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Association of Athletes Federations (IAAF), and the NCAA determine which gender an athlete competes in. Joanna offers up an alternative determination process based on different biomarkers and breaks down what actual traits give trans women certain advantages over cisgendered women. How does transitioning impact performance? What are the physical disadvantages of being a trans woman in competition? Are the advantages and disadvantages different for different athletic events?

You’ll discover more about the history of intersex athletes and the Olympics. Explore the case of Caster Semenya and the controversial IAAF ruling that requires athletes with higher levels of testosterone competing in women’s running events to be subject to medical treatment to lower their natural amount of testosterone. All that, plus, we ponder why LeBron James and other athletes with other clear physical advantages aren’t put into their own elite categories of competition if they have unfair advantages. 

Thanks to our Patrons Hassan Shiman, Lizette Hart, Robert Barnes, Christopher Bill, Bruno Canalda, Joe Stamps, and tony henche for supporting us this week.

NOTE: StarTalk+ Patrons can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free.

About the prints that flank Neil in this video:
“Black Swan” & “White Swan” limited edition serigraph prints by Coast Salish artist Jane Kwatleematt Marston. For more information about this artist and her work, visit Inuit Gallery of Vancouver.

In This Episode

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