Monday, October 25, 2010

Transgendered Persons and Professional Sports

Famed Action Transvestite Eddie Izzard

Wow. Talk about a gray area. Typically, professional sports (particularly in international competitions) are separated into two major categories: men's and women's. So what if you don't fit squarely into either category? Chaos, apparently.

In 2009, South African 800-meter runner Caster Semenya showed some tremendous improvements in a very short time span. The times she was running were, frankly, amazing for a woman of her age with relatively little pro competition experience. At the World Championships, she beat out some of the world's finest 800m specialists by over two and half seconds, which prompted officials to finally request a gender test. Unlike many of her fellow competitors, Caster was tall, had broad shoulders, higher-than-average muscle mass, and heavily manly features.

Initial gender tests appeared to confirm some suspicions. I believe the official results are still being kept private, but some media channels have reported that Semenya is actually a hermaphrodite. This would explain the unusually high levels of testosterone that were found in her body (approximately three times the norm for females).

But what is the IAAF (governing body of Track & Field) supposed to do now?! Allow her to keep competing as a female, even though she has an unfair chemical advantage? Bar her from competing and invite international scorn? Even her own country is a bit unsure about how to proceed...

Case number two: what if a man purposely got a sex change and tried to then compete as a woman? Enter "Lana Lawless." Initially, Lana's story sounds like the plot of another bad Eddie Murphy.Rob Schneider movie. (Or "Ladybugs" if you remember that God-awful film. RIP, Jonathan Brandis. I'll always remember you fondly as the second, better Bastian.)

When Lana was refused participation in the LPGA Challenge, she accepted the decision as fair and that this was an inevitable result of her personal decision to change her gender sued them. Not to mention that she's also suing Dick’s Sporting Goods, Re/Max and CVS.

Now, you could certainly make a case that the LPGA's "female at birth" policy is discriminatory. But I just can't feel as bad for Lana Lawless when she made a personal choice to change her gender and then expected to compete with the physical attributes she'd enjoyed as a man. That's unfair and it seems pretty ridiculous (yet, sadly, somewhat expected in this day and age) that she'd just go suing people right and left for upholding rules they've had in place for decades.

As LBGT issues become more prevalent and we, as a society, become more sensitive to these persons and the issues they face, should pro sports be redefining their rules? Or, out of necessity, will we continue to stick to our definitions? For example, think of how record-keeping would have to change if there were suddenly more categories. Now, apply this same issue to high school and college athletics: if kids are born with a chemical makeup that isn't clearly male or female, where do they fit?

I certainly don't have the answers and this is certainly a new area of thinking for me, so I won't offer anything else besides this open-ended post. I do, however, look forward to seeing how governing bodies handle these gray-area issues in the future.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ramblings on Unemployment

"Unemployed Find Old Jobs Now Require More Skills: 15 Million Americans Currently Employed"

Read this today and got pretty depressed about:
1. the current state of the economy in terms of unemployment levels;
2. the implications this has on hiring practices;
3. the matter-of-fact manner in which this article stated how normal it is for one employee to be doing the equivalent of two or three different jobs.

Statements/observations made in the article:
  • Companies are becoming more productive by "doing more with fewer workers."
  • Many companies complain they can't find qualified people for certain jobs...4.6 unemployed Americans are competing for each opening; that stat was 1.8 people before the recession.
  • The number of openings has surged 37% in the past year but the unemployment rate has actually risen during that time.
  • In order to succeed, current workers have to produce more and constantly learn new job skills. This trend is "magnifying the obstacles facing the unemployed."

Now, in the interest of disclosure and to set the perspective, I am currently happily employed (full-time) at a large company that is still growing. No hard feelings if you're reading this and thinking "what would you know about unemployment, Jon?" However, I've experienced my fair share of fruitless job searching and I know/have known plenty of people affected by unemployment.

I completely understand, from a business perspective, the importance of hiring versatile employees that can "wear different hats" (ugh, corporate lingo). This is especially true if you have a small or medium business when it's necessary to be as productive as possible to keep costs down while you're growing. But I've never liked the concept. I've always held to the belief that you'll get more out of your employees when you allow them to specialize/focus and, above all, keep them from getting too stressed out.

In these times, as the article noted, many companies are now in a position where they can be extremely picky when it comes to hiring new talent. For applicants, this translates into a job skills arms race combined with price wars. I feel especially bad for those with Masters degrees and lots of experience because they will probably never find positions whose salaries match what they deserve. It's even worse when companies reject them on the basis that they're "overqualified." Younger job seekers, on the other hand, will either be passed over for many more qualified applicants or have to accept very low wages and work their asses off. Sure, it's a winning situation for companies in the short run, but it just seems really unfair for job seekers right now.

I played with the idea of transitioning into a satirical segment a la "A Modest Proposal" (was going to work in a Logan's Run reference, too...) but that wouldn't exactly inspire any dialogue or critical thinking. What is the answer here?! I know there are so many different angles from which to tackle the issue and you could even touch on a lot of political issues at the same time.

I feel like I'm starting to ramble, so I'll end it here. I wanted to discuss how the Objectivist philosophy plays a role, as well as Kohlberg's stages of moral development, but that will have to wait for another time.