Experience Curves

January 11, 2012 - 9:22 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
Comments Off

Earlier I was laughing at what is a sadly not-uncommon thread of discussion in gamer communities that are not particularly moderated, which is gamer dudes lamenting the apparent injustice that video games sometimes have female characters that aren’t damsels to rescue and even sometimes makes the player play as a female character. The part that got the actual horselaugh out of me as opposed to “roll eyes, move on” was one guy playing “what if” a woman were realistically the character in a first-person shooter; apparently it would be hilarious because she couldn’t lift the rifle without dragging the barrel, load it, or hit anything, and if she shot it anyway she’d break her shoulder or something.

Someone did the usual “we apologize for the abominable trolls in our nerd culture because they’re socially awkward and inexperienced with anyone who is not a fellow unsocialized troll exactly like them” thing, and it occurred to me that the inexperience speaks for itself- not merely with women or anyone that doesn’t have to brush the cheeto dust out of their neckbeard when trying to look swank, but with real-world physical skills in general.

Shooting is still a boys’ club, so are most strength-based fitness sports, and for very obvious reasons they attract a lot of macho, competitive young men. But it occurred to me that I very rarely hear gender based “women can’t shoot/load/rack/shoulder (blah)” from men who have trained, competed, and especially taught a lot, in much the same way that I see very little “women are frail/weak” talk in areas where people are training seriously for strength/speed/power and not guys who’ve done a little at the Globogym to try and pump up.

The reason why isn’t an onset of enlightenment or even growing out of any sexism or misogyny, it’s experience. If you work seriously to train a skill and don’t isolate yourself, you are going to get outperformed, by lots of people who’ve trained more or smarter than you, and even in areas where men as a gender really do have a physical advantage (in shooting they don’t, unless you’re shooting elephants) some of those people are going to be women, and it’s not just going to be when you’re just starting out.

I’m not saying there aren’t significant gender differences in certain physical domains; anatomy and endocrinology make that Just Fact. What I am saying is that the curve of training is a very long one, much longer than people with no experience of it tend to imagine, and the two places it’s most relevant are the ends- completely untrained individuals, and top-level competitors. In a physical contest between a man and a woman who’ve trained roughly as hard and roughly as smart, the man will almost always have the edge*- but there’s so much distance in between the two end points that big experience and development gulfs that easily exceed any theoretical innate advantage exist, and often.

Or, to put it in much shorter terms, if I see someone saying something along those lines, what I actually read is “I live in the basement and never lift anything heavier than a cereal box, and neither do the six or so other people I know.”

Super TL;DR: Yay Dunning-Kruger effect.

*Though not in cases where the most important thing is not actually raw power, but strength to mass ratio. When two athletes are both strong enough to do things like handstand pushups and pullups for reps and speed and are competing on those terms, the male upper body strength advantage may not be enough to give him an edge when he weighs 220 pounds and she weighs 105. This is, I think, why I see such a near-total lack of gurlz-are-weak in Crossfit boxes as compared to bodybuilding circles; a lot of their workouts are structured like that, so guys get smoked in workouts by tiny women often enough to make an impression.

No Responses to “Experience Curves”

  1. Old NFO Says:

    Good one, and excellent points! As far as the women can’t shoot… Well, I know a few that pretty much put THAT one to rest :-) And you’re right about the strength issue, but I noticed you didn’t get into the determination/intensity/ability comparisons. I’ve had my butt kicked often enough by women in various endeavors to KNOW how much those three play into the equation.

  2. Justthisguy Says:

    Ma’am, why do you write “gender” when you obviously mean “sex”?

  3. Justthisguy Says:

    IIRC, women used to shoot in the same matches as men, 80 or so years ago, and did right well. It was only in my lifetime that they got separate matches. Wrongheaded chivalry did it, I reckon.

  4. Justthisguy Says:

    P.s. My high school sweety, who may have weighed 90 pounds soaking wet, shot skeet and trap competitively with a big ol’ 12-gauge.

  5. elmo iscariot Says:

    …even in areas where men as a gender really do have a physical advantage (in shooting they don’t, unless you’re shooting elephants)…

    I like guns, and I like shooting, but have not experience whatsoever with shooting sports, so these questions are from honest ignorance.

    My personal experience has been that with normal defensive and hunting guns, women seem to be at no disadvantage whatsoever. And it makes perfect sense that they wouldn’t be, since mainstream guns are hardly demanding on upper body strength. But I get the impression that some portion of the shooting sports separate men’s and women’s competitions, just like in strength-based sports.

    So first, is my impression correct? Do a nontrivial number of shooting sports do this, or is it an anomaly?

    And second, if it’s true, why is it true? Are there fine differences in ability that only come out at the bleeding edge of high level competition, or is the division purely for social reasons?

  6. Kristopher Says:

    Tiny angry women …

  7. Kristopher Says:

    Justthisguy: “Gender” has an accepted meaning in the science of biology.

    I know what you meant, but labrat’s use is probably correct here.

  8. Kristopher Says:

    Justthisguy: Embarrassment is more likely.

    The men who call the loudest for a women’s division are usually the ones that lose to women.

  9. Sigivald Says:

    Huh.

    One of the best, most terrifyingly good shots I know is a woman. But I guess, unlike that particular breed of gamer, it helps that I actually know women. Who shoot. (And do so myself, which seems to be uncommon among the sort of gamer fanboys who talk guns a lot. Thanks, Counterstrike.)

    (On the more important point of “playing as a woman”, shooter-wise, I almost always do so, especially in ones that aren’t strict FPS. In a completely self-centered mode, if I’m going to be staring at a character’s ass for 10 or 20 or 30 or 100 hours [this means you, Fallout and Skyrim], I want it to be a female ass. But that’s me.)

  10. LabRat Says:

    The difference between sex and gender is actually A Big Issue in sports, because no one has yet been able to come up with a definition of “male” or “female” that isn’t thoroughly smashed by some intersex condition or another. This NY Times article has a quick overview that only covers a few of the conditions that can thoroughly bork sex verifications- suffice to say there are legions more.

    Truth be told though, I tend to use gender reflexively when talking about subjects that are largely socially constructed, and sex when talking pure biology. It just happens that in the subject of athletics I’m perfectly right to be doing so. :)

  11. LabRat Says:

    Elmo: The shooting events at the Olympics used to be mixed-gender. It was made men-only after 1992, coincidentally after a Chinese woman named Zhang Shan dominated the skeet event. There was no women’s event added until 2000, so Shan was simply barred from defending her title as reigning champion at the ’96 games.

    There’s also no women’s ski jump event, despite the world record being held by a woman. And the luge start for women is the junior start, which leads to slower speeds over all. If there’s a physical reason why women can’t luge quickly I’m certainly not aware of it.

    The division is for social reasons, though justifications have been attempted for physical reasons. I particularly liked the justification for why women can’t ski jump, which was “Don’t forget, it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view”.

  12. Lizarb Says:

    “…apparently it would be hilarious because she couldn’t lift the rifle without dragging the barrel, load it, or hit anything, and if she shot it anyway she’d break her shoulder or something.”

    I found this portion mildly amusing because my younger sister is fully capable of lifting and firing a heavy target rifle and likely achieving BETTER accuracy than I can from a standing position.

  13. Tam Says:

    I would very much like to meet the pencil-necked Counterstrike Kiddie who originated that comment.

  14. bluntobject Says:

    So this is sort of like the “women are too weak to serve in combat” debate, only with the gain knob cranked to eleven? Okay then.

    All I’m going to say is that if I ever get my total anywhere close to the IWF 48kg Junior Women’s world record I will consider myself very strong indeed.

  15. elmo iscariot Says:

    LR, thanks for the info. There’s something very gratifying about the idea of some sports being sex-segregated to protect men from women’s inherent physical advantages–much less so about said segregation protecting the male athletes’ egos.

  16. writelhd Says:

    When I first went to a range to shoot skeet they gave me an exceptionally light shotgun on the rationale I’d be able to hold it up better, but I couldn’t hit a damn thing with it because the kick was proportionally more, and hurt, so I was flinching all the time and not aiming right. Someone knowledgeable finally figured this out and gave me a heavier gun, which worked way better.

    Rock climbing is my personal community and I’d noticed the same things you described, LabRat, but hadn’t thought why: there are way, way more dudes doing it but most of them don’t have the pre-conception that women are weak or are going to be weaker climbers. I think the reasons are what you mentioned, a) the training curve for climbing is a long one indeed and most of us are hanging out somewhere in between and b) there’s some cross-fit-esque strength-to-mass ratio benefits to being a 90lb woman involved, that can somewhat counteract men’s annoying habit of being tall and having a wingspan that can just reach more stuff.

  17. Justthisguy Says:

    It was an armed female neighbor who persuaded me to arm myself.

    I have a good-sized neck, I think (16″), but am a scrawny pure ectomorph, one of “we slender nervous people” as Barney Fife put it.
    I am also into my seventh decade on the planet, so yeah, I keep an equalizer around.

  18. Justthisguy Says:

    P.s. I am not kidding about the ectomorph thing. I can almost, but not quite, float in fresh water. Thank God for the Ga. Tech Drownproofing course! All skin and bones and nerves I am, with just enough muscles to be automobile.

  19. Kristopher Says:

    Hmm … hadn’t thought of that. I’m sure there are more than a few human calico/chimeras around that can test as either XX or XY, depending on pure luck of the sample draw.

  20. Justthisguy Says:

    Kris, I hope you aren’t talking to me. As far as I know, I am just plain XY.
    Have you looked at Zoe (formerly Alan) Brain’s site? I believe it is at http://aebrain.blogspot.com.

    When she was a he, he was a co-blogger at the old Command Post, I think it was. Zoe has convinced me that one can have a female brain structure and a male phenotype. Hell, she is hormonally even weirder than that!
    Being a nerd, she has all kinds of scholarly citations on her blog. You should check it out.

    Not only is she a nerd, but she is a Sonar nerd. She posted a pic a while back of a Siamese frigate for which she led the design team of its Sonar suite.

  21. Gnarly Sheen Says:

    “The part that got the actual horselaugh out of me as opposed to “roll eyes, move on” was one guy playing “what if” a woman were realistically the character in a first-person shooter; apparently it would be hilarious because she couldn’t lift the rifle without dragging the barrel, load it, or hit anything, and if she shot it anyway she’d break her shoulder or something.”

    If I had to guess, I would say that was spoken by someone who had never touched a rifle. Or a woman.

  22. Tam Says:

    Gnarly Sheen,

    If I had to guess, I would say that was spoken by someone who had never touched a rifle. Or a woman.

    Your internets is in the mail. :D

  23. JDS Says:

    “there’s some cross-fit-esque strength-to-mass ratio benefits to being a 90lb woman involved”

    Strength-to-Mass ratio is all to often overlooked. My wife is ~90lbs., with a full climbing rack, standing in a rain storm. She’ll kick my ass on any given climb, despite my significant reach advantage. The girl has laser focus and drive, too. She hasn’t made a trip to the range with me yet, but I suspect when that day comes, she’ll wipe the floor with me.