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WOMENS WORDS

Women’s Health Magazine – where men are stunning and brave, and women are ‘nasty’

By Jane Sullivan


Women’s Health magazine is a leader in its field with 1.6 million social media followers and claims to reach 67% of ABC1 women in the UK. Women’s Health has a problem with women. A recent feature described women’s groups campaigning for fair sport for women as ‘nasty’ and trotted out several lies about trans-identifying males in women’s sport.


Well, we weren’t going to let that pass without comment! The offending article published on 17th April 2024 is entitled: ‘I'm a 51-year-old trans woman doing the London Marathon and 9-day Ride Across Britain'.


The interview, with trans-identifying male Farrah Herbert, contains several inaccuracies which we correct below.


Quote 1. They had a win - they got us banned from a couple of sports: British Triathlon and England Athletics.


No one is banned from any sport. This statement is incorrect and was not challenged by the journalist. Sports that offer Female and Open Categories provide categories for everyone. The Female category is for anyone who is born female. The Open category is for everyone else, including people born male and anyone who identifies as female. Farrah Herbert could race in the Open category in these sports.


It is lawful under the Equality Act 2010 to exclude males (however they identify) from female categories. Even those born male and who have a Gender Recognition Certificate may be lawfully excluded from female categories of sport as this could compromise the fairness and possibly the safety of female competitors (depending on the sport). These provisions have been put in place to protect women’s sport.


Quote 2. There's no evidence, or completed studies, yet, to say that we have an advantage. And especially with endurance sports, we know that the gap between male and females is much smaller.


This statement is wrong. There is overwhelming evidence that males have an advantage over females, even when they have transitioned. The impact of being born male is life-long, you cannot undo the sporting advantage of longer bones, more muscle mass, larger heart and lungs, male anatomy. The impact of testosterone cannot be reversed. There are numerous peer-reviewed papers that outline the science, such as: Transgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage - PubMed (nih.gov)


It is a myth that the gap between males and females is smaller in endurance sports. The physiological gap between males and females remains the same at all distances from 100m to ultra-marathons (9-11%). In the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc, the male record is 15% faster than the female record.


In ultra races, such as The Spine, which Herbert refers to, other factors come into play – map reading skills, dealing with sleep deprivation, being better prepared in terms of nutrition and hydration. These races are not a straight forward race to the line. Women do occasionally win – which makes their achievements even more amazing. (For a detailed analysis of this we recommend She.Races on Instagram.)


Quote 3. And my hope is that sports governing bodies will stop bowing to pressure from just a handful of very nasty groups that are constantly lobbying them.


Women’s Rights Network, along with a number of other women’s groups, has lobbied sports’ governing bodies. We are not ‘nasty’. It is not nasty to want to protect the rights of women and girls to fair and safe sport. Women’s sport is being erased by the inclusion of males in female categories – that is nasty.


We analysed the competition policies of over 70 UK sports and found that more than 50 allow males to self-identify into female categories, and into women’s changing rooms and toilets. The details are here: Sporting Body Policies | Women's Rights Network | UK


Fair Play for Women has uncovered some shocking examples of women and girls being excluded from sport because of these policies: trans inclusion in sport first report evidence of harm | Fair Play For Women


Transgender policies that allow males to self-identify into female categories are inherently unfair to women and girls. In 2021, the UK Sports Councils’ Equality Group published transgender inclusion guidance for domestic sport which concluded that balancing transgender inclusion with safety and fairness for women and girls is not possible in many (if any) sports. This is due to the retained differences in strength, stamina and physique between the average female compared with the average male (with or without testosterone suppression). The report clearly states that governing bodies must prioritise safety and fairness above inclusion.


Surely, Britain’s leading magazine for women’s health and fitness should know all this and be prepared to challenge the worn-out trope that males can compete in female sports without any knock-on effects on women and girls.


Women’s Health Magazine was founded to support women’s health and fitness, and to highlight the sports achievements of women. It states a commitment to ‘positive, engaging, informative content that’s based on leading expert comment and scientific research’.


So why does a women’s magazine that purports to support women allow a description of campaigning women’s groups as ‘nasty’ to be published without question? We’re willing to bet that Women’s Health has never covered the point of view of women and girls who have missed out on podium places or teams because of the inclusion of a trans identifying male. Have they covered the issue of girls’ sport, particularly the football and cricket teams where young girls are missing out because boys are included in girls’ teams?


The vast majority of women (when asked in confidence) do not support males in female categories of sport – and probably aren’t that keen on them being paraded in the pages of the leading Women’s Health magazine, either.


The WRN Sports’ Group wrote to Claire Sanderson, WH Editor-in-Chief, asking for inaccuracies to be corrected and for an explanation of the use of the word ‘nasty’ to describe women’s groups such as Women’s Rights Network.


Claire ‘is a regular contributor to TV, radio and podcasts. She also speaks at universities about improving social diversity in the media and has worked with the government to improve health outcomes of women and girls as the only media representative on the Women’s Health Taskforce.’


Given Claire’s commitment to women’s health and fitness we hope she reads our letter.


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