Vive la difference

I was looking for a blog post on the DC gun ban--specifically, one I vaguely recall having argued that gun-control activists should have pressured DC to repeal its ban rather than let the case go to the Supreme Court, because DC sidesteps the incorporation question, and is therefore likely to produce a more sweeping ruling than a state case would.

But I got sidetracked onto Volokh, where Kingsley Browne is guest-blogging about whether women are simply too physically weak to be in combat.

This strikes me as an argument deserving serious consideration. But this segment of it seems weird:

Advocates of integration of women into combat forces often downplay the sex difference in physical capacity, correctly pointing out that some women are stronger than some men. In fact, however, there is little overlap between the sexes in terms of strength.

Women, on average, have only one-half to two-thirds the upper-body strength of men. The probability that a randomly selected man will have greater upper-body strength than a randomly selected woman is generally between 95 and 99 percent, depending upon the measure and the sample. Most of this difference is due to differences in the quantity of muscle tissue, a difference attributable primarily to sex hormones.

Although most discussion of physical sex differences focuses on strength, the sexes also differ on a host of other performance measures, such as running speed, aerobic and anaerobic capacity, endurance, and throwing speed and accuracy. These abilities are all potentially important in combat.

Some assert that these large physical differences can be overcome through training. In fact, however, training often increases the sex difference. Both sexes benefit from strength training, and in samples of out-of-shape individuals, women may initially gain more from training than men. Nonetheless, the overlap between the sexes decreases, because training not only increases the strength of both groups, it also decreases the variability within the groups. When males and females both start out in good physical condition, women gain less from further conditioning than men do, so the gap between the sexes actually increases.

Is this actually an argument made by large numbers of people? Because it's completely, obviously insane. Being on the tail end of the size distribution, this realization was perhaps delayed slightly for me--but not past the age of sixteen, when I playfully snatched a hat from the head of a male companion who was a year younger and five inches shorter than I was, only to have him calmly and without visible effort use one hand to pin my arms behind my back while with the other he retrieved his chapeau. I'm both (very) large and strong for my gender, and yet I'm not sure I've ever met a (healthy) man who wasn't stronger than me; even the 130 pound scarecrows I've dated were clearly my superiors in physical strength.

My understanding, though, is that most advocates of fully integrating the military simply argue that strength doesn't matter that much, or that the rare superwomen who can meet the basic male requirements should be allowed the chance to serve in combat. I've never heard anyone deny that men are, on average, stronger than women.