I Beat Women at Fencing. I’m Not Especially Proud of That

By Timothy Furnish Published on September 16, 2023

A few years ago, teaching college world history, I was discussing why premodern armies were virtually always male. One young woman in my class took exception. “We can do anything y’all men can do,” she said. I replied, “Then why is there a WNBA?” Crickets.

Men are, on average, bigger, faster and stronger than women. This has not been controversial for most of human history. Only in the last 50 years has it been deemed otherwise. Why? The confluence of several factors. Title IX, the law that put more women’s sports on the map and on TV. The prevalence of “Mary Sues” on film. These female characters are not only smarter and better, but stronger—no matter how much smaller they are than their opponents. (Two notable examples, of many. Rey in Star Wars. Queen Latifah’s silly TV Equalizer replacing Denzel Washington’s excellent movie one.) And finally, the Marxist-infused Diversity/Equity/Inclusion ideology, which chalks up any gender or racial disparities solely to discrimination. Not natural differences. What results from all this is the idea that women “can do anything y’all men can do” in athletics. Probably better.

Kicking Denial Up a Notch

The icing on this woke Marxist cake is transgenderism — the belief that a person can, at will, change his/her gender. In that worldview, individuals should be able to participate in sports against the same folks as the gender with which they “identify.” (The Biden Administration certainly agrees, and says Title IX should apply to transgenders.) We’ve seen this at work now in swimming, weight-lifting, and cycling. Even chess, as I wrote about here last month.

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Transgender fencers joined the fray some time ago. But now their presence is being parried. Last weekend a female fencer, anonymously, complained to a British newspaper. This woman took issue with “Eden” (Evan) Philpot. In the last two years Philpot has won multiple fencing medals (including four first-place finishes), and at one even won both foil and saber. It is hard enough in fencing to win in one weapons category, since each has its own particular style and methodology. Winning in any two weapons (the other being epee) is unheard of.

The complainant wanted her identity kept secret because many referees and the supervisory national organization, USA Fencing, are so pro-transgender — and she feared reprisals. Allowing male-to-female transitioned fencers amounts to “a total disregard for the integrity of women’s sports at all ages … .” She also said that “there are people trapped in this fugue state, where they refuse to acknowledge the obvious, that transwomen [biological men] have an advantage over women … .”

Endangering Older Women

Genevieve Gluck, writing at the feminist site Redux, documents that this is not an isolated case. She examines four different “transwomen,” to include Philpot, who were mediocre fencers as males, but now as “women” are doing quite well, indeed winning tournaments. Did they transition just to win at fencing? Probably not. But that’s certainly one result.

Gluck also talked to an anonymous fencing insider, who pointed out that “it’s hard to say anything without someone calling you a bigot, a Nazi, or a ‘violent threat to other people’ for not believing that men can become women or believing that men should not be competing in the women’s division.” This knowledgeable person pointed out that physical safety in fencing is especially an issue for competitors over 40—the “Veterans” category. “I’ve noticed an influx of trans-identified males in the Veterans category, which is concerning considering the difference between men and women as we age. Particularly, women over the age of 50 are more likely to have bone density concerns. They could be osteoporotic, have arthritis in their hands, or be peri- or post-menopausal.” Unlike trans people who had lived as men for decades.

Why Not Let Kramer Beat 11-Year-Olds at Karate?

Fencing tournaments are divided by age groups: Youth, Cadet, Junior, Senior, Veteran. Often boys and girls/men and women fence against each other, especially in local tournaments. But at the highly-competitive levels, bouts are only against the same gender. This is the case with NCAA fencing, and the Olympics. Why? Because men, post-puberty, are stronger and faster than women. This is true on average, but it’s even more obvious at the elite levels of sports, where men’s records are substantially better than women’s. Even the US Army, in its latest woke phase, sets much lower PT (physical test) standards for females than for males. Yes, Virginia, there’s a WNBA for a reason.

An Aristocrat’s Sport Now Run by “Karens”

I have fenced for 12 years, mainly saber. In 2021 the national organization was still mandating cloth masks DURING competition. Under our fencing masks. In a sport where contestants are separated by 3-foot-long metal blades. In 2022 it was still requiring masks for everyone not competing, AND proof of vaccination.

So of course USAF is pro-transgender. Official policy is that “athletes are permitted to compete as the gender of which they identify at the time of registration.” After having completed “one calendar year (12 months) of testosterone suppression treatment.” But a doctor’s note to that effect suffices. No actual testing of testosterone levels is done. Plus, the advantages of having been a post-pubescent male for years are ignored. Larger skeletal size, greater muscle mass, etc.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is much the same. “Athletes should be allowed to compete in the category that best aligns with their self-determined gender.” It does leave the door open to actual testing. But while decreeing that “athletes should not be deemed to have an unfair or disproportionate competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status.” No, fencing elites have more rarefied concerns. “The need to ensure that everyone, irrespective of their gender identity or sex variations, can practice sport in a safe, harassment-free environment that recognises and respects their needs and identities….”

 A Contact Sport — with Metal Sticks

Well, regarding safety — fencing probably isn’t as dangerous as Mixed Martial Arts. In that sport a transgender fighter actually fractured a woman’s skull. (Yet males are not supposed to fight females.) But it’s not chess, either. Several fencers have died from penetration wounds, most recently in 2005. I suffered a torn biceps a few years ago — despite all the padding we wear. So perhaps the heads of the various fencing entities should be more concerned about the actual physical safety of women competing against biological men. Instead of just the “safety” of their transgenders’ fragile egos.

I am 63, and fence Veteran. Since there are so few Veteran saber fencers, tournament organizers often lump together everyone over 40 — men and women. Two years ago, I won such a tournament in which I was the only man. (And no, I’m not particularly proud of it.) The women were in their 40s and early 50s. Yet I won rather easily. Not because I’m a great fencer — but because even at my age being a male hath its advantages. Multiply that by several fold for the younger, better fencers. So real women lose medals and standing. But at some point one may get physically hurt. Badly.

The Princess Bride Effect? 

That movie contains probably the greatest film sword fight. One character helps his rival up a cliff in order to fight him. His reward? Losing. When the fencing community first welcomed transgender competitors, their domination of the women’s side of the sport seemed inconceivable. Now it’s not. Perhaps they should fence in their own category. Until then, actual female fencers will just have to get used to disappointment.


Timothy Furnish holds a Ph.D. in Islamic, World and African history from Ohio State University and a M.A. in Theology from Concordia Seminary. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and, later, civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth, a history professor and sometime media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS). He currently writes for and consults The Stream on International Security matters.

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