Do men fly better?

Yes, they do. If „better“ relates to results in XC-competitions, relates to measurable performance, then it’s obvious, that we, the women, are not as good pilots as men are. I really do not like writing this. But the mere facts lead me to that conclusion.

Of course, only 10% of the paragliders in the whole world are female. In competitions, where we fly together with the men, numbers are similar. Weren’t it for quotas in high end competitions (World Cup, FAI-1, …), the ratio would be even lower.

Task wins. With women flying equally strong, statistically one out of ten taks had to be won by a woman. That’s not happening! According to my countings, less than ten task in FAI-1 or FAI-2 competitions were won by a woman. Ever.

World Pilot Ranking. Even a world class pilot like Ewa Wisnierska, who scared the hell out of her male co-competitors in her best year 2005, did not climb higher than to rank 19. Finito. Petra Krausova-Slivovas all time best is rank 36. Louise Crandal made it to 47th place, me to 30. Nothing better did we girls achieve.

FAI-World Records. The categories are named overall, tandem and female. That explains it all, doesn’t it? The women’s right fighter in me finds that classification discrimininatory. But it seems to be valid. Not a single women holds a record in the overall category.

Online-Contest. The winner 2008, Rafael Saladini, gained 1856.34 points. The best woman, Klaudia Bulgakow, needed 723.70 points for winning the women’s category. Overall that made her 154th.

Why’s that?
Five reasons come to my mind: we, women, are less willing to take risks, less heavy, less strong, less professionell, and – less. Let’s have a look at the details.

If I remember correctly, scientific studies in psychology prove, that women generally show a different attitude towards risk than men. In competions success is not only, but quite often about the question „how much risk am I willing to take?“. Women verifiably tend to take less risks, they’re more cautious. Of course, the judgement of a certain risk is not only influenced by objective, external circumstances, but as well by subjective, personal possibilities and skills. But here, again, we get the short end of the stick.

Lightweight and weak
Statistically, women put less weight on the scales. Meaning: they fly smaller wings, which are aerodynamically less performant. A smaller wing not only performs worse on glides, but in a severe situation its reactions are more baneful. By the way: Finding a fitting wing for a person with less than 50 kg is a difficult undertaking. Take, for example, the Boomerang 5: the weight range of the tiniest model, the XXS, is 80 to 90 kg. In competitions, most of the days, we fly on top or even slightly above the upper limit. More than 40 kg ballast? For a 50 kg human not only a lot of dragging, but – for safety reasons – even illegal, because the payload usually is limited to 33 kg. – Lucky me, I’m not as lightweighted.

How about strength now? Cross country paragliding is, in its very nature, not a strength sport discipline. Technique, tactic, mental fitness are more important than physical condition. Nevertheless, if you have to fly sensitive on the speed bar for a longer period, e.g. on rough crossings, then a few more thigh muscels make a big, a decisive difference.

Let us now have a look at professionalism and the technical skills that come along with it. Every single man among the world’s absolute top pilots masters his wing in extreme manoeuvres. Not only a few of them earn their money as test pilots. For those guys, extreme manoeuvres are the staff of life. Others fly aerobatics for fun or even in competition. These technical skills are a major plus in the competitions: he, who is more skillful, may risk more. He may fly faster e.g. in collapse threatening situations, like turbulent conditions or slightly above ground. – How about the representatives of the weaker sex now? Flight instructor or tandem pilot is the highest level of professionalism amongst the women in the xc World Cup. Even more gaps are visible in the amateur region. For example, my last SIV clinics took place in August 2005 with a Boomerang 3. Ever since, all attempts practicing extreme manoeuvres in a controlled, safe in environment failed; failed due to appropriate weather on weekends without competitions. As to my comparably decent airtime per year see flight statistics.

To my last point: we are less. Less women means less competition, means: with relatively less performance she will be on top of the female category. Examples were given above. A lack of competition inhibits better performance. That’s a pity. Since the 10% ratio of female paraglider pilots seems to be a natural constant of some sort, I’m a bit pesssimistic about a change in the near future.

What would a competition exclusively among women look like? The hang gliding ladies, though in absolute numbers even a rarer species, fly against each other in world championships every two years. What would happen, if we did not only fly behind the guys for 99% of the time? What, if women demonstrate leadership? Fascinating!

The orginal German article was written and published on January 6th, 2009, here.