On the first episode of Australian Ninja Warrior, host Rebecca Maddern described the game as, “the great equaliser”.
“Men and women compete on the same course,” she said. “It’s all about ability and agility.”
But, is it really?
The Guardian’s Erin Riley asked the question; “Is [Ninja Warrior] really a fair game?” and concluded, pretty convincingly, that it’s not.
On average, male athletes are taller and have greater upper body strength than female athletes. Their centre of gravity is higher. Grip strength, which Riley found was a “crucial attribute for man of the Ninja Warrior obstacles,” is significantly stronger in men.
LISTEN: Laura Brodnik and Clare Stephens chat with Ben Fordham, host of Australian Ninja Warrior on The Binge. Post continues below.
Almost the entire course is designed to favour height and upper body strength, meaning that unequivocally, the male competitor is at an advantage.
Female athletes are more flexible, yet at no point during the obstacle course is flexibility tested. There is only one obstacle, Riley says, the Bridge of Blades, that “rewards smallness and a lower centre of gravity that gives women an advantage.”
Of the 91 finalists, seven are female, and none of them completed the Warped Wall.
In the US, only one female competitor made it past the first round of finals, compared to 134 men.
We can interpret those statistics in one of two ways.
First, that 84 men just so happened to be better than all but seven women. And that in the States, it's not biology but pure coincidence, that men are 134 times more likely to make it to the finals than women.
Second, the course is skewed and women are at a disadvantage before they've even begun.
As I was watching Australian Ninja Warrior last night I had an epiphany: The course stands as the perfect metaphor for what we see in the corporate world.
The women are the best they can possibly be; they've trained as hard as their male counterparts and they are inarguably qualified. But the odds are stacked against them - even if they can't see it yet.
They begin evenly, with straightforward obstacles that they attack similar to the men.
As the course unfolds, some women, barely five foot, have no chance at jumping high enough to grip onto the bars. Six-foot-something men do it with ease.
Some women - despite the odds - manage to push through.
But here's the clincher: It doesn't matter how fast or how hard they run in the majority of the course, because once they reach the final Warped Wall, all bets are off.
It's the glass ceiling. The enormously high mountain that most women cannot climb, not because of their own innate limitations, but because of structural inequality.
The wall is 4.2 metres high. Last night, one of Australia's best rock climbers, Andrea Hah, was the first Australian woman to conquer the wall. On the American season, it took no less than six seasons for a woman to successfully climb it.
You'd think by season two they'd have realised there was nothing wrong with the female contestants, but rather with the wall itself.
The same can be said for the corporate world. In May, research found that fewer Australian companies are run by women than run by men named John. Or Peter. Or David.
Of every 100 CEOs in Australia, 15 are women.
Of the 84 Liberal MPs in parliament, 18 are women.
Of the 29 Prime Ministers in Australia's history, one has been a woman.
So what does this prove?
It proves that when women are losing more than half the time, the system is rigged.
If Ninja Warrior were a fair game, equally privileging the skills of men and women, the results would not so conclusively tell us otherwise.
For the biggest TV news of the week, including all the new shows you should be watching, listen to The Binge podcast.