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Policing Femininity
June 11, 2012 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Some female athletes competing in the Olympics this year will be required to undergo medical treatment to make them less masculine.

Caster Semenya is South Africa's premier middle-distance female runner. She was subjected to questions and tests about her gender, and kept from racing for 11 months, when she won gold in the 2009 World Championships by a 2-second margin.

Now, in order to compete in the Olympics, her testosterone, and that of other women with unusual hormonal balances, must not exceed the normal male threshold - even if her body naturally produces enough of the hormone to pass that level. Caster is currently undergoing unspecified treatment.
posted by Dipsomaniac (378 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is disgusting. How can anyone justify this, in the name of sport or otherwise. This is body policing, gender policing, and downright disgusting. How on earth can forced body modification like this be legal, let alone ethical?
posted by strixus at 10:45 AM on June 11, 2012 [35 favorites]


If you're going to split athletic competition into a Male category and a Female category, you kinda really do need to establish and police genetically anomalous and intersex situations like Caster Semenya.
posted by kafziel at 10:45 AM on June 11, 2012 [12 favorites]


If they are going to create a level of acceptable testosterone for female athletes, are they also going to create a level of acceptable testosterone for male athletes?
posted by rebent at 10:45 AM on June 11, 2012 [27 favorites]


This is some straight up Harrison Bergeron shit, and I say that as someone who usually despises that comparison. All Olympic-caliber athletes are, by comparison to the rest of us, biological weirdos. The policing of this specific kind of weirdness seems to be reducible to gender panic.
posted by muddgirl at 10:46 AM on June 11, 2012 [95 favorites]


This is fucked.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:46 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why not just get rid of gendered divisions in sports, or classify everyone by hormone levels rather than external presentation?
posted by Sara C. at 10:46 AM on June 11, 2012 [13 favorites]


If you're going to split athletic competition into a Male category and a Female category, you kinda really do need to establish and police genetically anomalous and intersex situations like Caster Semenya.

Why?
posted by muddgirl at 10:46 AM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Okay, guys, we're done with the Olympics. Shut it down.
posted by dobie at 10:47 AM on June 11, 2012 [16 favorites]


I hope they'll also be forcing the taller female basketball players to hunch down while they play. Wouldn't want an athlete to benefit from a genetic advantage, especially an unladylike one!
posted by saladin at 10:47 AM on June 11, 2012 [24 favorites]


kafziel: is it your contention that it is reasonable for a sporting event to require it's athletes to undergo medically unnecessary procedures?

also, way the get even creepier and more dystopian, Olympics.
posted by el io at 10:48 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


kafziel: “If you're going to split athletic competition into a Male category and a Female category, you kinda really do need to establish and police genetically anomalous and intersex situations like Caster Semenya.”

muddgirl: “Why?”

Well, that's the price of strict gender divisions, isn't it?
posted by koeselitz at 10:48 AM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


el io: “kafziel: is it your contention that it is reasonable for a sporting event to require it's athletes to undergo medically unnecessary procedures?”

kafziel emphatically did not say that.
posted by koeselitz at 10:49 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


In the 1960s, female athletes had to walk nude in front of a panel of experts who assessed their sexual credentials.

...[jawdrop]. The subject of the article is a very nuanced topic, but I can't believe that the above actually happened.
posted by verdeluz at 10:50 AM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ahh... technology: consistently requiring humans to rethink their definitions of man-made vocabulary.

Ahh... humankind: unable to consistently rethink their definitions of things that somebody else created.
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:51 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, that's the price of strict gender divisions, isn't it?

Does anyone have a link to the actual rule? All the second-hand reports I've seen say nothing about this rule being limited to intersex or 'genetically anomalous' female athletes, but some are making that assumption.

If this rule excludes athletes who are genetically and physiologically female, but have (say) polycystic ovary syndrome, how does this enforce their strict gender division? It seems to be a shoehorned method of dividing sports just by testosterone levels, without allowing women with high levels to compete in the men's class or men with high levels to compete in the women's class.

But perhaps reporting on the rule has been incorrect.
posted by muddgirl at 10:51 AM on June 11, 2012


Men with low levels, I mean.
posted by muddgirl at 10:52 AM on June 11, 2012


Why?

Because the very concept is predicated on there being a line, and that on one side of that line you compete in the Male category and on the other side you compete in the Female category? Think of it like weight classes in boxing. Even the best featherweight in the world doesn't have to fight heavyweights.

I'm not offering judgment on whether you should have those categories in the first place. Simply pointing out that having them in the first place requires this sort of policing. And serum testosterone is a far more quantifiable metric than gender.
posted by kafziel at 10:53 AM on June 11, 2012 [19 favorites]


I wonder what would happen if testosterone standards replaced gender segregation. Like if "women's Olympics" is really a competition limited to people with certain hormone levels, then forget the gender definitions and just explicitly define what the limits are. Let anyone who fits them compete. It might be 90% the same folks it is now, but you'd also let in lower-testosterone men, higher-testosterone men on medications -- whoever conforms or chooses to conform to whatever the standard is.
posted by Honorable John at 10:53 AM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I get the outrage, but I'm left with the same question as kafziel: How do you maintain "women's" and "men's" sports without participation criteria? Clearly you couldn't just open it up to "self-identification", or you would might suddenly have a lot of transgendered athletes. (hypothetically. I'm not making a comment on Semenya's situation).
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:53 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because the very concept is predicated on there being a line, and that on one side of that line you compete in the Male category and on the other side you compete in the Female category?

Except, again, from what I can tell that's not what they are doing. Women with high levels are not being put in the men's class, and men with low levels are not being put in the women's class. But please correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by muddgirl at 10:53 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Clearly you couldn't just open it up to "self-identification", or you would might suddenly have a lot of transgendered athletes.

Is the fear that middling male athletes will transition to being a woman to compete at a lower level? IMO, more power to them. Transitioning is not exactly a socially harmless process.
posted by muddgirl at 10:55 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


muddgirl, the release from the IAAF concerning females with hyperandrogenism is here.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 10:55 AM on June 11, 2012


In the 1960s, female athletes had to walk nude in front of a panel of experts who assessed their sexual credentials.

...[jawdrop]. The subject of the article is a very nuanced topic, but I can't believe that the above actually happened.


One notable exception: Anne Windsor. Since she had been in the public eye since birth, her gender was considered established.
posted by Etrigan at 10:55 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought Bruce Kidd made a good point rebutting the notion that this is about "unfair advantage":
“Personal household and national income is far more relevant to performance than hormonal makeup,” he says. The countries with the highest GDP produce the most gold medals. The richer the athlete, the higher the likelihood of a winner, says Kidd. In other words, the salaries of your parents are a more accurate success indicator than testosterone.

“We don’t require this kind of radical equality for other factors that make a difference, so why should we single out this one?” asks Kidd.
posted by Danila at 10:56 AM on June 11, 2012 [45 favorites]


Is the fear that middling male athletes will transition to being a woman to compete at a lower level?

No need to "transition". Just say "I'm a woman despite what you see". Fraud, probably displacing an actual woman from competing.
posted by DU at 10:57 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would be in favor of eliminating the current categories and creating categories based on hormone levels.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:57 AM on June 11, 2012


Except, again, from what I can tell that's not what they are doing. Women with high levels are not being put in the men's class, and men with low levels are not being put in the women's class.

Exactly. Instead, they're being subjected to unnecessary medical treatments in order to conform to some kind of wholly unnecessary gender norm. Are men with naturally higher testosterone levels than normal also being subject to this treatment? I rather doubt it.


Lindsay Perry, another scientist, says sometimes whole teams of African women are dead ringers for men. “In football, some of the other girls were on the other end of the spectrum, you’re like, ‘No way that’s a girl,’” he says.

I know it's traditionally a man's name (and a surname) but you have to admit, this statement is kind of ridiculous coming from a man with what many people view as a female first name.

posted by elizardbits at 10:57 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


No need to "transition". Just say "I'm a woman despite what you see". Fraud, probably displacing an actual woman from competing.

But that's not the current IAAF requirement. Women competing have to be recognized 'by law' as women. As do men. That seems like a fair (and in many countries even over-onerous) requirement to me.

There are not tons and tons of men out there transitioning by law to becoming women. It's a false fear.
posted by muddgirl at 10:59 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I mean male athletes.
posted by muddgirl at 11:00 AM on June 11, 2012


Except, again, from what I can tell that's not what they are doing. Women with high levels are not being put in the men's class, and men with low levels are not being put in the women's class. But please correct me if I'm wrong.

Have any tried? Has Caster Semenya decided to skip the much less demanding Women's category, and tried to run in the Men's races? Because they might well let her, but her times really aren't up to snuff for it.

On preview, Dipsomaniac's link is very informative here. It's a matter of eligibility to compete in the Women's category, because it's a much less competitive category.

Men with high testosterone aren't being policed because the Men's category doesn't have a class above it. Like how Heavyweight is 200lbs or more, with no upper limit.
posted by kafziel at 11:00 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because they might well let her, but her times really aren't up to snuff for it.

She is, I believe, legally recognized to be a woman. She can't compete in Men's events in the Olympics because she's not a man. She's a woman.

Men with high testosterone aren't being policed because the Men's category doesn't have a class above it.

Men with low testosterone are being unfairly disadvantaged because they are being forced to compete in a higher class than they are biologically able.
posted by muddgirl at 11:01 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought this would be celebrated; women becoming faster, stronger, better than before.

Well, I guess they could always spend a million dollars undoing all that too.

Those dangerously powerful chauvinists
posted by Slackermagee at 11:02 AM on June 11, 2012


There are not tons and tons of men out there transitioning by law to becoming women. It's a false fear.

Because they currently can't gain a competitive advantage by doing so. Because that does not render them eligible to run in the Women's races.

That would change.
posted by kafziel at 11:02 AM on June 11, 2012


muddgirl: “If this rule excludes athletes who are genetically and physiologically female, but have (say) polycystic ovary syndrome, how does this enforce their strict gender division?”

A rule that applies exclusive to the separate genders enforces strict gender division. This is true in social interaction as well. Women who "look like guys" are not generally accepted by society to be guys, even if they would like to identify that way; they are rejected as "anomalies." The fact that this rule doesn't allow people to switch to the other side if their testosterone is at a certain level doesn't mean it's not enforcing strict gender division; on the contrary, it is a strong indication that gender division is being quite rigidly enforced.

Popular Ethics: “I get the outrage, but I'm left with the same question as kafziel: How do you maintain ‘women's’ and ‘men's’ sports without participation criteria? Clearly you couldn't just open it up to ‘self-identification’, or you would might suddenly have a lot of transgendered athletes. (hypothetically. I'm not making a comment on Semenya's situation).”

I don't think there would be anything terrible about a world where many people suddenly started publicly identifying themselves as transgender, frankly.

posted by koeselitz at 11:02 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think I just felt the last, tattered vestiges of my idealistic childhood love of the Olympics getting sucked out of my soul and flushed away.
posted by Scientist at 11:04 AM on June 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


The fact that this rule doesn't allow people to switch to the other side if their testosterone is at a certain level doesn't mean it's not enforcing strict gender division; on the contrary, it is a strong indication that gender division is being quite rigidly enforced.

So what you're saying is that the division is between "Men", "Women", and "Anomalies which must be corrected"? Am I understanding you correctly?
posted by muddgirl at 11:05 AM on June 11, 2012


Who are y'all mad at? The Olympics? From my understanding (correct me if I'm wrong), this procedure was implemented at the request of other female athletes. To me, the various national and international committees are trying (hamfistedly, stupidly) to, essentially, address the concerns of its members. How many of Semenya's competitors are outraged by this, and how many have advocated it? Maybe it doesn't matter. At the end of the day, it falls to the sport at large to set and enforce standards. But, just pointing out that it's probably not a bunch of harumphing graybeards making this decision, but rather the other women who are competing in the sport.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:05 AM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I thought this would be celebrated; women becoming faster, stronger, better than before.

Haha.
No.
posted by New England Cultist at 11:05 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


If they are going to create a level of acceptable testosterone for female athletes, are they also going to create a level of acceptable testosterone for male athletes?

You might want to look at WADA guidelines.
posted by Dark Messiah at 11:07 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think there would be anything terrible about a world where many people suddenly started publicly identifying themselves as transgender, frankly.

Falsely identifying as transgender to gain a competitive advantage in their field of employ? I think that'd make things a lot worse on actual transgendered people.
posted by kafziel at 11:07 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


kafziel: “Because they currently can't gain a competitive advantage by doing so. Because that does not render them eligible to run in the Women's races. That would change.”

Leaving aside the fact that the Olympics is a fetid sewer of an event, drenched to the core with corruption and sleaze – this would not be a terrible thing. Yes, there would be some give and take, but a world where hundreds of male athletes suddenly start identifying as women for the sake of competition would be better than a world where women undergo surgical procedures to be "less male."

muddgirl: “So what you're saying is that the division is between ‘Men’, ‘Women’, and ‘Anomalies which must be corrected’? Am I understanding you correctly?”

Yep.
posted by koeselitz at 11:08 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]




koeselitz - so you do agree, at the least, that this policy is sexist, in that only women can be considered to be anomalies?
posted by muddgirl at 11:11 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


What everyone is missing here is that women competitors were doing (some of) the complaining:

That doesn't matter to me one bit. I'm sure there are many college women's basketball players who are angry that they have to compete against Brittney Griner. That doesn't make it acceptable to set a height requirement for only female basketball players.
posted by muddgirl at 11:12 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is utterly messed up. Shame on the Olympics.
posted by agregoli at 11:12 AM on June 11, 2012


So what you're saying is that the division is between "Men", "Women", and "Anomalies which must be corrected"? Am I understanding you correctly?

Not remotely. The division is between "Women" and "everyone else". To compete in "Women", you need to meet certain standards. If you don't, you compete in the "everyone else" category if you want to compete.
posted by kafziel at 11:13 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're one large, population-based study away from having this down to a science. Abolish all sex/weight classes and just run everyone through this equation:

Adjusted time = time + (ß1*serum_testosterone) + (ß2*household_income) + (ß3*height) + (ß4*muscle_mass) + ...(ßlast regressor*xlast regressor)
posted by The White Hat at 11:14 AM on June 11, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'm sure there are many college women's basketball players who are angry that they have to compete against Brittney Griner.

I've not heard of any.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:14 AM on June 11, 2012


Or, well, sure they may be sort of bummed that they have to play against her, but I haven't heard of a push to get her out of competition. Maybe I'm wrong though.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:15 AM on June 11, 2012


Overly obvious fix to this nonsensical problem: A third category; Men, Women, and new for 2012: Co-ed.

If the problem is definition, allow a form of competition that doesn't limit the thing being defined.

Plus: it has the added benefit of having more events to sell even more overpriced tickets and then forcing NBC to have even more online content that almost nobody will watch.
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:18 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, this documentary was pretty good. It was about Renee Richards. Very interesting.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:18 AM on June 11, 2012


Overly obvious fix to this nonsensical problem: A third category; Men, Women, and new for 2012: Co-ed.

That would fix nothing. The co-ed category would be all men, because, thanks to their higher testosterone levels, men are faster and stronger than women. It's been noted a couple times in this thread already that even though Caster Semenya's times are better than the women she's competing against, she's well below the level of performance needed to compete in the men's category.
posted by chrchr at 11:21 AM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Overly obvious fix to this nonsensical problem: A third category; Men, Women, and new for 2012: Co-ed.

Check the IAAF regulations, but I'm pretty sure "Men" is already "Co-ed". Just that women don't bother, because they can't be remotely competitive in it. There's a 24 second gap in 1500m world records, and a 12 second gap in 800m world records. Caster Semenya's original controversial times wouldn't have set records in the IAAF since its founding.
posted by kafziel at 11:22 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Overly obvious fix to this nonsensical problem: A third category; Men, Women, and new for 2012: Co-ed.

I'm not sure if people offering this up are doing so cheekily or not, but come on, that's just a way to marginalize people. And also, it doesn't solve any problems. And it's kind of silly.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:23 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


What everyone is missing here is that women competitors were doing (some of) the complaining: "These athletes feel their own rights have been ignored by allowing Semenya to [continue competing]" and "It's obviously a human rights issue but human rights affect everyone in the race, not just one person...The rest of the field just gets ignored."

That does not make it less fucked up. What the complaining women have there is not "rights" but privelege.

Imagine a bunch of white people on a plane complaining about the presence of one brown-skinned person, and the airline kicking the brown person off to protect the "rights" of the white people.
posted by Foosnark at 11:24 AM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


What everyone is missing here is that women competitors were doing (some of) the complaining

I don't see how that matters one whit. In fact, I would expect the most vicious attacks to come from other athletes, and I think they should be subject to the highest amount of skepticism, since they are the ones who would directly benefit from Semenya's disqualification. Their conflict of interest is so glaring I have a very hard time taking their hypothetical "human rights" complaints seriously.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:25 AM on June 11, 2012 [13 favorites]


(And if you answer that with "the plane was advertised as being for white people only and brown people have their own plane," I hope that illuminates what the real problem is and what its solution is.)
posted by Foosnark at 11:26 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Imagine a bunch of white people on a plane complaining about the presence of one brown-skinned person, and the airline kicking the brown person off to protect the "rights" of the white people.

Huh? Your analogy has nothing to do with ability, which is what this case is about.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:27 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Who are y'all mad at? The Olympics? From my understanding (correct me if I'm wrong), this procedure was implemented at the request of other female athletes.

Have very few thoughts on the Olympics but yeah, women aren't exempt from having fucked up views about people.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:27 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I get the outrage, but I'm left with the same question as kafziel: How do you maintain "women's" and "men's" sports without participation criteria? Clearly you couldn't just open it up to "self-identification", or you would might suddenly have a lot of transgendered athletes.

OH HEAVENS NOT THAT!
posted by odinsdream at 11:29 AM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


If they are going to create a level of acceptable testosterone for female athletes, are they also going to create a level of acceptable testosterone for male athletes?

Testosterone is an anabolic steroid and a banned substance under World Anti-Doping Agency regulations. They certainly do test for excess levels of testosterone in male athletes and follow through with more testing if there are irregularities detected. Here's the policy.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:32 AM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


Well, it'd be kinda bad if bio women couldn't compete in women's athletics because the field was dominated by transgendered or transitioning men, right?
posted by chrchr at 11:33 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is totally not about exogenous enhancement.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 11:34 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure having 100 out of the top 100 finishers in every Olympic event be men who are biologically, physically, and socially male but say "Yep, I'm definitely a woman, please don't repress my gender identity" would be a step forward in women's equality.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:35 AM on June 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


In fact, I'm having a hard time coming up with an analogy myself. Isn't the actual case simple enough? A woman is rather soundly beating other women competitors, perhaps partly do to her superior physical ability, which probably comes from increased levels of certain hormones. Do you remove her from competition, do you allow her to continue to compete, or do you attempt to alter her body in such a way that it more closely resembles her competitors? Seems like the issue here is straightforward enough. By itself, race is not an apt analogy, unless you're arguing that some races are just naturally better at certain things that other races. That is icky talk. Now, if you do want to bring race into this, there's probably a way you can do that while still discussing this particular case, but if we go down that road then we also get to talk about former Soviet swimmers and Chinese body builders.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:35 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the past women like Semenya would have competed as women because no one knew any different. Seems to me theres no need to change that. It sucks when you end up in a cohort with a superstar but it happens.
posted by fshgrl at 11:42 AM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Imagine a bunch of white people on a plane complaining about the presence of one brown-skinned person, and the airline kicking the brown person off to protect the "rights" of the white people.

I'm not sure that is a terribly good analogy, as the perceived problem in the Olympics is unfair competitive advantage, nowhere in the plane analogy is there mention of the brown-skinned person having an advantage, what you describe is just garden variety god-awful racism. This Olympics bruhaha may contain elements of sexism, but it is also about how to set acceptable parameters for competition that is as fair as can be.

We have the category "Women's competition", and we have a world in which people are increasingly self-identifying as a particular gender based on subjective feeling. Now I in day to day interactions with people don't give a rat's ass how people identify themselves, as long as they are happy and are not assholes a person can identify as and call themselves whatever they believe.

But, in a lot of sport there is that liminal space between women's and men's competition and some people are going to exploit that, which is not fair to the rest of the field. The question to those that feel pissed off about the FPP topic (and I totally understand where you are coming from, my first reaction was pretty in-line with "that's fucked up)... but the question is, how do we account for those in that liminal space? Whatever answer one comes up with is going to be pretty fraught with problems no matter what we propose. I'm not saying what the Olympics is doing is the right path, but I can't think of an alternative that is better. Hopefully someone else can
posted by edgeways at 11:42 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, it'd be kinda bad if bio women couldn't compete in women's athletics because the field was dominated by transgendered or transitioning men, right?

This would break the system. It would actually be kind of awesome for that reason. Think about the infrastructure that would be required - a group of mostly-straight and actually cis-gendered (because the reason everyone is panicking is not about actual trans guys; it's about people pretending to be trans in order to gain advantage) male athletes would have to start living as women, go through the legal, medical and psychological requirements to change genders on their documents...heck, in some countries these dudes would actually have to start taking hormones and have surgery. Even the Soviets didn't actually force people to transition.

I mean, I'm not at all attached to the Olympics, so seeing it collapse under the twin pressures of "must win at any cost" and heterosexual/cis-gender panic would be pretty sweet.

(Also, "bio woman" is, as I understand it, deprecated and "cis woman" preferred, since "bio woman is such a weird term. What makes someone a "bio woman"? And how can that be defined so that it does not exclude women with chromosome abnormalities, women before or past menopause, etc etc?)
posted by Frowner at 11:43 AM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


Think about the infrastructure that would be required - a group of mostly-straight and actually cis-gendered (because the reason everyone is panicking is not about actual trans guys; it's about people pretending to be trans in order to gain advantage) male athletes would have to start living as women, go through the legal, medical and psychological requirements to change genders on their documents...heck, in some countries these dudes would actually have to start taking hormones and have surgery.

You're going to require transwomen to have extensive, expensive medical procedures done to them before they are eligible to compete as women? I'm pretty sure those are the exact requirements being complained about here.
posted by kafziel at 11:47 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, "bio woman" is, as I understand it, deprecated and "cis woman"

Noted. Thanks Frowner.
posted by chrchr at 11:47 AM on June 11, 2012


I mean, I'm not at all attached to the Olympics, so seeing it collapse under the twin pressures of "must win at any cost" and heterosexual/cis-gender panic would be pretty sweet.

The scenario you've painted here would certainly "break" the Olympics, but only for female athletes. There would be no change for world-class male athletes; it would just be women who would no longer have a venue in which to compete. That kind of sucks.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:49 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


You're going to require transwomen to have extensive, expensive medical procedures done to them before they are eligible to compete as women? I'm pretty sure those are the exact requirements being complained about here.

Oh, far from it! That's precisely why it would break the system. It would be a pretty interesting Olympic strategy if they said "we're totally going to respect self-identification with nothing else to back it up (neither medical stuff nor living as a trans woman in any way) for Olympic atheletes only but everyone else has to go through all the shit that is required of trans people".
posted by Frowner at 11:51 AM on June 11, 2012


Isn't the logical course simply handicapping scores, vaguely like go tournaments, rather than mucking around with the athletes themselves?
posted by jeffburdges at 11:53 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, let's look at the problem. I'm a male athlete who runs the 800m in 1:50. This would have gotten me dead last at the 2008 Olympics, but it'll still beat the world record for women by a good 3 seconds. So, I announce that I am a pre-transition transwoman, and demand to compete in the womens' category.

If you're not comfortable imposing a requirement of having surgical, hormonal, or otherwise medical treatments done ... what stops me?
posted by kafziel at 11:54 AM on June 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


And more specifically, exactly where would one draw the line?
posted by kafziel at 11:56 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought Bruce Kidd made a good point rebutting the notion that this is about "unfair advantage":

“Personal household and national income is far more relevant to performance than hormonal makeup,” he says. The countries with the highest GDP produce the most gold medals. The richer the athlete, the higher the likelihood of a winner, says Kidd. In other words, the salaries of your parents are a more accurate success indicator than testosterone.

“We don’t require this kind of radical equality for other factors that make a difference, so why should we single out this one?” asks Kidd.


Lies, damn lies, and statistics... anyone who dismisses the athletic advantages of high levels of testosterone is willfully ignorant of the last century of both sports and medicine.

I've taken testosterone and other androgens before and the impact on athletic performance is profound. Sitting on my ass eating potato chips and reading mefi all week would result in more dramatic muscle growth than spending 10+ hours spent in the gym with lower levels of testosterone.

Ultimately though, this is just a red herring-- whether or not testosterone levels impact athletic performance the Olympic committee reasonably believes they do. As long as they're acting in good faith on science that's reasonably sound, this policy isn't gender discrimination-- it's the Olympics taking a step away from the institutionalized gender discrimination of male/female sporting categories, and taking a step towards categories based on genderless, measurable criteria.

I find it very dispiriting that attempts to unwind the false and ultimately destructive male/female dichotomy to improve athletic competition result in accusations of gender discrimination.
posted by elsp at 11:57 AM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Presumably you'd have to live your life as a woman, as well as jumping through whatever hoops to have your new gender acknowledged by the state.

Which would conceivably invalidate your marriage, put your rights as a parent in jeopardy, cause all kinds of other life drama.

Is all that really worth winning a medal?
posted by Sara C. at 11:58 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not remotely. The division is between "Women" and "everyone else". To compete in "Women", you need to meet certain standards. If you don't, you compete in the "everyone else" category if you want to compete...

Check the IAAF regulations, but I'm pretty sure "Men" is already "Co-ed". Just that women don't bother, because they can't be remotely competitive in it.


This isn't true, but you can check the IAAF regulations yourself. Only Men (as defined by their local authorities) can compete in the Men's categories. For example, until a woman's ski jump sport was added, women ski jumpers could not compete in the Olympics even if they have the best jump distances (which they don), because there is only a Men's category.

So, I announce that I am a pre-transition transwoman, and demand to compete in the womens' category.

Again, I don't think it works like that. To compete in women's sports at the olympic level you must be legally recognized as a woman. To compete in men's sports you must be legally recognized as a man. Of course this may be problematic, but it is not as ambiguous and poorly-defined as you seem to think.

I find it very dispiriting that attempts to unwind the false and ultimately destructive male/female dichotomy to improve athletic competition result in accusations of gender discrimination.

Because that's not what's going on here. Again, men with low testosterone will not be allowed to compete against women. Women with high testosterone will not be allowed to compete against men. Women with high testosterone will be forced to take supplements if they want to compete. The IAAF is not breaking down any false dichotomies.
posted by muddgirl at 11:59 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is disgusting. How can anyone justify this, in the name of sport or otherwise. This is body policing, gender policing, and downright disgusting. How on earth can forced body modification like this be legal, let alone ethical?
Well, what would be the point of having an Olympic female category if the only people competing were people born male?
If they are going to create a level of acceptable testosterone for female athletes, are they also going to create a level of acceptable testosterone for male athletes?
I believe there already are. As well as standards for things like Hemacrit levels. There might potentially be people who are naturally outside of the acceptable range of "normal human".
Why not just get rid of gendered divisions in sports, or classify everyone by hormone levels rather than external presentation?
Well, that is what they're doing, but calling one branch 'male' and the other 'female'.
Men with low testosterone are being unfairly disadvantaged because they are being forced to compete in a higher class than they are biologically able.
Sure, but the fact is the vast majority of human beings are never going to be Olympic athletes anyway. Genetics and other immutable biological factors (which may not be genetic, but can't be changed anyway) are going to play a huge role, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
There are not tons and tons of men out there transitioning by law to becoming women. It's a false fear.
I don't think it really matters. From my understanding, especially in stuff like running the difference is great enough that a typical man who trains hard can already beat women's records. So even with a small number of transwomen in the field they could dominate.
Check the IAAF regulations, but I'm pretty sure "Men" is already "Co-ed".
I think this is actually not true. From what I understand, women are not allowed to compete in the men's ski-jump, even though women are supposedly naturally better at it. I do think the male category should actually be co-ed.
I mean, I'm not at all attached to the Olympics, so seeing it collapse under the twin pressures of "must win at any cost" and heterosexual/cis-gender panic would be pretty sweet.
If by "Sweet" you mean "no more natural born women in the Olympics" That might be popular on metafilter, but I doubt most women would actually prefer that.
posted by delmoi at 11:59 AM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


If you're not comfortable imposing a requirement of having surgical, hormonal, or otherwise medical treatments done ... what stops me?

And what prevents men from putting on dresses, alleging as how they are trans women and going into women's bathrooms and [committing unspecified perversions] and totes getting away with it because of our feeble PC sensibilities? After all, that happens virtually daily.

If I were taking the question seriously, I'd just say that having people go through the social hoops to change their documents, while also making a change of documents much easier, would solve 99% of the problem. As a broad generality - especially in cis-panic land - cis-dudes don't want to be known as the athletes who had to declare themselves women to compete. If you're an authoritarian dictatorship with a USSR-like level of social control, you may pull this off successfully, but probably not.

Again, the issue isn't the chance that something like this could possibly happen once somewhere, but the assertion that cis women won't be able to compete because they'll be crowded out by fake trans dudes.
posted by Frowner at 11:59 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, that is what they're doing, but calling one branch 'male' and the other 'female'.

That's not what they're doing, delmoi.

Sure, but the fact is the vast majority of human beings are never going to be Olympic athletes anyway. Genetics and other immutable biological factors (which may not be genetic, but can't be changed anyway) are going to play a huge role, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Yes, exactly! Genetics and other immutable biological factors play a huge role in who is good at sports! Sports are not fair! Some women are going to have testosterone levels equal to men. Some men are going to have testosterone levels that are astronomical. Forcing women with high testosterone to lower their testosterone levels in order to compete is, literally, Harrison Bergeron-esque.
posted by muddgirl at 12:03 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


kafziel, it's not really a slippery slope.

Most humans are born with a readily apparent physical sex. There are complications to this starting condition, but they tend to be single-digit percentages. The number of people capable of competing at the very highest levels of athletic accomplishment are way, way, way below single digit percentages.

Addressing the issue on a case by case basis is completely and totally within the realms of reasonable possibility, and I think some sort of a hormone standard is beyond bogus.

If someone is born with the usual female reproductive organs, grows up as a woman, feels herself to be a woman, and does not take performance enhancing drugs, then she can compete in the women's events. This is really not that complicated.

If someone is born with the usual male reproductive organs and at some point transitions into life as a woman, then perhaps the governing body may have to address that, making use of some criteria that make sense for that particular case. Caster Semenya is of course already covered under the first clause.

Also let's not forget racism! Black women's beauty is frequently denied and derided in the west. Let me copy a quote that someone up-thread already pulled, yet no one remarked on:
Lindsay Perry, another scientist, says sometimes whole teams of African women are dead ringers for men. “In football, some of the other girls were on the other end of the spectrum, you’re like, ‘No way that’s a girl,’” he says.
I am sure Mr. Perry would be shocked and offended to be accused of racism, but really? How is this not just plain ol' bald-faced racism? How many white athletes have been suspected of being not-womanly-enough?

If your argument depends upon wild hypotheticals, might I suggest to you that perhaps it is a weak argument? One can essentially always put off those kinds of hypotheticals as bridges to be crossed when reached.
posted by kavasa at 12:05 PM on June 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Foosnark writes "(And if you answer that with 'the plane was advertised as being for white people only and brown people have their own plane,' I hope that illuminates what the real problem is and what its solution is.)"

No more divisions; all competitions going forward are open. After all in most Olympic events the top competitors are there in part for having won the genetic lottery; whether one is a man or a women would just be one other lottery bingo.
posted by Mitheral at 12:05 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


If testosterone levels are the problem, reboot the Olympics so that everyone competes together, but use each athlete's testosterone level (averaged out over time) in a formula to adjust that athlete's handicap. For team sports, the athlete's testosterone level could be used to determine how much a goal by that person is worth. You might foul a female basketball player and end up watching her shoot foul shots worth two or three points each. Or she might be a sniper from the outside, where her three-point shots are actually worth a lot more than three points each.
posted by pracowity at 12:10 PM on June 11, 2012


Which would conceivably invalidate your marriage, put your rights as a parent in jeopardy, cause all kinds of other life drama.

Is all that really worth winning a medal?
-- Sara C.
And what prevents men from putting on dresses, alleging as how they are trans women and going into women's bathrooms and [committing unspecified perversions] and totes getting away with it because of our feeble PC sensibilities? After all, that happens virtually daily. -- Frowner
The problem isn't that kafziel, specifically would be willing to do that, but that there are people who are born men who want to transition anyway and why not become Olympic athletes as well, if they are able too?

The point is that with the performance difference between men and women means that many people who are born men and transition would be world class athletes compared to those who were born as women in the female category, despite the fact there are not very many of them.
posted by delmoi at 12:10 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because that's not what's going on here. Again, men with low testosterone will not be allowed to compete against women. Women with high testosterone will not be allowed to compete against men. Women with high testosterone will be forced to take supplements if they want to compete. The IAAF is not breaking down any false dichotomies.

They're breaking the dichotomy by making a third class: women that have a measurably abnormal physiology that gives them a competitive edge.

Admittedly, this class of women is then disenfranchised from participation in the Olympics, so it's a two steps forward, three steps back kind of situation. Because I'm not a Olympic level athlete I'm willing to celebrate the two steps forward and willfully ignore the three steps backwards.
posted by elsp at 12:13 PM on June 11, 2012


So, I announce that I am a pre-transition transwoman, and demand to compete in the womens' category.

It, uh, it doesn't work like this. You know that, right?
posted by odinsdream at 12:13 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


but that there are people who are born men who want to transition anyway and why not become Olympic athletes as well, if they are able too?

Considering the percentage of people who are athletes, and the percentage of people who are transgender, this seems like a very small group of people who could be handled on an individual basis without policing the gender of every single other woman competing in the sport.

Too, a large percentage of trans women chose to take hormones that significantly affect their athletic performance (because a large component of being transgender is a reported discomfort with the signals of masculinity/femininity, which hormones alleviate). I am personally willing to accept that one or two trans women are not taking hormones and want to compete as women and will win all the gold medals, if that ever occurs.
posted by muddgirl at 12:15 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


And so-called amateur sport takes another step into obscurity. People only pretend to be interested for a few weeks every 4 years or so.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:16 PM on June 11, 2012


I am sure Mr. Perry would be shocked and offended to be accused of racism, but really? How is this not just plain ol' bald-faced racism? How many white athletes have been suspected of being not-womanly-enough?

Please spend a few minutes googling for commentary about the East German women's Olympic teams and get back to us (1976 is a pretty hot year for "OMG THOSE ARE DUDES" articles).
posted by elsp at 12:16 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


kavasa writes "How many white athletes have been suspected of being not-womanly-enough?"

Dozens, hundreds in the Olympics alone? In the Olympics this has been an ongoing theme at least as far back as 1936. The idea that national Olympic organizations wouldn't take advantage of MTF transgender athletes to boost medal counts is naive and historically ignorant.
posted by Mitheral at 12:18 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Huh? Your analogy has nothing to do with ability, which is what this case is about.

Arsenio, you danced around the analogy of the exceptionally tall basketball player. The direct question isn't whether you've heard of any players angry at having to compete against someone with a clear biological advantage in their sport. The direct question is "Do you think a basketball player has the right to object to competing against an exceptionally tall opponent?"

If the answer to that question is no (as I'm guessing it would be for almost everyone in this thread), then it's incumbent upon you, Arsenio, to take the time to explain how exactly a biological advantage in hormone levels is different from a biological advantage in height.

I eagerly await your response.
posted by mediareport at 12:21 PM on June 11, 2012


The direct question is "Do you think a basketball player has the right to object to competing against an exceptionally tall opponent?"

Nope!

If the answer to that question is no (as I'm guessing it would be for almost everyone in this thread), then it's incumbent upon you, Arsenio, to take the time to explain how exactly a biological advantage in hormone levels is different from a biological advantage in height.

I don't think it is. Are you confusing my comment about the analogy with something else? When I wrote Your analogy has nothing to do with ability, which is what this case is about, I was directly speaking to the analogy about the plane and the white/brown people.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:25 PM on June 11, 2012


Yes, exactly! Genetics and other immutable biological factors play a huge role in who is good at sports! Sports are not fair! Some women are going to have testosterone levels equal to men.
Right, it's not fair. On the one hand it wouldn't be fair to ban women who have unusually high testosterone levels. On the other hand it's not fair that most women will never be able to perform as well as they do. So you have two unfair choices: let them compete, or don't let them compete (or, apparently alter their testosterone levels)

So if you are choosing between two unfair choices, what difference does it make. The Olympics wants to have a woman's category that would allow "typical" or "normal" women to compete if they train hard, rather then mostly women who are outside the normal gender range.

It's not fair to those who can perform at higher levels and are outside of that range, but it's not any less unfair then it is to the billions of people who will never be able to perform at those levels anyway.
No more divisions; all competitions going forward are open. After all in most Olympic events the top competitors are there in part for having won the genetic lottery; whether one is a man or a women would just be one other lottery bingo.
Right, but that would just mean almost no female athletes at the Olympics (except maybe in ski jumping or a few other sports)

The question is: why even bother having woman's athletic events? I would guess it's to make women feel included. But if the only people who ever won in woman's events were people who were on the edges of biological gender, then most women, I don't think, would feel included.
posted by delmoi at 12:26 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


If the answer to that question is no (as I'm guessing it would be for almost everyone in this thread), then it's incumbent upon you, Arsenio, to take the time to explain how exactly a biological advantage in hormone levels is different from a biological advantage in height.

Before it is incumbent on anyone to knock down your straw man you'll have to explain to us why having athletes classified by hormone levels is different from having them classified by weight?
posted by elsp at 12:27 PM on June 11, 2012


I quoted the bit where you addressed the race issue to point out that you hadn't bothered to address the basketball issue.

Again, how is height different from hormone levels? Why is it right to complain about competitors with elevated hormone levels but not right to complain about competitors with elevated tallness?
posted by mediareport at 12:27 PM on June 11, 2012


(That was to Arsenio)
posted by mediareport at 12:28 PM on June 11, 2012


Mitheral - none of the cases Transgriot pointed to were proven to be MTF transgender or taking illegal supplements or intersex or any of the other accusations thrown at them. It's straight up gender policing ("Well, they don't LOOK like women!"). The one case where proven wrongdoing occured (on the part of the national sports organization):
To accomplish that goal, the Nazis forced Hitler Youth member Hermann Ratjen to live and compete for three years as Dora Ratjen....one medal they didn't get was in the women's Olympic high jump. Ratjen finished fourth in the event.
If the answer to that question is no (as I'm guessing it would be for almost everyone in this thread), then it's incumbent upon you, Arsenio, to take the time to explain how exactly a biological advantage in hormone levels is different from a biological advantage in height.

I feel compelled to add that, even if Griner was shown to have 'unfairly' naturally elevated levels of testosterone, taking supplements to 'correct' that would not make her shorter.

The Olympics wants to have a woman's category that would allow "typical" or "normal" women to compete if they train hard, rather then mostly women who are outside the normal gender range.

So this is sexist against men? Because 'typical' or 'normal' men won't be able to compete if they train hard, under the IAAF's rules.
posted by muddgirl at 12:28 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you have children who play sports you know that many sports are co-ed up until they're 12 or so. That's when the differences between the genders start appearing and the boys begin pulling away from the girls in strength-related activities. Had there not been separate teams for the girls my daughters would never have made the teams they were on past middle school. I can't see such a policy doing anything but discouraging girls from competing in the first place and that seems like the opposite of what we should be doing.
posted by tommasz at 12:29 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Again, how is height different from hormone levels? Why is it right to complain about competitors with elevated hormone levels but not right to complain about competitors with elevated tallness?

Don't ask me. Ask the women who are competing and brought their complaints to the Olympic committee. Where did I argue that they were different? All I said was that the women in college basketball have not asked Griner to be excluded from competition. As an analogy, sure, it grazes what we're talking about here, but let's not start putting words in women's mouths and say that they also have an issue with Griner's height when, so far as I'm aware, they don't. What's the prob here?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:31 PM on June 11, 2012


Please spend a few minutes googling for commentary about the East German women's Olympic teams and get back to us (1976 is a pretty hot year for "OMG THOSE ARE DUDES" articles).
I would argue that the situation is markedly different, not least because AFAIK it's fairly widely acknowledged that Soviet coaches did in fact provide their athletes with steroids.

The point remains that what's going on today, right now, is "those black ladies don't look like ladies to me."

Mitheral - your first link mentions three persons, and your second link talks about one of them in more detail. Dozens or hundreds? The list in this wikipedia article is rather shorter and suggests that those rare cases when a man has sought to compete in women's events was successfully detected by the gender testing system already in place. Why do we need another layer - a layer apparently designed to exclude Caster Semenya? - when what we have seems to work?

Anyway, I guess you can call me naive and historically ignorant if you really want to. But I maintain that "if this actually becomes a real problem we can address it" is a far saner approach than "what if men took over the women's events? WHAT THEN!?"

I would like to remind everyone, again, that this entire thing seems to be happening because of one person. This rule seems specifically targeted at the exclusion of Caster Semenya. This is not a good basis for a broad rule.

elsp - we need not answer that because it's incoherent. Runners are not classified by weight: they can either run the distance in the required time or they can not. Boxers are classified by weight (not hormone levels) because weight is a sort of rough measure of muscle mass and it makes sense for the sport.

I'm not saying that the rules we have are perfect, but by and large they work. There is simply no need to introduce a broad-band exclusionary rule simply because people don't like Caster Semenya.
posted by kavasa at 12:32 PM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


Why does everyone keep saying that women are naturally better ski-jumpers? Every record on every hill is held by a man. Even the hill mentioned w/r/t Lindsey Van has her losing by 20m.
posted by weinbot at 12:32 PM on June 11, 2012


The question is: why even bother having woman's athletic events? I would guess it's to make women feel included.

Some of the most popular Olympic events are women's events: women's gymnastics in the summer, women's figure skating in the winter. Figure skating is an interesting case, because there's actually a "couples" category in which teams each consisting of one man and one woman compete. In gymnastics, the events are quite different depending on gender; women's events emphasizing dexterity and flexibility with men's events emphasizing upper body strength...

Anyway, just wanted to remind you that not all Olympic sports are track and field.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:32 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


even if Griner was shown to have 'unfairly' naturally elevated levels of testosterone, taking supplements to 'correct' that would not make her shorter.

Perhaps we could chop off a few inches below the knee.

I get your point, sure, but the fact that we can 'reverse dope' an athlete to alter hormone levels more easily than we can reduce height doesn't address the deeper issue: on what grounds are competitors right to complain about certain athletes' genetic advantages, but not other athletes' genetic advantages? Arsenio is not being clear at all about how he's drawing the distinction, and yes, I think he needs to be if we're to take his argument seriously.
posted by mediareport at 12:33 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arsenio is not being clear at all about how he's drawing the distinction, and yes, I think he needs to be if we're to take his argument seriously.

Just because I'm getting old and forgetful: what's my argument?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:35 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


The one case where proven wrongdoing occured (on the part of the national sports organization):

To accomplish that goal, the Nazis forced Hitler Youth member Hermann Ratjen to live and compete for three years as Dora Ratjen....one medal they didn't get was in the women's Olympic high jump. Ratjen finished fourth in the event.


For what it's worth, that story is bullshit. Ratjen was born intersex and raised as a girl. Nazi involvement was invented later.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:35 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


> I get the outrage, but I'm left with the same question as kafziel: How do you maintain
> "women's" and "men's" sports without participation criteria? Clearly you couldn't just open
> it up to "self-identification", or you would might suddenly have a lot of transgendered
> athletes.

You don't have to have any participation criteria. Just have an "open" class for anyone who wants to compete.

It will always be won by one of the top male athletes, though.

If you ever want to see somebody who isn't a no-doubt-about-it male taking a gold you'll have to set up another class which excludes them. Then every single one of the ugly who's-a-what definition questions will reappear as questions about who's allowed to compete in this other class.
posted by jfuller at 12:42 PM on June 11, 2012


Arsenio, when you wrote "it falls to the sport at large to set and enforce standards" and made a point to repeatedly emphasize you felt other competitors were the driving force behind the move, you avoided dealing with the deeper issue: Do competitors have the right to complain about biological advantages in other competitors?

If your answer is still "don't ask me", then we're done. You're not interested in discussing the deeper issue. That's cool.
posted by mediareport at 12:45 PM on June 11, 2012


Don't ask me.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:45 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


muddgirl: “koeselitz - so you do agree, at the least, that this policy is sexist, in that only women can be considered to be anomalies?”

(And here I thought you were saying the policy isn't sexist. Heh.)
posted by koeselitz at 12:49 PM on June 11, 2012


muddgirl writes "none of the cases Transgriot pointed to were proven to be MTF transgender or taking illegal supplements or intersex or any of the other accusations thrown at them. It's straight up gender policing ('Well, they don't LOOK like women!'). The one case where proven wrongdoing occured (on the part of the national sports organization): "

Helen Stephens had the "she's a man" thrown at her by rivial Stella Ward and her autopsy revealed she had mosaicism, which meant that, chromosomally, she was mostly, but not all, male but had androgynous looks to live her life as and be raised female which is pretty well exactly the modern day contention.

muddgirl quotes "To accomplish that goal, the Nazis forced Hitler Youth member Hermann Ratjen to live and compete for three years as Dora Ratjen....one medal they didn't get was in the women's Olympic high jump. Ratjen finished fourth in the event."
I'm not sure what you are trying to show with this quote. From what I've read Ratgen self identified as male even if his papers said he was a woman; he lived his life as a man once the opportunity to compete as a woman was stripped from him. Sure he wasn't a gold medal athlete but fourth at the Olympics is hardly abject failure. And his performance would have placed him well back in the pack with the also rans if he'd been competing as a man.

Anyways all this talk about motivation is just blathering. Sport is attempting to divide the world into two groups based on sex when the real world doesn't contain a bright line division of those two groups instead being an multi threaded continuum with HeMen like Arnold Schwarzenegger at one end and Princess Anne at the other with people like Caster Semenya and Helen Stephens caught up in the middle. There is no way to make this "fair" for everyone involved. You are always going to have someone on the edge bumped up to the open male division where they'll be hopelessly outclassed even though they would have dominated the female class. And even if only .1% of the world's population is in that fuzzy zone, ~60 million people are a significant pool who'll feel put upon.
posted by Mitheral at 12:51 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aren't these top level athletes pretty much already a standard deviation or two off from the norm? If Semanya is biologically female with hyperandrogenism or some other condition, well that's human variability for you. If the IOC wants to have and enforce gender categories than it will have to accept that not everyone falls into the normal ranges for those categories. It seems odd to cry foul because someone just happened to be born with the genetics that make them perfect for competing in a particular sport.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:54 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll just jump in and say that she's not being forced to do anything. She can live her life as she pleases so long as she doesn't compete in the Olympics as a woman.

While that's what she wants to do and arguably something she should be able to do, she is not undergoing, "forced body modification'. She is going through voluntary body modification.

I think that's an important distinction regardless of how you feel about the IOC.
posted by Phreesh at 12:57 PM on June 11, 2012


To compete in women's sports at the olympic level you must be legally recognized as a woman. To compete in men's sports you must be legally recognized as a man. Of course this may be problematic

I think it's at least as problematic as the IOC coming up with rules, just for different reasons. It's well known that Soviet block countries provided athletes with all kinds of steroids. Do you think for a second they would have balked at "legally recognizing" male athletes as female?
posted by Justinian at 1:02 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


And even if only .1% of the world's population is in that fuzzy zone, ~60 million people are a significant pool who'll feel put upon.
Judging from the actual number of incidents that have occurred, the number seems to be far smaller than .1%.
posted by kavasa at 1:03 PM on June 11, 2012


Lindsay Perry, another scientist, says sometimes whole teams of African women are dead ringers for men. “In football, some of the other girls were on the other end of the spectrum, you’re like, ‘No way that’s a girl,’” he says.

That is some chill-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach, racist misogyny right there. How the hell is saying "you do not adhere to my cultural standards of femininity, so you must not be a woman" remotely okay? Are female Olympic competitors (though not male!) now required to be gorgeous by Western feminine beauty standards on top of being world-class athletes? Because it's asking a lot for someone to win the genetic lottery TWICE. Should we kill streamline the process and combine the Olympics with Miss Universe beauty pageants?

Seriously, this is so, so gross. Tell me how going "she doesn't display enough female characteristics" about Caster Semenya is any different from going "she displays too many female characteristics" about Sarah Baartmen / the Hottentot Venus back in the day, in terms of putting them in their "place" as freaks, the Other, and dubiously human.
posted by nicebookrack at 1:07 PM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


I can't think of any good reason to police someone's natural testosterone levels. The comparison to tall athletes is completely on point.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:09 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The comparison to tall athletes is completely on point.

I suppose my question then is why don't female competitors seem to have a problem with height variation, but they do have a problem with hormone variation? Is it, as muddgirl points out, because one is "correctable" while the other is not?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:21 PM on June 11, 2012


All Olympic-caliber athletes are, by comparison to the rest of us, biological weirdos.

No, they're not. Most of them just train really really hard.
posted by rocket88 at 1:23 PM on June 11, 2012


I assume they don't have a problem with it because there is no division for 'taller people' that they feel Griner et al should be competing in.
posted by jacalata at 1:23 PM on June 11, 2012


The comparison to tall athletes is completely on point.

In boxing they divide people into weight classes, and most people seem to agree that's fair; I could imagine a sport where height gave such an advantage that to keep the competition interesting they had to similarly divide the competitors into height classes. If there's a physically measurable factor x that by itself strongly predicts the outcomes of a sport, then it can make sense to divide the sport into classes based on that factor to make the competitions more interesting than just a search for the person with the most x.
posted by Pyry at 1:25 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the 1960s, female athletes had to walk nude in front of a panel of experts who assessed their sexual credentials.

I believe that Caster Semenya has had to undergo physical examination already to prove that she has female genitals.
posted by desuetude at 1:29 PM on June 11, 2012


In the recent thread on privilege, lots of people seemed to think that those with a competitive drive (in that case, in video gaming rather than sports) would be incensed to have someone even think that they were playing on an easier setting. Combine that with the gender policing of men that makes it much more socially costly for a male to take on traditionally female traits, roles, etc. than for the reverse gender bending, and I don't think we would have to worry much about hordes of male athletes competing in the "female" category if we opened the categories up a bit.

"The problem isn't that kafziel, specifically would be willing to do that, but that there are people who are born men who want to transition anyway and why not become Olympic athletes as well, if they are able too?" - delmoi

Olympic-level athletic ability, in combination with the resources to actually develop that ability and pursue an Olympic career, is fairly rare. Being transgendered is fairly rare. If these three traits are all independent of each other (family resources are; I suspect that athletic ability and transgender status are also independent, but science may prove me wrong on that), then the probability of all three occurring simultaneously is extremely low.


"The question is: why even bother having woman's athletic events? I would guess it's to make women feel included. But if the only people who ever won in woman's events were people who were on the edges of biological gender, then most women, I don't think, would feel included."

Most people aren't included in Olympic-level athletic events. The people who win Olympic-level athletic events, in both the men's and women's categories, are already on the edges of their biological sex in terms of athletic ability. What the Olympics is doing is setting some completely arbitrary cutoff beyond their original male/female dichotomy, that eliminates a very small number of women at the high end of athletic performance from competing. They are not likewise eliminating men at the high end of athletic performance. Therefore this initiative is sexist. If they were also eliminating men at the high end of athletic performance, I think it would still be silly. The whole point of the Olympics is to get the very best athletes from each country competing, no? Those will be, by definition, the outliers. (I'll refrain from commenting on the merit of the whole idea of the Olympics.)


"I'll just jump in and say that she's not being forced to do anything. She can live her life as she pleases so long as she doesn't compete in the Olympics as a woman.

"While that's what she wants to do and arguably something she should be able to do, she is not undergoing, "forced body modification'. She is going through voluntary body modification."

She may not have been forced at gunpoint, but "undergo this (unspecified to the general public) gender treatment or stop competing in the Olympics" is certainly coercive, not voluntary, particularly given the amount of time and effort that Semenya has spent in training for the Olympics under an earlier understanding that she just needed to be female, not also gender-conforming.


"I suppose my question then is why don't female competitors seem to have a problem with height variation, but they do have a problem with hormone variation? Is it, as muddgirl points out, because one is "correctable" while the other is not?"

My guess is that it's because one challenges deeply ingrained societal gender definitions and the other does not (so much). I seem to recall when the WNBA started up, though, that there were lots of snarky comments, at least from random non-athletes and sports commentators, about the women looking like men?


Speaking of challenging gender assumptions, this other article I ran across today seems highly related: Girls Are As Athletic As Boys, Study Says.
posted by eviemath at 1:38 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The comparison to tall athletes is completely on point.

Is it? Apparently, testosterone makes athletes so much better and track that it's categorized as a steroid. What kind of advantages does height give athletes in basketball? Do really tall players score triple doubles every game? Do they consistently out rebound every one? Do they block shots all day, everyday? Do they regularly score 30 points a game? People are saying height gives athletes an advantage without specifying what kind of advantage, so I'd like to know.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:40 PM on June 11, 2012


divide the sport into classes

Nobody's talking about dividing into classes, but excluding some women completely. And if they were to divide into classes why only women? Has anyone even investigated to see if some male athletes should be separated or excluded from others based on naturally-occurring advantages? This seems to have been a thing with women's Olympic sports for decades, and technology has just provided a new way to exclude and marginalize women. I'm not aware of anything similar on the male end which makes this very suspicious to me.

I have significantly elevated levels of testosterone caused by PCOS but I am as unathletically gifted as it is possible to be. There are many genetic and environmental anomalies that when brought together can result in a superior athlete. To deny these women their womanhood and exclude them from participation because they're not feminine enough is disgusting.
posted by Danila at 1:44 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


"In the 1960s, female athletes had to walk nude in front of a panel of experts who assessed their sexual credentials."

One can only imagine what credentials qualified someone as an "expert" in identifying gender by looking at a nude human.

I consider myself only at journeyman status, actually.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:45 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it? Apparently, testosterone makes athletes so much better and track that it's categorized as a steroid. What kind of advantages does height give athletes in basketball?

I googled "basketball height advantage" and found a pretty good summary. Having watched Griner play, she is absolutely dominant on defense.
posted by muddgirl at 1:47 PM on June 11, 2012


And if they were to divide into classes why only women?

Would you be okay with eliminating the dichotomy completely and having everyone compete in one big pool? I don't see a way around some sort of problematic screening without doing so. But maybe that's the solution.
posted by Justinian at 1:47 PM on June 11, 2012


Hormones are the problem.

High-level sports of all kinds have, in case you've been living under a rock the last couple decades, been desperately flailing around trying to come to grips with epidemic levels of doping. This has, as one would expect, had a drastic impact on the perceived integrity of said sports, turning them from competitions of athletic skill, ability and training to competitions of who can do the best job of getting around the dope testers.

And testosterone? Yeah, that's one of the things people use to gain an illicit advantage. So here we have a conundrum: what do you do when, say, one of the athletes naturally has testosterone levels that are -- if you're just running the analysis blind -- indistinguishable from an "average" person who's been doping?

With one option -- allow the athlete to compete "as they are" -- you have a slippery slope of letting performance-enhancing substances back into your sport and having no recourse, because you're kidding yourself if you think a precedent here wouldn't lead to at least some unscrupulous athletes doping and then claiming that they too are just so lucky to have those naturally high hormone levels. When you consider what's on the line for an athlete from a relatively-undeveloped nation, who can open up all sorts of opportunities in life with one standout performance, it is to be expected that this will happen.

With the other option -- disallow the athlete (by implication: allow the athlete to compete only if conforming to the standards meant to control doping) -- you have, well, what we're talking about here. You get all sorts of issues that start at fundamental human rights and work up from there, and probably enough material to keep every gender-studies department in the world burning you in effigy into the next millennium.

From an organizer's perspective this is no-win. So at least let's try to keep some of that in mind before doing our usual song-and-dance of deciding that this is that mean ol' Privy McPrivilegePants twirling his moustache whilst cackling and imposing his oppressive white/male/cis/everything-normative views on the world, mmkay?
posted by ubernostrum at 1:48 PM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


I suppose my question then is why don't female competitors seem to have a problem with height variation, but they do have a problem with hormone variation? Is it, as muddgirl points out, because one is "correctable" while the other is not?

Because elevated testosterone can be associated with various intersex conditions, whereas tallness is just a thing you have or don't have. Testosterone is popularly imagined to be masculinity itself in liquid form. The problem is that it's more complicated than that, and just having high testosterone does not make you a man.

The IOC hews to an artificial distinction when it divides everyone into male and female, but there is still a cogent reason for maintaining this kind of division. It's understandable that people who are in a gray area of the gender divide will reveal how artificial this distinction really is, but the IOC is not approaching this situation in a fair, intelligent, or mature fashion.

What kind of advantages does height give athletes in basketball? Do really tall players score triple doubles every game? Do they consistently out rebound every one? Do they block shots all day, everyday? Do they regularly score 30 points a game? People are saying height gives athletes an advantage without specifying what kind of advantage, so I'd like to know.

Have you ever played basketball or volleyball? Being tall is an obvious advantage in some sports, just as it is a disadvantage in some other sports. The fact that tallness can be an advantage does not mean that every tall person can "score triple doubles every game". That's a glib way of frame what advantages are.

The same goes for higher levels of testosterone. In some contexts, having consistently higher levels of testosterone is an advantage. It does not mean that every sports competition comes down to who has the most testosterone.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:49 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


And testosterone? Yeah, that's one of the things people use to gain an illicit advantage. So here we have a conundrum: what do you do when, say, one of the athletes naturally has testosterone levels that are -- if you're just running the analysis blind -- indistinguishable from an "average" person who's been doping?

Is natural testosterone really scientifically indistinguishable from 'doped' testosterone? If so, and if it provides such an advantage, do we see large numbers of men who claim to have naturally high levels of testosterone (who are secretly doping)?

Or is this magically only an issue for women?
posted by muddgirl at 1:55 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't think of any good reason to police someone's natural testosterone levels. The comparison to tall athletes is completely on point.

No one is policing her testosterone levels. As mentioned before, she's welcome to go on living her life with as testosterone as she likes. All that's happening is that the Olympics are establishing more criteria for who can compete, and this one(!!!) person has a problem with the new policy.

I think that comparison between discrimination related to height and testosterone levels is fair. http://69max.com/ is the website for an amateur sporting competition for people under 5'9" who want to play basketball. There's plenty of other amateur sporting competitions (almost all of them, really) with equally arbitrary restrictions on who can compete, and I've never seen any outrage directed at them.
posted by elsp at 1:57 PM on June 11, 2012


I do think a lot of people are overlooking, as ubernostrum points out, that the men are forced to jump through comparable hoops (though without some of the ickiness factor) when they are constantly investigated to see if their hormone levels are a natural result of being male or are artificially boosted through doping.

on preview:

Or is this magically only an issue for women?

It is not. It's a huge issue in men's sport at the Olympic and professional level. Far more of an issue than in women's sport. But it lacks the icky factor of gender-questioning since having extra testosterone doesn't make you "not a man" just a "man who is cheating".
posted by Justinian at 1:58 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


While that's what she wants to do and arguably something she should be able to do, she is not undergoing, "forced body modification'. She is going through voluntary body modification.

On a related note, there's actually a series of discussions going on (of which I have only read some) about coercion in work. (And I'd argue that being an athlete is work.) Here's one with some links via Crooked Timber. I believe the starting point was "why is it wrong for your boss to say you have to sleep with him or be fired?" And I'd argue that is rather similar to "why is it wrong to ask someone to submit to significant bodily modification and public shaming or be fired?" Gee, of course none of that stuff is wrong, because, duh, consent. If I don't like having a job and/or not being shamed publicly, I am free to go sleep under a bridge, etc. (If I don't like being force-marched to the work camp, I can always accept being shot to death - we are all always free, right? As long as you're choosing between any two things, you're not being coerced, eh?)
posted by Frowner at 1:59 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


All Olympic-caliber athletes are, by comparison to the rest of us, biological weirdos.

No, they're not. Most of them just train really really hard.


They train hard and they have the biology needed to compete at a high level. No amount of training will shrink me down to a gymnast's body. But I don't think it's unfair that genetically smaller women have an advantage in gymnastics.

and this one(!!!) person has a problem with the new policy.

This policy applies to all women with elevated levels of testosterone. The impact is unclear, however I'm sure it will apply to more than just one(!!!) person.

It is not. It's a huge issue in men's sport at the Olympic and professional level.
The CIR test is used to distinguish between testosterone produced naturally by the athlete's body and synthetic testosterone introduced from an outside source
It's hard to search for this, so maybe someone already knows of some examples of male athletes with naturally high testosterone who were accused of cheating?
posted by muddgirl at 2:03 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I googled "basketball height advantage" and found a pretty good summary. Having watched Griner play, she is absolutely dominant on defense.

Thanks. I don't know a lot about basketball so I had no idea if it was a good analogy or not.
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:04 PM on June 11, 2012


Or is this magically only an issue for women?

Distinguishing natural ("endogenous") from unnatural is, from what I've read, a gigantic problem for all organizers and all athletes in basically all high-level sports. Testosterone, for example, is (AFAIK) often "detected" by looking for metabolic byproducts in the urine, which are identical(-ish, enough) that it probably would not be possible to distinguish, via such a test, a male athlete who dopes from a male athlete whose hormone levels are just naturally high.

And really, this is not a "men get a free pass" thing; Lance Armstrong was, IIRC, being tested twice a month by the end of his cycling career, for example. Floyd Landis got caught, according to Wiki, with "a ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone nearly three times the limit allowed by World Anti-Doping Agency rules".

And so on and so forth.
posted by ubernostrum at 2:05 PM on June 11, 2012


(also of note: Landis initially claimed that his testosterone levels were just that high naturally)
posted by ubernostrum at 2:06 PM on June 11, 2012


And really, this is not a "men get a free pass" thing;

I don't think men get a free pass from testing (they get a free pass from being de-gendered because of their testosterone levels). In fact, I think men with naturally low testosterone are being discriminated against because they can't compete in leagues with people of similar biochemical functioning.
posted by muddgirl at 2:11 PM on June 11, 2012


Ask yourself what the Greeks would have done. Then have a laugh at the ingrown sanity of this circus.
posted by Twang at 2:18 PM on June 11, 2012


Is the fear that middling male athletes will transition to being a woman to compete at a lower level? IMO, more power to them. Transitioning is not exactly a socially harmless process.

Well...
posted by Gator at 2:20 PM on June 11, 2012


> In fact, I think men with naturally low testosterone are being discriminated against because
> they can't compete in leagues with people of similar biochemical functioning.

Seems to call for an anti-discrimination remedy of some kind. But for the life of me I can't think of one.
posted by jfuller at 2:23 PM on June 11, 2012


I've been wanting to comment for hours, but had to restrain my levels of anger. Some of them might have come from a bit of excess testesterone. I'd better never consider competing in sports.

This is just absolutely frustrating, because what they are doing is defining who gets to be a woman. Even if you're a cisgendered female, if you're not womanly enough, then they can declare that the thing you've been working at your whole life is invalid, or they can force you to take mind and body altering chemicals that will turn you into an entirely different person?

Bullshit on all levels.

Yes, testesterone doping may exist, and that's a sad thing for the sport. But the thing to do is not to punish people with naturally occuring testesterone just because it's too expensive and hard to try to tell the difference.

Graaaargh.
posted by corb at 2:29 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ask yourself what the Greeks would have done. Then have a laugh at the ingrown sanity of this circus.

Hey, just by letting women attend the events, the modern Olympics are already doing better than the ancient games. If they'd just bring back the race in full armor, they'd be better in every possible way.
posted by Copronymus at 2:37 PM on June 11, 2012


All Olympic-caliber athletes are, by comparison to the rest of us, biological weirdos.

No, they're not. Most of them just train really really hard.

They train hard and they have the biology needed to compete at a high level. No amount of training will shrink me down to a gymnast's body. But I don't think it's unfair that genetically smaller women have an advantage in gymnastics.


The idea that Olympic level athletes are not physiologically different from the general population is not correct. Physiological factors like how their bodies pump blood, remove toxins, repair tissue, deal with fatigue, and so many others are markedly different from the average person.

These differences include hormones, a genetic quirk that makes an athlete have more of certain hormones is no different than the numerous other genetic quirks that make them an athlete in the first place.
posted by Cosine at 3:02 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ask yourself what the Greeks would have done.

Copronymus already did the dirty work here, but yeah, comparing how we do things to how the oh so egalitarian {/} ancient Greeks did them is not a recipe for actual discussion. Only young nude males who spoke the same language (Greek) could compete to honor a god.
posted by edgeways at 3:13 PM on June 11, 2012


Olympic-level athletic ability, in combination with the resources to actually develop that ability and pursue an Olympic career, is fairly rare.
No. The entire point is that it's not rare for people born men to be able perform at the level of female Olympic athletes. So if you allowed transgender women to compete, they would dominate.

The Olympics absolutely do police hormone (and other indicators) for men as well.
I don't think men get a free pass from testing (they get a free pass from being de-gendered because of their testosterone levels). In fact, I think men with naturally low testosterone are being discriminated against because they can't compete in leagues with people of similar biochemical functioning.
Right, but as it's been pointed out, Caster could never qualify for the men's track and field in the Olympics anyway.
These differences include hormones, a genetic quirk that makes an athlete have more of certain hormones is no different than the numerous other genetic quirks that make them an athlete in the first place.
It's not just "Genetics" it has to do with things like hormone levels in the womb and stuff like that as well.
This is just absolutely frustrating, because what they are doing is defining who gets to be a woman. Even if you're a cisgendered female, if you're not womanly enough, then they can declare that the thing you've been working at your whole life is invalid, or they can force you to take mind and body altering chemicals that will turn you into an entirely different person?
Right, but so what? if you are going to have "Mens Sports" and "Woman's sports" then obviously you need to have some standard for what makes someone a man and what makes them a woman. It's especially complicated when you consider the doping issue. If you didn't have standards for hormone levels, women would be pressured to artificially elevate their own hormone levels in order to win. Which is something that's obviously happened again and again.
posted by delmoi at 3:21 PM on June 11, 2012


Clearly you couldn't just open it up to "self-identification", or you would might suddenly have a lot of transgendered athletes.
How awful!

Seriously. Transphobia is awful.
posted by byanyothername at 3:24 PM on June 11, 2012


Even if you're a cisgendered female, if you're not womanly enough, then they can declare that the thing you've been working at your whole life is invalid, or they can force you to take mind and body altering chemicals that will turn you into an entirely different person?

THIS. Is what's making me feel sick with fury, and I don't even play sports.

Let me take this down to a purely personal, selfish level: I'm a total sports klutz, but I've always been tall, so I always had school coaches trying to convince me to play basketball. And despite being both uninterested in basketball and actively BAD at it, I was still kinda tempted. Because if I somehow turned out to have some (unlikely) magical skill as an athlete, people would give me positive attention.

Athletes are cool and popular! Athletes are strong, fit, and admirable! Even though pretty athletes will be the MOST popular, if you are a great athlete, you will get respect and praise as a winner, regardless of what you look like. This is as true for Olympic competitors as it is for varsity high school teams. That is an attractive prospect for women, who are judged so much by what they look like instead of who they are and what they can do. It's even more attractive for women who are not conventionally pretty/feminine (and I'm going to make the wildly unscientific hypothesis that many women with high testosterone levels don't match the conventional standard for femininity): "I may not be pretty, but I can be BADASS."

Sadly, being tall does not give me instant basketball skills anymore than high testosterone levels automatically make the average male couch potato a better athlete than the average female Olympic medalist. So I can't even imagine how horrible it would feel to be a female athlete, going around winning competitions (because no one's interested in ferreting out high-testosterone females in LAST place) and doing my badass jock thing, tralala. Then to have people suddenly say, "Stop! You're doing this wrong! Not anything you control, just being WHO YOU ARE is wrong. You're too good an athlete, you're not girly enough, not testosterone-low enough, to be a real female. So we're kicking you out unless you prove through humiliating physical exams or by taking body-altering drugs that you're a Real Girl."
posted by nicebookrack at 3:25 PM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


Seriously. Transphobia is awful.

That's such an uncharitable, bullshit reading of the comment you are replying to.
posted by Justinian at 3:28 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


No. The entire point is that it's not rare for people born men to be able perform at the level of female Olympic athletes. So if you allowed transgender women to compete, they would dominate.
URGE TO KILL...falling. Okay.

I am tired and it is not even remotely my responsibility to discuss this kind of shit with absolutely everyone, but there are a few fucked up assumptions in this particular tangent of the thread. I'm in a pretty good mood despite the Absolute Exhaustion, so I'll help identify a few things that are bugging me.

1. Being transgender is pretty rare, compared to the general population. If you're terrified that there's going to be a huge influx of trans athletes with looser regulations, you're not thinking about this.

2. Being trans carries MASSIVE fucking social stigma. If you're worried that a huge number of cis people are going to exploit looser regulations in order to dominate weaker athletes, you're not thinking about this.

3. Trans people are their identified gender, without even bringing "trans" into it. I don't care what your personal feelings are on this one. If you feel otherwise, or feel the need to qualify a trans person with "trans" status all the time, you're not thinking about this.

4. Trans people typically work to have hormonal levels closer to that of their identified gender. This does affect muscle mass. If you're worried about a bunch of manly, beefed up trans women rampaging in and dominating weaker athletes, you're not thinking about this.

5. This is the Olympics. If you're worried about random dudes walking in off the street to mop the floor with those pushover girls, you're uh...welcome to try. I'd love to see what happens.

6. Requiring that athletes prove their sex through genital examinations, chromosome tests or hormonal levels and requiring that they then undergo medical treatments they do not want to be allowed to compete is fucked up. Resolve conflicts some other way.
posted by byanyothername at 3:40 PM on June 11, 2012 [12 favorites]


What kind of advantages does height give athletes in basketball?

Apparently, 17% of all Americans 7 feet tall or taller play for the NBA. So I'd say it's a pretty damn good advantage.
posted by KathrynT at 3:41 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's such an uncharitable, bullshit reading of the comment you are replying to.
It's not that comment in total isolation, but why? What do you think I'm missing in that comment?
posted by byanyothername at 3:42 PM on June 11, 2012


With all of the doping sports, I think a reasonable means of dividing the competition could be as follows:

- Enhancements Permitted, Open (anyone and everyone can compete)
- Enhancements Permitted, X chromosome only (nobody who has a Y chromosome permitted -- XYY or XXY would be excluded, for example, and have to compete in the Open category).

- Enhancements Forbidden, Open
- Enhancements Forbidden, X chromosome only

Natural variation would take care of the rest. We'd no longer be policing either gender or performance-enhancement (except for to make competitors compete in the correct category and a simple genetic test would tell you all you need to know about X-chromosome o Y-chromosome competitors).
posted by chimaera at 3:42 PM on June 11, 2012


4. Trans people typically work to have hormonal levels closer to that of their identified gender. This does affect muscle mass. If you're worried about a bunch of manly, beefed up trans women rampaging in and dominating weaker athletes, you're not thinking about this.

And, yeah, this. Once the requirements to be legally recognized as your identified gender have been undertaken -- once a person is taking androgen blockers and synthetic estrogen -- the muscle mass just falls right off you.
posted by KathrynT at 3:42 PM on June 11, 2012


No one is policing her testosterone levels. As mentioned before, she's welcome to go on living her life with as testosterone as she likes. All that's happening is that the Olympics are establishing more criteria for who can compete, and this one(!!!) person has a problem with the new policy.

I'm sorry, but you seem to be seriously misinformed.

From the article:
In a move critics call “policing femininity,” recent rule changes by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the governing body of track and field, state that for a woman to compete, her testosterone must not exceed the male threshold.

If it does, she must have surgery or receive hormone therapy prescribed by an expert IAAF medical panel and submit to regular monitoring.
In order to compete as a woman, your testosterone levels must not exceed the male threshold, even though that has nothing to do with whether or not you are actually a woman. This is, definitionally, the policing of testosterone.

It is not just the one(!!!) person who has a "problem" with the policy, either.

Again, from the article:
If it does, she must have surgery or receive hormone therapy prescribed by an expert IAAF medical panel and submit to regular monitoring. So far, at least a handful of athletes — the figure is confidential — have been prescribed treatment, but their numbers could increase.
Emphasis mine. You see, the issue is that Semenya was not just a unique(!!!) sort of case.

I think that comparison between discrimination related to height and testosterone levels is fair. http://69max.com/ is the website for an amateur sporting competition for people under 5'9" who want to play basketball. There's plenty of other amateur sporting competitions (almost all of them, really) with equally arbitrary restrictions on who can compete, and I've never seen any outrage directed at them.

The Olympics are not an competition for people within a certain limited frame of physical characteristics. They generally divide their competitions into "Men's" and "Women's" events. There is no "Women whose do testosterone does not exceed the male threshold" category, which is why this new policy of policing testosterone levels is problematic.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:49 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


delmoi: So if you allowed transgender women to compete, they would dominate.

Ok, but that's not really what the existing cases - i.e., non-transgendered women being forced to take hormones to compete in the sport of their choice - are about. 'Transgender' is the wrong word here; there's a big difference between intersex individuals and folks who feel they were born into a wrong-gendered body: What's the difference between being transgender or transsexual and having an intersex condition?

The truth is that the vast majority of people with intersex conditions identify as male or female rather than transgender or transsexual. Thus, where all people who identify as transgender or transsexual experience problems with their gender identity, only a small portion of intersex people experience these problems.

The way current lines are being drawn (and I get that this is all a work in progress) assumes that women with, say, hyperandrogenism shouldn't be allowed to compete as women in any organized sport where the stakes matter. I find that absurd and discriminatory on its face, and difficult to square with the way non-gender-related biological differences are handled.

elsp: and this one(!!!) person has a problem with the new policy

From the beginning of the first link:

Caster Semenya...was considered an outlier, a one-time anomaly. But similar cases are emerging all over the world...
posted by mediareport at 3:52 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think this bit in the first link, implying that the panels making all these decisions are dominated by men (from someone who acknowledges the complexity of the situation), is also worth pulling out:

Including more women on decision-making panels might help, says Lofstrom. They might fight what she calls a preoccupation with the “stereotypical feminine athlete” — the Anna Kournikovas of the world.

“If you don’t look like the perfect little tennis player, then you’re less a woman, and there’s potential to find some reason they shouldn’t be involved,” she explains.

posted by mediareport at 3:53 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


What a weird world we live in. I does seem unfair that women need to prove their "womanhood" but the alternatives seem to either designate "women's sports" as a kind of handicap category, or to exclude women from meaningful participation, neither of which seems an improvement.

Maybe a kind of "anything goes" league would need to be introduced, where people can enter with any kind of bodily makeup and do any kind of drugs they damn well please. Also, they would not be required to cross the finish line or perform any particular routine. Basically it would just be a huge out-of-control party. I would definitely join that league.
posted by deo rei at 4:03 PM on June 11, 2012


point by point, here:

1. Being transgender is pretty rare, compared to the general population. If you're terrified that there's going to be a huge influx of trans athletes with looser regulations, you're not thinking about this.

2. Being trans carries MASSIVE fucking social stigma. If you're worried that a huge number of cis people are going to exploit looser regulations in order to dominate weaker athletes, you're not thinking about this.

Given that there are many cases of athletes taking dangerous levels of drugs that cause early death in order to win medals, I personally can't imagine that 'social disapproval' would prevent some of them from choosing to make a gender switch in order to win. I mean, fuck, there are people who fake being intellectually disabled in order to win the Paralympics, and you really think nobody would find it worth faking a gender switch?

4. Trans people typically work to have hormonal levels closer to that of their identified gender. This does affect muscle mass. If you're worried about a bunch of manly, beefed up trans women rampaging in and dominating weaker athletes, you're not thinking about this.

So from my previous point, we're not talking about typical trans people. We're talking about people who do the minimum work required to gain the IAAF classification of 'female athlete', and otherwise are not interested in transitioning.

5. This is the Olympics. If you're worried about random dudes walking in off the street to mop the floor with those pushover girls, you're uh...welcome to try. I'd love to see what happens.

A reasonably good high school boy could qualify for the Women's Olympics in the 100m. The qualifying time for the Women's A race was 11.3 seconds this year. 49 high school boys in Washington State ran faster than that this year.

6. Requiring that athletes prove their sex through genital examinations, chromosome tests or hormonal levels and requiring that they then undergo medical treatments they do not want to be allowed to compete is fucked up. Resolve conflicts some other way.

I really don't think there's a good solution here, and I think everyone who sees it as simple must disagree with my first point on motivation and likelihood of people abusing it. Sadly, as people become more accepting of gender fluidity and trans people in general, I'd say that the barriers will go down even further to people faking this, and so even if it wouldn't happen today, it will become more likely. I don't personally know how to approach it.
posted by jacalata at 4:09 PM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


Maybe a kind of "anything goes" league

I've a friend who kind of facetiously advocates for a baseball league that allows for the players to take whatever they want.
posted by edgeways at 4:11 PM on June 11, 2012


I've a friend who kind of facetiously advocates for a baseball league that allows for the players to take whatever they want.

I don't even facetiously advocate for such a league. I'm actually (small-L if you please) very libertarian on the topic that an adult should be able to modify themselves in any way they see fit, including bodily enhancement for performance, and even if that means they are severely shortening their prospective lifespan. Allowing a juiced-up bruiser to compete with people who do not use enhancements is problematic, but an "Open Augmentation" league would be an interesting prospect.

I'm actually fairly curious what sort of performance levels people can achieve (and possibly what positive follow-on effects for medical offshoots) if there were no legal limitations.
posted by chimaera at 4:18 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've a friend who kind of facetiously advocates for a baseball league that allows for the players to take whatever they want.


Do you know me IRL or something? I have been talking this up for a while, a league that allows unlimited modification including hormones, steroids, cybernetics and genetic enhancements. There is also a small chance we may have to include human-alien hybrids, self-aware computer algorithms and beings of pure energy and thought at some point in the distant future.We should also anticipate human animal hybrids, such as humans born with horse legs and full conversion cyborgs.

It sounds kind of dumb but we are seeing the first rumblings of this with Oscar Pistorius. Right now we are grabbling with what is means to be a man or a woman. In 20 years we will be grappling with what it means to be human.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:32 PM on June 11, 2012


This isn't going to matter because given the current forecast the Olympics are going to be rained out.
posted by srboisvert at 4:33 PM on June 11, 2012


1. Being transgender is pretty rare, compared to the general population. If you're terrified that there's going to be a huge influx of trans athletes with looser regulations, you're not thinking about this.
How rare do you think it is? It seems like being in the Olympics could be a huge motivator for someone who otherwise wouldn't consider transitioning. According to this article a high school in rural Thailand has a 10% ratio of boys who identify as transsexual.

But you don't need numbers that high at all. If just 1% of men were interested in transitioning, and 10% were able to outperform female Olympic athletes, you'd have a pool of 150,000 people in the US alone. It seems fairly obvious that the number of Olympic athletes is a lot smaller then the number of transwomen.

The thing is, lots of women have been caught doping - taking drugs that can make themselves much more masculine in order to get to the Olympics and win -- which is the whole reason why hormone testing exists in the first place. Not to police femininity, but to police doping. So you have a standard for hormone levels, one for men and one for women.
3. Trans people are their identified gender, without even bringing "trans" into it. I don't care what your personal feelings are on this one. If you feel otherwise, or feel the need to qualify a trans person with "trans" status all the time, you're not thinking about this.
You have to have some way of distinguishing people if you're going to discuss the issue.
This is the Olympics. If you're worried about random dudes walking in off the street to mop the floor with those pushover girls, you're uh...welcome to try. I'd love to see what happens.
Not 'walk in off the street', but with stuff like running, probably a decent percentage of men who would train heavily could beat the top female athletes in the world.
Requiring that athletes prove their sex through genital examinations, chromosome tests or hormonal levels and requiring that they then undergo medical treatments they do not want to be allowed to compete is fucked up. Resolve conflicts some other way.
Why do you think people care whether or not you, personally, think it's fucked up? If you are going to have male sports and female sports, you need a standard that defines male and female. Otherwise why bother having distinctions at all?

The whole argument seems to be "this makes me mad, therefore it can't happen"
Trans people typically work to have hormonal levels closer to that of their identified gender. This does affect muscle mass. If you're worried about a bunch of manly, beefed up trans women rampaging in and dominating weaker athletes, you're not thinking about this.
So then what's wrong with requiring that in order to compete? That's actually what is being proposed: requiring women with high testosterone levels to reduce those levels to a pre-set standard in order to compete.
posted by delmoi at 4:49 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


byanyothername writes "This is the Olympics. If you're worried about random dudes walking in off the street to mop the floor with those pushover girls, you're uh...welcome to try. I'd love to see what happens."

It wouldn't be random dudes; merely above average male athlete who would blow away the female participants. Women events aren't the result of some PC gender equality initiative; men are no fooling better at athletic events to the point that in many sports a male also ran will prevail over the entire female field in the same event. See for example the Boston marathon where the top female placed 27th overall nearly 19 minutes behind the overall winner.

Sticherbeast writes "The Olympics are not an competition for people within a certain limited frame of physical characteristics. They generally divide their competitions into 'Men's' and 'Women's' events. There is no 'Women whose do testosterone does not exceed the male threshold' category, which is why this new policy of policing testosterone levels is problematic."

The problem is that it's going to be impossible to divide people into two groups based on sex when people as a group aren't only of two sexes. People in the middle are going to think they've been misclassified.
posted by Mitheral at 4:58 PM on June 11, 2012


So then what's wrong with requiring that in order to compete? That's actually what is being proposed: requiring women with high testosterone levels to reduce those levels to a pre-set standard in order to compete.

The problem with this is that it defines people by what they can't do. This is harmful especially if there is a centuries-long tradition of denigrating and subjugating the people in question based on perceived weakness and inadequacy.
posted by deo rei at 5:10 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's your proposed solution? To let anyone who wishes to compete in the women's events do so?
posted by Justinian at 5:11 PM on June 11, 2012


I'm sorry, but you seem to be seriously misinformed.

From the article:

In a move critics call “policing femininity,” recent rule changes by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the governing body of track and field, state that for a woman to compete, her testosterone must not exceed the male threshold.

If it does, she must have surgery or receive hormone therapy prescribed by an expert IAAF medical panel and submit to regular monitoring.

In order to compete as a woman, your testosterone levels must not exceed the male threshold, even though that has nothing to do with whether or not you are actually a woman. This is, definitionally, the policing of testosterone.


I'm seriously misinformed because I disagree with critics? The IAAF is policing its membership roles, not femininity or testosterone. They're not saying "You're not female" or "You can't have that much testosterone and be a female". They're saying "You have an undeniable biological advantage that we've decided is unfair to your competition."

It's unfair to Semenya that through no fault of her own she has to receive medical treatment to make her weaker if she wants to compete. I bet anyone on the IAAF would tell you the same.

Nothing about their decision has anything to do with whether or not she's a woman. It has to do with whether or not she can compete fairly, and with testosterone levels higher than an average man she can not compete fairly with a woman who probably has 5%-10% of as much testosterone as her.


It is not just the one(!!!) person who has a "problem" with the policy, either.

Again, from the article:

If it does, she must have surgery or receive hormone therapy prescribed by an expert IAAF medical panel and submit to regular monitoring. So far, at least a handful of athletes — the figure is confidential — have been prescribed treatment, but their numbers could increase.

Emphasis mine. You see, the issue is that Semenya was not just a unique(!!!) sort of case.


I don't think that Semenya is the only female athlete affected by the IAAF policy-- I think she's the only one complaining that it's unreasonable. I might be wrong, but there's no indication otherwise in article and it would be a huge oversight not to mention other athletes who feel they've been harmed by the policy.

The Olympics are not an competition for people within a certain limited frame of physical characteristics. They generally divide their competitions into "Men's" and "Women's" events. There is no "Women whose do testosterone does not exceed the male threshold" category, which is why this new policy of policing testosterone levels is problematic.

Setting aside snark about a godlike physique falling within a pretty limited frame of physical characteristics-- I doubt that your position is that because a "Women whose testosterone does not exceed the male threshold" category doesn't exist it shouldn't, but I can't figure out why you stand where you do.

The role of the administrators of an athletic competition is to form competitive groups of contestants, let them compete, and decide on a winner. Ideally, they do all these things as openly as possible so that everyone competing or watching understands how fair the competition is. I have yet to see anyone indicate why groupings by testosterone levels are more capricious or arbitrary than groupings by age, height, weight, gender, or location of origin.
posted by elsp at 5:13 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I personally can't imagine that 'social disapproval' would prevent some of them from choosing to make a gender switch in order to win.
41% of respondents reported attempting suicide
compared to 1.6% of the general population,ii with rates rising for
those who lost a job due to bias (55%)...
Those who expressed a transgender identity or gender non-conformity while in grades K-12 reported alarming rates of
harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%); harassment was so severe that it led almost
one-sixth (15%) to leave a school in K-12 settings or in higher education.
Our sample was nearly four
times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/
year compared to the general population.
Ninety percent (90%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment,
mistreatment or discrimination on the job or took actions like hiding who they are to avoid it.
Forty-seven percent (47%) said they had experienced an adverse job
outcome, such as being fi red, not hired or denied a promotion
because of being transgender or gender non-conforming.
Large majorities attempted to avoid discrimination by hiding
their gender or gender transition (71%) or delaying their gender
transition (57%).
Overall, 16% said they had been compelled to work in the
underground economy for income (such as doing sex work or
selling drugs).
Respondents who had lost a job due to bias also experienced
ruinous consequences such as four times the rate of homelessness,
70% more current drinking or misuse of drugs to cope with
mistreatment, 85% more incarceration, more than double the rate
working in the underground economy, and more than double the HIV
infection rate...
etc. It goes on [PDF]. Do you sincerely believe there are just boatloads of people willing to go through that for the sake of a medal? Maybe a few hypothetical overachievers, but stacked against actual statistics, that makes a poor argument.

The truth is that the vast majority of people with intersex conditions identify as male or female rather than transgender or transsexual

The truth is that the vast majority of transsexual people identify as male or female rather than transgender or transsexual. More power to genderfluid and genderqueer folks, but "transgender"/"transsexual" aren't a third gender identity or necessarily a strong part of someone's identity. Off topic, but yeah... I just wanted to add that. This is part of what's bothering me in this discussion.

Why do you think people care whether or not you, personally, think it's fucked up?...The whole argument seems to be "this makes me mad, therefore it can't happen" ...

Because you know what? If someone finds something you do or say upsetting or hurtful, there's typically a reason for it. I'm honestly just baffled that I would have to expand on this, but no, my argument is that it's fucked up because it's invasive. It's insulting. It's disrespectful, dehumanizing and perhaps worst of all, risks falling into a rabbit hole of infinitely splitting hairs. It is absolutely a terrible solution to ensuring fair competition.

So then what's wrong with requiring that in order to compete?

???? Uhhh. Lots? A woman willingly undergoing hormone replacement to correct an imbalance of her own initiative is way different from an organization requiring same to participate.

transwomen

Also, gonna go all the way and nitpick. Please don't do this. Write it as, "trans [space] woman." The "trans" is a qualifier, like "black woman," "young woman," "honky tonk woman."

Seriously, I'm stepping out of this thread. The trans tangent is obviously pretty upsetting to me, and I wanted to address that but I am using a tone that I don't think is adding to the discussion. My points stand, though (except perhaps about random men competing against female athletes; I'm just an idiot there): the "but what about trans people?" tangent is a completely unnecessary tangle in this topic.
posted by byanyothername at 5:13 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


One last:

What's your proposed solution? To let anyone who wishes to compete in the women's events do so?


Yes. Any woman who wants to compete in the events should not be unnecessarily barred from doing do. If certain women with outlier physiologies become a genuine problem in terms of fairness of competition, establish a Mutant League Olympics strictly for superhuman badasses.

And preemptively: no one is going to try to pretend to be a superhuman badass to fake their way in. That idea is stupid.
posted by byanyothername at 5:17 PM on June 11, 2012


The problem is that it's going to be impossible to divide people into two groups based on sex when people as a group aren't only of two sexes. People in the middle are going to think they've been misclassified.
There is 0 reason this can't be addressed on a case by case basis. This sort of thing is so rare it doesn't even pop up as a real consideration every 4 years.

And again, the trans thing is just... not very relevant. This is an issue the IOC has already been handling, and it's been handling it fine. This issue popped up because one athlete significantly out-performed her competitors and violated conventional standards for female appearance.

To put it in other words: people were not upset about a trans individual competing. They are upset about a completely cisgendered woman competing in the women's events. That is the whole reason for this rule.

Further, these are the fucking Olympics, not the under-69 basketball league. Not the "you must be within one standard deviation of the mean" championship. Ok? The olympics.

Further, the "average male level of testosterone" is probably not a sensible or rational concept. Men will, of course, have a wide range of levels of testosterone and that level changes throughout their lives. Hell, it possibly changes throughout the day.

We already had working rules for the separation of the Olympics by gender. We do not need another rule whose instatement is almost entirely due to perception of certain athletes' appearances.
posted by kavasa at 5:21 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Any woman who wants to compete in the events should not be unnecessarily barred from doing do.

OK I'll bite. Now define "woman."

You'd be surprised how many XY, cis-, males would sign themselves up for the women's competition in order to have a better shot at a gold medal.
posted by chimaera at 5:23 PM on June 11, 2012


So if sports as an activity is specifically set up to value male advantages, is there really a place in it for women at all?

Christ, what a depressing question. Yet, that does seem to be the overriding point of all the insistence that no (nondoped/nontrans/non-intersex/whatever) woman could ever compete equally with men in any sport.

It's harder to argue with this than with the "women can't be great artists/scientists" contention of years past, because education and opportunity clearly have as much to do with those abilities as any gender-linked characteristics (except for a few evopsych types who think advanced mathematical thinking is dudes-only, but seriously fuck those guys).

Of course sports as an activity was developed as far as we know exclusively by men, so in a way it's not surprising that it's about doing things that male bodies do more easily.

But if women can never be The Best in any ultimate sense at sports, Jesus, why bother? I'm not a sports person, though I'm related to several, so this question is moot to me, but it is a hell of thing to be told over and over how weak and second-class your gender is and how you need a weak little special league if you want to pretend-compete. It has a lot to do with why fewer women follow sports, in my opinion; it feels too much like Ladies Auxiliary instead of the real thing.

I don't know what sports would look like if women developed it based on their bodies. Maybe sports only exists because we privilege male bodies--certainly, the centrality we give to sports is heavily flavored with love of maleness, and with a belief that being proved the strongest or fastest is meaningful and uplifting to those watching.

Possibly a world that was more egalitarian would simply not care as much about sports; it would be a hobby, not the passionate core of so many people's identity.

I really can't say.
posted by emjaybee at 5:26 PM on June 11, 2012 [16 favorites]


OK I'll bite. Now define "woman."

Yeah, you took the words out of my mouth. "Woman" now has to be defined and there has to be an enforcement mechanism to make sure athletes meet that definition.

This is not an easy situation and anyone who believes it is easy has blinders on.
posted by Justinian at 5:26 PM on June 11, 2012


Justinian, that would render women's participation meaningless. I don't have a solution. That some individuals will be unfairly excluded or included seems to be the consequence if you want to offer comparable opportunities to women in athletic sports and also do not want to set criteria that essentially define it as a handicap.
posted by deo rei at 5:27 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


But if women can never be The Best in any ultimate sense at sports, Jesus, why bother?

Because it's a lot of fun? Because watching women at the peak of ability compete is exciting and fun, even if they aren't as fast or strong as men at the peak of ability?
posted by Justinian at 5:28 PM on June 11, 2012


I have yet to see anyone indicate why groupings by testosterone levels are more capricious or arbitrary than groupings by age, height, weight, gender, or location of origin.
Obviously they're not. Your question is, however, irrelevant. We have already decided upon the arbitrary standard to be applied in this case, and it is gender.
You'd be surprised how many XY, cis-, males would sign themselves up for the women's competition in order to have a better shot at a gold medal.
Did you read the thread? This point has been brought up and dealt with repeatedly. In summary:
1) This point is not the goal of the rule; the rule was introduced specifically because of one utterly standard cisgendered woman
2) It has only extremely rarely been an actual issue, and the governing body has been well capable of addressing it at those times when it has arisen, using the rules already in place.
3) Therefore, this additional rule is unneeded.

emjaybee - I will never come close to beginning to approach any of the writers whose work I most respect. I write anyway.
This is not an easy situation and anyone who believes it is easy has blinders on.
It is not easy. But there are already systems in place to address it and the governing body has done a largely passable job making use of those systems. This additional rule has no value, and is motivated by all the wrong reasons.
posted by kavasa at 5:32 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Men already crash women's distance running events for no particular reason. Seriously, if you think male athletes would not capriciously ruin women's athletics if not prevented from doing so by strict enforcement of the rules, you're being naive about how badly people want to win things.
posted by chrchr at 5:33 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


1) This point is not the goal of the rule; the rule was introduced specifically because of one utterly standard cisgendered woman

How can you be absolutely certain of this judgment when the results of testing was not made public?
posted by Justinian at 5:34 PM on June 11, 2012


etc. It goes on [PDF]. Do you sincerely believe there are just boatloads of people willing to go through that for the sake of a medal? Maybe a few hypothetical overachievers, but stacked against actual statistics, that makes a poor argument.

I may not have made it clear, but I very much expect that the experience would be different for someone choosing to transition to gain a specific advantage in life, than it would be for someone doing so because they felt they were born in the wrong kind of body. And 'overachievers' is probably a good way to describe most people who reach the Olympics anyway.

Have you looked at what else athletes do for these medals? Have you read the bits about Chinese children selected as potential gymnasts at 5 years old, and going off to boarding schools to train for 8 years? Have you known of any high school kids who spent 6 hours a day training and probably won't ever make it anyway? I think you are really underestimating the kind of incentive 'an Olympic medal' already is.
posted by jacalata at 5:36 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can not be absolutely certain that I'm not a Cartesian brain in a jar. What I can do is proceed with my life based on the most likely and reasonable interpretation of the evidence available to me. In this instance, that evidence indicates that Caster Semenya is a woman and I see no compelling reason to take issue with that evidence.
posted by kavasa at 5:37 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


jacalata - FFS. If that were going to be a problem it would already be one. It is not. If it does become a problem, we can address it then.
posted by kavasa at 5:39 PM on June 11, 2012


In this instance, that evidence indicates that Caster Semenya is a woman and I see no compelling reason to take issue with that evidence.

That's not what we were talking about, though. She's obviously a woman. What you said was that she is an utterly standard cis-gendered woman. Which seems patently false since if she were utterly standard she wouldn't be winning these races, by definition.

The question isn't whether she is utterly standard; she clearly is not. It's whether her non-standardness is within the range of possibility for cis-gendered women.
posted by Justinian at 5:46 PM on June 11, 2012


Jesus Christ I'm going to have an aneurysm. I really don't think a lot of you are arguing actual positions, but are taking what you feel is a Devil's advocate stance. But there are implications in that stance that are hurtful to me, that I think are damaging to trans women and women in general. I've tried to illustrate why I feel that way, but I'm just getting accusations of "That's disingenuous" and endless unprovable thought experiments.

Men already crash women's distance running events for no particular reason.

At least this is a thing! And a really shitty thing. But also not directly a part of the topic. It's worth addressing as a tangent, but it's not convincing me why some women arbitrarily shouldn't be allowed to compete in women's events, or should undergo compulsory treatments to be allowed to do so.
posted by byanyothername at 5:47 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought that was pretty well addressed already, byanyothername. Either you allow anybody to compete in whatever competition you want, or your have to make rules about who is allowed in what competitions. That's just basic logic. Given that, even if you want the competition to be as broad as "any woman can compete in the women's competition. Non-women cannot", you then have to come up with a hard and fast definition of "woman" which everyone can live with.
posted by Justinian at 5:53 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Justinian - that's a really annoying semantic quibble to make.

I obviously don't mean that she is "standard" in the sense of "largely similar to the majority of women." I obviously do mean that is "standard" in the sense of "she is easily identified as a woman by the usual physiological metrics."

Given the truth of that statement, I see no reason to exclude her or force her to take some sort of performance-reducing supplement.
Given that, even if you want the competition to be as broad as "any woman can compete in the women's competition. Non-women cannot", you then have to come up with a hard and fast definition of "woman" which everyone can live with.
Quoting myself in re-response:
But there are already systems in place to address it and the governing body has done a largely passable job making use of those systems.
posted by kavasa at 5:55 PM on June 11, 2012


On a clarification note, the article said that Semenya was not complaining about the new rules, and was in fact complying with them. It was other people in the article who were arguing that the new rules were policing femininity and excluding athletes who have been accepted as female according to already fairly invasive testing, whom no one is arguing are not female.

That is, Justinian, there is a hard and fast definition of "woman" that the IOC is using currently, and that Semenya (and some small but additional number of other female athletes that the new rules affect, according to the article).
posted by eviemath at 5:57 PM on June 11, 2012


er, to finish that sentence: that Semenya and the others affected by the new rule have already met.
posted by eviemath at 5:57 PM on June 11, 2012


I understand that. I was replying to byanyothername's question as to why some people must be arbitrarily excluded. Because any line you draw will by definition be arbitrary. I wasn't implying that Semenya didn't meet the definition.

It isn't clear to me (as it apparently is to some) that Semenya passed all these tests with flying colors; that she is supposedly receiving treatment to lower testosterone levels would indicate to me that she didn't. But that's the IOC's business and not mine and I'm happy to leave it to them.

If they feel the old rules were not completely sufficient then maybe they weren't sufficient. They could be wrong. Clearly kavasa believes they are. But I don't think it's somehow obvious that they are wrong; they know quite a lot about the issue.
posted by Justinian at 6:02 PM on June 11, 2012


I'm seriously misinformed because I disagree with critics? The IAAF is policing its membership roles, not femininity or testosterone.

If the IAAF were to prohibit players from entering who were darker than a certain shade of black, it would be accurate to call that racist, as well as stupid. Barring women from entering merely because they have a natural, innate deviation from female characteristics is sexist and transphobic, as well as stupid.

You seem hung up on an immaterial, not-even-semantic distinction between the IAAF exerting its jurisdiction over Olympics entrants, as opposed to all women in the known universe. If women whose testosterone levels are naturally higher than a certain threshold are barred from playing as women, then, definitionally, that aspect of their person is being policed. Does it surprise you to learn that the FDA polices certain standards and practices within the realm of food and drug production, even though their jurisdiction is not literally global and infinite?

They're not saying "You're not female" or "You can't have that much testosterone and be a female".

They are saying that they cannot compete as women, even though they are women. Under this new regime, women with naturally high testosterone levels cannot compete in either male or female events. There is no equivalent rule for women who just plain taller or larger or otherwise naturally-advantaged towards certain events. This is especially insidious in light of how men with excessive, natural testosterone are not barred from play.

They're saying "You have an undeniable biological advantage that we've decided is unfair to your competition."

Athletes, definitionally, often have many undeniable biological advantages. In the Olympics, there is actually very little discrimination against these undeniable biological advantages. Even in sports where there are size categories, such as wrestling and boxing, they merely create categories for the various sizes of person, as opposed to eliminating people because their hormones seem awfully unladylike.

I don't think that Semenya is the only female athlete affected by the IAAF policy-- I think she's the only one complaining that it's unreasonable. I might be wrong, but there's no indication otherwise in article and it would be a huge oversight not to mention other athletes who feel they've been harmed by the policy.

You are wrong. Did you read the article?

Setting aside snark about a godlike physique falling within a pretty limited frame of physical characteristics--

There is no intelligent reason to set that point aside. The Olympics already celebrate people with certain innate biological advantages.

I doubt that your position is that because a "Women whose testosterone does not exceed the male threshold" category doesn't exist it shouldn't, but I can't figure out why you stand where you do.

Because it would be misinformation to say that women with too high testosterone are no longer women. The Olympics do not bar women from entry who are too tall, not should they bar women from entry who have "too much" natural testosterone.

I have yet to see anyone indicate why groupings by testosterone levels are more capricious or arbitrary than groupings by age, height, weight, gender, or location of origin.

You mistyped "grouping" when you meant "prohibiting." Generally speaking, the Olympics does not prohibit players from entry due to their height, gender, or location of origin, although there are a few exceptions.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:17 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think they're responding to pressure that's coming from misogynist and/or racist sources. I think this because of the things that have been said on either side, as well as the phrasing of the rule in question. I could be wrong here, as I am absolutely not an endocrinologist or anything of the sort, but: I find the idea of "the male threshold" to be extremely dubious. As I said, there is extremely wide variation in levels of hormones between men and within the same man at various points in his life.
posted by kavasa at 6:21 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


You mistyped "grouping" when you meant "prohibiting." Generally speaking, the Olympics does not prohibit players from entry due to their height, gender, or location of origin, although there are a few exceptions.

...also, those exceptions are highly particularized, such as when a sport does not have a male or female equivalent, as opposed to this generalized rule, which states more generally that women cannot compete as women unless their testosterone does not exceed a certain arbitrary line. There is no equivalent rule, nor should there be, stating that women whose legs are too long may not compete in any competition governed by the IAAF.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:27 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


But there are already systems in place to address it and the governing body has done a largely passable job making use of those systems.
From the article:
The tell-tale signs are illustrated graphically in the IAAF rulebook, a sliding scale on everything from sexual organs to lower back hair and breast shape.
“What’s been going on here, for over 50 years now, has been an attempt to modify and refine the rules so as to be fair but also to be scientifically accurate and appropriate,” says Genel. “We’ll get it right.”


How do you know they've been ok so far? Are you sure they were right about Santhi Soundarajan, who also says that she is definitely female?
Was Ewa Kłobukowska fairly banned? (Not according to the change in rules a year later).
I don't even know what you're arguing. Gender identification in sport is not a problem, trans women aren't relevant to the discussion anyway, we don't need a definition of 'woman' in order to maintain a sex segregated competition, what else?


jacalata - FFS. If that were going to be a problem it would already be one. It is not. If it does become a problem, we can address it then.

You know why it's not a problem? Because the IAAF and other bodies currently ban athletes for not being female enough. You know why it's coming up here? Because some people are arguing that they should not do so. They've always done so, suddenly some of the measurements and standards they use are public and people are getting upset, and suggesting that the whole concept is wrong. Ok, fine, maybe it is. Here's what I think will happen if you discard it.
posted by jacalata at 7:17 PM on June 11, 2012


I had to step very far away from this thread for a few hours to calm my blood pressure. But now I'm back with a question, having googled around fruitlessly.

Based upon the articles that I've found, I can't determine whether these new rules pertaining to testosterone levels apply only to track and field women athletes or all women athletes in all Olympic sports. Has anyone else, whose google-fu is better than mine, been able to find out the answer to this question? Am I just mis-reading the primary article?

Also, I wanted to drop these two links here regarding the experiences of actual elite transgender and transitioning athletes (while fully acknowledging that the article posted by the OP is not about transgender athletes even though that topic was brought to the thread early on.)
posted by skye.dancer at 7:29 PM on June 11, 2012


As someone who was born with an intersex condition, and who studies sex and gender professionally, I would like to point out a few facts:

1. The idea that sex is a natural binary and that sports must reflect this is an ideology. Sex, empirically speaking, is a spectrum, defined by many primary and secondary characteristics that each vary in many ways.

2. Intersex people are not rare anomalies whose exclusion is so uncommon as not to impact many lives. Over 1 in 150 people will be diagnosed with an intersex condition during their lifetime. Our existence is just very deeply hidden by medical interventions and the legal requirement of having a binary sex.

3. People with intersex conditions diagnosed in infancy are raised to avoid all sorts of life activities, one of which is sport. Those of us born genitally variant are taught to avoid locker rooms where our "shameful" variance might be noted (even if surgically "corrected," our genitals still often look atypical). Those who are hormonally variant know what happens to people like Caster Semenya. Those who know they have atypical chromosomes are aware that international sporting competitions will test them.

4. Speaking of genotyping tests, people with chromosomal intersex conditions are often *not* aware of their intersex status, and only find out about it when tested for some other reason, such as participation in an international sporting event. There are many exceptions to the "rule" that men are XY and women are XX: there are XX men, XY women, and many alternative genotypes (XXY, XYY, X, etc.). International sporting competitions test only women, and exclude only those with a Y in their sex chromosomes. But, in fact, XX men and XY women are often completely typical in their other sex characteristics. XY women do not make more testosterone, and XX men do not make more estrogen, for example--that's just magical thinking about how sex characteristics "should" go together. Yet we exclude XY women based upon this sort of magical thinking.

5. People in the sporting world react to cases like Caster Semenya's in an exact parallel manner to the way that doctors react to the birth of intersex infants--with anxiety and a deep impulse to erase or eliminate the "problem"--that problem being the way we belie our society's ideology that sex is and must be binary. The impact on the lives of intersex people is very painful. We are subjected to what are in fact forced surgical sex changes in infancy, leading to loss of sexual sensation, and, if we grow up not to identify with the sex assigned to us, despair over having lost those very sex characteristics with which we identify. We are trained to be deeply closeted, avoiding all sorts of things that are healthy and enjoyable, like relationships, and like sports.

The division of sports into binary sex categories seems obvious and intuitive to people today. But the division of sports by race once seemed equally obvious, and the exclusion of women from voting once seemed only natural. These divisions lead to powerful social and material consequences for marginalized groups.

If you'd like to read more about intersex people and the issues we face, I link my own blog on the topic here, noting the self-promotion.
posted by DrMew at 7:44 PM on June 11, 2012 [31 favorites]


jacalata, it goes a little further: the new rule is not about determining the maleness or femaleness of athletes, but about excluding specific people who have been otherwise determined to be female according to other IAAF rules from competing, irrespective of that fact.

I think the debate over how/if to separate athletes into male and female binary categories is worthwhile (I think it's not cool for a variety of reasons, for example), but it's kind of beside the point here. There is a binary male/female classification system in place, but quite apart from that, the IAAF has brought in new rules excluding certain people-who-have-been-classified-as-women from competing.

Some arguments against the new IAAF rule are that:
(1) this is an arbitrary new rule, imposed in response to concerns that come from a sexist understanding of gender and gender expression, which overlap in an unfortunate way with the physiology of some elite female athletes (as well as sounding a bit like sour grapes from fellow competitors, at least the way that IAAF has reported complaints they have apparently received from some of these fellow competitors),
(2) the fact that it excludes certain women from competing, rather than setting up additional competition categories based on ability (such as weight classes), is a particularly poor way to attempt to address these sexist concerns,
(3) the fact that it only excludes women who have a competitive advantage due to being biological outliers, and that there is not a similar rule baring men with a similar competitive advantage due to being in the same tail of biological outliers among the male population, is sexist.

(And on preview, DrMew's comment shows that this just touches the surface of some of the problems with this new rule, and of course doesn't even address the problems with the underlying scheme of separating athletes into different competition pools by sex.)
posted by eviemath at 7:54 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ok, it's fair to complain that I wasn't really defining what I was thinking of when I've given my heavily qualified "they basically did ok" sorts of statements. Even if I would probably agree that some decisions were incorrect (it's not as if the committee of 1930 was less sexist than the one today), decisions were reached and the events went on. At no point has the competition been inundated with persons whose gender status is questionable to the point where it clogged up the whole system.
You know why it's coming up here? Because some people are arguing that they should not do so.
I'm not sure how you can think this? It's coming up here because they're introducing a new rule. This rule is that they have taken a certain level of a hormone in the blood and declared that level to be "the male threshold." Persons who go past this threshold can then still compete if they take certain medical steps. That's why it's coming up here. Like that is precisely and entirely why it's coming up. And in turn it came up because people were mad about perceived lack of femininity on the part of some competitors, precisely the opposite of the reason you've stated.

So. The things I am arguing:

The gender edge cases should be evaluated on an individual basis.

The new rule, specifically having a "threshold" level of a hormone in the blood, seems bad to me for a variety of reasons based on my lay understanding of hormones.

I think the new rule is motivated by concerns rooted in misogyny and/or racism.

DrMew - I am definitely sympathetic to all that! But the (as far as I know) true point has been made that if you eliminate the division in sports, almost every event becomes men-only at the highest levels. So I do think that the division serves some good purpose in that it's relatively intuitive in most cases and (I think) works against the marginalization of women.

It's a problem that defies simple solutions, and the hormone threshold seems to me to be just such a simple solution.
posted by kavasa at 7:54 PM on June 11, 2012


This might be a slight semantic collision - I feel like the hormone threshold is a new definition being applied to the existing rule ('we the IAAF will evaluate you to decide if you are female') in an attempt to be 'more precise': they used to do chromosome tests and found it not useful (presumably for some of the reasons DrMew mentions), now they have this test and have decided it is useful. I don't quite agree with eviemath that it is purely arbitrary, and it is certainly not the first rule to exclude competitors - the outcry actually seems to be especially pronounced because there is a treatment the competitors can take in order to not be excluded, whereas under all previous definitions it was an outright ban. From all I've read, it's quite possible that the new 'rule' is that persons who previously would have been banned outright based on the old definition, are now permitted to compete if they take the hormonal treatment.

I can't personally imagine a way to evaluate cases on a purely individual basis, and if there were then I suspect it would become even more political and racist than it might be now. Doesn't the idea of evaluating the athletes imply that there is a standard to evaluate against? It sounds like the testing is certainly done at an extensive and individual level, and I imagine that there are several aspects of the 'definition' that they look at - I'd be surprised if the nine month deliberation over Caster has actually been replaced with a simple hormone test for the next ambiguously presenting athlete.

By 'this is coming up now', I meant the discussion of trans women was coming up because, about six comments in, we got people arguing there was no need to police gender at all, and the obvious (to me, and to others) result of removing that would be men simply saying they were female in order to compete.
posted by jacalata at 8:13 PM on June 11, 2012


The hormone threshold is not exactly a new definition being applied to the existing rule determining who is female, because those who fail it aren't deemed to be male. Instead, they just can't compete at all, unless they take some hormone therapy to reduce their testosterone levels.
posted by eviemath at 8:17 PM on June 11, 2012


As I understand it people previously failed it because they were intersex, so I'm not sure I agree that they were all deemed to be male. Like I said, the outcry seems to be greater because people are given a 'treatment' option instead of an outright ban.
posted by jacalata at 8:20 PM on June 11, 2012


I am not an Olympic historian - they had other sex-selective rules in the past that excluded certain people from competing entirely, in both male and female categories?
posted by eviemath at 8:20 PM on June 11, 2012


Even so, this new rule would then be a regression from the regulatory regime immediately prior to it, since it now would exclude or else force hormone treatment on Semenya and some unnamed couple or few other female athletes, who previously have been allowed to compete.
posted by eviemath at 8:23 PM on June 11, 2012


Aren't Olympic-level athletes already pretty far out on the normal-human-performance scale? I mean, these people are some of the best in the world at stuff that measures winning with fractions of difference nobody can judge w/out a camera and a computer. Hard work is a huge part of it, but you gotta hit the genetic lottery pretty hard to even make it to the training ground at these games.

Isn't this saying We're going to draw the line at how far out on the freak-of-nature scale you can be at still compete, and we're drawing it at where we thing women should be?

My Bullshit-sense is tingling.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:24 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


The athletes i mentioned above are are referred to as being "banned from professional competition". In practice, none of them would have been elite level male competitors so I don't know if they didn't try to compete as men or weren't allowed to.
How do you know semenya would have been allowed to compete under the previous rules?
posted by jacalata at 8:34 PM on June 11, 2012


Well, because she was allowed to compete in the most recent Olympics; her medal was upheld after various rounds of testing.
posted by eviemath at 8:39 PM on June 11, 2012


These divisions lead to powerful social and material consequences for marginalized groups.

DrMew: Your comment was thoughtful and interesting but how would you address the issue that if sports weren't divided (however imperfectly) between male and female, no female would ever compete at a high level in virtually any sport?
posted by Justinian at 8:41 PM on June 11, 2012


"This might be a slight semantic collision"

Collision? This thread is a semantic fucking train wreck. It seems to me that the IAAF's attempt to "level the playing field" a bit with this rule defeats the entire purpose of top level competition. The point is to determine who is the best, not "who is the best with a testosterone level lower than X". A simple physical exam should be more than sufficient. I seriously doubt that there has ever been a male athlete who had his penis and testes surgically removed in an attempt to win a gold medal in a women's event. As long as these high testosterone levels are naturally occurring there shouldn't be an issue.
posted by MikeMc at 8:42 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a lot of strong feelings about this issue. I compete in strongman (strongwoman?) and Olympic lifting. All women's athletics have this weird emphasis on making sure its public female athletes are "womanly" enough, and no moreso than in any lifting sports, where lightweight (i.e. "hot") women are generally pushed to the forefront and women from heavier classes are swept under the rug.

It is hard to not see this as "Hot or Not" contest. What is the frequency of actual intersex women appearing in sports ("there are others" is not a measure of frequency)? How will they differentiate between women whose elevated hormone levels confer an actual advantage (as in the case of intersex women) and those who do not? What about women who just happen to be on that tail end of hormone production? And how are they going to identify these women? Find the ones who look the manliest and demand testing?

If I go up against a woman who is a transwoman or intersex, does she have an advantage? You bet your sweet bippy she does. But I am not interested in any measure that addresses these extreme outliers by trying to create some arbitrary physical standard of femininity that will subsequently be used to police women's bodies and their hormone production.

And people saying these women have a "choice" to just not go to the Olympics? When you spend your whole damn life working on a goal, sacrificed everything else for it, gone through blood, sweat, injuries, pain for it, focused your whole existence around it--and then are told that you are not allowed to achieve it without taking medications that cause irrevocable alterations to who you are--that is not a fucking choice. And the IAAF knows that.
posted by schroedinger at 9:00 PM on June 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


So, part of the problem with the new rule about testosterone levels in female athletes is that, as PBMZ said, "Isn't this saying We're going to draw the line at how far out on the freak-of-nature scale you can be at still compete, and we're drawing it at where we thing women should be?" In contrast, lots of people believe that Lance Armstrong must have been doping, not that he was just a super-amazing athlete whose body happened to be pretty much optimized for cycling performance (as he claims in his autobiography), but no one has suggested that international cycling competitions need any new rules to exclude competitors who naturally have his level of ability. That is, no one is suggesting that there is a line for "how far out on the freak-of-nature scale" men can be at and still compete.

On a purely speculative tangent, this and DrMew's comment
3. People with intersex conditions diagnosed in infancy are raised to avoid all sorts of life activities, one of which is sport. Those of us born genitally variant are taught to avoid locker rooms where our "shameful" variance might be noted (even if surgically "corrected," our genitals still often look atypical). Those who are hormonally variant know what happens to people like Caster Semenya. Those who know they have atypical chromosomes are aware that international sporting competitions will test them.
got me thinking: I wonder if maybe part of why we're seeing such pressure to exclude naturally extra-high-performing women from events like the Olympics but no similar pressure to exclude naturally extra-high-performing men is that the extra-high-performing men are already and have always been competing, so their performances don't seem quite so unusual to people (and it helps that their performance reinforces stereotypes about men's physical abilities and masculinity). But maybe many of the naturally extra-high-performing women (taking, for example, the current IAAF definition of female versus male) have historically self-selected away from sport out of concern for the social ramifications of seeming too un-feminine? Going farther back than the last couple decades, of course, there were many much more direct obstacles to women's participation in sport, particularly at elite levels. These women's abilities have always been a part of the entire human spectrum, but many people would never have known about this upper tail of female athletic ability previously. (The fact that it clashes with stereotypes about women's physical abilities and femininity would be particularly unhelpful here as well.)
posted by eviemath at 9:07 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


erg, -Zombie-Monkey, not -Monkey-Zombie, my apologies. Time for sleep.
posted by eviemath at 9:08 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


These women's abilities have always been a part of the entire human spectrum, but many people would never have known about this upper tail of female athletic ability previously.

I think this is an incredibly important point. Men have decades on women in most sports. Hell, women were not allowed to compete at Olympic weightlifting at the Olympics until 2000! You can bet since then the numbers women put up in international meets have skyrocketed. And so has the backlash against them--pretty much any article discussing lifting/sports for women is going to include disclaimers about how ladies needn't worry they won't be sexy or will get too manly.
posted by schroedinger at 9:11 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


The hormonal rule being proposed EXACTLY mirrors the surgical steps taken to regulate phalloclitoral size. When someone is born with "clitoromegaly," or large clitoris, a surgical "reduction" is performed (even though there is nothing dangerous about having a large clitoris, and the surgery is equivalent to the procedure called Female Genital Multilation when performed for religious reasons, reducing or possibly eliminating sexual sensation).
But when a baby is born with an unusually large penis, no surgery is performed--the father just gets grins and a pat on the back. If we're going to create acceptable normative testosterone ranges that we enforce for female-assigned athletes, we should do the same for men. (You can imagine the outcry that would result if male athletes were forced to take testosterone suppressants. . .)

Justinian: the idea that men (or testosterone-dominant people, in this case) outperform women (or those with estrogen-dominant hormone profiles) is not some fact of nature, but a fact of our gender culture, which privileges sports defined by strength. Larger people (and those on the male side of the spectrum do tend to be larger on average) and people with high T and low E (more common on the male side of the spectrum) are going to have a strength advantage. But estrogen and progesterone provide their own advantages--for example, in flexibility. Unfortunately, the sports that are considered high status in our society today, and are Olympic sports, are mostly strength-emphasizing, and those defined by flexibility are few (such as gymnastics, particularly what is termed "women's gymnastics"). Real sexual equality in sport will only occur when we change the array of sports in which Olympians compete, so that there are an equal number of sports in which small size and flexibility are key. I agree this will take a big shift in gender culture and a lot of time, but that's what I'd aim for.

In the meantime, we can divide people up by relevant physical characteristics such as weight, leg length, lung capacity, etc. Given the sports array offered, many of these may have more men in the top size classes, but do champion featherweight boxers feel inferior because they didn't compete in or win the heavyweight bout?
posted by DrMew at 9:17 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


The division of sports into binary sex categories seems obvious and intuitive to people today. But the division of sports by race once seemed equally obvious, and the exclusion of women from voting once seemed only natural. These divisions lead to powerful social and material consequences for marginalized groups.

When it comes to sports, women are a marginalized group. Look at funding for, and participation levels in, girls' and boys' sports, especially as kids grow older. Look at spectator sports.

Women's sports are pretty much invisible except for the Olympics, and girls grow up with nothing but the Olympics to show them that women's sports competitions can be thrilling and inspiring. I think the situation for girls and women in sports is fragile to begin with. I see "gender-policing" as protecting this fragile category for a marginalized group, in the sense that if women are to compete in world-class athletic competitions, there must be some standards in place that will keep out men.

I'm not talking about Caster Semenya here; I'm addressing the point that binary sex categories in sport should be done away with because they're further marginalizing to intersex people.
posted by palliser at 9:24 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, it seems like part of the problem is that Semenya was allowed to participate, and people didn't like that, and now they are changing the rules in a way that affects her and only a few other people.

However, there are people in the thread who seem to be arguing that anyone who simply calls themselves a woman should be able to complete as a woman. I don't even see why you would bother to have a woman's competition at all in that case.

Remember that women have been caught taking all kinds of various drugs to try to improve their performance. In everyday life most women would take pills that would make them more masculine, give them acne and potentially cause serious health problems. But with the Olympics is actually a serious problem that needs to be policed constantly.

It seems obvious that some men would be willing to transition in order to win medals (and in fact, you would have entire government complicit, just as you have governments that are complicit in doping)
The point is to determine who is the best, not "who is the best with a testosterone level lower than X".
First of all, they do all kinds of testing in the male category as well. As I mentioned people with naturally high Hematocrit levels couldn't compete either. There may be some maximal testosterone level that would disqualify you from competition entirely. It would be interesting to see if there is anyone who would 'naturally' disqualify themselves (either with testosterone or Hematocrit levels)

Second of all, the point is to determine who is the best woman, which means they need some kind of operational definition of "woman".
But if women can never be The Best in any ultimate sense at sports, Jesus, why bother? I'm not a sports person, though I'm related to several, so this question is moot to me, but it is a hell of thing to be told over and over how weak and second-class your gender is and how you need a weak little special league if you want to pretend-compete. It has a lot to do with why fewer women follow sports, in my opinion; it feels too much like Ladies Auxiliary instead of the real thing.
Well, there are lots of women who actually are "sports people", and actually enjoy competing and watching women's sports. In some categories women (who compete against women) seem to be more famous then men Gymnastics would be one example but I feel like I hear more about female tennis players then male tennis players.
posted by delmoi at 9:28 PM on June 11, 2012


I think the situation for girls and women in sports is fragile to begin with. I see "gender-policing" as protecting this fragile category for a marginalized group, in the sense that if women are to compete in world-class athletic competitions, there must be some standards in place that will keep out men.

The number one cause of marginalization of women in sports is the perception that athletic women are not feminine and athleticism and femaleness are incompatible. By putting further emphasis on whether women are feminine enough to compete as women this policy only further marginalizes the population.
posted by schroedinger at 9:29 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


I agree this will take a big shift in gender culture and a lot of time, but that's what I'd aim for.

DrMew: Thanks, what you suggest is the first possibly workable solution I've seen. But as you say, we're talking about the work of decades or centuries. This is not something that is going to happen in our lifetimes.

I do think you greatly underestimate how dominant male athletes would be even if in the meantime we went to purely things like dividing by height, weight, or other objective criteria. Top male athletes aren't stronger just because they are bigger; a top male athlete will be stronger and faster than a top female athlete of the same weight or height, for example.
posted by Justinian at 9:43 PM on June 11, 2012


I do think you greatly underestimate how dominant male athletes would be even if in the meantime we went to purely things like dividing by height, weight, or other objective criteria. Top male athletes aren't stronger just because they are bigger; a top male athlete will be stronger and faster than a top female athlete of the same weight or height, for example.

The evidence strongly states that a mediocre male athlete will be stronger and faster than a top female athlete of the same weight or height.
posted by kafziel at 9:57 PM on June 11, 2012


Real sexual equality in sport will only occur when we change the array of sports in which Olympians compete, so that there are an equal number of sports in which small size and flexibility are key.

Wouldn't this create a system where there are men's sports and women's sports? I.e., women would do well in gymnastics and men would do well in weightlifting, and women who wanted to compete in weightlifting would be excluded because of the level of competition.
posted by chrchr at 10:14 PM on June 11, 2012


Thanks, DrMew, I think your comment should be required reading for anyone participating in this thread. I've been pretty frustrated to read the comments that complete ignore the existence of intersex people.

I do have a couple questions, though: you mention that most intersex people have a particular binary gender they identify as.

1) In a world without a pre-existing binary gender system, do you think most intersex people would identify as intersex, or as closer to one end or the other of the gender spectrum?

2) Given the complicated biology (between X, XYY, XXY/ etc options, chimerism, various hormonal insensitivity syndromes or metabolic unusualities, crossovers that could make an "X" chromosome carry part of the "Y"'s traditional genome, etc etc etc)-- is there any measurable factor which *does* correlate with an intersex individual's chosen gender? I'm assuming there isn't, but are there studies asking the question?
posted by nat at 10:18 PM on June 11, 2012


The evidence strongly states that a mediocre male athlete will be stronger and faster than a top female athlete of the same weight or height.

Last year, reigning women's world champion surfer Carissa Moore was given a wildcard entry into the *men's* division of the first two events of the triple crown of surfing. Both of these events are qualifying series events, which is the equivalent of the "minor leagues" in some other sports. She was eliminated from both events in the first round, having not advanced through a single heat.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:25 PM on June 11, 2012


Oh, this explanation of hte IAAF rule changes in question is really interesting.

It answers a few questions above (e.g. does any other sport do this? no, at the time of writing), what exceptions there might be (women who have e.g. some androgen insensitivity), and so on.

It also contains this quote:

"Henceforth, under IAAF Rules, if an athlete is recognised
as a female in law, she is eligible to compete in women’s competition in Athletics provided
that she complies with IAAF Rules and Regulations."

Of course one of those Regulations is that women who wish to compete in the women's category must have sufficiently low testosterone, or be able to prove they derive no competitive benefit from their high levels.
posted by nat at 10:26 PM on June 11, 2012


I'm thanking the gods for emjaybee's comment and DrMew's comment because having read through this thread twice today, like others it badly upset me. This is a good example of a conversation that sometime in the future — I don't know how long, but the time will come — that will be appalling to any who read it for its unexamined sexism and ignorant ideas about human sexual differentiation.

But, for those not paying attention, here are two truths:

1) Men are "generally" better than women at "sports" because "sports" are heavily skewed toward physical activities at which men are generally better. It doesn't have to be this way.

2) The sexual dimorphism around which these distinctions are made is highly idealized and not that representative of actual people. As I've written here many times, sexual differentiation in mammals is a complex developmental process that occurs on most anatomical levels and there's interactions and nuances such that there can be, and often is, more complete differentiation at one level and less complete differentiation at another. There is no "true" definition of either of the binary sexes. There is just this huge cluster of differentiations across all levels that, in the end, for a population, produces a pair of overlapping bell curves with a not-insignificant number of extreme cases and a not-insignificant number of cases in the moderate dip between the two peaks. That's reality. Deal with it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:27 PM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


1) Men are "generally" better than women at "sports" because "sports" are heavily skewed toward physical activities at which men are generally better. It doesn't have to be this way.

I think it is absurd to think that people in the future will not be interested in witnessing and performing feats and strength and speed, and I don't think that that's the least bit sexist.
posted by chrchr at 10:37 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I meant feats of strength and speed. Sorry.

Also, thank you all for contributing to this thread.
posted by chrchr at 10:44 PM on June 11, 2012


Perhaps the athletes could simply wear little skirts, as was proposed for women in 2012 Olympic boxing, and then everyone could relax because gender norms are reinstated.

Put less sarcastically, I don't really get why it is unfair to increase a hormone in one athlete but fair to reduce it with "treatment" in another. Both seem like doping to me, but to the advantage of different parties. It's the meddling I think is unfair.

Hormones aren't really static, but are affected by stress, intense training, age. So what if training and stress causes a female athlete to shift from so called "normal female" to exceeding the so-called "male norm" hormone level? Her hard work gets her a "back to go" drug regimen? Crazy!

In my estimation, the rights of intersex people to be included (and celebrated for their awesome achievements) trumps the alleged "rights" of the Olympics to interfere with their bodies or police their gender. If that means some awesome athletes that are intersex (or is on the outer boundary of somebody's idea of what a woman is) can self-identify as women and win some medals through their amazing performance, I am good with that.
posted by chapps at 10:44 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Deleting a long post in favor of a much more succinct one:

When the day comes for any given event that the women are returning the same numbers as the men, I would be excited to eliminate the gender categories. At present however, there tends to be a vast gulf between the male numbers and the female numbers. Given that the gulf exists, I think gender-based categories are worthwhile.

Given that division, I would then think that by and large, intersex individuals should compete with whichever gender most closely matches their identity.

I would think this of transgender persons as well.

I disagree with the hormone threshold for a whole variety of reasons, scattered throughout the thread.

Should there be a sudden flood of individuals making dubious claims to womanhood in order to compete in the women's events, perhaps standards could be revisited. Until such time as that flood occurs, however, I feel no need to actually implement some sort of system of rules designed to address a problem that has not happened.
posted by kavasa at 10:56 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


because she was allowed to compete in the most recent Olympics; her medal was upheld after various rounds of testing.

huh, I had forgotten that. I had actually been assuming that she would not have been allowed to compete previously, and that she has been taking this since she returned to competition - and specifically, that this rule was based on her personally. Would it change your opinion, if this rule would be found to allow people to compete who previously couldn't have?
posted by jacalata at 11:01 PM on June 11, 2012


Ivan Fyodorovich writes "Men are 'generally' better than women at 'sports' because 'sports' are heavily skewed toward physical activities at which men are generally better. It doesn't have to be this way."

I've been thinking about this a lot, even before this thread came up, prompted by the thread on the female chess grandmaster. If you were grand poobah of the IOC what would the included sports look like that wouldn't skewed towards activities that men are better at? Female gymnastics was mentioned above so that's one to get started with. I'm open to pretty well any kind of game or even activity that is consider athletic including stuff like chess.

Another obvious one to me would seem to be horse racing as a female jockey should have an advantage over males (and equestrian events are the only Olympic event that isn't split by sex). Though apparently there is some concern even there about relative strength.

Bridge of course having already been an Olympic Sport.

Can't imagine Pigeon racing is skewed to (human) participants with strength or speed.

Angling might be another sport that doesn't skew towards skills men are good at though there might be a stamina component.

But when most people think sport they think of a feat of strength, speed or agility and usually combinations.
posted by Mitheral at 11:36 PM on June 11, 2012


Women compete with men at the highest levels in poker.

You know, we've had some of these discussions before.

Transgender Man Plays on Women's College Team

Men competing in women's running events

Caster Semenya previoiusly.

A woman wins a match in the Iowa State Wrestling Tournament by default
posted by chrchr at 11:56 PM on June 11, 2012


There has to be some good solution to this. A good solution isn't total lack of concern for the opportunity of the vast majority of women to play sports at high levels. I think that attitude is just another example of the prevailing feeling that "women's" concerns should always come last and women should be prepared for total self sacrifice for the benefit of anyone else.
posted by cairdeas at 1:33 AM on June 12, 2012


How is a biologically higher than normal serum testosterone level an 'unfair' advantage? It's an advantage, sure, but so is being born fit, not developing childhood diseases or asthma, being tall, having an athletic build, having a strong heart and good blood sugar regulation, etc, etc, etc. It's an advantage, same as all the other advantages. Nothing any more 'unfair' about it than anything else. It's policing gender - policing women's bodies, specifically. And it's fucking disgusting that something like this should be happening, much less in this day and age.
posted by Dysk at 2:39 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Returning to this at 5am, I have a fresh perspective - and it's sheer amazement that adults in the allegedly free world are discussing forced doping of a woman athlete because she is a good runner. I also wonder whether this would have gotten kicked off at all if the big publicity case were a blond white woman from North America or Western Europe instead of a black woman from Africa.

And then I was thinking of the phenomenon of "trashing". Basically, it's a named phenomenon in radical movements (everyone else does it too, but there's traction to talk about it on the left) where there's the urge to discredit someone by basically obliterating their status as a subject. The idea is that if you're popular and successful on any level, if you have any sort of power, and you are in any way from a marginalized group, different or not kissing up to anyone all the time, people will get jealous - and then they won't just disagree with you or try to beat you, they will attack your legitimacy as a human being, your whole right to speak or act. Suddenly you're not just an incorrect feminist, you're "not a real feminist"; you don't belong in the movement.

It's also hilarious to me that mefites seriously think that some kind of imaginary purity/fairness criterion for the fucking Olympics, legendary for its corruption and destruction of urban communities - and some shiny medals and a bunch of money - is important enough to justify this kind of coerced medical intervention and this kind of rhetoric about gender. Somewhere in a Father Brown story, GK Chesteron writes something about "No, I don't actually treasure the Gothic. I would grind all the Gothic arches in the world to powder to save a single human soul". (Which would be a lot of work, but still.) An Olympics where athletes have to be abusively tested and then shot full of hormones if they aren't genetic paragons of womanhood is fucked up and should be stopped.

I've been thinking about trans folks and various gender non-conforming folks (all the more relevant now that "gender-nonconforming" is starting to be extended down to the genetic level.) It's super-duper easy to discuss this stuff in the abstract on the internet, but we're talking about actual people's actual lives. "Oh, it would mean excluding or medicating a few edge cases, that's very sad for them but the Olympics is so worth it." No, it's not.

I wonder how things are going to be in a couple of generations when what is now cutting-edge medical intervention is bog-standard for anyone who can afford it - believe me, your daughters and granddaughters will probably have to under go "corrective" hormone balancing if they aren't hormonally/genetically conforming enough, if only because all the tests and the drugs will be super-profitable and it can be marketed based on gender scares.

And then I find myself thinking of the way conservative ideologies have responded to GLBTQ activism by accepting a few kinds of GLBTQ people if their sexual and gender practices support conservatism - you can be gay, I guess, if you want a marriage that mirrors a conservative straight one and you want to be in the military; you can be trans if your gender narrative mirrors the most reductionist ideas about cis men and women with a dollop of "the tragedy of poor, tragic trans people" on top. It seems like we're nominally saying "sure, let's talk about gender and sexuality and bodies in this accepting, egalitarian manner" but what's really happening is "let's come up with some rigid categories (even at the hormonal and genetic level) and say that anyone who exists outside those categories is a problem at best or a sort of homo sacer at worst".

Ugh. I don't know why I even let myself start talking about the idea that the Olympics should exist if they have to arbitrate by abuse - which it seems like they have for their whole history.
posted by Frowner at 3:21 AM on June 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


It is very ironic that a sporting world that nominally makes doping illegal due to harms to athletes would also forcibly dope on an extremely deep level.
posted by jaduncan at 4:20 AM on June 12, 2012


There is just this huge cluster of differentiations across all levels that, in the end, for a population, produces a pair of overlapping bell curves with a not-insignificant number of extreme cases and a not-insignificant number of cases in the moderate dip between the two peaks. That's reality. Deal with it.

I've been thinking about this image as well. Why is it OK to pose such harsh restrictions on the women in the middle of these bell curves, but not the men on the extreme end? Some have pointed out that men are also tested to check for abnormalities, but as far as I can tell, that is solely to weed out cheaters.

The instituted limit for men is beyond the realm of nature; the limit for women is within.
posted by teekat at 5:30 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


and it's sheer amazement that adults in the allegedly free world are discussing forced doping of a woman athlete because she is a good runner.

No-one is forcing her to do anything.

They could have simply banned her but she has the option of taking certain steps to fall within the new rules which she has done.

And if it is coercion then so is everything every one of us does every day at our jobs that we don't particularly enjoy in order to earn money to keep our bills paid.

It's super-duper easy to discuss this stuff in the abstract on the internet, but we're talking about actual people's actual lives. "Oh, it would mean excluding or medicating a few edge cases, that's very sad for them but the Olympics is so worth it." No, it's not.

Caster Semenya would seem to disagree with you.

An Olympics where athletes have to be abusively tested and then shot full of hormones if they aren't genetic paragons of womanhood is fucked up and should be stopped.

I don't think paragon of womanhood is exactly the new standard.

believe me, your daughters and granddaughters will probably have to under go "corrective" hormone balancing if they aren't hormonally/genetically conforming enough

Talk about gender scares.

Why is it OK to pose such harsh restrictions on the women in the middle of these bell curves, but not the men on the extreme end? Some have pointed out that men are also tested to check for abnormalities, but as far as I can tell, that is solely to weed out cheaters.

The instituted limit for men is beyond the realm of nature; the limit for women is within.


The problem the testing addresses is the same for both genders. It is to prevent a huge disparity in testosterone. It just so happens that the only way to open up such a disparity in males is by cheating (or by some athletes having a deficiency).
posted by Reggie Knoble at 6:07 AM on June 12, 2012


1) Men are "generally" better than women at "sports" because "sports" are heavily skewed toward physical activities at which men are generally better. It doesn't have to be this way.

Complaining about sport involving physical activity (and thus favoring androgens) is like complaining deli meat cannot be called bread. It's just the nature of sport. Chess, more intellectual-type games are serious competitions but I think it's a stretch to call it "sport". As a female athlete, trying to force the definition "sport" away from physical activity and onto things that are more equal between genders feels pretty damn condescending. I am able to enjoy the strong performances of male competitors while still being awed at the performances of my fellow female competitors without feeling discriminated against.
posted by schroedinger at 6:13 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


And if it is coercion then so is everything every one of us does every day at our jobs that we don't particularly enjoy in order to earn money to keep our bills paid.

Somehow I think there is a difference between "Gosh, I hate getting to work at 8:00am" and "take these pills to fit our definition of acceptable gender norms." If your job forced you to do the latter the lawsuits would be coming fast and furious, and deservedly so.
posted by schroedinger at 6:16 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's super-duper easy to discuss this stuff in the abstract on the internet, but we're talking about actual people's actual lives. "Oh, it would mean excluding or medicating a few edge cases, that's very sad for them but the Olympics is so worth it." No, it's not.

Caster Semenya would seem to disagree with you.


Why does this keep coming up? Did nobody actually read the article?

Semenya's testosterone was within the limits. She's not the one complaining.

The instituted limit for men is beyond the realm of nature; the limit for women is within.

The problem the testing addresses is the same for both genders. It is to prevent a huge disparity in testosterone. It just so happens that the only way to open up such a disparity in males is by cheating (or by some athletes having a deficiency).


What a strange paragraph. "The problem the testing addresses is exactly the same, except it's completely different." It is good and fair to exclude contenders who are cheating. It is stupid and discriminatory to exclude contenders who naturally have higher levels of testosterone than people might expect.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:22 AM on June 12, 2012


Somehow I think there is a difference between "Gosh, I hate getting to work at 8:00am" and "take these pills to fit our definition of acceptable gender norms." If your job forced you to do the latter the lawsuits would be coming fast and furious, and deservedly so.

Nobody is forcing her to take pills.

I doubt if the IAAF care in the least if Semenya ever runs another race in her life. They have a set criteria and have allowed a certain treatment for those wishing to meet the criteria.

The people angry about this would be no less angry if she had been banned outright, but this way she gets a chance to compete if she chooses to undergo a treatment.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 6:24 AM on June 12, 2012


I'm sorry, let me spell it out for you: If your job said "You can take these pills or quit" that would be illegal. You would not be forced, but it would still be coercion.
posted by schroedinger at 6:30 AM on June 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


They have a set criteria and have allowed a certain treatment for those wishing to meet the criteria.

The problem is that not all criteria are intelligent or fair. The mere fact that the IAAF has "criteria" does not insulate it from criticism.

Imagine if academia forbade women entry if their gray matter exceeded a certain volume limit, despite the fact that women can naturally have plenty of gray matter. Imagine if women could only enter academia if they underwent treatment in order to reduce the volume of their gray matter. Do you suppose that would go over well?

The people angry about this would be no less angry if she had been banned outright, but this way she gets a chance to compete if [Semenya] chooses to undergo a treatment.

Semenya does not have to undergo any treatment. She never did. This was in the article.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:32 AM on June 12, 2012


Why does this keep coming up? Did nobody actually read the article?

Semenya's testosterone was within the limits. She's not the one complaining.




From the article:

The gender investigation began after officials received an anonymous complaint. “I have been subjected to unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being,” Semenya said in comments released by her legal advisers at the time.

The results were never made public


“I know she gets treatment. What the treatment entails, I can’t give the details,” says Danie Cornelius, a track and field manager at the university.

“We all accept . . . and she accepts . . . within sports you have to perform within certain guidelines, or else it will be chaos,” says Cornelius.

“She feels it’s something she has to do.”

When asked about her treatment, Semenya demurred. “I can’t really say anything,” she said, looking at the ground.


The results were never made public but her appearance has changed, her times worsened and she and her trainer are open about the fact that she is receiving treatment.

Yes I read the article.

And I know she isn't the one complaining. It was my point that the lady involved (the one that we know about) has a different opinion on the value of the olympics to some people here.

I'm sorry, let me spell it out for you: If your job said "You can take these pills or quit" that would be illegal. You would not be forced, but it would still be coercion.

Well thank you for being so kind.

It would also be illegal if my work told me I had to dramatically improve my 800m time or quit. Different workplaces have very different rules. Professional athletes have some of the strangest.

She still has a choice. That it isn't a happy win/win kind of choice makes it no less of one.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 6:39 AM on June 12, 2012


People who don't mind this rule...do you support testing and excluding (if they won't take testosterone reduction treatments) men who test too high for acceptable male levels? If not, why? Cause that makes no sense to me. As others have said, women are the only ones being judged on the basis of "normal levels."
posted by agregoli at 6:51 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The results were never made public but her appearance has changed, her times worsened and she and her trainer are open about the fact that she is receiving treatment.

Fair enough, I had conflated the fact that others were complaining with whether or not Semenya had been getting treatment. My mistake.

It would also be illegal if my work told me I had to dramatically improve my 800m time or quit. Different workplaces have very different rules. Professional athletes have some of the strangest.

People aren't complaining because the rule is "strange". People are complaining because the rule is silly, sexist, unfair, and unmoored from reality.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:53 AM on June 12, 2012


The problem the testing addresses is the same for both genders. It is to prevent a huge disparity in testosterone. It just so happens that the only way to open up such a disparity in males is by cheating (or by some athletes having a deficiency).

What that means is that natural male variance is acceptable while natural female variance is not. Why should that be the case?

Take XXY, a condition in males that generally causes advanced growth. That is a huge advantage in some sports, probably comparable to what is being regulated here. Are you suggesting that youth sports mandate testing for and preemptive treatment of that condition? (Perhaps 'mandate' is too harsh; they can allow males to choose to do so)
posted by teekat at 7:14 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


People who don't mind this rule...do you support testing and excluding (if they won't take testosterone reduction treatments) men who test too high for acceptable male levels? If not, why?

No. Men are effectively competing in Open Class. Women are competing in a more restrictive class (you have to be female). A more restrictive class is going to have more rules. Whether the rule makes sense or not is a orthoganl to whether males should have the same restriction when the restriction is there to enforce the special class.
posted by Mitheral at 7:17 AM on June 12, 2012


Huh? I'm not getting something, cause that read to me as, "men are normal, women have to be checked because they are different from the norm."
posted by agregoli at 7:29 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Like, you didn't explain how that was fair at all.
posted by agregoli at 7:30 AM on June 12, 2012


Take XXY, a condition in males that generally causes advanced growth. That is a huge advantage in some sports, probably comparable to what is being regulated here. Are you suggesting that youth sports mandate testing for and preemptive treatment of that condition? (Perhaps 'mandate' is too harsh; they can allow males to choose to do so)
posted by teekat at 3:14 PM on June 12 [1 favorite +] [!]

It was my understanding that XXY may provide extra height but it also causes less muscle development, less muscle co-ordination and a greater likelihood of osteoperosis so it seems unlikely to provide much of an advantage in sports and certainly not on the level of increased testosterone in women.

I would support treating it if only because of the associated health risks.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 7:52 AM on June 12, 2012


It is pretty depressing as an intersex person to read so many comments that agree that if you're born toward the middle of the sex spectrum, you're born cheating, and must submit to medical intervention. It's also very strange to me that with regard to sport, so many people find regulating the sex characteristics of people assigned female while NOT regulating those of people assigned male acceptable. Sex is a spectrum in exactly the same way height is, and the two relate. We speak in absolutes ("men are taller than women"), but what exists in fact is a modest average difference between people at either end of the sex spectrum (around 5 inches), and a much larger degree of variance within assigned sexes (there are 7 foot tall women who are over three times the height of 2 foot tall men). Given the sports currently celebrated in the Olympics, being tall is often an advantage. The new IAAF rule is the equivalent of saying "real women cannot be taller than 6 feet, so anyone who wants to compete as a woman must be under this height or be medically altered to fit," and then only disqualifying tall people from competing as men if they took growth hormones to increase their height.

The idea that the sex spectrum "must" be divided into a binary is such a deeply held ideology in contemporary Western culture that many people are unaware that it is an ideology at all, or that there could be other ways to approach sex than to divide sports and bathrooms and drivers licenses into two sexes and police the boundary between them. But other societies around the world and across history have divided the sex spectrum into more social groups. Most Native American and Polynesian societies traditionally had three categories (male, female, intermediate), much to the dismay of European colonizers. My own Jewish tradition assigned a birth sex via a quadratic system for millennia (male, female, both, neither), until the 20th century and its medicalization of intersex. There are societies with more sex categories. All of these sexual rubrics are arbitrary ways of slicing up the sex spectrum, but the fewer categories you have, the more arbitrary the system is and the more people are awkwardly squashed into the available boxes.

So one solution other than mutilating genitalia and forcing people to take hormone-suppressant drugs would be to increase the number of recognized sex categories for Olympic competition. On the one hand, I love this idea as an intersex person, because so much societal and medical effort is put into trying to erase our existence now, with such painful results for us. If suddenly there were medals to be awarded only to people of intermediate sex, parents and doctors would gasp with excitement and not horror when we are born. On the other hand, telling intersex people that we can't compete with the women or the men would be offensive and hurtful to many, because, like the people all around us, we've been raised in a binary sex system and identify through it. Telling an intersex person who identifies as female that she's not a real woman is just like telling a trans woman that she's not a real woman, which in turn is just like telling a non-intersex cis woman that she's not a real woman because she is too competitive/too smart/insufficiently fertile/hates dresses. If someone identifies as a woman, it is cruel to deny her gender identity, and generally reflects gender policing.

Nat asked if there's any sex characteristic in intersex people that has been empiricially shown to determine the individual's gender identity. The answer is no, as Nat suspected. (Sex is a biological spectrum, but sex categories are social and change over time, so there's no "gene" or other biological determinant for identifying with them.) So trying to approach sport through sex categories is always going to be arbitrary and contentious.

Which is why I again advocate approaching sport through ability groups rather than sex categories (or racial categories or other social group boundaries).
posted by DrMew at 7:53 AM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


The part of me that studied bioethics is horrified by this story, but I also feel sympathy for the other athletes who suddenly have no reason to compete, because they cannot, under any circumstances barring another player's injuries, compete to win, all they can compete for is 2nd place.

When Nadia Comăneci stormed the 1976 olympics; there was much outcry about how old she was, and how it was a serious disadvantage to the rest of the gymnasts who were college athletes, and much bigger and longer than someone who hadn't finished growing. Subsequently, we have seen gymnasts get younger and younger, until we see kids like the Chinese team in the last olympics.

Semenya is an amazing runner, but her advantage is so strong that it's not a contest any more, it's an exhibition. It's not fair to keep her from running, or insist that she modify her body, but it's also not fair to the rest of the women who have trained all their lives and could never match Semenya because of chemistry, not because of training or ability.

Since the athletes are already being tested for hormone levels; wouldn't it make sense to then have competitions by hormone level range rather than by declared gender? So, for example; a score of 1-20 in one class and 21-40...etc. (I'm making numbers up obviously.) Then, nobody has to take estrogen to balance out their testosterone, and doping would be discouraged, because the competition at higher levels is going to be considerably more intense, so why dope to put yourself in a class someone else can do naturally?

Wouldn't that solve the problem?
posted by dejah420 at 7:58 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't that solve the problem?
posted by dejah420 at 3:58 PM on June 12 [+] [!]


I would only guess at numbers.

Looking at Semenya, how many people would be in her range?

There is also the potential for maybe cheapening olympic medals (this isn't strictly an argument against it personally as it wouldn't matter to me but the IOC take commercial concerns very seriously). For istance you would have the top range with the fastest times, longest distances etc and everything else would perhaps feel like a special seperate contest for the disadvantaged.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 8:09 AM on June 12, 2012


It was my understanding that XXY may provide extra height but it also causes less muscle development, less muscle co-ordination and a greater likelihood of osteoperosis so it seems unlikely to provide much of an advantage in sports and certainly not on the level of increased testosterone in women.

I would support treating it if only because of the associated health risks.


My mistake. The condition I was thinking of is XYY.

it's also not fair to the rest of the women who have trained all their lives and could never match Semenya because of chemistry, not because of training or ability.

Couldn't the same be said of Usain Bolt?
posted by teekat at 8:10 AM on June 12, 2012


teekat, I was under the impression that XXY led to men with reduced testosterone and therefore while they may get some additional height they have reduced muscle mass, less miscular co-ordination and even be prone to osteoperosis so it would hardly seem to be much of an advantage in sports.

I'm no expert though so I could be wrong.

I would be in favour of treating it if only for the above health concerns.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 8:18 AM on June 12, 2012


Huh? I'm not getting something, cause that read to me as, "men are normal, women have to be checked because they are different from the norm."

It's got nothing to do normal. It's about restricting participation in a class that is less competitive in order to give those less competive atheletes a chance at a medal.

Non Olympic example for comparison: WRC top dogs are the turbo charged 4WD cars. There are less expensive generally less competive cars that feature less powerful engines and 2WD. The less powerful cars compete in class that the top dog cars aren't allowed in in order to allow them to actually win. The 2WD cars aren't in some way less normal; they just aren't as competitive as the 4WD cars.

The IOC has decided to give less competive atheletes a chance at medaling by giving them their own class. But once you create those classes you have to have rules to determine whether competitors are eligable for those classes and you have to inspect to make sure whatever restrictions have been put in place are being met (or people will cheat). The restriction the IAAF has put in place may be idiotic (seems to be to me) and arbitrary (these kinds of restrictions always are because people want them to be inclusive) but having been put in place they need to be enforced. Complaining that they are unfair because the same restriction don't apply to the men is a complete non starter. Of course they are unfair. From the get go they were put in place to eliminate half the potential competitors. But it isn't any more unfair that men don't have this standard because they are effectively competing in the Open class.

Similiar we have age classes in many sports. We restrict competitors in say the under 18 class to actually be under 18. But we don't restrict the most competive level to be under 35, that would be nonsensical.
posted by Mitheral at 8:43 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Clearly you couldn't just open it up to "self-identification", or you would might suddenly have a lot of transgendered athletes.

...
Is the fear that middling male athletes will transition to being a woman to compete at a lower level? IMO, more power to them. Transitioning is not exactly a socially harmless process.

Self-identification alone would be no standard at all. There's no transition required. Just check 'female' on the form.

'I'm not the mediocre man I look like, I'm actually a great woman.'
'Why do you still wear men's clothing? (Or some other surface gender identifier)'
'I'm very butch.'


--

I don't know that sports need to be segregated by sex(it's not really a gender divide). I could see the fear that not seperating male and female humans in sport would lead to there being very few non-trans women who are champions, but maybe there are sports that females are genetically predisposed to be more successful at--some of which are undiscovered? I don't think it's a coincidence that most of many of our sports primarily reward strength and size.
posted by TheKM at 8:44 AM on June 12, 2012


Posting fail. Stupid "smart" phone.

My mistake. The condition I was thinking of is XYY.

I would be less likely to want people treated for this (athletically at least, the high rate of learning difficulties would certainly be worth screening for and helping with) but only because I am not sure how you could go about treating this to prevent the height benefits but I assume if it was possible you would need to start in early childhood to prevent the increased growth and I don't think it is right to interfere with a childs growth on the off chance that they may become a professional athlete.

Whereas in Semenyas case she can make a choice on her own to reduce her testosterone production now, rather than having a choice made for her in early childhood.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 8:48 AM on June 12, 2012


Mitheral, but why would women have to prove they are "women enough" but men wouldn't have to prove they are "man enough," even if they are part of the less restricted class? I mean, it priviledges men, I get that - been dealing with that my whole life. It seems men are given the benefit of the doubt that they're not "super normal" beyond doping concerns.
posted by agregoli at 8:58 AM on June 12, 2012


The number one cause of marginalization of women in sports is the perception that athletic women are not feminine and athleticism and femaleness are incompatible. By putting further emphasis on whether women are feminine enough to compete as women this policy only further marginalizes the population.

Man, it can be frustrating trying to have conversations here. My NEXT SENTENCE after the one you quoted was, "I'm not talking about Caster Semenya here; I'm addressing the point that binary sex categories in sport should be done away with because they're further marginalizing to intersex people." So why are you telling me "this policy" will make things worse? I'm responding to the more extreme position espoused by DrMew that there should not be binary sex classifications in sport because it marginalizes intersex people.
posted by palliser at 8:59 AM on June 12, 2012


To those who feel bad for intersex athletes, I agree. It's too bad that they compete in sports that have 'women's' and 'men's' divisions. In a world that contains such divisions, they will struggle. As others have said, when we maks such divisions, there must be standards for those divisions. They may not be 100% fair and they should be examined over time, but they exist. And they exist for a good reason. People want them. If they did not exist, men would always win. That's not gender politics. That's fact. There are many (some) sports where gender division don't exist because there is no gender advantage. The fact that such non-gender-divided sports exist shows why they exist in the first place. We want to see women succeed. We want to see them compete in a fair competition. Intersex people (I'm sorry if I'm using the wrong terms, I don't really know the terminology around this issue) skew the fariness of the competition and people (including women) don't wish to have them compete in their division.

In a world with winners and losers, not everyone is going to get a medal. And in a world with a 'women's' division, some people (mostly men, but also some intersex people) won't be able to win a medal. It's a flawed system and hopefully improving, but it's the one we have. I personally don't see a good solution for Ms. Semenya, but I support her struggle.

And to just add some fuel to the fire, I would again suggest that she has a choice in the matter. There's a world of difference between "you must take these pills" and "If you want to compete in the Olympics, you must take these pills". I think you're doing Ms. Semenya a disservice to suggest that the only contribution she can make to society is running really fast.
posted by Phreesh at 8:59 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mitheral, but why would women have to prove they are "women enough" but men wouldn't have to prove they are "man enough," even if they are part of the less restricted class?

For the same reason heavyweight boxers don't have weigh-ins.
posted by palliser at 9:00 AM on June 12, 2012


That doesn't make sense.
posted by agregoli at 9:04 AM on June 12, 2012


(That's again to me like saying that men are men and are beyond reproach, but women need to be scrutinized for performing too well.)
posted by agregoli at 9:07 AM on June 12, 2012


Mitheral, the problem with that analysis is that those excluded from competing in the women's class with the new testosterone rule aren't allowed to compete in the men's class instead. So the men's class isn't acting like an open division, the men's versus women's classes aren't acting like ability-differentiated competition classes in this context; we're merely excluding the most competitive women (or else requiring that they artificially dope themselves to make themselves less competitive!). Given that the Olympics isn't really about your average person's participation in sport, this new rule doesn't send the message that we want to encourage women's participation by keeping a division where they can be competitive, it doesn't send the message that these certain women are too good or too competitive (otherwise they'd be allowed to compete in the men's class). Instead it just sends the message that these women who fall outside of accepted gender norms aren't really women. This, I believe, has an even more limiting effect on what, say, young girls watching the Olympics will take home as a message about their potential than the alternative of allowing the women's class to be dominated by women whom your argument implicitly assumes are intersexed or somehow not "real" (at least not average) women.

I think that the issue of having ability classes where people who don't happen to have the same genetic advantages can still work and train hard and be competitive is very important. I agree that there is a need to ensure that women can and do participate in sport. I don't think that the ability classes necessarily have to be sex segregated. But more to the point of the current discussion, I don't see this being at all the purpose, goal, or role of the Olympics in the first place. By it's very nature, the Olympics is elitist and exclusionary (not to mention hopelessly corrupt and pretty much just in it for the money nowadays). Personally, I think that this is a problem, and that more focus should be put on more local, truly amateur sport, where your average person (male, female, intersex, or whatever) actually has a chance of participating and being competitive. Scrapping the Olympics entirely seems like a good solution to me. But short of that, let's not compound the elitism and exclusionarity already inherent in the Olympics by adding in some harmful and repulsive gender policing?
posted by eviemath at 9:17 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


the problem with that analysis is that those excluded from competing in the women's class with the new testosterone rule aren't allowed to compete in the men's class instead.

Personally I agree with you that this is a serious problem and strongly feel that what we currently call the "men's" class should instead be the open class in which anyone may participate. There is no reason to exclude women by rule.

Which is actually the case in most professional sports. Women are not excluded from pro sports by rule, only by the fact that none have yet been able to play at the necessary level. A few have come pretty close at some specialized positions (ie goalie in hockey) and I'd be thrilled if someday we see someone actually make it in the pros. I don't expect that to happen but I hope I am wrong.
posted by Justinian at 9:50 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


(That's again to me like saying that men are men and are beyond reproach, but women need to be scrutinized for performing too well.)

I do understand your point here. From the standpoint of the male division, the attitude is "if you are man enough to compete against___________, then by all means throw your hat into the ring". The only flags that go up are artificial doping concerns. So in this way, sport is not looking to exclude the "super male", sport actually wants to find and celebrate the "super male". Sport is searching for the absolute strongest, fastest male that defines the absolute outer limit of male human sport ability. And we want to celebrate and shower that person with fame and fortune.

Why can't we adopt that same attitude for the female division? What does natural variability among females offer us? Caster Semenya is that rare person with extraordinary ability. She represents the "super-woman" that we would normally look for and celebrate. She should be able to complete and win as the natural person she is (a female). And as far as all the other women who lose to her? Too bad. You were unlucky enough to reach competition level at the same time she did. Eventually she will grow too old and her performance will fall and a new group of women will rise and define competition within the sport.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:53 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


but why would women have to prove they are "women enough" but men wouldn't have to prove they are "man enough," even if they are part of the less restricted class? I mean, it priviledges men, I get that - been dealing with that my whole life. It seems men are given the benefit of the doubt that they're not "super normal" beyond doping concerns.

Because we aren't making a special less competative grouping for the men.

the problem with that analysis is that those excluded from competing in the women's class with the new testosterone rule aren't allowed to compete in the men's class instead.

I agree that's a problem if it's true. In which case some intersex competitors are going to be shut out. Sad but the Olympics haven't been about everyone competing for a long, long time.

Why can't we adopt that same attitude for the female division? What does natural variability among females offer us?

Because of rampant cheating there have to be rules limiting less competive classes to members of those classes and you have to have some kind of enforcement of those classes.

I agree that an abitary testoterone limit seems like a weird catoragization. But it's the IAAF's call and presumably they are are in a much more informed place to be judging the applicability of the rule.
posted by Mitheral at 10:01 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree that an abitary testoterone limit seems like a weird catoragization. But it's the IAAF's call and presumably they are are in a much more informed place to be judging the applicability of the rule.

So...argument from the IAAF's authority? No thanks. If they're much more informed, then the onus would be on them to prove it, not on us to assume it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:04 AM on June 12, 2012


Prove what, exactly? How would you prove the validity of an arbitrary rule?
posted by Justinian at 10:12 AM on June 12, 2012


Prove what, exactly? How would you prove the validity of an arbitrary rule?

I was referring to them being more informed on the matter of testosterone levels as they apply to femininity.

That said, all sorts of arbitrary rules are evaluated all the time. I'm a bit stunned by the idea that arbitrary rules would be inherently beyond question or analysis. Rules may be analyzed and found to be excellent, reasonable, capricious, or something else entirely. You an evaluate the goals of the rule and see how accurately, precisely, and fairly the rule works to carry out those goals.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:24 AM on June 12, 2012


I wish all of you arguing from "but the IOC is so corrupt, who cares about the olympics anyway" would read the article and notice that it is the iaaf that has this rule, for all international competitions.
posted by jacalata at 10:26 AM on June 12, 2012


I wish all of you arguing from "but the IOC is so corrupt, who cares about the olympics anyway" would read the article and notice that it is the iaaf that has this rule, for all international competitions.

It's the IAAF's rule, but the IOC relies heavily on organizations like the IAAF in order to determine contenders' eligibility. That said, yes, the IOC's corruption is neither here nor there.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:32 AM on June 12, 2012


> Given that there are many cases of athletes taking dangerous levels of drugs that cause early death in order to win medals, I personally can't imagine that 'social disapproval' would prevent some of them from choosing to make a gender switch in order to win. I mean, fuck, there are people who fake being intellectually disabled in order to win the Paralympics, and you really think nobody would find it worth faking a gender switch?

Use of performance-enhancement drugs or faking a disability are hardly in the same camp as undergoing gender reassignment.

If it were, we would be in a society which recognizes fluidity in gender and sexuality to a greater degree than even Capt. Jack Harkness could imagine. (And this debate would be moot.)
posted by desuetude at 10:45 AM on June 12, 2012


(That's again to me like saying that men are men and are beyond reproach, but women need to be scrutinized for performing too well.)

It's not reproach, though - it's just that men are the top class when it comes to strength and speed. That shouldn't be understood as a moral failing on the part of women. Men are not as strong or as fast as apes or horses, either. That's just how it is.

If they were to divide men into multiple classes - as they do in boxing, and could choose to do in other sports - then there would have to be testing for each class except the last one. If there is testing for the last class, then anyone above it automatically creates the new last class - which remains open.
posted by mdn at 10:48 AM on June 12, 2012


Justinian: "Personally I agree with you that this is a serious problem and strongly feel that what we currently call the "men's" class should instead be the open class in which anyone may participate. There is no reason to exclude women by rule.

Which is actually the case in most professional sports. Women are not excluded from pro sports by rule, only by the fact that none have yet been able to play at the necessary level. A few have come pretty close at some specialized positions (ie goalie in hockey) and I'd be thrilled if someday we see someone actually make it in the pros. I don't expect that to happen but I hope I am wrong.
"

You have NO IDEA how happy this would make me, if/when it comes to pass. A woman in the NHL/NBA/MLB... that would be a wonderful thing for gender equality.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:56 AM on June 12, 2012


Sheesh. "Policing femininity" is right. Men can't be too manly, but women can be too manly...even if they still can't compete against men. Anyway. Thanks for the daily outrage, but at least it was news to me. Another reason to hate on the Olympics.
posted by agregoli at 11:35 AM on June 12, 2012


2bucksplus: ""It's obviously a human rights issue but human rights affect everyone in the race, not just one person...The rest of the field just gets ignored.""

Making the ability to remain competitive in a game and not having hormones forcibly injected in your body morally equivalent rights is a big part of the reason why I think sports culture goes just a little bit off the rails.
posted by Apropos of Something at 11:48 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems men are given the benefit of the doubt that they're not "super normal" beyond doping concerns.

It would seem that no one in this thread is well versed at all in the history of doping in sport. Anybody here know that Ben Johnson found the man who spiked his drink?

In sport there is no such thing as beyond doping concerns, it just doesn't exist. Maybe the best quick study on the topic is the recent Lance Armstrong thread. On second thought though, that misses so much. What about Fuyu Li's Clenbuterol issues? Actually, that article is a great place to start reading. It still leaves out the entire issue of Therapeutic Use Exemptions...

There is some speculation that the Biological Passport in cycling is changing the nature of the competition--leading to much more defensive tactics.
posted by Chuckles at 12:02 PM on June 12, 2012


It still leaves out the entire issue of Therapeutic Use Exemptions...

Err.. The article doesn't leave it out, but it doesn't come close to addressing the pervasiveness of athletes abusing TUEs to become "legal cheats".
posted by Chuckles at 12:05 PM on June 12, 2012


I'm sorry, let me spell it out for you: If your job said "You can take these pills or quit" that would be illegal. You would not be forced, but it would still be coercion.

Not to be pedantic, but that's not true. In the US Air Force pilots have been required to take "go pills" for long missions, for example.
posted by cairdeas at 12:14 PM on June 12, 2012


Use of performance-enhancement drugs or faking a disability are hardly in the same camp as undergoing gender reassignment.

Unfortunately, for people like Andreas Krieger, that's not quite true.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:41 PM on June 12, 2012


Having just read through this entire thread, I will summarise if I may:

- Competition is less interesting below the top few dozen places. Sometimes, therefore, entrants are grouped into categories (which roughly coincide with ability) with individual competitions in each category, so that there are more top-ranked entrants and hence more interest.
- Since being at the top of one category is much better than being at the bottom of the next, there is a strong incentive to cross category lines downwards. To counteract this, the divide between categories must be enforced.
- Indeed, when given the chance to gain competitive advantage, many athletes have take very severe paths to do so (faking intellectual disability, taking performance-enhancing drugs, whatever).

- Many sports are feats of strenth, speed or endurance and therefore men are generally better than women at them. This makes {man, woman} a generally interesting category division, in that the ability distributions are fairly disjoint. For instance, as mentioned upthread, at one point there were around fifty high-schoolers in Washington who had run faster than the women's record time.
- To enforce the category divide, the Olympics require that athletes must be legally of the gender in which they compete. This is a stronger requirement than self-identification -- for example, in the UK, to change one's gender legally requires a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and a convincing argument that one intends to live as the new gender permanently.
- Recently, the track and field regulatory body decreed that in addition to being legally of the correct gender, female athletes also had to satisfy a hormonal test to compete as women.


To agree that this new requirement is justified, you must believe that the original -- legal -- definition of gender categories was insufficient. I have not seen any arguments for that. Does anyone have any?
posted by katrielalex at 12:54 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


To agree that this new requirement is justified, you must believe that the original -- legal -- definition of gender categories was insufficient.

This is unclear. Insufficient for what?
posted by cairdeas at 1:16 PM on June 12, 2012


Where do you read that they used to go simply by legal gender? I do not believe that was ever true, or they would not have previously investigated and banned people who were legally women. It's possible that they always had the 'legal gender' requirement as well as the physical investigations, in which case we now have the same requirement with slightly different physical standards being used. I can't make an argument either way for the old or new standards, and to my knowledge nobody else here can either, because we don't have details of the old standards, or of those women who were banned under them.

minor note that the high school boy stat I gave above was boys who beat the olympic qualifying time, not the record
posted by jacalata at 1:28 PM on June 12, 2012


This here wikipedia article provides the barest overview of the history of gender verification in sports.
posted by chrchr at 1:30 PM on June 12, 2012


"Many sports are feats of strenth, speed or endurance and therefore men are generally better than women at them."

That's true except with regard to endurance. Women generally have greater endurance than men in numerous respects. Women are also competitive with men with regard to coordination.

The people who ridiculed mine and emjaybee's assertion that the male dominance in athletics is dependent upon athletics being heavily biased toward physical activities at which men are suited (and imagined that the only alternatives are cognitive activities) lack both imagination and knowledge. There are innumerable possibilities for physical competitions that are not essentially tests of strength or "speed". Both of those things have everything to do with a certain kind of muscle composition bias and mass, and this is only one small aspect of human mechanical physical capability. Endurance is a good example: women have at least as great endurance as men. But even endurance events are essentially strength events in that they are still competitions for time and not actually endurance. They're timed events under endurance constraints. But if they were true endurance events, women would be competitive or superior. People don't think about competitions of this type because we think about physical competition as being in some sense competitions of strength or speed, as asserted above. But, again, that's only one small subset of all possible physical competitions.

Athletics in most cultures, and certainly in western culture, has its historical basis in fighting and training for warfare. Athletics as we understand them is essentially about a certain kind of physically competitive activity that is masculine. It's not truly about the essential beauty and power and capabilities of the human body — if it were, then a) there's be a vastly greater variety of athletic activities and competitions, and b) those which do exist and are biased toward women's capabilities wouldn't be marginalized.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:59 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I really didn't intend to mock you, Ivan. I totally agree with everything you're saying here. I just don't agree that the traditional athletic competitions of strength and speed are going to go away anytime soon, and I think it's important to make room for women to compete in those sports.

Also, I'm really interested in what you have in mind for athletics that don't advantage male bodies.
posted by chrchr at 2:34 PM on June 12, 2012


That's true except with regard to endurance. Women generally have greater endurance than men in numerous respects. Women are also competitive with men with regard to coordination.

Right. Which is why the women's world record for the marathon is a good twelve minutes slower than the men's.

Unless you're gonna say that the marathon isn't about endurance. Wonder what athletic event you have in mind that is.
posted by kafziel at 2:43 PM on June 12, 2012


I suppose you missed the part where I said that such events were timed events under endurance constraints. The marathon is still measuring speed within the context of endurance. It's not measuring endurance primarily, it's about speed. The clue to this is the bit about how "men do it faster".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:48 PM on June 12, 2012


Ivan, how do women do in those ultramarathons, where the distance is more like 50, 60, 100 miles? I genuinely don't know.

Also, please don't take offence at people who say that men are generally better at 'sport'. I would happily watch a women's sport that was exciting, beautiful, etc and that women achieved at a higher level than men. What sports would you suggest?

I wonder how men would do in 'women's' sports such as women's gymnastics, synchronized swimming, or... other ones.
posted by Phreesh at 3:03 PM on June 12, 2012


Just looked at the top ultramarathoners. Sorry, Ivan, still men at the top.
posted by Phreesh at 3:05 PM on June 12, 2012


"I just don't agree that the traditional athletic competitions of strength and speed are going to go away anytime soon, and I think it's important to make room for women to compete in those sports."

There's a lot implicit in what you're saying, though. I don't think those things will go away, nor do I think they should go away.

Let's move this to a different context, like cognitive tasks. There's a wide variety of cognitive skills. We could try to abstract them in different ways, that's not really important. But imagine if we had all this structure for competing intellectually for sport and it was almost all primarily about memory. There are other cognitive skills, but for whatever reason, we tend (in this hypothetical) to privilege memory so completely that we pretty much think memory is the sine qua non of cognition and feats of memory the exemplary cognitive feats.

In that social context, everyone who competes cognitively would want to compete in this area, for all the reasons that people typically are competitive (because they're competitive, social status, community, whatever), because their desire would be funneled into competing in tests of memory. Even those who are much more adept at other cognitive skills.

If the cultural idea of cognitive skills and competition were greatly widened, this would change. There'd still be feats of memory and related competitions, of course. But they wouldn't (necessarily) be the premiere events. And naturally the people who are better at other things would compete at those other things, rather than competing at the things which they're not relatively well-suited.

Sure, shutting women out of a high-status social activity geared toward men where there's no alternatives is plain shutting women out, and is sexist. However, separate-but-equal is always unequal in some sense, it's always ultimately unjust. At best it's a temporary band-aid on a larger problem. That's not to say that band-aids aren't useful. Sometimes you first must treat the symptoms and then the disease. But people here and elsewhere are being blind to the existence of the disease.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:06 PM on June 12, 2012


"Just looked at the top ultramarathoners. Sorry, Ivan, still men at the top."

That's not necessarily definitive unless you also think that racial correlation in such events is also definitive. If not, then you have to account for the very strong cultural factors at work.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:08 PM on June 12, 2012


Endurance is a good example: women have at least as great endurance as men. But even endurance events are essentially strength events in that they are still competitions for time and not actually endurance. They're timed events under endurance constraints. But if they were true endurance events, women would be competitive or superior.

Ivan, you will have to back up your claims with some kind of scientific evidence, because all evidence, both from sports and from medical studies, runs against your argument.
posted by schroedinger at 3:38 PM on June 12, 2012


There is some speculation that the Biological Passport in cycling is changing the nature of the competition--leading to much more defensive tactics.

I should have put this differently too.. There is some speculation that the Biological Passport is levelling the genetic playing field (as well as the doping playing field). It is said that a greater number of riders riding at the same level is leading to more conservative tactics.

Anyway, sorry to interrupt the gender politics.
posted by Chuckles at 3:40 PM on June 12, 2012


> if they were true endurance events

Can you think of any true endurance event with a chance of becoming an Olympic sport? I'm sure you don't mean "how long can you listen to Neal Boortz without switching the station" but what do you mean? Are there true endurance events I'm not thinking of that might make the crowd roar and attract the big endorsement contracts top competitors expect?
posted by jfuller at 4:05 PM on June 12, 2012


I'm also intrigued by the notion of an endurance competition that does not have a timing aspect to it. Doesn't endurance imply that you outlasted someone? That requires timing restrictions. I don't see how you could separate the evaluation of time from endurance. Or are you saying that a marathon is not truly an endurance competition, because it is a distance to be covered in a certain amount of time, which makes it a race. Perhaps an endurance competition would be to see how long one could do something? Hold this log for as long as possible. Stand on one foot for as long as possible. But isn't that testing strength, an ability that favors men?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:12 PM on June 12, 2012


Let's move this to a different context, like cognitive tasks.

How about we keep this in this same context, and instead of offering a self-proving analogy, you offer a single example of a pure endurance sport in which women perform better.
posted by kafziel at 4:15 PM on June 12, 2012


you offer a single example of a pure endurance sport in which women perform better.

Childbirth.
posted by KathrynT at 4:23 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Childbirth.

Both hilarious AND thought-provoking. Televised childbirth competitions!!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:24 PM on June 12, 2012


"Ivan, you will have to back up your claims with some kind of scientific evidence, because all evidence, both from sports and from medical studies, runs against your argument."

I'm curious as to whether you bothered with a literature search. I just did, and the evidence is mixed.

"How about we keep this in this same context, and instead of offering a self-proving analogy, you offer a single example of a pure endurance sport in which women perform better."

My argument wasn't tied to endurance. Unless your argument is that in all respects women are physically inferior, then cognition is a perfectly suitable analogy. If you can't imagine any sort of physical activity in which men aren't naturally superior, then you have a problem. Endurance may be a counter-example. I'd read in the past that it was. Perhaps it's not. But I think it's very revealing if someone were to take as prima facie that women are generally less physically capable than men and that, therefore, there are no imaginable physical contests at which women would be on par, or superior to men. If you're not consciously or unconsciously tied to that assumption, then an analogy to cognition is appropriate and the possibility of athletics that's not generally biased toward physical activities at which men are better suited becomes possible.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:30 PM on June 12, 2012


I wonder if shadow boxing is a feat of strength or endurance?
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 4:55 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sticherbeast writes "That said, all sorts of arbitrary rules are evaluated all the time. I'm a bit stunned by the idea that arbitrary rules would be inherently beyond question or analysis"

That is so not what I said. I find it baffling but I no knowledge one way or the other to judge the suitability of the critera. I guess taht is an appeal to authority of sorts but you have to do that sort of appeal, no one can possibly know everything.

Ivan Fyodorovich writes "The people who ridiculed mine and emjaybee's assertion that the male dominance in athletics is dependent upon athletics being heavily biased toward physical activities at which men are suited (and imagined that the only alternatives are cognitive activities) lack both imagination and knowledge. "

I didn't ridicule the assertion. I merely can't think of any sporting events that don't incorporate a strength or speed aspect. Even if one is very generous with the definition of sport. I can't think of anyway of converting a pure endurance event into a competition without timing and I'm open to any possibilities. Seriously.

Maybe speed walking would qualify. It's still timed but it owes much of it's difficulty to form rather than raw speed or strength. Looks like the top men are still faster than the top women though.

Ivan Fyodorovich writes "If you can't imagine any sort of physical activity in which men aren't naturally superior, then you have a problem."

I admit it, I have a problem. Please share your specific thoughts on this matter. I'm 100% actually interested in examples of sporting events that men aren't better at. We've got rhythmic gymnastics (as much art as sport so that makes sense) and synchronized swimming (that may be a dearth of competition; are there males competing in this sport?). Anything else?
posted by Mitheral at 4:55 PM on June 12, 2012


OK, the childbirth comment was flip, but how about an untimed endurance event? Start running. Last person still running wins, OR person who makes it the farthest without stopping wins. Or pick up a weight and hold it in the air: the person who can hold it the longest wins.
posted by KathrynT at 4:59 PM on June 12, 2012


"I admit it, I have a problem. Please share your specific thoughts on this matter."

I can imagine some, but I have difficulty with this, too. Because our notion of "sport" and "athletics" has been so intensely tied to contests of strength/speed1. But if you just think in terms of anything that is a physical activity that takes physical skill, then it becomes much more obvious that strength/speed is a small slice of human physical prowess.

The most obvious thing to me is dexterity. It's heavily involved with traditional athletics, of course, but only in conjunction with strength/speed. Why not contests of dexterity primarily? And, really, it's sort of odd and revealing that we don't include dexterity as being equal in importance with speed/strength (as is evidenced by it not being allowed to stand on its own) given that human beings are all about our manual faculties. Many still consider our tool usage to be our defining quality (I don't).

No one celebrated seamstresses, but they celebrated railroad workers. There's a cultural reason for this. When it's something women do well, it's deprecated. It's not inspiring, it's trivial and boring. This is why I've not been eager to offer specific examples because our cultural biases are such that all such examples would be seen as self-evidently absurd, non-athletic, and...boring. But that's precisely the underlying problem.

1. Speed in this context is really just a manifestation of an aspect of strength. When speed is measured and a point of comparison, it's speed under load. If there were manual dexterity competitions, they'd probably involve speed, but it wouldn't be speed under load, it'd be speed under precision.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:16 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, limbo, jenga, video games (reaction time)?
posted by jacalata at 5:21 PM on June 12, 2012


Aging: we could watch elderly populations and see the men drop off more quickly. That would be kind of depressing all around though.
posted by pseudonick at 5:23 PM on June 12, 2012


No one celebrated seamstresses, but they celebrated railroad workers.

Betsy Ross, not to mention Arachne.
posted by chrchr at 5:23 PM on June 12, 2012


No one celebrated seamstresses, but they celebrated railroad workers. There's a cultural reason for this. When it's something women do well, it's deprecated. It's not inspiring, it's trivial and boring. This is why I've not been eager to offer specific examples because our cultural biases are such that all such examples would be seen as self-evidently absurd, non-athletic, and...boring. But that's precisely the underlying problem.

I'm calling bullshit. Enough telling everybody how we have a problem for not instantly seeing the perfect truths of your sourceless claims. I don't think the reason you've "not been eager" is because you don't have any examples.
posted by kafziel at 5:33 PM on June 12, 2012


Video games are a good example insofar as people don't think of them as athletic. Auto racing, too. We like to think that athletics is all about the non-cognitive, mechanical capabilities of the human body and how that intersects with our ideas of grace and beauty. But it's really just a particular subset of non-cognitive, mechanical capabilities of the human body and the question is: why that particular subset?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:34 PM on June 12, 2012


"I don't think the reason you've 'not been eager' is because you don't have any examples."

And you're right not to think that.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:36 PM on June 12, 2012


Oh, knock it off. Video games have fuck-all to do with athletics.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 5:39 PM on June 12, 2012


KathrynT writes "how about an untimed endurance event? Start running. Last person still running wins"

People would probably die as ultra marathoners now run for several days without stopping.

Ivan Fyodorovich writes "Auto racing, too"

Auto racing is a physical sport. It's not just sexism that has prevented women from competing successfully at the highest levels. It takes strength to keep the car pointed where you want it; it takes speed to keep it pointing in the right direction fast enough and it takes endurance to do that for any appreciable time.
posted by Mitheral at 5:43 PM on June 12, 2012


The only sport I know of where women have beat men is long distance swimming. World record holder for unassisted open water distance is Penny Palfrey at least in 2011 when this report was done. She's also a grandma.


In the olympic distance swims (10 k - 88 k proswim) men do better on average, but women tend to outperform as the distances are increased and in open water... and it is different depending on the body of water.

There are lots of records held by men.

There are lots of ocean swims where the first and only person doing some extreme circumnavigation of some large island is either one man or one woman. There are also some team swims that hold records and are mixed.
posted by chapps at 5:50 PM on June 12, 2012


Mefi's own brockles, a race engineer, addressed women in motorsports in a previous thread about Semenya. To paraphrase his argument, drivers in auto racing must meet a very high level of physical fitness and have tremendous driving skill. A smaller percentage of women are able to achieve the fitness standard, and thus the driving skills are drawn from a smaller pool. I think Brockles probably knows what he's talking about, however I'm not convinced we can rule out social factors on this.
posted by chrchr at 5:51 PM on June 12, 2012


There are two potential problems, articulated above:

- Cismen claiming to be transwomen in order to win. Men will do this if they can, not all men, and maybe not good men. But the set of men contains many who who would do it for any number of reasons from publicity, to glory, to perversity.

- Transwomen outperforming ciswomen due to their biological sex. If above average men can outperform top level women, then even a small number of transwomen athletes will come to dominate women's Olympic sports given the large number of transwomen compared to the number of Olympic athletes. The more open society becomes to people transitioning the worse this problem would get.

Both of these could reasonably lead to ciswomen being shoved out of the Olympics and I think everyone here would agree that this would not be a good thing.

It's all in your definition of fair. The only definition of fair the Olympics has a shot at is the same rules for everyone. The Olympics is by definition never going to be fair in the sense that everyone has an equal chance, and really that's ok. This isn't the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent and we can celebrate the exceptional. We have decided to have men's and women's divisions, that requires rulings on who is in what category. Some people in the middle are put in unfortunate positions but there is no way to avoid it.
posted by pseudonick at 5:53 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Auto racing is a physical sport. It's not just sexism that has prevented women from competing successfully at the highest levels. It takes strength to keep the car pointed where you want it; it takes speed to keep it pointing in the right direction fast enough and it takes endurance to do that for any appreciable time."

Yes, I know a great deal about auto-racing and I used it as an example because it proves my point in both directions.

In the one direction, it proves my point because people who don't know
much, if anything, about auto-racing commonly assert that it's not a sport and they do so because they think it's not unlike, well, playing a video game. That's not true — it takes a certain amount of strength and a much greater ability to withstand a certain amount and kind of physical punishment for an extended length of time.

In the other direction, women are increasingly able to compete at the highest levels and this has made it increasingly unclear as to whether the gender disparity is the result of sex differentiation (as has been assumed and you assume) or culture. Frankly, if you look at the women who are competitive at the highest levels today, you're not seeing masculine high-testosterone females whose examples would support your argument that it's primarily sex differentiation.

"A smaller percentage of women are able to achieve the fitness standard, and thus the driving skills are drawn from a smaller pool. "

He's begging the question and while he's an expert on racing, he's not an expert on the argument he's making. He's begging the question because he's assuming that the disproportion in representation proves the disproportion in propensity — and, ironically (in your formulation, anyway) he's doing so on the basis of the relative sizes of the population pools from which drivers are drawn while not accounting for, as you mention, that there are numerous other factors which affect those relative sizes. Frankly, anyone who doesn't see that the cultural factors with regard to gender are enormous in the case of auto-racing and disregards them as being candidates for explaining the disproportion is not credible — especially given that despite those especially strong factors, there are women who are competitive against men in motorsports. This is like someone making an equivalent argument about blacks and swimming. They're rationalizing their intuition and conventional wisdom.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:01 PM on June 12, 2012


sports that favor small people - like gymnastics (and perhaps horse riding?) - and those that require great flexibility and something elusive like grace - like dance and ice-skating (which are athletic if not exclusively) - might provide women a top spot.

Of course, they're often not seen as real sports, since they're so girly.
posted by mdn at 6:08 PM on June 12, 2012


By the way, as if I need to say this but, most sports do require dexterity. Or do those not count because they aren't strictly dexterity specific? The basic tenet of any game or sport is that they have structure, rules, and conditions. So, unfortunately for all the true endurance fans, a finishing line.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 6:08 PM on June 12, 2012


By the way, as if I need to say this but, most sports do require dexterity. Or do those not count because they aren't strictly dexterity specific?

This is what I wrote and to which, presumably, you're specifically responding:

"The most obvious thing to me is dexterity. It's heavily involved with traditional athletics, of course, but only in conjunction with strength/speed. Why not contests of dexterity primarily?"

You also wrote:

"The basic tenet of any game or sport is that they have structure, rules, and conditions. So, unfortunately for all the true endurance fans, a finishing line."

Yes, the condition for endurance could be how long someone endures. That, too, is a rule, structure, or condition. A finish-line means that the contest is for a set distance, which means that it cannot primarily be an endurance contest. It's a contest of speed. In the case of marathons, it's a contest of speed extended to the point where endurance becomes the factor of secondary importance, behind speed. As I wrote, it's a contest of speed under endurance conditions.

It's not difficult to imagine contests that are primarily about endurance or dexterity and which don't involve speed or strength and which involve structure, rules, and conditions. Well, not difficult for people who aren't you.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:19 PM on June 12, 2012


Both of these could reasonably lead to ciswomen being shoved out of the Olympics and I think everyone here would agree that this would not be a good thing.

I would actually love to see the male/female split replaced with open and one and perhaps two restricted categories. It would be fantastic to see top women compete with men in the open category even if they didn't win with any regularity and restricted categories should not be tied sex in any case.

Age-related categories would be my preference because we burn out professional athletes so young.

At the very least, removing the M/F split would get rid of the periodic faux controversies (look at the Lindsey Van claims above -- it's like an outrage hangover that will NEVER GO AWAY).
posted by rr at 6:23 PM on June 12, 2012


Well, not difficult for people who aren't you.

You are being an ass.
posted by jacalata at 6:24 PM on June 12, 2012


It's not difficult to imagine contests that are primarily about endurance or dexterity and which don't involve speed or strength and which involve structure, rules, and conditions.


Is this self satire?
posted by rr at 6:24 PM on June 12, 2012


"You are being an ass."

Am I? In that case, I'll make a greater effort to be considerate of people who are rude and who respond to comments of mine they apparently didn't bother to read. That's the least I can do and I appreciate the correction.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:36 PM on June 12, 2012


Whether something is considered a strength, skill, endurance, etc. type of sport is reliant on how the human body works, not sophistry. A marathon is an endurance sport no matter how you argue it. Yes you have to be the fastest endurance runner to win, but endurance is the main operation and not speed. Pure endurance events are boring and people rarely care except for the ones who eagerly buy their copies of Guinness World Records yearly.
I'm not sure what is so abhorrent or simply wrong about the fact that men are generally bigger, stronger, and faster than women. It is the basic reason patriarchal structures have been in place for millennia. Is that such a controversial idea? Probably not. You do seem to be stretching out definitions to suit your argument here and it seems like you want to keep inching this towards an equitable idea of "sports" for all to play and watch. So let's assume that and you make your suggestions about what would he an exciting event millions of people would watch. Also, you we need some metric to keep score.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 6:55 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The real reason we can't have competitive events that are strictly endurance based is probably because if there's no set endpoint except 'when you can't do it any more', some of the competitors will very likely die trying.
posted by jacalata at 7:10 PM on June 12, 2012


Yeah, I'm pretty sure you would have multiple heart attacks per event. I mean we can simply ignore all kinds of obvious factors in favor of having these events but in the end they would be deemed ridiculous for those very reasons, regardless of how equitable they are held up to be.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 7:17 PM on June 12, 2012


I'm not sure what is so abhorrent or simply wrong about the fact that men are generally bigger, stronger, and faster than women. It is the basic reason patriarchal structures have been in place for millennia. Is that such a controversial idea? Probably not.

"Probably" not? Really? Perhaps this is something you could look into, rather than assuming your intuition is sufficient.

And, no, endurance is not the "main operation and not speed" in marathons. I don't even understand how someone could argue this. The person who wins runs it the fastest.

Furthermore, a true endurance event need not be something that risks death. The conditions being endured could be defined such that one would fail them long before one was at risk of injury. "How long someone can juggle eight balls" is an event where "when you can't do it anymore" could be the endpoint and yet no one would be in danger of death or even serious injury during competitions. It's trivial to think of more examples. That you and others think that it's self-evident that any competition that directly and primarily tests endurance need necessarily be deadly is just weird. You're not even making an effort to think about this stuff.

And endurance was just one possible physical characteristic that isn't all about strength/speed. There are others and my argument doesn't depend upon endurance being viable. If it's not, other things are.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:46 PM on June 12, 2012


For what it's worth, sports like sailing, dog sled racing, bowling, archery, auto racing, long distance open water swimming, equestrian, mountain/rock climbing, and marksmanship are all activities where women can, and sometimes do (depending upon the sport), compete quite well with/against men.

For other sports, especially ultra/endurance sports, I think that it's worth noting the drop in times for women's performance vs. men's times over years/decades, not just at one point in time.

Yes, gender disparities (due to strength, muscle mass, etc.) do exist, and might continue to exist. However it's pretty likely that some of the disparities in performances are related to there being a smaller pool of female athletes to start with (due to lack of opportunities) and a learning curve for coaches, trainers, and doctors regarding best practices techniques for women athletes. In short, with better training and more participation, women are likely to keep closing the gap in endurance sports.
posted by skye.dancer at 7:54 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Both of these could reasonably lead to ciswomen being shoved out of the Olympics and I think everyone here would agree that this would not be a good thing."

Well, if the only two categories of competition that we allow are male and female, I disagree. Or at least, I think that the implicit assumption in this comment that non cis women are not real women is a greater harm.

Also, the new cap on testosterone levels for female athletes competing at the Olympic and similar international level may not restrict from competition actual trans women who have been taking hormone therapy to transition and satisfied any additional national requirements to legally switch from male to female. This whole bit about "oh noes, the trans women will take over the female category at the Olympics!" is a hypothetical that seems to have been brought up as a scare tactic or argument against another hypothetical (a proposition that one commenter raised that athletes be allowed to self-identify as male or female to compete in either category). The only women (well, woman) who we know that this rule is affecting currently are cis women.

There is some speculation that Castor Semenya (the only affected athlete named in the FPP article) is intersex in some form or another, but the results of the IAAF's gender testing on her have not been released, so that's only speculation. Even if she is, and what you meant to write was more along the lines of "oh noes, the intersexed women will take over the female category at the Olympics!", so what? Again, I believe that the implication that intersexed women are not real women is a greater harm.
posted by eviemath at 7:57 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Probably" not? Really? Perhaps this is something you could look into, rather than assuming your intuition is sufficient.

Maybe it is something you should look into? Really, you are offering claims that defy all known physiological understanding and claiming because the evidence is "mixed" it is for-sure proof that testosterone apparently doesn't confer athletic advantage onto men and the only reason men beat women in sport is biased rules, or something. Like, you keep saying there are these "endurance" competitions which are not time-based, and women will win at them, and the reason they don't exist is because people are sexist, and yet you have yet to come up with one damn example of what these endurance competitions might be outside of what, auto racing I guess? Which is in fact a celebrated sport, depending on the circles in which you run?

You are playing these little argument games where people say "Prove your outrageous claim/Give an example of 'non-biased sport'" and your response is "You disprove it!" or "I don't have to!" or "Let's ignore that comment!" It is pretty ridiculous. If you want to start arguing with basic physiology you need to start offering up some real studies and real evidence for us. Because all of the evidence I've found is spotty at best and done under uncontrolled conditions that do not necessarily translate in any real life way and make a lot of assumptions.
posted by schroedinger at 8:04 PM on June 12, 2012


That you and others think that it's self-evident that any competition that directly and primarily tests endurance need necessarily be deadly is just weird. You're not even making an effort to think about this stuff.

I certainly don't intend to spend any more effort attempting to talk to you when you are unable to resist making snarky jabs at everyone else involved. I'm done here.
posted by jacalata at 8:08 PM on June 12, 2012


Sometimes I don't know what's worse: the people who think athletics is unfeminine and unwomanly or not worth watching, or the people who carry around this misguided idea that women are physically equivalent to men and the only reason we aren't beating them is we haven't tried hard enough. The former is offensive but the latter is fucking condescending as hell and shits on the massive amount of effort female athletes put into getting to where they are.

As someone who watches her fellow male training partners put twice the amount of weight on the bar in half the time she does, I don't need someone with apparently little-to-no experience in sport or knowledge of exercise physiology being patronizing and explaining that the issue is I simply don't believe in myself or aren't trying or haven't picked the right sport (where no alternatives are given). "Endurance"? I can carry a big stone for the same distance as a fellow male competitor--but only if his stone is 330# and my stone is 200#. Relative pain endurance, maybe. But the ability to simply endure pain is something very different than sport.
posted by schroedinger at 8:10 PM on June 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Even if she is, and what you meant to write was more along the lines of "oh noes, the intersexed women will take over the female category at the Olympics!", so what?

Come on now. So what? When something has that big of a negative impact of a group of women the response is "so what?"

It is one thing to say this is a difficult, interesting, and somewhat tangled issue that doesn't yet have a good solution. I don't think the good solution is to say, "oh well, if most women on this earth are stripped of the hope of ever reaching high levels in sports -- so what!" That is not an attitude that is going to bring anyone together. That is not a mutually supportive attitude.

This whole bit about "oh noes, the trans women will take over the female category at the Olympics!" is a hypothetical that seems to have been brought up as a scare tactic or argument against another hypothetical

That's not true. Kye Allums is a man. He identifies 100% as a man. He corrects everyone who refers to him as a woman. He describes a pissed off feeling and hot ache in his stomach when people refer to him as a girl. But Kye's playing on a women's basketball team, and receiving a women's scholarship. So, this is not a made-up hypothetical.
posted by cairdeas at 8:13 PM on June 12, 2012


Kye Allums is not taking hormone treatments until his NCAA scholarship ends. Kye won his scholarship when he was publicly a woman. I fail to see the complications in that particular instance.
posted by schroedinger at 8:24 PM on June 12, 2012


schroedinger, the complication is that if we agree with eviemath that people are the gender that they say they are, regardless of what their bodies are like, genitalia, hormones, whatever, and are no different from others of that gender and should not be treated as being any different, then that certainly means Kye should be on a men's team and receiving a men's scholarship.
posted by cairdeas at 8:30 PM on June 12, 2012


And just in case it isn't clear, this is my example of how a man - self-identified to the point of anger at being classified as a woman, no different from other men - is participating in a women's team even though he's not a woman and doesn't consider himself a woman because of the advantages to him to do so.
posted by cairdeas at 8:39 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Maybe it is something you should look into?"

So your assertion is that "patriarchy is the result of men being stronger and faster than women" is uncontroversial? That was his claim and he's wrong. It's controversial.

"Really, you are offering claims that defy all known physiological understanding..."

Which claims are those? That men aren't naturally better at all possible physical abilities? Or that women are in some respects advantaged with regard to endurance and about which the evidence is, indeed, mixed. Maybe they are, maybe they're not. The evidence is not unambiguous that they are not and just do a damn Google scholar search and you'll find examples.

"...and claiming because the evidence is "mixed" it is for-sure proof that testosterone apparently doesn't confer athletic advantage onto men..."

This is such a bad-faith sentence that you should be embarrassed. It's an outright lie, really. The evidence you're mentioning — the argument you're mentioning — was about whether women are or are not advantaged specifically with regard to endurance. Testosterone didn't enter into it and I certainly never made any such claim, not even implicitly, that "testosterone doesn't confer athletic advantage onto men".

...and the only reason men beat women in sport is biased rules, or something.

No, that the specific things we call sports are those things at which men are naturally better while there are a huge number of possible activities involving human physical prowess which don't rely upon the characteristics associated with male physiology (specifically, strength) which could be "sports" and which women would not have an inherent disadvantage.

"Like, you keep saying there are these 'endurance' competitions which are not time-based, and women will win at them, and the reason they don't exist is because people are sexist, and yet you have yet to come up with one damn example of what these endurance competitions might be outside of what, auto racing I guess?"

I did provide an example in my previous comment, though not in conjunction with an argument that "women will win at them". It's very easy to win an argument with me if you insist upon arguing against things I never wrote.

"Which is in fact a celebrated sport, depending on the circles in which you run?"

...depending upon the circles in which you run, exactly. Because, for example, pretty much every MetaFilter thread on autoracing includes someone, usually multiple someones, taking exception to anyone calling it a "sport" and, when pressed, they'll make their case on the basis that it doesn't involve any athleticism. But it does, of course, involve human physical skill that is not primarily cognitive. So what is it that they think is essential to "athleticism"? Well, it's strength, mostly. Which is also why those who defend autoracing as a sport will talk about how much strength and stamina it takes to actually drive a race car.

"Sometimes I don't know what's worse: the people who think athletics is unfeminine and unwomanly or not worth watching, or the people who carry around this misguided idea that women are physically equivalent to men and the only reason we aren't beating them is we haven't tried hard enough."

Likewise, it's very easy to be rightly extremely offended at something I write if you falsely imagine that I've written something that I didn't actually write. No one here has written this. If this is what you're upset about, it's something going on with you and not to do with what anyone in this thread has written.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:41 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that the implicit assumption in this comment that non cis women are not real women is a greater harm....Again, I believe that the implication that intersexed women are not real women is a greater harm.

Well, I disagree on two levels here. One, saying that non cis women and intersexed women should not be eligible for athletic competition against cis, non-intersexed women does not necessarily imply that the former are "not real women." Just that the specific biological disadvantages that qualify cis, non-intersexed women for the restricted category do not apply to non cis women and intersexed women. (I understand that some people here are arguing that there are no biological disadvantages to being female in sports -- first, I think there are, but more importantly, I'm suggesting that there is a reason to deny eligibility from a perspective other than "you're not a real woman.")

The second level on which I'd disagree is the "greater harm" issue. Women are a marginalized group when it comes to sports, despite being half the world's population, and protecting their ability to participate is therefore important.
posted by palliser at 9:14 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


That was his claim and he's wrong

If we're correcting each others readings, that wasn't my "claim". It was a rhetorical question aimed at the general audience, based on what you've been saying, that I apparently answered wrong. I guess you don't believe the basic reason men have "dominance" over woman starts at a simple biological truism?

The person who wins runs it the fastest

Let me try out your tactics here:

No, it's the person who is the most efficient. A marathon is an efficiency event and the person who is best at conserving and expending their energy judiciously. I don't even understand how anyone could argue this.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 9:18 PM on June 12, 2012


I fenced a little in college, and fencing seems to me to be one of those sports where women could compete with men. Do they? (Yeah, I could go look it up.) My fencing coach was a woman...not terribly surprising at a woman's college, I suppose...and she was insanely fast, brilliantly on target, and presented a very small area in which to strike back. These are all things that would be advantages on the field. (Even though it's a man's warfare type sport.)
posted by dejah420 at 9:18 PM on June 12, 2012


cairdeas, you are misreading my comment.

palliser, when you say that intersex women should be excluded so that women's ability to participate in sport is protected, you are implicitly defining intersexed women as not women. If you disagree about that being a greater harm, well, I personally think that's a bigoted stance to take(*), but it's a matter of opinion so I can't argue with you on any factual basis. Perhaps we can agree that a better system overall, that would hopefully avoid this whole problem, would be to have more competition classes, perhaps just differentiated by ability level, perhaps differentiated by sex (according to some definition) plus ability level?

(* Please note that I am not trying to make any claims or inferences about you as a person, your general outlook on life, goodness and morality, or what your intentions or motivations in holding this opinion are. I will assume the best of you in all these areas unless or until proven wrong.)

To reiterate, I agree that more should be done to encourage women's participation in sport and in athletic endeavors in general. I fail to see how excluding some women from the women's category of the most elite sporting competition in the world, which vanishingly few women will ever have a hope or chance of participating in in the first place, and making that category less competitive to maintain some idea of a maximum ability level that women can attain, helps encourage ordinary women to participate in sport. More funding for local, school, university, and perhaps semi-pro recreational and sporting opportunities, especially more funding aimed specifically at facilitating ordinary girls' and women's participation in local recreational and sporting activities, seems to me like it would be far, far more effective. In contrast, the new rule on upper limit for testosterone will only directly help a relative handful of second-tier elite female athletes, while it will also harm a similar number of elite female athletes (there are a fixed number of spots on the medals podium for each Olympic sporting event, so you can only switch out medal winners one for one). All the elite competitions do for this vast majority of ordinary ability level women is provide role models, not opportunities. Given that, what is the sense in artificially limiting those role models? How does limiting and hobbling the abilities of girls' and women's athletic role models help ordinary females?
posted by eviemath at 10:18 PM on June 12, 2012


>> Use of performance-enhancement drugs or faking a disability are hardly in the same camp as undergoing gender reassignment.

Unfortunately, for people like Andreas Krieger, that's not quite true.


I was replying specifically to jacalata's comment about voluntary risks athletes will take to cheat.
posted by desuetude at 10:42 PM on June 12, 2012


I fenced a little in college, and fencing seems to me to be one of those sports where women could compete with men. Do they? (Yeah, I could go look it up.)

My fencing club everyone fences together. In competitions they often fence together when the pool is smaller. If there are enough women, the women often want their own event as it helps their rankings, which are by gender.

At the top level, most men could probably win over the top women, I guess, but in the club, just amongst the average folks, its a pretty good shared sport.
posted by chapps at 11:19 PM on June 12, 2012


the new rule on upper limit for testosterone will only directly help a relative handful of second-tier elite female athletes

But it would indirectly benefit many more by letting spectators and other athletes alike know that with the right training and hard work they might be in with a chance of getting to the top.

Given that, what is the sense in artificially limiting those role models? How does limiting and hobbling the abilities of girls' and women's athletic role models help ordinary females?

What good is a role model that reached their position due to an abnormality that a vanishingly small number of women will have?

If you are a young Jane Doe Athlete then watching Caster Semenya may be kind of cool from an exhibition point of view but you couldn't hope to match or better her without a huge increase in testosterone production.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 5:51 AM on June 13, 2012


But it would indirectly benefit many more by letting spectators and other athletes alike know that with the right training and hard work they might be in with a chance of getting to the top.

See, this is the part I don't believe. The vast majority of us will never be Olympic-level athletes. A large part of that is lack of resources and opportunity for the right training and hard work, another large part of that is that said right training and hard work has to start by a certain age for the vast majority of Olympic sports, and the vast majority of us non-Olympic athletes are well past that age. But there's also innate limits to people's abilities: I think that even the second-tier Olympic athletes are far beyond the mean in terms of innate ability. Most of us could not hope to match or better even the women who will be winning after the very best women have been artificially hobbled by this new testosterone limit rule, no matter how much training and hard work we put in.
posted by eviemath at 7:46 AM on June 13, 2012


So why even have women's sports at all? Why not just have it all be "unisex" - which in reality, will be 100% male?
posted by cairdeas at 7:59 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


See, this is the part I don't believe. The vast majority of us will never be Olympic-level athletes. A large part of that is lack of resources and opportunity for the right training and hard work, another large part of that is that said right training and hard work has to start by a certain age for the vast majority of Olympic sports, and the vast majority of us non-Olympic athletes are well past that age. But there's also innate limits to people's abilities: I think that even the second-tier Olympic athletes are far beyond the mean in terms of innate ability. Most of us could not hope to match or better even the women who will be winning after the very best women have been artificially hobbled by this new testosterone limit rule, no matter how much training and hard work we put in.
posted by eviemath at 3:46 PM on June 13 [+] [!]


Well yes but athletic role models aren't really for office workers in their late twenties/thirtys/fortys etc.

The role models point applies more to kids/young adults and those on their way to becoming athletes in these sports.

Allowing athletes with massively higher testosterone would reduce womens athletics to a matter of interested girls having a blood test to cull all of the lower/normal testo producers from the group leaving only those at the very top of the scale to compete with eachother, removing even the idea that anyone could reach the elite level if they have sufficient base atleticism, access to the right training and a willingness to work hard.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 8:10 AM on June 13, 2012


Reggie Knoble: that's quite the slippery slope argument!

cairdeas: as I mentioned upthread, I think we should focus more on the non-elite level of competitive and recreational sports, creating ability-based competition classes that realistically do give all athletes a shot at attaining some goal, and getting everyone involved. I think your objection is equally valid as an objection against the Olympics and elite competition levels of sport in general. And I think that's a very valid argument an important, strong objection to elite sport competitions - if you want to use that argument to object to elite sports competitions in general, then I completely agree! I that it's an important issue that needs to be addressed, at any rate.

I'm arguing that even those elite female athletes who pass the new testosterone rule have physiological advantages that place them beyond the average athlete's innate ability level in some way that makes Olympic-level performance an effectively unattainable goal for the vast, vast majority of athletes (not just non-athlete women). I think that this is a problematic issue with elite sporting competitions in general. My argument is, okay, if we've accepted that we have this super elite competition to see who is the very best female athlete, why place artificial restrictions on how well the "best" female athlete can do? To perhaps clarify my original question, what is the point to that, that doesn't at the same time invalidate the whole idea of the Olympics in the first place?

At the very least, create some ability-based competition classes that these elite female athletes can compete in, and still be considered female athletes, rather than throwing them out of the group "female athlete" altogether unless they artificially hobble themselves to fit some arbitrary standard of maximum allowable female ability level. The testosterone rule was not the IAAF's only option for a solution if the complaint actually was your objection, that the elite competition has somehow gotten too elite and that this has a dampening effect on motivation for average female athletes. The fact that it's the option they chose shows either that they made a bigoted choice, or that the complaint they were responding to was a more bigoted complaint, that somehow these elite female athletes were being seen as not female, or not sufficiently female.

Maybe thought of another way: lung capacity is also important for running, and athletes with a naturally higher lung capacity have a competitive advantage. You can only train your lungs up to have a higher capacity so far: there will still be innate physiological differences between people, and between female athletes specifically. In an attempt to level the competitive playing field, are we going to require that elite female athletes with naturally higher lung capacity take up smoking? What about female athletes whose blood is naturally better at binding and transporting oxygen molecules? Should we consider other healing factors, ensuring a level playing field even though some female athletes will naturally be able to recover from the strains training puts on muscles and joints to build strength faster? And why set the upper limit for testosterone at the quite high level that it is set at that only affects a few elite female athletes? Why not set it lower, to allow your average female athlete to actually be competitive in the Olympics? Why not require that athletes have lung capacity within, say, one standard deviation of the female norm? Some of this stuff can be more strongly affected by legal chemical enhancements (proper diet, vitamins, and non-chemical treatments such as hot/cold therapy, physiotherapy, etc.) than by physiological variation, but still - we could construct quite a Reggie-esque slippery slope argument here. Where's the line that says it's okay to exclude these women in order to make a dozen additional women more competitive in the elite female athletic competition, but it's not okay to exclude those additional dozen or two dozen women? And how does that help the thousands and thousands of female athletes who will never get to the Olympic level?

And if we do set allowable upper limits on innate factors that help a female athlete's competitiveness, why set the upper limit of testosterone level at some level relative to men? Why not do some statistical analysis and place the cutoff at some number of standard deviations above the mean for women? The fact that this argument is being applied to a competition that is all about exclusion and finding the best elite female athlete or the three best elite female athletes already makes this argument suspicious. The reference to male testosterone levels rather than to female norms makes the claim that this is somehow about leveling a playing field among the class of female athletes and not about gender policing even more suspect.
posted by eviemath at 9:23 AM on June 13, 2012


To be more charitable - and by way of apologizing for my snark Reggie - I guess as I see it we're already at the bottom of your slope, even with the testosterone exclusion (but minus the blood test). I think Olympic-level performance is already physically unattainable for most human beings, male, female, or other. But my understanding is that that's kind of the point of the Olympics.
posted by eviemath at 9:31 AM on June 13, 2012


Yeah, I find the 'parity' argument pretty weak.

I'd be curious to see a measure of how the most dominant women perform relative to the most dominant men. Some here are saying that discussing the male side of the spectrum is irrelevant, but if men such as Usain Bolt are more dominant than Semenya and others with high testosterone, doesn't that disprove the point that this is about parity? Even if the women's side is the (ugh) 'restricted' side, why limit that to a smaller demo than the 'open' side (which, let's be real, does NOT include women.)

And if you think that excluding women with high testosterone sends a positive message to girls, I think you are supremely mistaken. Little girls don't worry about how they can never be like Semenya any more than little boys worry about how they can never be like Lebron James.
posted by teekat at 9:33 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the subject of intersex, I recommend the documentary Orchids: My Intersex Adventure which is on Showtime this month.
posted by homunculus at 11:29 AM on June 13, 2012


I'll just drop this thread here for comparison purposes....
posted by eviemath at 8:19 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Allowing athletes with massively higher testosterone would reduce womens athletics to a matter of interested girls having a blood test to cull all of the lower/normal testo producers from the group leaving only those at the very top of the scale to compete with eachother, removing even the idea that anyone could reach the elite level if they have sufficient base atleticism, access to the right training and a willingness to work hard.

Achieving Olympic-level athleticism is way more than just high testosterone, and anyone, children included, who would be discouraged by the worry that they may not have an elite hormonal mileiu is not someone with the kind of crazy necessary to reach that level of competition.

The "culling" by testosterone you allude to would realistically only occur in countries with large, centralized athletic feeder programs where children are evaluated for sport potential at a young age and have little choice in their sport or participation anyway (see: China). This is happening anyway.

Outside countries with that kind of intense feeder program, becoming elite is not just testosterone. It's testosterone, plus proprioception, plus felicity for the skills necessary for one's sport, plus happy coincidence of being started on the sport (or a related sport) early and having a coach who recognizes and develops one's talent, plus being exposed to the financial and physical resources necessary to develop one's sport, plus having the time and familial support for sufficient man-hours necessary to develop one's sport, plus the necessary psychological make-up for someone to train day after day after day even when they are hating what they're training and want to do anything else, but still continue to train, and do this for 10-15 years. Think about the realistic percentage of intersex, female-identifying people in the world. Now apply the likelihood of those people ALSO getting all of the above. Now ask yourself what will be the greater result of testing women's hormones based on perceived aesthetic "manliness" and forcing them to take supplements: will we find a rash of intersex athletes with sky-high test? Or will we just send the message "Laydeez, your sports are nice, but keep the nail polish, OK?"

Which claims are those? That men aren't naturally better at all possible physical abilities? Or that women are in some respects advantaged with regard to endurance and about which the evidence is, indeed, mixed. Maybe they are, maybe they're not. The evidence is not unambiguous that they are not and just do a damn Google scholar search and you'll find examples.

Except many of your arguments are based in the definitive assertion that women have superior endurance, with no equivocation, and you have this idea that if we only had special women's non-sexist sports women would win, because women have better endurance. So the very foundation of your assumption is flawed. You are the one making the claims counter to common knowledge, thus the burden is on you to provide proof for your argument. As you refuse to do so, I can only assume that your interest in this argument is less about the scientific realities of women's physicality and more about pursuing a private political agenda you have about sports in general.

You have not given any examples besides auto-racing, simply saying "a sport based around endurance that is not time-based could exist" but provide no examples of what this sport could be. Whether you like it or not, ultramarathons, long-distance events, things like stone carries involve myriad measures of physical endurance and men prove to be superior at them, because muscular strength is a major contributor towards physical endurance (the more muscles you have to develop endurance capacity, the longer your body can be supported). Unless you would like to argue against that basic aspect of exercise physiology, in which case please do bring out the physiological studies along with those endurance studies you keep talking about.

As for dexterity, plenty of sports might be considered primarily about dexterity (table tennis, for example). But because dexterity tests muscular control, and the ability to develop superior muscular strength allows for superior muscular control vis-a-vis concomitant development of the central nervous system, that is another area where testosterone provides a major boost.

Ivan, do you have any athletic and strength-and-conditioning experience, or training in human physiology? I would like to know where you are pulling all your ideas.
posted by schroedinger at 8:53 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, schroedinger, dial it back. This isn't some challenge to "men being better at everything," which is what you seem committed to arguing. I think its intruiging to explore the idea of sports not based on physical abilities that we're used to because they were developed by men...a weird example I'm think of right now is plastic cup stacking to show manual dexterity, speed, and precision. I'm not saying that should rise right now to the level of Olympic Sport, but I can invision metrics of this type in sports and it would be interesting to expand our concepts of sports and our understanding and appreciation for the abilities of the human body, for all genders.
posted by agregoli at 5:54 AM on June 14, 2012


> What good is a role model that reached their position due to an abnormality that a vanishingly small number of women will have? If you are a young Jane Doe Athlete then watching Caster Semenya may be kind of cool from an exhibition point of view but you couldn't hope to match or better her without a huge increase in testosterone production.

This reduces her accomplishments to just being a product of her testosterone, which is not only wildly sexist, but medically incorrect.
posted by desuetude at 6:44 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are a young Jane Doe Athlete then watching Caster Semenya may be kind of cool from an exhibition point of view but you couldn't hope to match or better her without a huge increase in testosterone production.

How would that hypothetical case be any different from when most boys watch, oh, basically just about anyone in the NBA?

I was watching the finals the other night, and happened to glance at one player's stats: the guy was six-foot-ten.* I'm not sure exactly how many standard deviations that is outside the human mean, but I bet it's a few. The vast majority of people watching him are never, ever going to be 6'10", and although height isn't everything to a basketball player, it's at least as significant as testosterone might be to a runner. (And, unlike testosterone, the connection is obvious and apparent.) Should we ban someone that tall from playing basketball, on the grounds that they're just too freakish? That they're setting an impossibly high bar in their unasked-for job as role model to youth? I hope the answer is no.

But yet, that's exactly what's being done to Semenya.

* And by NBA standards he's not even really that tall. There's a whole list of current and former NBAers who are over 7'3".
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:15 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This reduces her accomplishments to just being a product of her testosterone, which is not only wildly sexist, but medically incorrect.

It's also amusing in light of that Lance Armstrong thread, where people talk about how the public story for Armstrong's performance had been that his heart was extra large.

NONE OF THE SMALL-HEARTED MEN OF AMERICA WILL EVER RIDE A BIKE GOOD. :(

FOR THE PROTECTION OF MEN, WE MUST BAN ALL LARGE-HEARTED MEN
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:27 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was watching the finals the other night, and happened to glance at one player's stats: the guy was six-foot-ten.* I'm not sure exactly how many standard deviations that is outside the human mean, but I bet it's a few. The vast majority of people watching him are never, ever going to be 6'10", and although height isn't everything to a basketball player, it's at least as significant as testosterone might be to a runner. (And, unlike testosterone, the connection is obvious and apparent.) Should we ban someone that tall from playing basketball, on the grounds that they're just too freakish? That they're setting an impossibly high bar in their unasked-for job as role model to youth? I hope the answer is no.

But yet, that's exactly what's being done to Semenya.


No, what was being done to - not Semenya, because if you read the article she's already not over the limit, but others - is like if there was a category reserved to people 6' and under, and someone 6'.0625" wanted to compete. And now they're allowing you to shave the calluses of your feet to squeeze under. Or something. Height is a bad analogy.

What's actually happening is that we as a society decided we wanted ciswomen to be able to compete in sports. As such, we created a special ciswomen-only category of competition, because if you allow anyone else in, then ciswomen will be excluded from top-level competition. Intersexed women and transwomen want to compete in that. Historically, the answer has been "no". Now, the answer is "Yes, if you lower your testosterone to a competitive level". This is a step forward, and it's also just about the only way to include intersexed women or transwomen without completely shutting ciswomen out of competition. It baffles me that so many people can't wrap their heads around that.
posted by kafziel at 9:56 AM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, what was being done to - not Semenya, because if you read the article she's already not over the limit, but others

I don't get why people keep repeating this, it has been corrected several times. If Semenya were not over the limit she would not be undergoing treatments to lower her testosterone levels.

Also, I don't see that anyone picked up on this quote from the original article, which strikes me as hugely important:
Following her investigation, officials at Athletics South Africa were found to have lied about her case, withholding important medical information from her and international authorities.
To me, this is almost a smoking gun that Semenya has some sort of condition (whether intersexed or what) which gave her a huge advantage... but South African athletic officials hid that information from everyone including Semenya! Which is extremely problematic.
posted by Justinian at 10:06 AM on June 14, 2012


Although it seems every quote about the "withheld information" is ambiguous and may refer to SA officials hiding from Semenya and internation officials that they had performed a gender test at all, rather than hiding the results.
posted by Justinian at 10:11 AM on June 14, 2012


This is a step forward, and it's also just about the only way to include intersexed women or transwomen without completely shutting ciswomen out of competition. It baffles me that so many people can't wrap their heads around that.

If we can't demonstrate that Semenya possesses advantages beyond those seen on the male end of the spectrum, then the argument ceases to be about parity. What's left in place of that argument is some ugly, 19th century stuff.
posted by teekat at 5:44 PM on June 14, 2012


If we can't demonstrate that Semenya possesses advantages beyond those seen on the male end of the spectrum, then the argument ceases to be about parity. What's left in place of that argument is some ugly, 19th century stuff.

Male end of the spectrum doesn't matter. The height of the tallest person in the world doesn't matter a whit to whether a person's qualified to join the under-six-feet basketball league. All that matters is whether Semenya's condition bestows advantages beyond those seen on the cisfemale end of the spectrum, and that has been resoundingly and repeatedly proven.
posted by kafziel at 6:03 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, some terminology clarification: intersexed (wikipedia) is not a subset of cis gendered (wikipedia).
posted by eviemath at 8:02 PM on June 14, 2012


The height of the tallest person in the world doesn't matter a whit to whether a person's qualified to join the under-six-feet basketball league.

Of course Semenya won't qualify if you use the metric they just invented to exclude women like her.

The women's division isn't like an under-six-feet league. The closest analogy would be a league in which almost all of the members are under 6'. In this case, the under-six-feet stipulation was added after the fact. Why even make the stipulation?

That gets back to unfair advantages, which is why someone needs to address why Semenya's advantages are so much more egregious than Wilt Chamberlain's, Babe Ruth's, etc.

Peasant 1: We have found a witch, may we burn her?
Vladimir: How do you known she is a witch?
Peasant 2: She looks like one!

posted by teekat at 12:28 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


edit: a league in which almost all of the members are under 6', by chance, not rule.
posted by teekat at 12:30 PM on June 15, 2012


edit: a league in which almost all of the members are under 6', by chance, not rule.

Except they are under 6' by rule, and it always has been by rule, because the separate league was specifically created to give people under 6' a place to compete.

What, you think womens' sports were only coincidentally full of women, and that they eventually decide "Well, we're all women anyway, let's make it only for women"?
posted by kafziel at 1:16 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


That gets back to unfair advantages, which is why someone needs to address why Semenya's advantages are so much more egregious than Wilt Chamberlain's, Babe Ruth's, etc.

There is a lot of secrecy around exactly what Semenya's deal is, so using her as the paragon is going to make everything unclear. The closest I can ascertain is that the issue may be that she has male reproductive organs, or both male and female reproductive organs.

So, then this is the difference between her and Wilt Chamberlain, Babe Ruth. In pro sports, the idea is that people with male organs are going to compete against each other in one division, and the people with female organs are going to compete against each other in another division, because otherwise the people with female organs would not get to play at all. (We don't say this explicitly and use the terms "men" and "women," because everyone was assuming, when all this started, that man = male organ having person, woman = female organ having person.)

Whatever advantages Wilt Chamberlain and Babe Ruth had, there was not already a separate, higher, more prestigious, and more lucrative division for people with those advantages. If there were it, would be appropriate for them to play in that division, just like there are weight classes based on the advantages of higher weight.
posted by cairdeas at 1:16 PM on June 15, 2012


And there are many ways, besides the examples of biological sex and weight, that athletes are separated into higher and more prestigious divisions based on biological advantages, such as the advantage of age (younger, like in competitive running, or older, like in high school vs. jr. high sports), the advantage of being able-bodied vs. disabled, and so on.
posted by cairdeas at 1:23 PM on June 15, 2012


If you like, maybe we should stop labeling the divisions "men" and "women," completely open them up to both genders, get over this weird squeamishness against being open about this aspect of biology, and relabel them "having male organs" and "having female organs." Then nobody's womanhood or manhood would have to be questions, AND that half of humanity with distinct biological disadvantages in this way would continue to be able to play pro sports.
posted by cairdeas at 1:27 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, teekat, I really wish that when people are trying to talk out thorny questions about biological advantages in sports, you wouldn't imply that we're murderers lusting to burn people and kill them. That doesn't really lend itself to an atmosphere where these things can be talked about civilly.
posted by cairdeas at 1:36 PM on June 15, 2012


And also, I think if there were enough people with whatever specific biological advantages Babe Ruth, Lance Armstrong, etc. have, a higher division *would* be made for those people. Like Lance Armstrong and his gigantic heart. If half the world's population had a 10 pound heart and half had a 5 pound heart, I have no doubt we would have a 10 pound heart league in cycling and a 5 pound heart league. But because there aren't enough people out there with that advantage, there are not enough people to have a higher division. I think lack of enough others with the advantage is the main reason that some all-dominating advantages get a higher league and others don't.
posted by cairdeas at 1:50 PM on June 15, 2012


There is a lot of secrecy around exactly what Semenya's deal is, so using her as the paragon is going to make everything unclear. The closest I can ascertain is that the issue may be that she has male reproductive organs, or both male and female reproductive organs.

Yeah, I have no idea where the whole "Semenya is bog standard cis-female and doesn't even exceed the new testosterone limits!" thing is coming from. The latter part is clearly false, the former seems more likely than not to be false.
posted by Justinian at 5:31 PM on June 15, 2012


Yeah, I have no idea where the whole "Semenya is bog standard cis-female and doesn't even exceed the new testosterone limits!" thing is coming from. The latter part is clearly false, the former seems more likely than not to be false.

The impression I have gotten from what I have read of events is that Semenya does not exceed the new limits. However, she doesn't exceed them only because she's already taking treatment for her intersex condition, which she only learned about as a result of the last controversy.
posted by kafziel at 6:21 PM on June 15, 2012


Those seem like some pretty fine hairs to split, though.
posted by Justinian at 6:49 PM on June 15, 2012


If you like, maybe we should stop labeling the divisions "men" and "women," completely open them up to both genders, get over this weird squeamishness against being open about this aspect of biology, and relabel them "having male organs" and "having female organs." Then nobody's womanhood or manhood would have to be questions, AND that half of humanity with distinct biological disadvantages in this way would continue to be able to play pro sports.

Cairdeas, we don't do this because it won't work. There is no tag that labels every single human's sex in an indisputable, binary way. We are a continuum.

What about CAIS women? They're XY, but don't respond to testosterone. They have testes, but externally appear entirely female (the testes don't descend, but are testes and not ovaries because their formation is due to other genes on the Y chromosome, not to testosterone). So are they "having female organs" or "having male organs"? (For what it's worth, the current rules under discussion would allow CAIS women to compete; they'll have a high testosterone level but can show they derive no advantage from it).

If you think that's a clear case, what about PAIS? PAIS folk have testes too, but they may or may not be descended; their genitalia are intermediate in nature (appearing somewhere in between female and male). There's a full range of PAIS conditions, so that some appear more or less male, externally, and some appear more or less female, but really drawing that line somewhere is kind of arbitrary. (I think the ruling in this case would mean some PAIS people can compete as women without treatment, but I'm not sure.)

And what about mosaicism? It's rare, but some humans have areas of XY cells and areas of XX cells (or even more complicated combinations). This might cause true hermaphroditism, in which the person in question has both ovarian and testicular tissue. (There might be other causes for this; I'm not aware of them personally). So what gender do you assign such a person?

Then there are all sorts of other conditions; I've just picked a few that happen to invalidate the idea of "woman=female organs, male=male organs". (Wikipedia for starters, there are other better links higher up in this thread).

The point is that the range of human gender is mindbogglingly complicated. There simply does not exist any one criterion by which you can label one class of people as "born female" and another as "born male". And we haven't even yet gotten into the entire idea of transfolk.

So this sports governing body has decided that they'll break up the continuum at an arbitrary point, along an arbitrary measure. They argue that testosterone is a decent measure, because more of it certainly provides a competitive advantage (that's why people dope with it).

If we must divide sporting activity along male/female lines, their solution gives a mechanism to do so, without having to explore the myriad possibilities of human sexual biology (and of course gender identification while we're at it).

It might be somewhat arbitrary, but it is no more arbitrary than any other possible way of breaking up the continuum.
posted by nat at 10:11 AM on June 18, 2012


Nat, I completely agree with you. I am totally in favor of moving away from dividing sports activity by gender or gender identification, moving away from dividing it along lines of "being" male vs. female, "born" male vs. female, etc.

I agree that it makes more sense to open everything up to both genders and just divide into higher and lower divisions based on the major biological competitive advantages. Testosterone level and responsiveness is one way of dividing that makes sense to me.
posted by cairdeas at 10:29 AM on June 18, 2012


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