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Caster Semenya and sex varification controversies
August 19, 2009 9:23 PM   Subscribe

South African runner Caster Semenya wins a gold in the 800 meter amid controversy and accusations about her sex. Analysis of Semenya's situation and more information on sex verification in sport.
posted by serazin (171 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well that's a bit different than all the vanilla doping conjecture in the last running thread.
posted by rokusan at 9:43 PM on August 19, 2009


I've been reading a bit about this on various feminist blogs. The consensus on those seems to be that the very idea of trying to limit competitions to a single sex is inherently sexist and heteronormative. Which doesn't make sense to me. I mean, I understand their argument about intersex people and gender and various medical conditions which make it problematic to state a definitive sex for a few individuals. But they don't seem to realize that if you eliminated the restrictions that make for a male competition and a female competition there would never, and that means never, be a world-class race in which a woman placed in the top 3. Possibly never one in which a woman even qualified.

So I understand the ugliness involved in accusing a woman of not being a woman in terms of biological sex. And I have no basis for believing that in this particular case it is anything but sheer nastiness. But to argue against the idea that you need to be an XX biological woman to compete in a woman's competition is essentially to argue that no woman should ever be able to compete in a world class race again.
posted by Justinian at 9:48 PM on August 19, 2009 [10 favorites]


What if they limited by height, rather than by sex?

The five-feet-and-under 100m. The six-two-and-over 200m.
posted by rokusan at 9:51 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a great post, thanks. I am fascinated an perplexed by the societal notion of sex as a binary proposition. Even Wikipedia's page on the taxonomy of gender shows that there are at least 9 factors that weigh in on the matter. Testing will never be accurate or at all appropriate until we collectively widen our view of what it means to be 'male' or 'female'. Also, Pluto is not a planet and there are more than 5 senses. Change is ok.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:52 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


A little breast enhancement here, a little collagen there. Maybe that would make the sport committees and media happy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:53 PM on August 19, 2009


Women have the upper hand when running because they don't have balls to slap violently from side to side on the inside of their thighs like some kind of soft pink double-headed pendulum.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:05 PM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


What if they limited by height, rather than by sex?

The five-feet-and-under 100m. The six-two-and-over 200m.


Apparently most of these world class runners are about the same height. Usain bolt is unusual for being so tall, most runners his size can't compete with the shorter guys on that level.

A lot of Olympic athletics are like that, you have one 'ideal' body type, which is more noticeable (at least to me) in woman's sports. Volley Ball players look different from runners, who look different from gymnasts. You've really got the win the genetic/gestational lottery to operate on the Olympic level.

Because it's not really about the person who works the hardest, it's really about the person who works reasonably hard and happens to fit right in the sweet spot, so I don't really see why it's so bad that some people are excluded from woman's sports for being intersex.
posted by delmoi at 10:06 PM on August 19, 2009


Ya BP, I've been thinking about how people are reacting so much to her "look". It's bizarre to me that rather than routine testing, a single woman can be pulled out for analysis (although some articles I read seem to indicate that there are routine tests for all female athletes, at least at some competitions, so I'm not sure how it works actually).

Rokusan - I don't know anything about Olympic-level running. Do you have a sense of whether dividing by hight would actually be a viable categorization? Do tall women run faster than short men?
posted by serazin at 10:08 PM on August 19, 2009


Oh, delmoi answered my question.
posted by serazin at 10:09 PM on August 19, 2009


[not anti-genderist]
posted by Balisong at 10:09 PM on August 19, 2009


What if they limited by height, rather than by sex?

The five-feet-and-under 100m. The six-two-and-over 200m.


Wouldn't solve the issue. A top world class male will defeat a top world class female of the same height. I'm not sure whether or not it would mean that some women could win in the shorter height classes since far more women than men would qualify as you start getting into the shorter heights. I think you'd have to start getting pretty dang short before the pool of women would be large enough in proportion to the pool of men before the top women began to outperform.
posted by Justinian at 10:13 PM on August 19, 2009


Wouldn't solve the issue. A top world class male will defeat a top world class female of the same height.

At risk of oversimplifying this issue...so what? We're talking about world class athletics here, not intramurals where everyone gets an at-bat. I'm certainly not someone who gets hopped up about Title IX myself, but if you really want to treat everyone as if they're equals, what's wrong with woman competing directly against men? We allow genetic factors (such as height in basketball, for instance) to give certain individuals a natural advantage so why should gender be any different?
posted by dhammond at 10:24 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?
posted by serazin at 10:28 PM on August 19, 2009


I'm certainly not someone who gets hopped up about Title IX myself, but if you really want to treat everyone as if they're equals, what's wrong with woman competing directly against men?

Biology isn't equal- if men competed against women all other things being equal, men would pretty much always win. There may be a sport where that isn't true, but I can't think of what it would be. That's the whole reason everyone is so worked up about Caster Semenya- because they think (or hope?) she won because she's a man, and not because she's just faster than the other women she runs against. Nobody would have wondered about her if she came in 3rd.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:33 PM on August 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

Motorsports.
posted by mullacc at 10:40 PM on August 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

Pregnancy Relays.
posted by tittergrrl at 11:00 PM on August 19, 2009 [29 favorites]


Because it's not really about the person who works the hardest, it's really about the person who works reasonably hard and happens to fit right in the sweet spot

I'm sure it's a bit more than that. There are quite a few people all over the world fitting in that sweet spot all competing for the top position. We don't really hear too much about the ones who only work reasonably hard.
posted by eye of newt at 11:00 PM on August 19, 2009


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

I don't know about any where women would have a straight-up advantage, and it is hard to disentangle that from the fact that men enter many sports at a younger age.

In fact, men and women compete equally in the following events:
-all six equestrian events
-three of the sailing events
posted by atrazine at 11:02 PM on August 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Pluto will always be a planet to me.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:15 PM on August 19, 2009 [11 favorites]


ThePinkSuperhero Biology isn't equal- if men competed against women all other things being equal, men would pretty much always win. There may be a sport where that isn't true, but I can't think of what it would be.

I know very little about sport, but here are some guesses. Certainly anything equestrian should be gender-equal, but that just shifts the gender issue to the horse (I'm not sure if horses are as gender dysmorphic in athletic ability as humans are, though). Sports dependent on aim and agility rather than strength and speed should be more gender-equal: target-shooting, ping-pong, golf, darts, bowls (which brings up the issue of gender disparity in aging, as it is a sport heavily dominated by elderly women), ten-pin bowling, quoits, croquet maybe? Gymnastics and acrobatics might even be female-advantaged given how heavily they depend on flexibility. There may be some martial arts styles in which women have some advantage but given equal skill at the martial art, the stronger and/or faster fighter will win and this is much more likely to be the male.

This is only a high-level problem though. A professional female sports player will kick the ass of any merely competent male amateur, whatever the sport; and anecdotally, in many sports played by people for fun and fitness rather than as a profession, gender correlates somewhat with success at the sport but isn't even close to determinant. (Tennis or squash, for example.)

I suspect the reasons why though are the same three basic reasons why men are over-represented at the high levels in any competitive activity whatsoever including business and academia: (1) biologically, human males vary from each other more than human females vary from each other, ie the human male bell curve for any given measurable quality will be wider and flatter than the human female bell curve for the same quality. The implication is that the extreme ends are more heavily populated with males (and IIRC there are significantly more males among the sufferers of any given genetically determined disability, physical or mental, unless it specifically affects females). (2) more testosterone makes a person more competitive, more hostile, more territorial, more aggressive, less distractable, less perceptive, less sociable; (3) males are socialized--and this iterates with #1 and #2--to be more competitive.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:17 PM on August 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

Opportunities notwithstanding, I think they're pretty much even in shooting and race-car driving.
posted by rokusan at 11:33 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Analysis of Semenya's situation". From the link: "might be male" "may possess secondary male characteristics".

How hard is it to get an answer? Is it, I fear, a matter of politics and being too scared to just make a decision already?

ps: Tell me Fatima Whitbread didn't look like a fella with a wig?!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:35 PM on August 19, 2009


Some have suggested that women might be superior to men at running ultramarathon distances, and I believe there have been ultramarathons where the fastest finisher was a woman.
posted by grouse at 11:36 PM on August 19, 2009


Biology isn't equal- if men competed against women all other things being equal, men would pretty much always win. There may be a sport where that isn't true, but I can't think of what it would be.

Ultra long distance swimming was briefly considered as an example in the early 1990s. At least in the media. Certainly some ladies did very well in international open competition.

I remember some bumph about "the pain of childbirth", but I thought it would be simply "more fat = more buoyancy".
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:39 PM on August 19, 2009


ps: Tell me Fatima Whitbread didn't look like a fella with a wig?!
Yes, a very specific fella with a very specific wig.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:39 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


To borrow a programming metaphor, it seems like we're mixing up the model and the view.

What we're actually modeling is "human performance in an 800m race". What we think we're modeling is "male performance in an 800m race" and "female performance in an 800m race" separately, but since we have data that don't seem to conform to either of those two models we end up with inconsistencies in the system.

(note that "human performance in a race" is itself problematic due to incomplete definitions)

The clear, unbiased way to deal with the Semenya case would be to just measure 800m performance across all athletes instead of pretending they're different competitions, and then have different "views" into the data such as "best XX chromosome female time" or "best time among athletes with developmental disabilities" or "best time allowing for performance-enhancing drugs".

This is, of course, idiotic. As mentioned, the Olympics are supposed to consist of the best performers in a category, and if the only category was "humans" then they would simply be male runners and male bodybuilders and female gymnasts because biological gender puts a practical cap on performance for very nearly 100% of athletes. Insofar as we are overwhelmingly a two-gender society (physiologically), it makes sense to include those as the "built-in" categories.

I'm not happy to just omit certain people from competing based on physiological factors they can't control, but since sports are fundamentally a measure of physiology I don't think there's a way to avoid it. It would be like expecting a gynecologist to accept male patients. Fairer, sure, but reality sometimes trumps idealized "fairness".

Our responsibility should be to make sure we don't let our prejudices compound the biases of nature... not to let our quest for equality become an attempt to repress nature.

Just to head this off:

I am assuming, for the sake of argument, that Semenya is an example of what we're all talking about... either transgenderism or some sort of genetic condition that puts her in a "grey area". This may turn out to be false, but my points still stand... they'll just be slightly less relevant to the FPP.

I know that these doubts and assumptions about her biological gender could be hurtful thanks to our heteronormative culture, and I don't intend them in a hurtful way and I don't assume anyone else here does either. The questions still exist, and even if her actual gender doesn't expose them the very fact that her gender has been called into question makes them relevant.

posted by Riki tiki at 11:43 PM on August 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


We're more concerned for the person not to make this something which is humiliating for her and something which is going to affect her in a negative way.

er, little late for that, no?
posted by jadayne at 11:54 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Some have suggested that women might be superior to men at running ultramarathon distances, and I believe there have been ultramarathons where the fastest finisher was a woman.


A former workmate of mine competed in an all-female rowing pair that came 4th out of 60 in a rowing race across the Atlantic. Many of the 60 crews were all-male. So it seems like extreme endurance events might be at least roughly even.

I could see women competing in sports like cricket or soccer, where size isn't always everything, at least in some positions. I ,mean, if someone as small as Sachin Tendulkar, or as unfit as Inzaman ul-Haq, can be a world-leading batter, it's clear that it's not just a game of brute power, and I don't see why a woman couldn't compete at that level, given opportunity.
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:57 PM on August 19, 2009


Previously, related to a very sad story from the Asian Games a while back.

At least they don't seem to be relying on chromosomal testing this time; that was truly barbaric in Soundarajan's case.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:59 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Apparently most of these world class runners are about the same height. Usain bolt is unusual for being so tall, most runners his size can't compete with the shorter guys on that level.

I don't think there any physiological reasons why taller sprinters cannot be fast, afaict, and guys like Carl Lewis and Linford Cristie were pretty tall. There's also an obvious selection mechanism here - athletes that are quick and tall end up playing football or basket, which pays a lot more even if you're not among the top ten worldwide.

(Donald Thomas is an interesting example here - from so-so basket player to High Jump world champion in a 18 months. There are a lot of potentially excellent track & field athletes hiding in other sports...)
posted by effbot at 12:03 AM on August 20, 2009


I could see women competing in sports like cricket or soccer, where size isn't always everything, at least in some positions. I ,mean, if someone as small as Sachin Tendulkar, or as unfit as Inzaman ul-Haq, can be a world-leading batter, it's clear that it's not just a game of brute power, and I don't see why a woman couldn't compete at that level, given opportunity.

Haha! Stop it. You're killin' me. What's that word all the cool Metafilter kiddies use? Eponysterical, or something.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:05 AM on August 20, 2009


Gymnastics and acrobatics might even be female-advantaged given how heavily they depend on flexibility.

Men and women both compete at gymnastics but in different events. All of them require strength and flexibility but the men's events put a larger emphasis on the former, particularly upper body strength, while the women's events put the emphasis on the latter. So who would be advantaged would depend completely on which gymnastic disciplines they are competing at. Men would absolutely be at a disadvantage at the balance beam. Conversely, they would have a rather large advantage at the pommel horse and rings. I'm unsure who would have the advantage at floor exercises. Perhaps no one. I don't know about vault but I lean towards women because it would seem to be an advantage to have a smaller, more compact frame in that event. And so on.
posted by Justinian at 12:05 AM on August 20, 2009


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

Balance beam. Men's higher center of gravity apparently would impede them if they attempted this sport. Also, it involves slamming your crotch against a lump of wood.
posted by eatyourcellphone at 12:09 AM on August 20, 2009 [10 favorites]


From the Australian edition of the game Trivial Pursuit: In the 1976 Olympic Games, Princess Anne, a member of the British equestrian team, was the only female competitor not required to undergo a sex test.

M'lady...
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:10 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

Ski jumping. Which is why women are not allowed to compete at the Olympic level, but men are. Which ought to tell us a lot about how sport is structured and how mindless it would be to simply remove the gendered distinctions we currently have and expect there to be a reasonable outcome that did not reflect inequality. The status quo is problematic, but expecting women to compete with men when the standard is implicitly defined by men is hardly better. The way we've constructed sport is far from neutral.
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:19 AM on August 20, 2009 [15 favorites]


Princess Anne, a member of the British equestrian team, was the only female competitor not required to undergo a sex test.

Social class issues aside, she did give birth to a son in 1977.

Which raises an interesting side question: for the purpose of gender determination of a sportswoman, is a verified previous pregnancy sufficient?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:21 AM on August 20, 2009


The status quo is problematic, but expecting women to compete with men when the standard is implicitly defined by men is hardly better. The way we've constructed sport is far from neutral.

In a lot of street sports, such as marathon running and bicycle races, men and women technically compete together but there is a prize for best male performer and a prize for best female performer. Does anyone know of a case where the best female performer in such a sport exceeded the best male?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:23 AM on August 20, 2009


In the 1976 Olympic Games, Princess Anne, a member of the British equestrian team, was the only female competitor not required to undergo a sex test.

I remember that Trivial Pursuit card ! It's even weirder when you realize that equestrian events are gender-neutral, with men competing against women. So, never mind Princess Anne - why were they testing any of the female equestrians? I mean, if it turned out you were really a guy, you'd still be able to compete in exactly the same way. Pervy officials just wanted to have a rummage around in other people's jodhpurs, it sounds like to me. Well, it was the 70s, I guess.
posted by eatyourcellphone at 12:25 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

I just gave you one. Ski jumping. Lindsey Van has jumped farther than any man on the same hill, which is exactly the scenario you want. Yet she is prohibited from competing in the Olympics - and we're not supposed to put two and two together. When women get close to beating men in an athletic competition, they are often excluded from competing until the goalposts are shifted and the rules are changed. It's happening right here and right now, in Vancouver 2010.
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:27 AM on August 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


Haha! Stop it. You're killin' me. What's that word all the cool Metafilter kiddies use? Eponysterical, or something.


I don't see why not. Sachin-ji's game is built around exquisite timing, and he's not a big or strong man. Why couldn't a woman do what he does? Same with a smaller, technically skilled player like Aaron Lennon or Shaun Wright-Phillips. I doubt you'd ever see female fast bowlers or central defenders, but spinners, wingers, batsmen (sic)...why not? People used to say black players weren't able to play certain positions in team sports, there's still some who argue in the UK that Asian players can't play soccer.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:31 AM on August 20, 2009


Lindsey Van has jumped farther than any man on the same hill, which is exactly the scenario you want. Yet she is prohibited from competing in the Olympics - and we're not supposed to put two and two together.

Ease up, turbo! Put two and two together, indeed.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:48 AM on August 20, 2009


Back in '32 Stella Walsh or Stanislawa Walasiewicz was also asked to submit to gender verification by the IOC, which she passed. However, when she was killed as a bystander in a robbery, an autopsy showed she had male genitalia.
posted by ooga_booga at 12:53 AM on August 20, 2009


Are there any competitive sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

Uneven bars?

For every strong and fast woman, there is a stronger and faster man, and strength and speed (combined with coordination) win most sports. In a few sports mentioned above, women can compete with men because a machine (or a horse, of course, of course, in equestrian events) is responsible for most or all of the strength and speed required to win the competition. Except for such sports, though, if you made sporting competitions unisex, women would pretty much disappear from amateur and professional sports (except as cheerleaders). It would be Title -9.

And allen.spaulding mentions a woman who excels in ski jumping. That's another sport in which you don't have to be strong and fast to win, I guess because the slope, not the human, is the main energy source, and a competitor would gain no advantage by being bigger and stronger and faster.
posted by pracowity at 12:55 AM on August 20, 2009


And allen.spaulding mentions a woman who excels in ski jumping. That's another sport in which you don't have to be strong and fast to win.

I posit that you could be DEAD and still compete in that event. :)
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:01 AM on August 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


Apparently most of these world class runners are about the same height. Usain bolt is unusual for being so tall, most runners his size can't compete with the shorter guys on that level.

It all depends on the event. In the 100m, shorter runners have an advantage in the initial acceleration off the starting line, where the runners are basically falling forwards and pumping their legs as fast as possible to get them underneath their center of gravity. You'll sometimes see the taller runners splaying their legs slightly outward on the first couple of strides to lower their center of gravity.

Shorter runners also have an advantage in the 200m because of the turn, where the runners have to maintain a high frequency to keep their balance while they lean inwards.

What makes Bolt so amazing is that he runs with perfect technique, every time, on those difficult parts. He usually comes out in front, even if only slightly, after the first 50 meters, and then he can open up with his longer legs in the rest of the race.

By the time you get to the 400m, the lower speeds make a low center of gravity less important, and the taller runners get the advantage on the straightaways. Almost everyone is tall and long-legged.

But the 800m is a weird hybrid, probably the ugliest of the running events. You usually see runners going for a smooth first lap, and then finishing the second 400m any way they can. A lot of times the winner's form goes to hell on the second lap, but they stand the pain better than the other competitors. Semenya ran a beautiful race yesterday, finishing strong and smooth despite an absurdly fast first lap. Let's hope she doesn't get disqualified. Even better would be if Pamela Jelimo, who won everything there was to win last year but is out this year with injuries, can come back and give Semenya some competition.
posted by fuzz at 1:05 AM on August 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


I posit that you could be DEAD and still compete in that event. :)

Just so long as you're not a woman. Seriously. The IOC refuses to let women compete in an Olympic event, and it's one where woman outperform men. You can mock it all you want and linking to some bizarre and off-topic wiki article hardly strengthens your claim, but facts are facts. The best person in the world at an Olympic sport is a woman, hands down. Woman are not allowed to compete in that event because the IOC handwaives about their fragile constitution. Put a few decades of this shit together and you get the current status quo, which people then pretend is natural and use equally handwaive-y arguments about biology about. All of which were made about segregated sports with regard to race.

I wish I could introduce you to the dustbin of history as you guys would have a lot to talk about. But with the sexism still permeating the world of international sport today, you seem to speak for what will surely remain the majority. So scoff away.
posted by allen.spaulding at 1:12 AM on August 20, 2009 [35 favorites]


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

Anecdotal evidence, but I routinely got my arse handed to me by the women in my beginners fencing class. And from what I could tell watching the advanced classes, they fared just as well there.
posted by cloax at 1:13 AM on August 20, 2009


But the 800m is a weird hybrid, probably the ugliest of the running events.

There are 3 ways to get energy. Really really basic descriptions - I apologise in advance to the exercise physiologists out there:

1. PC or CP - you don't actually need oxygen. eg. One could probably do well at the 100m sprint without taking a breath. Sometimes you will note swimmers doing this in the 50m events.

2. Burn carbos in the blood.

3. Burn fat, which then gets converted to carbos in the blood - normally 15 minutes constant exercise before this kicks in.

We got taught the 800m is indeed the "ugliest", or more to the point the "toughest" and most difficult to train for. Something to do with using both PC and carbos for energy and having to train to use both systems.

Er, my point? After the 200m I reckon body chemistry is more important than build. And don't forget the all important fast twitch / slow twitch fibre ratios.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:21 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Woman are not allowed to compete in that event because the IOC handwaives about their fragile constitution.

Well, the formal reason appears to be that there's been only one World Championship for women (earlier this year), which isn't enough to consider women's ski jumping as an established international sport according to the IOC regulations. Still sucks, though.
posted by effbot at 1:34 AM on August 20, 2009


Does anyone know of a case where the best female performer in such a sport exceeded the best male?

The gold in skeet shooting was won by a woman in the 1992 Summer Olympics. It was a mixed field. In the following summer Olympics ('96), skeet shooting was limited to male competitors only.
posted by jamaro at 1:35 AM on August 20, 2009 [34 favorites]


Put a few decades of this shit together and you get the current status quo, which people then pretend is natural and use equally handwaive-y arguments about biology about.

You may have a very good point about Ski Jumping, but I think you're pulling disparate ideas together and calling them the same thing here. If you think biology doesn't mean anything then I suggest you seriously take a closer look at where there are huge differences between men and women to get a better sight on this. Perhaps weightlifting?
posted by P.o.B. at 1:39 AM on August 20, 2009


Hybrid ice-rock climbing. I saw a short film recently on a competition that was part traditional rock climbing, part ice climbing where the only person to actually finish was female. I think most forms of climbing would be pretty even. It's a sport that requires a high strength-to-weight ratio and lots of flexibility.
posted by one_bean at 1:54 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The ski jumping story is an absolute scandal and allen.spaulding is right to bring it up. Legal action was actually brought against VANOC on this matter (a Charter challenge) but disintegrated based on a jurisdictional matter. (The judge agreed it was a discriminatory policy!)

These days I'm more pissed off we're slashing healthcare so we can pay for a billion-plus Olympic security budget, though. Oh, and new highways... yay?
posted by mek at 2:02 AM on August 20, 2009


Semenya's mother speaks!
"If you go at my home village and ask any of my neighbours, they would tell you that Mokgadi is a girl. They know because they helped raise her. People can say whatever they like but the truth will remain, which is that my child is a girl. I am not concerned about such things," she said.
posted by PenDevil at 3:20 AM on August 20, 2009


Gender, sex, whatever you want to construct it as, may be a spectrum, may be multidimensional, and might even be multidimensional with gradiations along most of its axes (let's just start with two, behavior as indexed by picking up a blue truck as opposed to a pink doll versus "if I saw a picture of that person from a distance, what's the chance I'd say it was female), that's all very well and nice, but it tends to ignore two very large factors:

1) If you did a density plot, you'd still get two very, very dense clouds, one representing the traditional view of the male, and one with the traditional view of the female, with some specks as sort of a tenuous filament between them, as well as some outliers.

2) Those axes are not particularly orthogonal to one another in practice.

It's really mistaking the overall structure of the galaxy by insisting that you run some very, very broad averaging functions (on the order of millions of cubic light years) and thereby "proving" that its just a diffuse smear of hydrogen and some helium. There's a reason we see a small hump, and some arms, and some fuzziness in a galaxy around the edges, just as we "see" two genders; that's where the numbers clump up, and that's what's useful in describing it.

Remdinding us that the map isn't the territory, and then saying that everyone is trapped into seeing the galaxy as some kind of rigid object carved out of starstuff with the edges as clearly defined as that of a throwing star, so we ought to scrap the whole thing in favor of this continuum of light elements, that's a bit like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It's even more binary and divisive as the gender division lines argued against.

We can recognize a multidemnsional spectrum exists without insisting that it is all which exists and that we must ignore these clumps, as arbitrary as they may be, because the Multidimensional Spectrum is Orthodoxy. We can do this, people.
posted by adipocere at 4:21 AM on August 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


Anecdotal evidence, but I routinely got my arse handed to me by the women in my beginners fencing class. And from what I could tell watching the advanced classes, they fared just as well there.

"A little girl, hating embroidery, I watched the young boys practicing and I hated the hobbles of a gown. I was a better rider than they, a better hunter, as I proved, and alone with quintain I proved myself with spear. Only the accident of girlness prevented me from being more than equal to the boys. Hating my limiting sex, I sometimes dressed in boys' clothes, masked myself against shame, and waited in a forest glade like a child errant for boys and young men. I beat them wrestling and with quarter stave, stood against them with sword and shield, until one time I killed a young knight in a fair fight. Then I was afraid. I buried his body, hid his armor, and crept back to the protection of my needlework. You know that burning is the punishment for a lady's treason against a knight."

"What are you telling me?" Sir Ewain cried. "This is a tale of terror and unnatural."

"Perhaps it is," she said. "I wonder how unnatural? Then I knew I must forgo knighthood."

-- John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights
posted by timeo danaos at 4:38 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Gender, sex, whatever you want to construct it as...

Sex, please. Gender is for nouns and prudes.
posted by atrazine at 5:20 AM on August 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


Why the hell would you wait to qualify the competitors until AFTER the race? Seems inept.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:22 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Because it's not really about the person who works the hardest, it's really about the person who works reasonably hard and happens to fit right in the sweet spot, so I don't really see why it's so bad that some people are excluded from woman's sports for being intersex.

This is not true. Track and Field is incredibly deep and incredibly competitive. At this level you make a ton of money, and every aspect of the sport is dissected. There are hundreds of people around the world that train full-time to be 800m runners. It's about everything - talent identification, training to the limit, and careful planning of a racing schedule.

Those events which women sometimes beat the men are often incredibly obscure and don't have the participation numbers for the men to beat the women based on performance curves. It's easy to pick out a round-the-world rowing event and say that all the men got beaten by a woman , but it's not possible to draw the conclusion that women are better at it than men without having a suitable sample size of people who prepare for it equally.

The 800, and distance running in general, is so much harder for women than men for a variety of reasons. As an example, I was a middle-distance track runner in university who didn't train specifically for 800 at all - I was a 1500/5000 guy. Yet, the few 800s I ran I was at 1:59 - a world-class 800 time for women despite me being 19 and terribly inexperienced and unprepared for the event. Men are at a huge advantage over women in physical sports. We have way more muscle, more testosterone, more hemoglobin and a better physiology for running. It's not sexist, it's just fact.

Caster blew the field away easily yesterday, and he/she did it with such ease that there is definitely something wrong. It looks like she can run 1:48 in a year, and if this happens without any other actions it'll be an utter shitstorm. If it's true that she's not entirely female, it's not fair that she compete with other women - it simply renders the real women in the event to also-rans and undermines womens' sport entirely.

The thing that annoys me most is Semenya's completely unsportsmanlike behaviour. She's brushing her shoulders off constantly (track speak for 'this is not even worth my time') and refuses to shake the hands of anyone afterwards or give trackside interviews. Just for brushing her shoulders I'd love to see her go down. It's the ultimate in arrogance and disrespect, given the company she's in.
posted by jimmythefish at 5:32 AM on August 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


The woman who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig was quickly kicked out of baseball.
posted by drezdn at 5:42 AM on August 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


A couple of things: 10 pin bowling is as much about strength as it is about accuracy. With the way bowling balls are constructed nowadays, in many cases strength is accuracy. In professional bowling, male pro bowlers have a higher average and than pro women do.

I'm a feminist who doesn't much care about separations by nominal sex in sports. When we start to talk about transgender people who are transitioning, it's clear to me that a trans-woman who was once a world-class male athlete will no longer be able to compete against men, due to the effects of the hormones that she is taking. Heck, I've known a few transwomen who struggle to compete against other women after transitioning. The hormone regiment is meant to effect those biological differences that make trained men stronger than trained women - a higher fat-to-muscle ratio, for example.

In short, all this hand-wringing about "men competing on an easier playing field" is not right. It's not even wrong. It's a discriminatory mis-direction.
posted by muddgirl at 6:06 AM on August 20, 2009


She's brushing her shoulders off constantly (track speak for 'this is not even worth my time') and refuses to shake the hands of anyone afterwards or give trackside interviews

Could it be that she's just shy? I hate snobby arrogance just as much as anyone, but one always hears that shy people give the impression that they are snobs. Or maybe she is still so focused at the end of the race and she can't "turn it off" so quickly, in time to shake hands and smile for the cameras.

I'm just playing devil's advocate here, just throwing it out there...
posted by bitteroldman at 6:07 AM on August 20, 2009


Lindsey Van has jumped farther than any man on the same hill

While that is impressive enough, you cannot directly compare the jump lengths in different conditions on different days. The height of the starting platform makes all the difference. This is why they have test jumpers before the race and even then they sometimes have to restart races with lower platform heights because it has become unsafe for the better jumpers to jump as far as they can.

I know it will be too late for the current generation of jumpers but I have no doubt that as the sport of women's ski jumping advances in organization and level of competition, we will see it in 2014. And I wouldn't be so fast to blame sexism, women's ski jumping just is not a very mature sport. There are plenty of sports that want to take part in the olympics, so the olympics do need to have some rules.
posted by Authorized User at 6:08 AM on August 20, 2009


Anecdotal evidence, but I routinely got my arse handed to me by the women in my beginners fencing class.

There's actually been some discussion about this within the fencing community, though I don't see an actual rule change coming anytime soon. I would certainly believe that the top women would be competitive in fencing, especially in foil (and maybe sabre eventually, but currently it's still very recent as a women's event). Once you reach a certain level of physical skill, the sport is so much more about mental quickness and strategy. Epee might be more skewed towards men simply on the basis of height (which isn't everything, but there is a reason they constantly try to recruit the tall guys into epee).

Interestingly, the NCAA rules do allow women to compete in the men's meets if a school is unable to field a full team of men, but not vice-versa. However, it would be pretty rare for a school to have a top level woman, but not a full squad of men, so the results probably aren't useful for analysis.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 6:10 AM on August 20, 2009


In the 1976 Olympic Games, Princess Anne, a member of the British equestrian team, was the only female competitor not required to undergo a sex test.

Social class issues aside, she did give birth to a son in 1977.


Guess someone 'checked her gender' in 1976! Eh? Eh?

I'll see myself out
posted by graventy at 6:13 AM on August 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


jimmythefish: Caster blew the field away easily yesterday, and he/she did it with such ease that there is definitely something wrong.

Interesting that I haven't heard anyone say the same about Usain Bolt. It seems to me to be just as true of him/her.
posted by Dysk at 6:14 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The IOC is world politics conducted by dilettantes and the sports they approve are what you would expect. If anything they tend toward sexism as a symptom of classism. Most of the sports they include are ones that a nineteenth century English Lady or Gentleman could engage in without seeming untoward. The IOC recognizes Bridge as a sport is really all you need to know.
/derail
posted by vapidave at 6:20 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


A note about the 800m. The semifinal times for most of these women were in the 1:59 - 2:00 range (The winning time in the final was 1:56 and change). I graduated from high school in the mid 80s, and we had a guy who was a district champ in the 800 - his winning time was 1:59. The men's record is 1:41, and to win a big men's meet like this you need to do low 1:40s. I guess what I'm saying is, the performance is not world-shaking, she's nowhere near the women's record, even... not seeing the big fuss.
posted by Mister_A at 6:25 AM on August 20, 2009


jimmythefish: Caster blew the field away easily yesterday, and he/she did it with such ease that there is definitely something wrong.
Interesting that I haven't heard anyone say the same about Usain Bolt. It seems to me to be just as true of him/her.
In Bolt's recent record breaking race, he was about 1.4% faster than the second place finisher. Semenya was about 2.1% faster than the second place finisher in her recent race.

I don't know that this is a particularly meaningful distinction, and it may be apples to oranges due to Bolt's being 100 meters and Semenya's being 800, and I'm certainly not saying that "there is definitely something wrong", but there's a definitely a difference in their respective degrees of relative dominance.
posted by Flunkie at 6:29 AM on August 20, 2009


> Interesting that I haven't heard anyone say the same about Usain Bolt. It seems to me to be just as true of him/her.

What?
posted by nowonmai at 6:31 AM on August 20, 2009


Could it be that she's just shy?

I don't think that's the problem.

I guess what I'm saying is, the performance is not world-shaking, she's nowhere near the women's record, even... not seeing the big fuss.

Well that's the problem...it's not earth-shaking but it's clearly better than the rest of the world. Nobody even heard of her even a few months ago. She might indeed be a clean woman, a doped woman, a clean boy, a doped boy. Given that she has the voice of a young man, the physique of a young man and the performances of a relatively decent young man, we tend to think there are problems with it all when adding it up. You may not think something is wrong, but lots of people who have been involved in track their whole lives have never seen anything quite like this kid in the 800, and are calling foul.

Interesting that I haven't heard anyone say the same about Usain Bolt. It seems to me to be just as true of him/her.

What, that Bolt is a man? I think that's been clearly established. Bolt's speed can be rationalized by his physiology - but there is a great deal of speculation about drug use there. That's as far as you can really go with a man, unless you believe he's a robot.
posted by jimmythefish at 6:38 AM on August 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


I don't know that this is a particularly meaningful distinction, and it may be apples to oranges due to Bolt's being 100 meters and Semenya's being 800, and I'm certainly not saying that "there is definitely something wrong", but there's a definitely a difference in their respective degrees of relative dominance.

Apples and oranges. Semenya's issue is about being a man or a woman. Bolt's issue is whether he's on drugs or not. Being a woman is a much bigger disadvantage than being clean. World class men are about a second faster than world class women. Bolt's advantage over Gay was .13 seconds.
posted by jimmythefish at 6:41 AM on August 20, 2009


Woman are not allowed to compete in that event because the IOC handwaives about their fragile constitution.

That's funny. I thought it was for the same reason we don't have sumo -- not enough international competitors.

Lack of competitors link.
"Fragile constitution" link?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:44 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


So what would happen if we had "build classes" like the weight classes you see in boxing?

Or, hell, just go to the apparent source of the variation and have serum testosterone classes? Have a low-testosterone class centered around the normal range of variation for XX folks, a medium-testosterone class centered around the normal range for XYs, and a ultra-high-testosterone class above and beyond that.

Everyone gets to compete. XY competitors will fall into the low testosterone class now and then (androgen insensitivity, 5-alpha-reductase deficiency), and the odd XX might fall into the medium testosterone class naturally, but they'll get fair competition even still. Folks with an odd number of chromosomes will have a well-defined category to compete in too: ignore the chromosomes, just look at their T levels. And then of course, if you want to medicate yourself into another class — by taking anti-androgens or getting testosterone shots, or by taking anabolic steroids — that's fine and dandy. Transgendered competitors and hardcore juicers all welcome.

(It'll never work. Too complicated, too easy to game, and too far outside the Olympic idea that athletes are the neo-classical paragons of humanity — meaning, of course, that half are paragons of manhood and half are paragons of womanhood. But it'd either solve a bunch of problems the games are currently facing, or it would force us to acknowledge that testosterone and training aren't everything, there's some third factor in play. Either would be an interesting outcome in my book.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:47 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hybrid ice-rock climbing.

Hell yeah. I would watch that.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:53 AM on August 20, 2009


Not that anyone's choice of clothing is in any way indicative of sex, but I couldn't help but notice that Semenya was the only woman wearing longer running shorts. It seems that just about every other woman in track and field wears those tiny shorts that look like briefs (with obvious exception of women from orthodox traditions), while men almost exclusively wear the longer shorts.

If Semenya does turn out to be intersex, it is unfortunate that there is not a venue for her to compete and be acknowledged, but in running, maleness (even partial) is a distinct and significant advantage. Despite this facet of herself being inherent rather than chosen, it is still an unfair advantage. It's similar to the issue of prosthetic limbs; while it's likely that no one would cut off their feet or legs to be a better runner, if prosthetic leg technology improves to the point where they're faster than natural, they should be disallowed from competition.
posted by explosion at 6:58 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lindsey Van has jumped farther than any man on the same hill

While I think it's completely nonsensical that women are not allowed to compete in the Olympics, this is utter nonsense. The reason she jumped farther was that she was allowed to start much higher up the hill than the men, therefore hitting the jump at a much higher speed.
posted by Dumsnill at 7:08 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Could it be that she's just shy?

The distance between shy and snob isn't so far. I believe that a shy person probably wouldn't excel at competing in an arena with thousands of spec-taters and millions of viewers.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 7:09 AM on August 20, 2009


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

Opportunities notwithstanding, I think they're pretty much even in shooting and race-car driving.


I don't know about shooting, but you are totally wrong about the race car driving example. Completely so.
posted by Brockles at 7:17 AM on August 20, 2009


It seems that just about every other woman in track and field wears those tiny shorts that look like briefs (with obvious exception of women from orthodox traditions), while men almost exclusively wear the longer shorts.

Your observation plus the fact that Marion Jones used long shorts too is as much proof as anyone would ever need on the Internet.
posted by effbot at 7:20 AM on August 20, 2009


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

A few years back, I read an article arguing that top professional women completely destroy top professional men in windstufing. The article went on to claim that splitting windsurfing competitions into male and female classes tends to marginalize the superior female athletes because marketing dollars follow the men.

I have no idea if this is true, but I do remember mixed gender dinghy sailing teams being competitive in collegiate events.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:22 AM on August 20, 2009


you are totally wrong about the race car driving example

Guess it depends on what you think of Indy cars.
posted by smackfu at 7:26 AM on August 20, 2009


Opportunities notwithstanding, I think they're pretty much even in shooting and race-car driving.

Someone ought to tell Danica Patrick that. (she's supposedly the best female driver ever, and has one win in 77 Indy-class starts)
posted by deadmessenger at 7:38 AM on August 20, 2009


I think that most individual sports could follow the promotion format of English Premiere League Football. Have multiple levels of competition where folks compete to either elevate or drop in bracket regardless of gender or sex. I would be interested to long term results for a track and field competition with that sort of structure. Team sports become a much more confusing venture for this thought, though.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 7:38 AM on August 20, 2009


Your observation plus the fact that Marion Jones used long shorts too is as much proof as anyone would ever need on the Internet.

Oh geez, I totally forgot about her. I definitely didn't intend the shorts thing as any sort of hard evidence, but it was just an observation that I noticed, and it seemed strange that it wasn't pointed out anywhere.

I wonder sometimes why women wear such tiny shorts in sports. Or alternately, if the tiny shorts are any sort of advantage, why aren't the guys donning hilariously short shorts for running as well?
posted by explosion at 7:38 AM on August 20, 2009


Modesty? Having external dangling bits changes things a bit.
posted by idiopath at 7:41 AM on August 20, 2009


Guess it depends on what you think of Indy cars.

Nope. There are no women in Indycars (especially Indycars) that are consistently defeating anyone (in equal equipment). One (predominately tactical in nature) win in three years in arguably the best equipment is consistently losing at a horrific rate in racing, no matter how it looks from an armchair perspective. Swimsuit photoshoots don't make up for poor driving ability when you actually consider competition results. The hype is very much not deserved. I know I keep picking up on this, but this media storm of guff about how marvellous Danica is and how she is 'taking it to the men' is laughable to anyone that has more than a TV perspective of the sport. She really isn't as good as the opportunities she is constantly given (which is why 3/4 of the NASCAR field politely declined her 'talent' when she approached them a few weeks ago). Danica's strength is in marketing and sponsor attraction, not driving talent.

There is only one woman racing driver consistently competing and defeating men on an equal basis: Simona de Silvestro. She is very much several heads and shoulders above the rest of the female drivers out there and very much an exception in terms of women drivers in general, sadly. I wish she had half the damn hype around her that Danica (all looks no talent) Patrick gets as I think Simona would help the sexism in racing rather than compounding it like Danica is. No driver has consistently underperformed as her with such good equipment since the days of David Coulthard in F1...

If you want to respect a woman for her driving ability, pick Simona. That girl has some serious skill. I wish there were more like her, but there doesn't seem to be at present.
posted by Brockles at 7:43 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Someone ought to tell Danica Patrick that. (she's supposedly the best female driver ever, and has one win in 77 Indy-class starts)

I guess it depends on what you consider "pretty much even". If one female can be competitive (including a win) with the males, in a sport which is traditionally male-only down to the lowest levels, there doesn't seem to be a huge skill gap. Compare to many other sports, which have equal male / female participation at lower levels, but a female competitor couldn't even qualify for the competition.
posted by smackfu at 7:45 AM on August 20, 2009


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

Ski jumping. Which is why women are not allowed to compete at the Olympic level, but men are.

I am absolutely mortified that I have never, ever clocked this omission. (Yes, I've read the whole thread & the various explanations - just picked that Q and allen.spaulding's first answer as a good capsule).

I've watched a ton of winter Olympics (dire skier myself), adore most events, still remember my ski-nut stepfather explaining Jean-Claude Killy's exceptional backwards leaning style - and yet I've totally missed the invisible female ski jumpers. I'm appalled.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:48 AM on August 20, 2009


Lindsey Van keeps coming up, so here's a snip from an interview with her:
[Q] Getting women's ski jumping onto the Olympic program has been a hot topic for many years. Why has the movement been so focused on creating a separate division, as opposed to an open division where both men and women can compete, like in luge doubles?

[A] Ski jumping shouldn't have that. Body types are different; everything is different. We do not want to compete with the men. We want something different. Take men's and women's downhill, for example. If they were combined, the men would kill the women. It would be no competition. In ski jumping, it's the same thing. We don't want to be compared with the guys. We want a separate division.

[Q] You share the overall Normal Hill (K95) record [105.0m, set in January 2008} at the Whistler Olympic Park? Given that, is there really such a difference between men and women?

[A] It's such a technical sport that women need a little bit more speed to jump the same distance. With more speed, you're going to see women jump just as far as men on any hill. That said, the difference is not as obvious in ski jumping as in other sports. That's where a lot of the push [for Olympic inclusion] is coming from. If we were to compete on the same hill, at the same speed, we would jump shorter, but if you give us a few more kilometers per hour of speed, we're going to jump just as far, and it's not going to look any different.
According to her, then, men would beat women in ski jumping if everyone played by the same rules. I'm assuming she knows what she's talking about.
posted by pracowity at 7:49 AM on August 20, 2009 [13 favorites]


Interesting that I haven't heard anyone say the same about Usain Bolt. It seems to me to be just as true of him/her.

Bolt needs his whiteness investigated. Obviously black men have a physical advantage over white men when it comes to sprinting, just like men have over women. I think there should be a limit to just how black you can be and still take part in the sprints.
posted by carfilhiot at 7:56 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm still confused about whether she's disqualified if she does prove to be interesexed. Transgender athletes are now allowed to compete right?

I'd also be interested in hearing more about the racial dimension of these accusations as ideas of how gender should appear are obviously culture-bound and there is a history around white perceptions of black female masculinity.
posted by serazin at 8:02 AM on August 20, 2009


Here's the IAAF paper on the subject: IAAF POLICY ON GENDER VERIFICATION
posted by smackfu at 8:10 AM on August 20, 2009



Some have suggested that women might be superior to men at running ultramarathon distances, and I believe there have been ultramarathons where the fastest finisher was a woman.


Pamela Reed has won Badwater flat out, and there might be a couple of other female ultra winners out there, but those exceptions actually tend to prove the rule. When elite male and elite female runners run ultras together the women finish significantly behind the men almost always. (Significant here is measured in hours.) You need to keep in mind with this stuff the level of the competition. There are plenty of ultras that have been won by very good runners who would not have won were the field deeper and filled with elite runners. That's the nature of a sport like ultrarunning.
posted by OmieWise at 8:16 AM on August 20, 2009


Metafilter: It involves slamming your crotch against a lump of wood.
posted by howling fantods at 8:35 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?


Roller Derby, specifically flat-track roller derby.
posted by capnsue at 8:48 AM on August 20, 2009


Metafilter: Having external dangling bits changes things a bit.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 8:49 AM on August 20, 2009


Obviously [west Africans] have a physical advantage over [everyone] when it comes to sprinting

is both less racially charged and more accurate. Not holding my breath for any or Kenyan or Tanzanian sprinters winning gold medals any time soon.
posted by kersplunk at 8:55 AM on August 20, 2009


Michelle Dumaresq has an interesting, if tangential, story.
posted by fixedgear at 8:55 AM on August 20, 2009


When did gender verification become an issue? Was is the East German girls, as parodied in The Simpsons?
posted by graventy at 8:57 AM on August 20, 2009


Roller Derby, specifically flat-track roller derby.

I don't know much about Roller Derby, but why?
posted by drezdn at 8:59 AM on August 20, 2009


"Dude?"
"Dude."
"Dude!"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:00 AM on August 20, 2009


[Danica Patrick is] supposedly the best female driver ever

Michele Mouton.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:02 AM on August 20, 2009


b1tr0t: Your observations about dinghy sailing are true for some classes. I can imagine that most single- and double-handed boats have very little to gain from being all-male. On the other hand, in bigger classes (such as the Fin and 49er) being stronger (and certainly heavier) is pretty important. It's telling that Ben Anslie had to put on a hell of a lot of weight when he went from a Laser to a Fin.

In windsurfing, some competitions probably favour women. A lower centre of gravity really helps in Freestyle, where it's all about technique. I can totally imagine the Moreno twins giving any man a run for their money. At the moment, the limiting factor is probably just the number of women who are involved in the Freestyle scene.

Classic windsurf racing, as we have in the Olympics, I expect needs to be split male/female. There's a huge amount of strength involved, as it's basically just non-stop pumping the sail (think non-stop push-ups).
posted by iso_bars at 9:05 AM on August 20, 2009


OK, so it's not ski jumping, not driving, and not running really too fucking far if you as me, but for all we know it may be sword fighting and sailing and windsurfing and shooting guns and some forms of gymnastics, particularly if the event involves slamming your crotch into a solid object? Women are going to get all the coolest medal, particularly if some of these are combined. For example, in the pirate skills competition, you might have to win a sword fight, wind surf over to an island, fight a duel with pistols, wind surf to a ship, capture the ship but then be forced to walk the plank, but outsmart your captors by suddenly dropping to the plank crotch first while snatching the pistol, and still being able to stagger across the finish line.
posted by pracowity at 9:11 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Although I don't expect it to actually happen—at least not in my lifetime—what I'd like to see is all the sex/gender barriers torn down, and then if we want to have a roughly equal number of male and female medalists, we pick sports that favor different body types in order to get the desired results.

That might mean getting rid of some of the raw-strength sports and replacing them with ones involving more subjective or style-based judging criteria, or with skill-based sports where precision or accuracy are more important than just being the fastest or going the furthest.

The current system—where we have sports that almost always favor men, but then create a separate-but-"equal" competition for women—seems inherently sexist, and bound to entrench the idea of women as 'natural' inferiors. The deck is stacked from the very beginning.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:26 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Capnsue, I'm a huge fan of women's derby, and I actually skate on a men's flat-track roller derby team, and I have to disagree with you. There haven't been many boys-vs-girls bouts except for closed scrimmages or at events like RollerCon that cater more to skaters than fans, but even with less experience and fewer skaters, the guys usually win.

Strategy and teamwork don't have a gender difference; and in my experience, damn, the women hit way harder (not to mention their center of gravity makes them better at hip-checking, which is more effective than shoulder-checking). But the men can consistently skate faster without getting as tired -- and that can be enough to force the other team to play your game.
posted by nicepersonality at 9:31 AM on August 20, 2009


I'm still confused about whether she's disqualified if she does prove to be interesexed. Transgender athletes are now allowed to compete right?

Intersexed != transgendered
Sex != gender

It seems to me the fairest thing to do is have open competitions for sports where there's a reasonably level playing field (equestrian, shooting, sailing, etc.) and have three sex-segregated categories (male, female, and open) for competition in sports where sex-related physiology confers an advantage.
posted by notashroom at 9:32 AM on August 20, 2009


Heh. Replace raw-strength sports with style-based ones in order to level the playing field for women. That's not sexist at all.
posted by smackfu at 9:33 AM on August 20, 2009


have three sex-segregated categories (male, female, and open)

How does creating a third category that men would dominate help things?
posted by smackfu at 9:35 AM on August 20, 2009


I don't know much about Roller Derby, but why?

At least in the current state of the sport, the best women's teams consistently beat the best men's teams by large margins. I realize some of this has to do with the fact that are many more established and experienced women's leagues than men's leagues right now.

The men's game is a lot different than the women's game. I hate to grossly generalize, but the women's game tends to rely more on agility and finesse while many men rely on their body size to give them an advantage. In many of the derby games I've seen, the women's style of play is more effective.

Again, I'm TOTALLY generalizing here, but this has been my experience.
posted by capnsue at 9:43 AM on August 20, 2009


How does creating a third category that men would dominate help things?

It would open a playing field for intersexed individuals and transsexed individuals to compete without having to submit to humiliating examinations, for one. I admit the idea isn't fully-fleshed, and there probably ought to be some way to prevent those who are capable of (nearly-)dominating the male category from simply switching to dominating this one as well.
posted by notashroom at 9:47 AM on August 20, 2009


Nicepersonality -- hehe! We regularly have scrimmages between our top 10 all star women's team and our men's league... and the ladies routinely decimate the men.

But like I said, I'm totally generalizing based on the play that I've seen. You're absolutely right that boys vs girls games aren't common enough to make a real judgement, so point taken :)
posted by capnsue at 9:52 AM on August 20, 2009


More subjectively-scored events? Yeah, that's just what the Olympics needs.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:02 AM on August 20, 2009


"And I wouldn't be so fast to blame sexism, women's ski jumping just is not a very mature sport."

this leaves the question of why women's ski jumping is not a very mature sport, and that is where I would go looking for sexism.

not that I can answer the question. I don't know anything about ski jumping. but I used to be a competitive fencer, and in my experience men consistently outperformed women. speed, reach and height are too important for the playing field to be equal.
posted by spindle at 10:13 AM on August 20, 2009


(Capnsue, I just looked up your location, and yeah, I would expect to lose to Charm City too! I guess men's derby is young enough that there are still huge stylistic differences between teams and regions. We really try to focus on playing a clean, technical game too, and that may help. I don't see Battles of the Sexes becoming a common thing in derby, and I never expect to draw a paying crowd, but I think men's derby is slowly losing its stigma among skaters and that makes me happy.)
posted by nicepersonality at 10:21 AM on August 20, 2009


Are there any competative sports in which women would consistently defeat men in open competition?

Knuckleballer, if Eri Yoshida succeeds.

The fam does horsie and sailing so knew/love those. Didn't know all that about sk[i|eet], that's awful.
posted by drowsy at 10:29 AM on August 20, 2009


That's funny. I thought it was for the same reason we don't have sumo -- not enough international competitors.

Putting sumo aside since weight and size are obviously an issue there: how many competitive women are dissuaded from competing in a particular sport because there is no Olympic event for them? If you're a serious athlete I think you would weigh the option of participating in a sport where you can compete at the highest level versus a sport where at this point, only men end up in the spotlight. I know there are plenty of athletes that choose the sport they excel in regardless, but not everyone wants to end up as the asterisk in ski jumping or compete at the world level while having to deal with being the anomaly in a strange nether world of not quite prime time competition.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:49 AM on August 20, 2009


how many competitive women are dissuaded from competing in a particular sport because there is no Olympic event for them?

if i could get it in the olympics, i would totally make up a sport that only i can do.
posted by snofoam at 10:56 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nope. There are no women in Indycars (especially Indycars) that are consistently defeating anyone (in equal equipment).

Yes, well; there are a huge shitpile of men in the business of racing who are also not consistently defeating anyone. The statistically larger significant number of men than women in the sport pretty much guarantees that the absolute best drivers in the business will be men; there's no guarantee any one of them will be, and most of them never will be.

Does this mean that women have equal to/better capacity for success than men in racing? No; that may or may not be true. It does, however, mean that the current predominant success of men in racing is not an indicator that men will always be equal to/better than women in their capacity to achieve that success.
posted by davejay at 10:57 AM on August 20, 2009


And the ski meme is now firmly established in the metafilter consciousness.
posted by rr at 10:57 AM on August 20, 2009


how many competitive women are dissuaded from competing in a particular sport because there is no Olympic event for them?

Probably not that many to be honest. When most people take up a sport, they don't expect or forecast that they will compete at the Olympic level. They do it because they love it, and because they happened to be exposed to it. By the time most athletes reach Olympic caliber, they have invested many, many hours of training and play into their sport of choice. It's not so easy to just drop that sport and pick up a new one. This may not be the case for a few exceptional athletes or perhaps sports which are so young/small that the threshold for Olympic-level performance is relatively low, but I'd wager that the size of the group you're talking about is pretty small.
posted by taliaferro at 10:58 AM on August 20, 2009


oneirodynia -- That was a response to the original (repeated, insistent statement that "fragility" is the IOC explanation for lack of a women's ski jump event, and that it is on the level of "2+2" math that superior female ski jumpers + lack of an event for them = a sexist attempt by the IOC to prevent establishment of an event that men would lose at.

This garnered lots of favourites. Perhaps some of these folks would put some effort into establishing the supposed IOC explanation -- still waiting for that link -- and Lindsey Van herself doesn't believe in the superiority of female ski jumpers.

But to your comment, I would note that the Olympics is with a few exceptions still for top amateur sport. There is a thriving international sports scene that exists beyond the bounds of the Olympics.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:03 AM on August 20, 2009


Bah. End bracket after insistent.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:04 AM on August 20, 2009


This whole uproar and discussion is really interesting, but I'm mainly excited that it gives me the opportunity to trot out the name of one Dora Ratjen, a man hired by the Nazis to impersonate a woman and bring glory to the Reich during the 1936 Olympic Games.

I love when truth ends up being stranger than fiction.
posted by mynameisluka at 11:23 AM on August 20, 2009


I love how people insist that sexism cannot possibly the reason for something like this when it stares them in the face. There are tons of websites for and by women's ski jumpers who just want to compete - for them it's less about sex equality than just being given a chance to perform. There is no shortage of quotes like this one:

"It's like jumping down from, let's say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view," - Gian Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation.

Anyone who knows the history of sex and race discrimination in sport knows that similar arguments have been used forever to keep people out. Just-so stories about the fragility of womens' uteruses, or different metabolic pathways in African-Americans which meant that they couldn't perform in the big leagues - relegating these athletes to underfunded and undersupported secondary-class leagues where they still struggled to be world-class.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:31 AM on August 20, 2009


And I would counsel against taking Van's public statements on the matter as the gospel truth. She's trying to break into a closed event where there is no formal due process to follow - the way one does that is by being as non-threatening as possible. If she got up and denounced the IOC, she'd be less likely to get them to change their minds. Instead, by acting meek and humble, she may have a chance. So of course she's going to present this in the least dramatic terms possible - so long as the decision may still be reversed.

Jackie Robinson didn't stand up and call out White America in the sharpest terms possible at first.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:35 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another post about this on the main page of Feministing.com. And in the comments there are a bunch of women, again, arguing that Semenya should be allowed to compete in whatever category she wishes to compete in regardless of her sex at birth. I just don't get it.
posted by Justinian at 11:40 AM on August 20, 2009


It does, however, mean that the current predominant success of men in racing is not an indicator that men will always be equal to/better than women in their capacity to achieve that success.

By 'current', surely you mean 'since motor racing began'. And I'm afraid it IS an indicator that men and women will not be able to compete equally. Racing in it's current form will always favour males than females (even disregarding cultural biases for interest in cars in the first place) because motor racing is so dependent on a certain level of physical fitness that is statistically unlikely to occur in enough women to give a decent chance of that physical form coinciding with the other natural elements (and desire) required to be competitive at a professional level. It is extremely unlikely that there will ever be parity in number of women that are competitive with men in motor sport as it currently exists.

So until racing fundamentally changes and becomes less about physical ability, a much smaller percentage of women will have a coincidental physical suitability to the sport than men, and consequently there will be the same step separation seen in other sports of high physical demand. Of the many thousands of men that compete in racing, a tiny proportion are successful. With the already tiny proportion of women that are physically suited, a tiny proportion of that number means it is unlikely that regular occurrences of talented female drivers will become the norm.

The only reason people don't understand why men and women can't compete equally in motorsport is because they have no clue at all how hard it is to do - they just see it as driving, yet there is a whole lot more to it than that.
posted by Brockles at 11:43 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


So what would happen if we had "build classes" like the weight classes you see in boxing?

Then people would annoint the winner of the class they perceived as the most elite the top of the world. Just like they do in boxing. There are a lot of great boxers in a variety of weight divisions, but at the end of the day, most people are interested in the heavyweights.
posted by rodgerd at 12:08 PM on August 20, 2009


"[Danica Patrick is] supposedly the best female driver ever

Michele Mouton."


Shirley Muldowney.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 12:09 PM on August 20, 2009


And I would counsel against taking Van's public statements on the matter as the gospel truth.

You know, speculation is all fine and well, but you didn't present your claim as speculation. You said:

The IOC refuses to let women compete in an Olympic event, and it's one where woman outperform men. You can mock it all you want and linking to some bizarre and off-topic wiki article hardly strengthens your claim, but facts are facts. The best person in the world at an Olympic sport is a woman, hands down.

This neither appears to be true, nor did -- at last glance -- the IOC say what you now cite the ISF for. And when anyone wants to talk about events where women would consistently defeat men in open competition you jump in with:

I just gave you one. Ski jumping. Lindsey Van has jumped farther than any man on the same hill, which is exactly the scenario you want.

So I would suggest either backing up your original claims or letting your points stand -- as food for thought and not some mathematical fact as you originally presented it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:25 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Speaking of precision over power, though, is anyone here familiar enough with archery to make an educated guess as to what the results of mixed competition might look like?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:26 PM on August 20, 2009


I love how people insist that sexism cannot possibly the reason for something like this when it stares them in the face.

Sexism, yes. But you also have to understand that the pressure to include new events in the olympics is quite heavy. Just about everyone wants their event to be included. So the IOC is not excluding women just because they're mean and sexist. Even though they probably are.


"It's like jumping down from, let's say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view," - Gian Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation.


I'm sure the women had to fight to make it so, but the FIS seems to have finally accepted women's ski jumping. This is why I feel this is not so much an issue, the hard part is already done. Now that FIS is actually organizing events for it and the number of competitors will go up, it will eventually be an Olympic event as well.
posted by Authorized User at 12:27 PM on August 20, 2009


I don't have much of substance to add here except to say that this is a really great thread and I'm enjoying reading it, and everyone's opinions. Lots to think about.

Carry on.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:38 PM on August 20, 2009


I love how people insist that sexism cannot possibly the reason for something like this when it stares them in the face...
Anyone who knows the history of sex and race discrimination in sport knows that similar arguments have been used forever to keep people out. Just-so stories about the fragility of womens' uteruses, or different metabolic pathways in African-Americans which meant that they couldn't perform in the big leagues - relegating these athletes to underfunded and undersupported secondary-class leagues where they still struggled to be world-class.


allen.spaulding, I think some of what you are presenting here is interesting but you seem to keep mixing in wholly unrelated topics and then stirring the pot.

If you clear all the rest of the B.S. off the table it is a question of whether a man is competing unfairly against women. That's it. Oddly enough this has only been touched upon a couple of times in this thread. Also, if anyone took the time to read the links, this is not something new for Semenya and has plagued her for years. Something which you think they would've figured out by now.

Personally, I think some people are really busy stuffing hay into clothes to say it's sexist that men are generally better than women at sports. Yeah, I get the fact that these sports were originally created for men and yeah historically women are very new to them but you've got to be kidding me with the idea of "leveling the playing field" idea. Running? Really? There is just plain no way, no how you are going to level the playing field in that sport and any other basic sport like that. Even if we finally get to Utopian ideals and society, how do you propose to do such a thing?
posted by P.o.B. at 12:46 PM on August 20, 2009


As a side note I don't think Usain is juicing. I think he's just trying to escape the Matrix.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:47 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love how people insist that sexism cannot possibly the reason for something like this when it stares them in the face.

I think you're mistaking what is really fair and equitable here - the ability to compete on as level a playing field as possible vs allowing questionable individuals access to womens' sport and gain a hugely unfair advantage.

By your logic is it not sexist to ban men from womens' events? Would you be in favour of eliminating womens' events and just having one race? Would that be fair?

If someone has an unfair advantage in a race, that race is no longer about equity but rather inequity. There is little to be gained by Semenya from whaling tar on everyone else in the world simply because she feels the need to fit in somewhere. Moreover, it fails to recognise certain biological truths. It's a strange position for feminists - in order to gain equity there needs to be an acknowledgement of inequity.

It's both fair and equitable to allow women to compete in the same events men do and enjoy the same challenges and enjoy the same ability to win races. It would not be fair or equitable to allow men or transgendered individuals in womens' events. Those people often have such an extreme advantage over the women that it makes a mockery of the event. Anyone who believes otherwise has never really competed in a sport.

Would it be sexist to allow Semenya to compete with the men? I'd be all in favour of that, regardless of her genotype/phenotype. It may not be fair to her, but then there are innumerable people who cannot compete at those levels for innumerable reasons. Being transgendered may be but one of those reasons.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:31 PM on August 20, 2009


Intersexed != transgendered
Sex != gender


I know that transgender and intersex are different. (And believe me, I know that sex and gender are different.)

I brought up the ruling on trans athletes because I think if the Olympic committee chooses to divide us humans into two (and only two) categories (which they do), and they're willing to agree that a transexual athlete, who they believe belongs to one of those categories and also has physical characteristics from the other category, is allowed to compete, well then that decision seems relevant to deciding whether an intersex person, who in almost all cases will identify with one particular gender, and will primarily have sex characteristics of one (often corresponding) sex, but also will have some sex traits associated with the other sex, should be allowed to compete.

What I'm getting at is, what specific sex traits are the Olympic committee members (or whoever it is) going to use to decide someone's sex? If they aim to be consistent then they shouldn't solely use chromosomes because that would eliminate trans athletes (who they've said they will include). Chromosomes as the deciding factor is problematic for other reasons as well.

I think this conflict really illuminates the limitations of the binary system.
posted by serazin at 3:31 PM on August 20, 2009


mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey: ""[Danica Patrick is] supposedly the best female driver ever

Michele Mouton."


Shirley Muldowney.
"

Ellen MacArthur, and we don't even have to include the "female" part.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:35 PM on August 20, 2009


But to your comment, I would note that the Olympics is with a few exceptions still for top amateur sport. There is a thriving international sports scene that exists beyond the bounds of the Olympics.

Well, I'm not making an argument, I'm asking a question. Using the example of ski jumping, it has only allowed women to jump at its highest level of competition since, uh, this year. So how many women athletes have chosen to do slalom or ski cross or whatever because they weren't allowed to compete at the top level in jumping? If you're a woman ski jumper, and your coach is saying "you're awesome, but there's nowhere for you to go from here", the possibility exists that you might choose a different sport if you enjoy competition, or drop out entirely. That is not a lack of interest, that's having nowhere to go if you want to compete. It happens to female athletes all the time- I had female friends who excelled at playing football, but chose soccer because they wanted to compete on a team. Really competitive athletes want to compete, and if they know there's a World Championship but they are not invited, they are going to do something else:

That attitude has plagued women forever and kept them on the sidelines for almost as long.

It's a classic catch-22. A sport must be well established to gain admittance to the Olympics (or the NCAA, or whatever). Yet women were denied athletic opportunities for so long that almost all women's sports are young when compared to men's. And not every country has a law like this country's Title IX, which forced open doors long bolted shut, so going global isn't easy.

A talented young athlete with no Olympic, college or professional goal to chase is likely to find another sport. A lot of women are likely to quit ski jumping given the IOC's refusal to let them compete in Vancouver. A lot of little girls are likely to not even give it a try.

"It's a very big deterrent," said Mike Jokela, an Anchorage man who is a member of the national sub-committee for ski jumping.

Anchorage has a small ski jumping community that currently includes no girls or women, Jokela said. He thinks that would change if they saw women jump in the Olympics or if the American women brought home medals.

posted by oneirodynia at 3:45 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


allen.spaulding, you seem to be approaching Lindsey Van's statement from a slightly nutty point of view. When she (the woman ski jumper you originally introduced into the argument) quite plainly contradicts your assertion that women are better than men at ski jumping, and she even adds the detail that women need a longer start if they're going to match men's scores and that the men would "kill" the women if jumping under equal conditions, you say she must be lying to the public. So we should listen to you and disregard her?
posted by pracowity at 3:46 PM on August 20, 2009


The IOC refuses to let women compete in an Olympic event, and it's one where woman outperform men.

Ever since the beginning of time, when men have wanted to get together for a bit of a laugh and do their own thing, women have wanted to horn in on their racket.

Sport is a perfect example. Organised sport where men run around like headless chooks or throw themselves off objects and then award themselves shiny baubles and take themselves WAAY too seriously is further example of the above.

Women say: Waaah! We want to run around like headless chooks or throw ourselves off objects and then be awarded shiny baubles and take ourselves WAAY too seriously.

Unfortunately, the Olympic schedule is far too crowded nowadays, and to accommodate this there is a good chance another sport has to be removed from the program [I would ask the ladies: YOU choose which sport and you tell those competitors their dreams of being awarded shiny baubles and taking themselves WAAY too seriously are over… but that’s another argument].

And sport resists change, and sports administrators are gutless slimy freeloaders who really are only interested in the travel and the hobnobbing and the free buffets. So I can just imagine a smoke filled, wood panelled room and a bunch of fellas going "Kee-rist, what do the women want now? Hey, pass the lobster will ya."

And there is the safety aspect that someone mentioned above. That would certainly come into play as a reason excuse.

Sexist? Yes, definitely. A conspiracy to keep women out [if I am correctly reading between the lines, allen.spaulding] because they are better than men? Laughable.

On preview, THANK YOU, pracowity. I had a gut feeling there were some fishy leaps of faith going on with allen.spaulding, but have been too busy to do any cursory research. I live in a hot area, have never even seen snow, so I haven’t got a clue about Winter Olympic events.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:15 PM on August 20, 2009


Sport is a perfect example. Organised sport where men run around like headless chooks or throw themselves off objects and then award themselves shiny baubles and take themselves WAAY too seriously is further example of the above.

Women say: Waaah! We want to run around like headless chooks or throw ourselves off objects and then be awarded shiny baubles and take ourselves WAAY too seriously.


Wow, what a perfect example of the combined power of misogyny and misandry. Two great tastes that taste great together. As a feminist I've been wrongly accused of misandry before, but for some reason comments like this will pass by MRA filters...
posted by muddgirl at 4:47 PM on August 20, 2009


I believe that's called "misanthropy," unless you're not counting hatred of persons of indeterminate gender.
posted by raysmj at 5:27 PM on August 20, 2009


Imitating men does not equal equality with men, which a lot of feminism seems to concentrate on. Elite sport is for boofheads and braggarts. Why emulate that? Why cheer on the emulators?

But whatever, I’m sorry my point of view offended you, muddgirl. Please try and be more tolerant of other peoples’ beliefs. Oh, and if you see a The Simpsons quote it might mean I'm being a little bit tongue in cheek. Concluding a "hatred" of types of people is a bit harsh. :)

The point I was trying to make is there is no conspiracy to keep women out of certain sports. It’s a combination of a dash of old fashioned sexism, where the status quo rules, and harsh economic reality. We can’t just keep adding events to the Olympics.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:52 PM on August 20, 2009


I believe that's called "misanthropy,"

True, but I was trying to make a point about how jokes enforce negative stereotypes about men as well as women.

But whatever, I’m sorry my point of view offended you

Not offended, I assure you. Just not amused.
posted by muddgirl at 6:07 PM on August 20, 2009


Yes. Hurling ourselves of snow covered ramps is serious business. I’ll try not to joke about it too much next time.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:11 PM on August 20, 2009


"I posit that you could be DEAD and still compete in that event. :)"

Dummy Downhill

"The IOC refuses to let women compete in an Olympic event, and it's one where woman outperform men. You can mock it all you want and linking to some bizarre and off-topic wiki article hardly strengthens your claim, but facts are facts. The best person in the world at an Olympic sport is a woman, hands down. Woman are not allowed to compete in that event because the IOC handwaives about their fragile constitution."

Much as I'd like to pillory the IOC for anything this isn't really a ball in their court. They don't actually sanction competitions instead depending on international sanctioning bodies in each area. Women's ski jumping hasn't had a sanctioning body with sufficient membership to be considered (however seedy and sexist the consideration process may be) for the Olympics.
posted by Mitheral at 7:02 PM on August 20, 2009


The only reason people don't understand why men and women can't compete equally in motorsport is because they have no clue at all how hard it is to do - they just see it as driving, yet there is a whole lot more to it than that.

Perhaps for endurance racing, but in motorcycle drag racing, Angelle Sampey is small & light, yet strong enough to handle the bike and has won three championships. They add ballast to make a minimum bike + rider weight, but there's an advantage in a smaller aero profile and the ballast can can be located low & forward.
posted by morganw at 7:21 PM on August 20, 2009


Follow-up.
posted by serazin at 7:28 PM on August 20, 2009


uncanny hengeman: "Yes. Hurling ourselves of snow covered ramps is serious business. I’ll try not to joke about it too much next time."

Well, yes, it is. I couldn't find ski jumpers specifically, but this article from Skiing magazine says that a few professional skiers can make over $200,000 annually. Professional athletes usually need sponsors to pay the bills, and winning an Olympic medal raises their earning potential a tremendous amount.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:38 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The only reason people don't understand why men and women can't compete equally in motorsport is because they have no clue at all how hard it is to do - they just see it as driving, yet there is a whole lot more to it than that.

The "speed / accuracy trade off". Or the closely related strength / accuracy trade off.

Take a non-stresfull sport like billiards, or the even less stressful darts. Men are generally going to be better because their greater strength means their accuracy will be better. Sucks, eh?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:40 PM on August 20, 2009


Sexism, yes. But you also have to understand that the pressure to include new events in the olympics is quite heavy. Just about everyone wants their event to be included. So the IOC is not excluding women just because they're mean and sexist. Even though they probably are.


OK, but it's one of the principles of the Olympics that sports should be open to both men and women - there should be a women's equivalent of every men's sport. That's why women's softball is in the Olympics, it's an equivalent to baseball. So if the men have a ski-jumping event, the women should have that event too. It's just basic equality.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:19 AM on August 21, 2009


Women should get paid less prize money than men in tennis majors [approximately 67%] commensurate to the amount of tennis they play in comparison. It's just basic equality.

*looks around nervously*

*crickets chirping*
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:34 AM on August 21, 2009


The second best batsman in world cricket of recent times gets dismissed by an Aussie lady.

This was huge. Awesome. She also got him out twice - a double play as it were - which is quite rare [caught and stumped].

I'd rate it in my TOP FIVE GREATEST QUIRKY SPORTING MOMENTS. Right up there with retired rugby league player and professional boofhead media personality Fatty Vautin's amazing catch in the same sport.

Both were in charity matches.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:01 AM on August 21, 2009


Zoe Goss is her name, BTW. How rude of me. Champion Aussie cricketer.

I note that the youtube site only refered to her as "a woman" as well.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:05 AM on August 21, 2009


"That's why women's softball is in the Olympics, it's an equivalent to baseball."

Softball isn't really an equivalent to baseball any more than field hockey is an equivalent to ice hockey. They are two very different sports and softball at least has national and international championships for men, women and mixed teams.
posted by Mitheral at 6:29 AM on August 21, 2009


Oh and both are no longer Olympic sports.
posted by Mitheral at 6:29 AM on August 21, 2009


Mitheral: absolutely right on all points, but nonetheless, women's softball was included in the Olympics as an equivalent to men's baseball - you will have seen that they both got voted out together. The reason being that baseball doesn't have international women's competitions. I realise that the sports are very very different [I'm from NZ, softball is big there].
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:18 AM on August 21, 2009


Women should get paid less prize money than men in tennis majors [approximately 67%] commensurate to the amount of tennis they play in comparison. It's just basic equality.

*looks around nervously*

*crickets chirping*


I argued that once, wasn't received too well... but it's still a good argument!
posted by knapah at 10:59 AM on August 21, 2009


Women should get paid less prize money than men in tennis majors [approximately 67%] commensurate to the amount of tennis they play in comparison. It's just basic equality.

Prize money is usually treated symbolically as a single brass ring rather than as wages or salary.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:38 PM on August 22, 2009


The NYT weighs in and does a pretty good job of laying out the complexities of quantifying sex.
posted by serazin at 8:52 AM on August 23, 2009


The test results are in.

"The 18-year-old South African champ has no womb or ovaries and her testosterone levels are more than three times higher than those of a normal female, according to reports. . . . The athletics governing body is also expected to advise her to have surgery to fix the potentially deadly condition."
posted by waraw at 2:13 PM on September 10, 2009


Yeah, Semenya is hermaphroditic and has undescended testes. Having those testosterone levels give Semenya an incredible advantage over non-hermaphroditic women. The formulation of the results on feministing.com, a feminist website I follow?

"Depressing news on Caster Semenya as the obsession with binary gender continues as she is ostracized for potentially transcending comfortable notions of gender, including biological ones. She might lose the medal. Related. "

My understanding of feminism must be flawed because I would have thought that fighting for women to have equal rights would not involve denying the opportunity to seriously compete for medals to the overwhelming majority of women born non-hermaphroditic and with standard testosterone levels. This doesn't seem sexist to me: Semenya would be perfectly within her rights to compete in the "open" competitions. These are usually colloquially referred to as the "men's" competition but in most cases are open to anyone who can qualify. That only standard XY males qualify should tell us something about the fairness of allowing Semenya to compete in the "women's" competitions.

But maybe I'm just missing something, as I said.
posted by Justinian at 4:02 PM on September 10, 2009


Somehow, I'm a bit disgusted that such intimate details are being published.
posted by grouse at 4:16 PM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe. I'm not sure it's particularly more intimate than the well-publicized information that Lance Armstrong only has one testicle.
posted by Justinian at 4:41 PM on September 10, 2009


Justinian - feministing.com does not speak for feminism or all feminists. Some feminists believe that if you say you are a woman then you are a woman, whatever your biology is. This is the view that is common on most mainstream feminist blogs. Others think it's a bit more complicated than that.
posted by nooneyouknow at 5:53 PM on September 10, 2009


I'm very curious where this is going to go now. Maybe she'll just back out of competition since this has been so much public scrutiny and humiliation. On the other hand, it seems to me there must be some conditions under which they'll allow her to continue to compete against other women.

Transgender women can compete ,and they also do not have uteri. Would they allow Semenya to run if she took exogenous estrogen? At some point the Olympic committee is going to have to define what, exactly, the word "female" means to them and that's not going to be easy (or "fair" for everyone).
posted by serazin at 7:05 PM on September 10, 2009


Some reflections on what may or may not be true about that article
posted by serazin at 7:13 PM on September 10, 2009


A later article on the sports and science blog that serazin links to points out a big irony in this story. While many people have pointed out how much of an invasion of privacy (for possibly dubious reasons) Semeny has put up with, that invasion of privacy has very possibly saved Semenya's life.
posted by Justinian at 3:49 PM on September 11, 2009


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