The Olympics tries to verify athletes are “real women”

This story in the NYTimes definitely brings up some interesting debates in the gender and sports arena. Basically the Olympics has a shady history of trying to verify female athletes gender identity. This ranges from forcing the athletes to strip naked and inspected by judges to other varied tests including chromosomal typing and hormone testing.

At first, women were asked to parade nude before a panel of doctors to verify their sex. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, officials switched to a chromosomal test.

For a period of time these tests were mandatory for female athletes (not male ones). The NYTimes article suggests it was due to fears that male athletes would pose as female athletes and have an unfair advantage over their competitors. It seems this has only actually happened once, however, and it was not discovered with any of these tests. For this years Olympic games, a lab is being set up in Beijing that is prepared to investigate any gender-based claims if they arise, as they no longer require these exams of all female athletes.


There are some many issues with this, I don’t really know where to begin. First off there is the sexism behind a practice which only targeted female athletes. Not only is it unfair, it borders on sexual harassment to require these women to parade naked in front of anyone. Disgusting.
Second, there is the sexist assumption underlying this that men are inherently better at sports than women (an idea that many, including me, would argue against) such that someone might try to sneak into the women’s competition to have an advantage. I think athletic ability varies based on a lot of factors and it is overly simplistic to assume gender will be such a strong determinant.
Third is the idea that gender or sex can be conclusively proven. They hint at this in the NYTimes piece and talk about the different means they have used over the years to test these athletes gender. One of the strongest arguments against the gender binary comes from the varying (and difficult to pin down) definition of what constitutes a man and what constitutes a woman. When pressed for a definition, some people say genitalia, others chromosomes, others the ability to bear children and others hormone levels. For all of these there are examples that can be given for exceptions to the rule: infertile women, genital variances, intersex people, varying hormone levels, etc.

Although the verification test has changed to adapt to new scientific understandings about gender — athletes are now evaluated by an endocrinologist, gynecologist, a geneticist and a psychologist — critics say the test is based on the false idea that someone’s sex is a cut-and-dried issue.”It’s very difficult to define what is a man and what is a woman at this point,” said Christine McGinn, a plastic surgeon who specializes in transgender medicine. Because of a range of genetic conditions, people who look like women may have a Y chromosome, while people who look like men may not, she said. Many times, the people do not learn of the defects until they reach adulthood. “It gets really complicated very quickly,” McGinn said.

As people (and science’s) understanding of the complexities of gender (and perhaps the validity of a spectrum framework rather than a binary one) increase, we will continue to have to adapt our gendered practices. What could this mean? An end to gendered sports? Despite my feelings about the gender binary, women’s sports have played a pretty big (and satisfying) role in my life.
What do you all think?

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45 Comments

  1. geeky_girl
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    People whose bodies naturally produce significantly more testosterone than others will have a sports advantage in some sports, and a disadvantage in others. Separating by genetic sex – XX XY – is one (albeit not very good way) to separate by testosterone production and muscle growth patterns, so that XYs, who tend to produce more testosterone, do not end up competing in the women’s categories.
    We should be looking for something better, yes. But do you have anything better yet?
    I do think that sports participation at a professional level should be separated by XX/XY, more or less, because the way we grow muscle is very different for XX/XY.
    As much as I don’t believe our brains are different enough to matter, women’s and men’s bodies ARE different enough to matter.
    Once again… something better to judge sports participation by would be nice.

  2. open_sketch
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    There are sports where, due quite simply to the way muscles the human body works, men tend have the upper hand, and vis versa. For example, men do better in sprinting events because the male body is better assembled for running quickly over short distances. The way men build muscle and the way the hips are assembled simply give men the advantage. Saying this is so isn’t sexism, the same way it isn’t racism to point out why people from certain genetic backgrounds do better in the same event. Meanwhile, male gymnasts are typically worse than women gymnasts due to their inferior center of balance and hideous lack of flexibility. It isn’t sexist to say that either.
    While it is disgusting that this is occurring, it isn’t sexism to say that men and women’s bodies are put together differently because, typically, they are. Not admitting to basic differences between the sexes is sexism just as much as saying that nonexistent differences, or differences installed through cultural conditioning, make women inferior.
    At least that’s what I think about it, and if I’m wrong please tell me why.

  3. geeky_girl
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Err… I do agree that only testing people who claim to be women is wrong. Everyone shoudl be able to participate in the olympics who has done the work, etc.

  4. Posted July 30, 2008 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    First, what we are talking about here is in my mind sex, not gender.
    For your amateur sports, there isn’t necessarily a great reason to sort based on sex. Co-ed sports (volleyball, softball, etc) work fine many places, though in many cases with very gendered rules to “equalize” things, often protested by women. At this level, men are probably not all that better than women and sorting based on skill is probably more effective.
    But at olympic level sports, it is hard to dispute that men are better. Just compare world records where the event is the same. Removing sex sorting would result in the dominance of top-tier sport by men, and I’m not sure that would be good for women.
    Admittedly, there is a small gray area with regards to intersexed individuals, but 99% can be readily classified as either male or female in biological sex. It is probably better to use discretion on that 1% than give up in ensuring fair play for the other 99%.

  5. Miriam
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    A couple of things:
    -I would argue that it is an overgeneralization to make certain statements about men’s muscle mass, or performance at certain sports. You can take one individual woman, put her against one individual man, and in many cases she will perform better than he will. I think we fall back on these generalizations even though they don’t apply in many instances. For me it’s all part of reinforcing the patriarchy and the idea that men and women are different (and women, in many cases, are inferior).
    -In terms of sex vs. gender, there are some who argue (like Judith Butler) that that is also a false dichotomy. Traditionally there has been the argument that sex is biological and gender is social. Others argue that by placing gender on top of sex (behind all the statements about social gendered difference is the understanding that biological differences are real), we are actually blurring the line between what is social and what is biological, to the point where it is impossible to find that line. Some would argue that women are not as smart as men due to biological differences, or more emotional, etc.
    -Bondo, I’m not sure what you are saying in terms of intersex individuals. Intersexuality is actually quite common (1 in 1000 people) and those people cannot be “readily” classified as male or female. Doctors use all sorts of measures to classify these children, but they are mostly based on what surgeries are easiest to do on these children. There is a lot of variance in terms of chromosomes, hormones and genitalia. More info about this here http://www.isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex
    Ok, so I know that I do not hold the majority opinion when it comes to this issue, and expect significant disagreement. Just putting it out there.

  6. open_sketch
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    I retract my previous statement and apologize for my sexist behaviour.

  7. geeky_girl
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    There need to be female record holders. Perhaps there is no difference physically in how we develop muscle, since record times for both sexes decrease over time.
    Perhaps trainers go easier on female athletes worldwide and that is why their records are not as good.
    Until there are an equal number of female “overall” recordholders in randomly dispersed categories, however, I can’t see any argument for men and women to compete together professionally. The reason doesn’t matter so much, I suppose, like who builds muscle bigger/faster.
    http://en.beijing2008.cn/spirit/pastgames/records/

  8. Theaetetus
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    I would argue that it is an overgeneralization to make certain statements about men’s muscle mass, or performance at certain sports.

    I agree that it certainly doesn’t apply to individual comparisons in many cases.
    However, there is a significant difference between men and women as it relates to physical activity – due to their additional testosterone, men manufacture more hemoglobin. As a result, men hold about 11% more oxygen per liter of blood than women. For some sports, particularly sprinting, this could be the major cause of performance differences.

  9. Posted July 30, 2008 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    What do you all think?
    I think that when it comes to issues of gender (and, indeed, sport), many people stop thinking and start frothing.
    Why split sports competition on the basis of gender, anyway? Assuming that you even do want to split your competitive field up, maybe a boxing-style weight/height/fitness/whatever catagorisation is a wiser and fairer move.
    Then we might see an event called the “bantam-weight high jump”, which strikes me as a good enough reason to impliment it.

  10. Logrus
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Miriam:-I would argue that it is an overgeneralization to make certain statements about men’s muscle mass, or performance at certain sports.
    The context is specifically that of top-tier athletes, I think you’re attempting to expand it into the general populace to make a point. Unfair, since it is clear that we are all talking about people who are at the physical epitome of perfection for their given event. Not Jill and Joe Schmoe off the street.
    You can take one individual woman, put her against one individual man, and in many cases she will perform better than he will.
    Not in this context. Women, on average, have some physical traits that equal or excel average male traits (reaction time being the one I’m most familiar with and why women are competing with men in many events which depend on that trait). But we’re specifically not talking about average people with average traits. The commonly accepted endurance trait that states women have more of it and better recuperative power is based on traits found in the median populace, it does not take in to account the difference between people who train to enhance these traits. Women seem to have some superior physical traits without training, men seem to have the ability to hone these traits to a higher degree.
    I think we fall back on these generalizations even though they don’t apply in many instances. For me it’s all part of reinforcing the patriarchy and the idea that men and women are different (and women, in many cases, are inferior).
    I can see why it might bother you if you accept that being able to lift more weight, run faster, jump higher, actually meant “better”. But I ask you to challenge the paradigm that puts so much emphasis on physical traits more commonly favoring men, and ask who it was that trained us to think these traits were what comprised overall superiority. Take into consideration to totality of being human, consider all the things women can do that men can’t even attempt, does that make you superior? Of course not. Is Stephen Hawking more or less of a person than Peyton Manning?

  11. Logrus
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    SELF EDIT: “(reaction time being the one I’m most familiar with and why women are competing with men in many events which depend on that trait)
    I meant to say “activities” instead of “events”, my wording implies that women are competing in the Olympics against men in many events, this is not true. I was actually thinking about other sports like driving.
    Although I do think women should compete with men in fencing. Unlike a lot of achievement oriented events it’s hard to say for sure, but I think they would do well.

  12. A.H.
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    What makes this extra disturbing to me is the individual impact of outing intersex people. (Much moreso than the social messaging around sex, gender and feminism.) Since nearly 2% of the population can be classified in some way as intersex or sex-variant, and since intersex and sex-variant people have often been kept from information about their own bodies, a sex test is never that simple for intersex folks like me. Historically, the folks at the Olympics have outed anyone who’s test doesn’t “match” both to the individual hirself AND to the press. Which is the last thing many people want.
    Also, how are we not talking about how astoundingly transphobic this is?

  13. Theaetetus
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Is Stephen Hawking more or less of a person than Peyton Manning?

    Much more.
    /New Englander

  14. Mama Mia
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    I must agree with Theaetetus. If you take random individuals, the woman has a good chance of beating the man in some athletic test. However, when it comes to the Olympics, these are not random people. These are people who train only to do these sports and they are the best in the world. In these very specific instances, it is possible to see that there is a clear and identifiable bias towards men in terms of performance. I just checked the world records in track and field, and in no case does the top woman in the world beat the top man.
    It is not anti-woman to note that men and women have different bodies. If it was, then we wouldn’t demand that drug studies include women as well as men.

  15. Mama Mia
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Let me add one note. Though there are performance differences between men and women in sports, where things go wrong is when these differences that become the generalizations used to keep women out of certain fields. Just because the best man in the world beats the best woman in the world by .4 seconds on the 100 meter, this does not mean women shouldn’t be fire fighters, for example.
    As for testing in the Olympics, it IS kind of creepy.

  16. Livia_Augusta
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    I find this testing rather disturbing and I don’t know how to resolve it.
    On the one hand, it seems pretty obvious that male and female human bodies are designed differently and function differently – which is *not* to dismiss the significance of social construction of gender. (I don’t have any idea about how intersexed individuals would fit into this distinction) This, of course, doesn’t mean that an individual male or female necessarily exhibits those traits.
    On the other hand, I don’t think that it really matters that much in terms of group sports, where the team could benefit from various body types and skills, but in individual sports, it might make a significant difference, as suggested in some of the comments about sprinters. (Anecdotally, I remember the boys DOMINATING sprints but the girls DOMINATING distance when I was in school.)
    On the third hand (I seem to have grown a hand) I *like* to be able to engage in gender segregated social activities from time to time and struggle with ways to make gender-segregated and “co-ed” (for lack of a better word) spaces & activities accessible without creating disparity. I don’t know how one would go about doing so in the real world with all the prejudices. I’ve diverged from the sports & testing thing, but oh well.

  17. Suzy Q
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Gee… I some how have a hard time imagining a whole bunch of male athletes running out and taking female hormones for several years, passing a bunch of psych screening and then getting their testicles removed along with their erectile tissue in the process of sex reassignment surgery in order to get their butts kicked by a bunch of natal females.
    Perhaps if they were transsexual in the first place. Yet the process takes so much out that even then the ability to compete is much lessened.
    Mostly these tests catch women with chromosomal differences which are far more common than most people believe.
    Really this isn’t about people who are in-between competing as the sex they most closely line up with.
    It is more about maintaining the idea that there is this huge gap of difference between the sexes.

  18. hsp02004
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    As a former track athlete, I feel strongly that the separation of the sexes is essential for the sport, especially for women. Furthermore, I don’t think the gap in performances is the result of social conditioning (while I do think other gaps in math, sciences, etc. is the result of social conditioning).
    But, with that being said, it does grieve me to think that transgendered and intersexed people, as well as people with unknown chromosomal conditions, may be excluded from competition or “outed” without their permission. I can’t think of a solution besides dealing with these situations as they arise, on a case-by-case basis. Does anyone else have a suggestion that maintains separate male and female competitions?

  19. dan&danica
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    mama mia,
    I think its important to remember context when saying there is or isnt a huge difference between male and female performance. You say .4 seconds in the 100m isnt a huge deal. In the context of that event, .4 seconds is absolutely huge. The female world record holder wouldnt even qualify for a male olmypic team with her best time. .4 seconds in the 100 is even larger than the 10 minute gap in best male/female marathon times as in the 100m it seems we are getting pretty close to the natural human limit for speed.
    As far as male gymnasts go, at the elite level they do not suffer from any balance or center of gravity issues, some college gymasts have trained for womens events and exceed all but the best in the world after only a few years training, male gymnast simply train for different events within gymnastics.
    Anything that can be done that relies primarily on the body will be dominated by men, the olympics are a good example of that. If you move to events such as equestrian or some sailing events it can change but as far as what the human body can do, even in things women as a group have a slight advantage in on average, a male body can always be honed to do it better at the highest levels. Just the way it is for the top .000000001% and I really dont see a problem with it or why it should matter, the bodies arent the same.
    The only problem I do have with it is the same issue I have with any kind of paper, research, article etc that draws faulty conclusions about all people from this and those kinds of articles do come from all sides. For elite athletes, when US women won the world cup many people came out and rejoiced by saying the womens team was better than the mens team without realizing how faulty that was, even relative to their competition. Similar to a female winning 4 gold medals. I long for the day when through the whole world female athletic participation zooms as that will be indicative of a whole host of positive changes.

  20. dan&danica
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    mama mia,
    I think its important to remember context when saying there is or isnt a huge difference between male and female performance. You say .4 seconds in the 100m isnt a huge deal. In the context of that event, .4 seconds is absolutely huge. The female world record holder wouldnt even qualify for a male olmypic team with her best time. .4 seconds in the 100 is even larger than the 10 minute gap in best male/female marathon times as in the 100m it seems we are getting pretty close to the natural human limit for speed.
    As far as male gymnasts go, at the elite level they do not suffer from any balance or center of gravity issues, some college gymasts have trained for womens events and exceed all but the best in the world after only a few years training, male gymnast simply train for different events within gymnastics.
    Anything that can be done that relies primarily on the body will be dominated by men, the olympics are a good example of that. If you move to events such as equestrian or some sailing events it can change but as far as what the human body can do, even in things women as a group have a slight advantage in on average, a male body can always be honed to do it better at the highest levels. Just the way it is for the top .000000001% and I really dont see a problem with it or why it should matter, the bodies arent the same.
    The only problem I do have with it is the same issue I have with any kind of paper, research, article etc that draws faulty conclusions about all people from this and those kinds of articles do come from all sides. For elite athletes, when US women won the world cup many people came out and rejoiced by saying the womens team was better than the mens team without realizing how faulty that was, even relative to their competition. Similar to a female winning 4 gold medals. I long for the day when through the whole world female athletic participation zooms as that will be indicative of a whole host of positive changes.

  21. Suzy Q
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    “Does anyone else have a suggestion that maintains separate male and female competitions?”
    While it doesn’t help transgendered people there was a position which I believe was instituted for the 2000 Olympics that removed the chromosome testing and permitted post-SRS females to compete as women if they were on hormones for a certain period of time and were post-SRS I believe two years.
    It replaced elaborate sex tests with the same simple visual test by which most people are sexed at birth.
    The history of the chromosome testing was more successful at discovering intersexed people than anything.
    Also given the testosterone doping and steroid usage measuring those levels are probably the most important form of testing. More testosterone given to XX females bulks them up the same way it does men (East German Women’s Swim Team scandal). Same for anabolic steroids and the Women’s Body Building scandals of the early 1980s.

  22. Posted July 31, 2008 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    drjon is right: splitting it by gender is sexist; it makes much more sense to make “classes” by height and weight, or muscle mass, or whatever physical characteristic makes sense. This would put men and women competing in the same category who are most likely to be “on the same level” physically, and if it means women don’t end up competing in the heaviest levels and men don’t end up competing in the lightest, you really CAN blame biology, genetics, nutrition, exercise, whatever. And you could still keep the categories of “overall speed” and “overall performance” and award additional honors; perhaps a “platinum” medal which all athletes compete for on equal ground, male and female, regardless of their “class” or division.
    And the average-man, average-woman analogy being used replicates itself among the world’s most elite athletes. This is hard to explain via text, so I’ve created a visual (which I have every intention of blogging about soon). The tendency to say “men are bigger” and “women are smaller” is a specific type of over-generalization called “riding the tails of the bell curve.” Just take a look at the graph I made for a better explanation. The graph my professor used was based on an actual academic study of heights and weights of various men and women; mine however is based on his lecture and “where the paintbrush fell.”
    It’s hard to tell that the over-generalizations and rules really are sexist unless you see it in a graph.

  23. grippers
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 1:31 am | Permalink

    I don’t think the point of this post was to say that there are not physical differences between males and females. Most of the comments are about how the top male athletes are better than the top female athletes. Seriously? Most sports were invented by men for men. Also, the sports that are valued the most (in America football and boxing or whatnot) are sports that cater to the more masculine characteristics (characteristics that follow conventional stereotypes of masculinity that the average male doesn’t even possess). Women consistently perform better than men at gymnastics, marathon swimming, long marathon runs, and high ski jumps. We should be asking ourselves why these sports aren’t as valued as football. We should also be asking why when women outperform men at marathon swimming and long ski jumping, why these events are not available at the Olympics to women. Mariah Burton Nelson wrote a great article about this titled “Boys will be boys and girls wil not.” And the other point Miriam makes is how these tests are discriminating against intersexed people. Many people are intersex. Gender is learned, right? And sex isn’t just male or female.

  24. A male
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 2:43 am | Permalink

    “These are people who train only to do these sports and they are the best in the world.”
    A continuation of my short Olympics rant at Jezebel: this concept that the people at the Olympics are “the best in the world.”
    Well, first off, most of the time you are talking about amateur athletes at the Olympics. There are sports, such as basketball, where professionals have the advantage to win (I will not call that straight out “better”), because of economic advantage in the US and other industrialized nations with developed professional leagues, if not the nature of professional sport and athletes themselves.
    Also important to me is the fact that there are a limited number of slots on each nation’s team for athletes. For example, some NBA player in say, the 90th percentile, will not make a spot on the US national team, despite being better than almost any basketball player ever born and trained outside of the US.
    Then are those situations in which ranking athletes do not make it to the Olympics, for whatever reason, be it injury, personal matters, or boycott. Other “World Championship” competition athletes or winners may not appear in the Summer or Winter Olympic games.
    It would also be factually incorrect to call athletes at sports in which US teams or athletes represent the also rans of the world, (taking victories as indications of quality), “the best in the world.”
    By this standard, Eric Moussambani is one of the 2000 world’s bests at swimming.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Moussambani
    His story is heartwarming, and for me, a burning indictment against the privilege athletes from industrialized nations enjoy, allowed to devote themselves “only” to their sport, not usually being concerned with, for example, avoiding poverty and starvation if they do not continue full time work, or finding time to train alone, swimming in a crocodile infested river, or finding time in a hotel pool, without any support staff, coach, or national or public support. US athletes do not use concrete blocks or automobile parts for training weights. They do not try to avoid sniper fire (or landmines) while running in the streets. They do not use vacant hotel conference rooms as gyms. They do not need donations of bags of beans to feed their families if they train instead of work. Facilities such as Olympic sized swimming pools, actually exist in the US, as well nationwide interest and competitions from childhood, as well as world renown coaching and training staff, to develop world class athletes. Oh, and technology such as the “sharkskin” suit.
    http://machinist.salon.com/blog/2008/04/10/speedo_suit/
    “The Speedo swimsuit is expensive — $500 for us civilians — and even more for competitive swimmers, who must wear new suits every 10th swim.”
    How many people from how many nations, can afford this suit, which “reduces the water’s drag against swimmers by up to 10 percent, and increases ‘oxygen efficiency’ by 5 percent (compared to previous suits)” with its “feels like swimming downhill” advantage, worn by swimmers rapidly setting a series of new world records (“the LZR now has been worn for 21 of the 22 world records set since it was introduced in February”)? It will only really help world class swimmers, but cutting times by 3 percent, or two tenths of a second every 50 meters, can mean the difference between gold and sports obscurity, and it can pare down the competition in every single qualifying competition and heat.
    “American swimmers will be wearing Speedo.”
    But of course.

  25. Posted July 31, 2008 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    •as far as I know the test criteria of the IOC are not public. Isn’t that strange…looks like a lotery
    •I think in sport it is about difference, to win you need to be better, smarter or what else. Athletes are, almost always because of genetic reasons better in sports then other non athletes. Most of the time not because of a Y or extra natural testo in their bodies.
    •So why are some genetics codes which can possible(…) make the difference in sport OK and others not?! Why can’t we see those differences as a quality!
    •we also could exclude people with symmetrical faces to become top models for simply having more chance.
    •reducing sport to the most simplistic XX-XY binary is so unfair. For me it feels like genetic cleansing (in relation of ethnic cleansing) and it supports the binary as a ideal construct.
    •btw transpeople can – under conditions – compete in their assigned gender since IOC in 2004 decided so.
    •I do not think the binary is a ideal place to live in. But in some sports, as in cycling, we cannot compete and have a an equal chance to win from male athletes. On the other hand this is possible one of the reasons women are not or less visible in some sports. The tour de france is all about men and they get a lot of sponsor (=collective) and collective money and television time. Which means no money and time left for us. Makes me think…would sporting beyond the binary makes us more visible? and give us in the future a chance to win…

  26. Mina
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Suzy Q commented at July 30, 2008 9:35 PM: “Gee… I some how have a hard time imagining a whole bunch of male athletes running out and taking female hormones for several years, passing a bunch of psych screening and then getting their testicles removed along with their erectile tissue in the process of sex reassignment surgery in order to get their butts kicked by a bunch of natal females.”
    The version of the rumor I heard was that a few cismale athletes took the hormones to grow small breasts, didn’t go through psych screening in order to get that because their coaches and governments were in on the plan to get more medals, and didn’t have sex reassignment surgery because they didn’t expect anyone to check under their clothes. I wouldn’t be surprised if whomever came up with the sex-testing plan to keep those guys from competing against other nations’ women’s teams had ignored the existence of intersexual and transsexual people instead of deliberately targeted them.
    A.H. commented at July 30, 2008 7:50 PM: “Also, how are we not talking about how astoundingly transphobic this is?”
    Yeah – I mean, ignoring transsexual people at first is bad enough, but to keep going with it once the IOC has been made aware over and over that transsexualit exists?

  27. Posted July 31, 2008 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Very briefly, Elizabeth Wood and I discussed the issues raised here in this exchange in Sex in the Public Square entitled “Run like a girl”.

  28. sir no one
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    The IOC’s dropping of screenings in 2000 and the transexual ruling before the 2004 games is hardly transphobic. In a world of strict and clearly defined rules, necessitated by the very convention of sport, dealing with the inherently unclear dilemma of equality under gender separation is tricky and delicate at best, confusing as hell at worst.
    I do think gender separation is the most logical thing sport can do in today’s world. There are differences between men and women – differences that hardly signify superiority of either gender, but differences nonethless. And the most equitable thing is to group sport participants in such a way that those differences are limited as much as possible. That is the goal of sport: construct as level a playing field as possible to see who triumphs.
    I totally see how that oversimplifies gender. But how can we solve that oversimplification, which definitely harms some individuals, without ruining sport? Of course, this assumes that sport today is equitable.

  29. M
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    @SuzyQ
    This is derailing, and the topic of intersexed athletes needing a to be allowed to compete is the important point here. However, I don’t think you (or a lot of other people commenting here and in other forums) understand what people are saying in this comment thread.
    At the Olympic level, we don’t care about the middle ranges of the bell curve, we only care about the extreme. The extreme in women is going to be less than the extreme in men because of physiological difference. These differences are not based on weight or height or muscle mass anyways, they are far more basic than that. They have to do with the innate differences between men and women. We are built differently. These are things for example, as geekygirl said: “due to their additional testosterone … men hold about 11% more oxygen per liter of blood than women.”
    As someone who participates in co-ed sports, for me, it’s far more sexist to assume that the weakness of women *doesn’t* stem from an innate source, and rather women’s own failings.

  30. Xana
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I don’t want to derail, but I just wanted to point out that a male makes a great point about the Olympics and who has access.
    I enjoy the Olympics, and yet I think of people like Eric Moussambani and Paula Barila Bolopa who are talented and yet don’t have access to Olympic regulation pools or tracks and are considered “wild cards” amidst athletes from countries who have the privilege (and money) to provide training grounds and round the clock coaching for their athletes.

  31. Rachel_in_WY
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Anne Fausto-Sterling has a great discussion of this in Sexing The Body. Sex determination is much more subtle than most people realize, and she reveals some really interesting facts about it.

  32. cooleen
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I think this is a really difficult discussion that is further complicated by the fact that some of us are working with different definitions. I personally find it important to differentiate sex from gender and a discussion on that alone is hella complicated.
    I can’t determine exactly how I feel about this. I find myself agreeing with conflicting viewpoints.
    But, just to put it out there, why is it so dangerous to acknowledge that women’s and men’s bodies are different (in a feminist circle like this, where we’re not going to draw sweeping, faulty and limiting conclusions)? Why are we so afraid to say it? WOMEN’S BODIES ARE DIFFERENT THAN MEN’S BODIES! We assume that stating “different” is stating “better/worse.” Why do we always find ourselves grappling with dichotomies? Different is simply that, nothing more and nothing less. Yes, we have significant similarities, but we also have significant differences? I mean, shit, I can birth a child. That’s a pretty fucking awesome difference.

  33. gaugeinvariant
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    grippers makes a point that I often see but have found no proof of its validity. The statement is that women outperform men at marathon swimming and ultramarathon running. If one looks at the International Association of Ultrarunners website one sees that in every category men outperform the women:
    http://www.iau.org.tw/statistics.php
    The same holds true for marathon swimming as one can see from the FINA 10km marathon swimming page which can be reached via:
    http://www.fina.org/project/index.php
    Marathon swimming (10km distance) is making its Olympic debut this year as well, negating the point made that such events are not available at the Olympic level.
    At the 25km distance from this year’s world open water championships the women’s world champion would have placed 17th in the men’s competition. The time difference between the men’s champion and the women’s champion was almost 24 minutes. The difference in the English channel crossing records is over 27 minutes.
    That these events aren’t valued as highly as football because of women’s dominance doesn’t seem to ring true since women do not dominate them. These sports don’t have much commercial value because, frankly, they don’t make very good TV. Watching a 5 hour swim (7 for the channel crossing) isn’t exciting to very many people.

  34. Posted July 31, 2008 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the good discussion. A couple of things I want to reiterate/add:
    A.H.– You’re right, this is extremely transphobic despite the olympic committee’s ruling in 2004. Specifically it’s transphobia toward trans women, similar to the idea that men might transition to gain access to women-only spaces like bathrooms and the michigan womyn’s folk festival. I should have called it such in the post.
    cooleen–The issue how we define the categories of men and women. YOU can birth a child, but what about infertile women who can’t? Or young girls before puberty, or older women after menopause for that matter? None of them can birth a child, but are still considered women. The point is the categories are not so cut and dry, and neither are the differences.

  35. cooleen
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Ah, Miriam, I knew that was going to be the response.
    I agree that differences aren’t cut and dry and I’m certainly not saying to generalize differences. I’m not trying to be overly simplistic either. We need to move out of the realm of dichotomies and categorizations. Why do we always fall back on that way of thinking? We can acknowledge a range of differences and be proud of them. Reading over other’s comments, I find it’s hard for many of us to say, “hey mister, I’m different than you” because we’re afraid that it’s going to be interpreted as “I’m weaker.”

  36. Haley @ Pop Perspective
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Everyone should check out this article from The Guardian on specific instances these tests have been used. It’s heart breaking to me…
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2008/jul/30/olympicgames2008.gender

  37. ashleyenglish6
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I wrote about this on my blog yesterday. Check it out: ashleyenglish.wordpress.com.

  38. Suzy Q
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    A.H.– You’re right, this is extremely transphobic despite the olympic committee’s ruling in 2004. Specifically it’s transphobia toward trans women, similar to the idea that men might transition to gain access to women-only spaces like bathrooms and the michigan womyn’s folk festival. I should have called it such in the post.
    Pretty much my point in saying that only someone very disturbed would go through all that is entailed in getting sex reassignment surgery just to compete as a woman in sports. Or as you add to attend the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.
    I know I didn’t. I also know that having XY chromosomes and transkid socialization didn’t help me whole lots when I took upt Tae Kwon Do and competed. Or tennis. And I had ski raced before. Granted I trained hard when I raced but my skiing ability took a serious hit because I wasn’t as strong.
    As for the MWMF… Nah but I photographed other womyn only events for a lesbian publication I worked on and have been welcome in the women’s movement and lesbian space where ever I’ve gone.
    I don’t think it is transphobia BTW I think it is misogyny that wants to see a huge chasm between male and female when in reality there is an awful lot of overlapping of strengths , capabilities, likes, desires etc. Without huge differences the ideology of male supremacy takes a big hit.
    An even bigger one if transsexuals compete and lose because where is the male supremacy then. Even though we don’t consider ourselves (women with a transsexual history) pawns of the patriarchy.

  39. philosophynerd
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I just thought I’d add these this observation -
    The main article alludes to the fact that there’s really only been one case (that we know of, but it really was likely the only one) of a man competing as a woman; if it’s the case I’m thinking about, it was Stella Walsh, who wasn’t strictly either a genetic man or a genetic woman, but certainly had – as if this means anything – male genetalia. In any case, although Walsh did win her event in 1932, she won it by a hairsbreadth – hardly the picture of “dominating advantage” granted by gender. And when she defended her title four years later? She lost – to a (genetic) woman, and by a more significant margin than her own victory at the previous Games.
    So, the one time it happened… it wasn’t as much of an advantage as anyone claims it will be.

  40. Hrovitnir
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    I am surprised so many people seem to think there is little difference between men and women physically. I don’t see the point of dividing sports like soccer by sex, or even rugby though of course that won’t work because few women get big enough to compete at international level with men (ow!).
    But as much as I hate it men are generally faster and stronger than women. It’s just the way our bodies are built (not all men and all women, but by averages, and most certainly in elite athletes).
    I’m very strong for a woman: my kickboxing trainer used to say I’d be in the top 1% but he’s good at pulling stuff like that out of his arse. lol I’m a natural sprinter, my (female) friend and I used to come 1st and 2nd out of our co-ed school in intermediate (never followed through, I wish I had). If I trained hard I could probably peak stronger, and faster than a lot of men. I’ve had (male) friends tell me they think I could fight men (in the ring), something I would like to do one day though I can see how it’s a lose-lose situation for a guy. I’m not good with compliments but having my trainer tell me I hit like a man, and having a good male fighter tell my now-boyfriend out on a run that I scare him in sparring still makes me smile years later. But I know that a man with similar genetics to me, of a similar weight, is generally going to be able to lift more weight, do more pressups, punch faster and harder and beat me at sprints.
    This is pretty much the reason that I resent being a woman. But wishing it were otherwise doesn’t make it true :(
    Re: the actual article, I fail to see why they need testing of any type. They’ve never found anyone genuinely cheating in this manner, so frankly it’s bullshit no matter how they do it (chromosomal/examination/whatever)

  41. Hrovitnir
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    P.S. Re: being scared of me sparring, I’m not that arsehole woman who hits hard when guys are going soft… one of the other fights weighs just over 100lbs and she does that, irritates the fuck out of me. I did hit too hard before I learnt to control it but I suspect Jason being American meant he found it weirder to train with a woman who he could hit hard and would grin at him. :D

  42. A male
    Posted August 1, 2008 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    It’s not because you’re a woman, Hrovitnir, it’s because of how you are built. It’s no reason to regret being a woman. I blame my DNA.
    When I last exercised, I was 5’7″, and about 142 lbs. That’s fine for Japan, where by their standards, I actually tall and had some muscle, but still in the lowest 20th percentile range for height and weight for men in the US. Without training at below 130 lbs., I was in the lowest 10th percentile of men in the US for weight, and wouldn’t be able to pass standards for military recruitment. Training has not made me as fast or strong as “average” American men, even teens represent a physical threat (I am the same size as the average 15 year old boy), and only a good deal of self defense training, sheer ruthlessness (e.g., aiming to blind, cripple or kill to stop an attack), or a weapon will help me in an actual altercation.

  43. Mina
    Posted August 1, 2008 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Miriam commented at July 31, 2008 10:46 AM: “cooleen–The issue how we define the categories of men and women. YOU can birth a child, but what about infertile women who can’t? Or young girls before puberty, or older women after menopause for that matter? None of them can birth a child, but are still considered women.”
    You sure about young girls before puberty? Last time I checked, being a woman means being an adult female human being.

  44. wintermute
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Mel: The X axis on your graph is mislabelled. It says that the tallest people are also the lightest, which doesn’t make much sense.
    I assume it’s meant to be “number of people which are this tall”?

  45. sly
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I think this protects all athletes. Depending on the sport, men or women may have a competitive advantage just based on biology. Take track. The world record in the women’s 400-meter sprint is 47.6 seconds. That’s a time your better high school boy sprinters can beat. Literally as many as 10% of high school boy sprinters rival that time. Even if some guy self-identifies as female, having him compete in a woman’s event as a woman would give him an unfair advantage. And with the widespread doping abuse we’ve seen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a guy try it.
    And I don’t think testing is an issue here. Its being done to maintain the credibility of the sport. You want to compete at the world stage in a field rife with cheating, you gotta be prepared for some invasive rules. Compared to the high intensity training regimen to which they’ve dedicated themselves for years, I think standing in front of a doctor naked is a small thing. Like these athletes haven’t been in locker rooms before.

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