Policing Gender: Crossing the Line Between Sports and Politics

Jessica Stephenson

Section #9

Blog #3

Society’s assignment of femininity and masculinity dictates exactly how we should play. This social construction of gender has produced a monstrous relationship between sports and politics. One’s participation in sports is a fate predetermined by society’s perceptions, which in turn policies and regulations are manipulated to reflect. The case surrounding track runner Caster Semenya, an intersex woman forced to take hormones that would make her more “womanly” in order to compete, calls the ethics of these regulations into question. Does society know best, especially when dealing with the personal matter of how gender manifests in each individual? Have we crossed the line, beyond the track? These questions, as noted in class and by professor LaVaque-Manty, require an understanding of “status and standing equality, voluntary choice and justice” within sports and throughout society.

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In 1968, fearing that men would pose as women to have a competitive advantage, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) began gender verification testing. Unfortunately and not surprisingly, only women athletes were subjugated to this scrutiny. Rather than solely requiring a physical examination, the test uses the method of sex chromatin testing to measure the genetic makeup of an individual in which each sex has it’s own specific level of DNA chromosomes. Therefore, determining a person’s sex and eligibility to compete given society’s construction of gender differences.  As revealed in the article Either/Or, the test leaves little to no acceptance for those who possess both male and female sex chromatin patterns yet self identify as woman. According to IOC regulation if a person fails the test, meaning cannot be biologically categorized as male or female, they must undergo “corrective” treatment in order to compete within the gender they identify.This is includes hormone suppression therapy and or genital surgery.

Many believe that this policy is necessary to ensure that all competitors have an equal advantage. However, it unjustly grants a certain level of privilege and status to those whose sex biologically matches with the gender society assigned them with at birth, while rejecting those who do not, especially unknowingly. In order to truly have equal opportunity, it is imperative that an individual’s differences are fairly recognized as opposed to being altered to fit the status quo or what society deems correct.

yaomingSociety and many of the students in my class agree that because Caster Semenya’s genetics give her an advantage in performance, the policy is justifiable. Yet, this same social practice is not applied to basketball players that have genetic advantages in height. As noted by a fellow peer, does that mean we should require a few inches be cut from their legs in order to compete? Since this has not been the case, it is clear that the social conventions that determine meaningful competition need to be reprimanded for this unjust inequality. Furthermore, while the treatment did ultimately result in Semenya competing at a more averaged level to her fellow competitors, within IOF regulations, it should be noted that her natural capabilities were now limited. According to professor LaVaque-Manty, “natural limitations include human-dependent actions such as accidents, but the idea is the same: if my capability is or gets limited, justice demands that the limitation be as costless as possible.” Thus, policies that promote such should be challenged.

In my opinion, in order to truly be inclusive and equal, society must abandon discriminatory and oppressive notions and policies; especially those that continue to perpetuate gender and sex inequality. Caster Semenya did not have a voluntary choice in her creation, nor should society. Sadly, I do not think that sports will ever be fair and just.

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2 thoughts on “Policing Gender: Crossing the Line Between Sports and Politics

  1. I fully understand the discriminatory nature of gender testing for olympic athletes; however, I there is slightly more complexity to the issue than you acknowledge. Men are not subjected to gender testing because male runners run the fastest and thus, pretending to be male poses no competitive advantage. Thus, though the practice of gender testing does manifest itself in a sexist way, it is not without reason. Moreover, I do not agree with your analogy to basketball players’ height. In basketball, there are not separate divisions based on height. In track and field, however, competitions are divided into male and female categories. Thus, the issue of gender in track is wholly different from that of height in basketball.

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  2. It truly is sad that we may never reach equality in the sports world and in society as a whole. I really liked your blog post and agreed with your argument. However, I disagree with you that society will not reach equality. Throughout the recent decades, we have made a slow but steady increase in equality among genders, races and religions. In the sports world individuals are still discriminated against, but I believe we are on the right path to correcting ourselves. In Mika’s book, he discussed how wheelchair limited marathon runners were stopped and discriminated against in the competition. However, through reform, they can now compete, however, they must start the race first and earlier for safety reasons. This change shows that even though the rules can’t be the same for everyone, if we keep the mentality that differences don’t separate us or make us less acceptable, we can compete together. In the case of women’s sports, if we accept that all women are created differently, and these differences shouldn’t limit any person, we can create rules to help everyone compete if they want to. For Caster, yes, she did have to take estrogen supplements, but at least she got to compete. I think this shows that we are on the right take for allowing anyone to compete, even if they are “different.”

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