“Gender” and Sports

As you’ve probably heard, an 18 year-old S. African woman won the 800 m at the world championships. But that’s probably not the way you heard it. You probably heard that her gender is being questioned because she “looks like a man”. I think there are lots of tricky issues about sex in sports: this is one place where we really see the problems that result from having a variety of accepted definitions of biological sex out there in the world: e.g. genitalia and chromosomes, to name the two most frequently used. But, of course, we’ve got *no* reason at all to think there’s even a tricky issue in her case, and I’ll bet it’s no fun at all to be a teenager who has accomplished what’s undoubtedly a lifelong dream only to be confronted by people saying you look like a man– and accusing you of cheating.

Being a pedant, though, I’m going to call attention to something else. I’ll bet those tests they’re now doing on her are not actually tests of her social role. (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

6 thoughts on ““Gender” and Sports

  1. There are interesting comments on an article in the NY Times. As one person points out, there may be racism at play as people conjecture about the ‘dark mysteries’ of the Bantu (of which the runner is one).

    I liked a comment in the article itself:

    “We can get quite philosophical here — what does it mean to be male or female?” said Dr. Richard Auchus, a specialist in disorders of sexual differentiation at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

    Indeed.

  2. This quote from her coach really takes the cake:

    “We understand that people will ask questions because she looks like a man. It’s a natural reaction and it’s only human to be curious. People probably have the right to ask such questions if they are in doubt. But I can give you the telephone numbers of her roommates in Berlin. They have already seen her naked in the showers and she has nothing to hide.”

    See: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090831/zirin_wolf

  3. A few years ago a Radio 4 programme called ‘More or Less’ (which I commend to everyone – the most recent programme is about rape statistics) delved into the mire of testosterone testing. UK readers can listen to it here… http://bit.ly/2Nz6sV

  4. Sarah, I just saw this, and I’m not sure what to conclude. One thing is that the binary male/female has broken down and we may need to rethink it all.

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