Gender Testing and Women’s Sports

Testing 18-year-old South African athlete Caster Semenya to determine whether or not she is female is the latest demonstration of the way societies are unable to accept that gender is fluid and people are not always "one or the other." Or so says Dave Zirin and Sherry Wolf’s article on The Nation’s website.

According to the article, the track and field star is being publicly humiliated–forced to undergo "gender testing" to determine whether or not her genetic makeup is that of a female. This, as the authors point out, is shameful enough.

But what’s interesting is they made the leap to discuss the fact that the condition of being "intersex" — not having the usual XX or XY chromosomal makeup — is surprisingly common.

Many of these "intersex" individuals, estimated at one birth in every 1,666 in the United States alone, are legally operated on by surgeons who force traditional norms of genitalia on newborn infants. In what some doctors consider a psychosocial emergency, thousands of healthy babies are effectively subject to clitorectomies if a clitoris is ‘too large’ or castrations if a penis is ‘too small’ (evidently penises are never considered ‘too big’).

Not to say that Semenya is intersexed–there is absolutely no evidence that she is–but it shouldn’t matter either way. It seems to me a person has lived her entire life as a female, she would be entirely entitled to participate in women’s sports.

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  • derekp

    This of course brings up an older, more fundamental question: Should sports be segregated by gender at all? If people, regardless of gender, were allowed to compete in any sport together then this type of testing and regulation would not be necessary. I’m curious to see if feminists think that sports segregation helps or harms women.

  • crowepps

    There are many reasons behind our present system of sports segregation: the first, of course, is that originally all sports participation was for boys/men and girls/women were discouraged from using their bodies physically. What sports were available for girls and women had to be ‘ladylike’ to accomodate their restrictive clothing and discouraged competition because that was supposedly a masculine trait. Certainly the belief that the only physical thing women should use their bodies for is childbearing is still popular in some circles today.


    The second is that men and women are muscled differently, and unless a sorting system of some kind were used, competition couldn’t be equal. I’m thinking of something along the lines of the way wrestling is subdivided into multitudes of weight classes to ensure fair matches. Any other system would shove women back out of most sports again.


    The third is that there is a lot of hysteria regarding the idea that in mixed-sex groups of people playing sports some of the men and women might TOUCH EACH OTHER. This is so unconscious that some people are immensely uncomfortable when little children are playing tag or any other contact sport in mixed groups and can only articulate their discomfort as a vague feeling that ‘it’s wrong’ or that the ‘girls might get hurt’.


    Since we all know there are no ‘cooties’ this is likely the same lame old ‘sexual purity’ nonsense where children are trained that thinking about certain subjects is ‘sinful’, they then reject both the reality that no one can control their thoughts and that any efforts to do so are their own responsibility, and instead blame other people for ‘tempting them to sin’ or for ‘making them think’ about ‘bad things’. Repression and projection have been covered thoroughly but it would certainly be interesting to see a psychological study of exactly why society/religion find it so useful to promote training children that they should be ashamed of having a body and thinking.

  • otaku1960

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  • brady-swenson

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