Excuse Me, Ma’am. May I See Your Gender Card?

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Laurie and Debbie say:

03intersex3-articleLarge“Sex verification” in women’s sports, especially amateur sports, has a long and checkered history. The Olympics required gender cards like the above from 1968 to 1998, subjecting women to humiliating, unnecessary, and scientifically indefensible physical examinations. They relaxed their policies somewhat in the late 1990s–for a while.

As Ruth Padawer reports in the New York Times, chromosome testing has been replaced by monitoring testosterone levels–only in women, and generally in women who are either extremely fine athletes or have some “male” physical characteristics, or both. Women who have never  given a moment’s thought to questioning their gender are put through a grueling process to prove that they are not somehow “too male” to compete.

When [India’s outstanding runner Dutee] Chand arrived in Delhi, she says, she was sent to a clinic to meet a doctor from the Athletics Federation of India — the Indian affiliate of the International Association of Athletics Federations (I.A.A.F.), which governs track and field. He told her he would forgo the usual urine and blood tests because no nurse was available, and would order an ultrasound instead. That confused Chand, but when she asked him about it, she recalls, he said it was routine.

Chand had no idea that her extraordinary showing in Taipei and at a national championship earlier that month had prompted competitors and coaches to tell the federation that her physique seemed suspiciously masculine: Her muscles were too pronounced, her stride was too impressive for someone who was only five feet tall. The doctor would later deny that the ultrasound was a response to those reports, saying he ordered the scan only because Chand had previously complained of chronic abdominal pain. She contends she never had any such pain.

03mag-intersex6-articleLarge

Because of her exceptional athletic abilities, Chand went through a grueling and invasive series of tests, only to be told that her testosterone levels were “too high” and that she could not compete as a woman.

After her results came in, officials told her she could return to the national team only if she reduced her testosterone level — and that she wouldn’t be allowed to compete for a year. The particulars of her results were not made public, but the media learned, and announced, that Chand had “failed” a “gender test” and wasn’t a “normal” woman. For days, Chand cried inconsolably and refused to eat or drink. “Some in the news were saying I was a boy, and some said that maybe I was a transsexual,” Chand told me. “I felt naked. I am a human being, but I felt I was an animal. I wondered how I would live with so much humiliation.”

Pradawer’s long, detailed article is an excellent overview of gender testing, particularly in amateur athletics, since the 1930s, including discussion of the well-known case of South African runner Castor Semenya, who “established her gender” sufficiently to win a silver medal in 2012 and who will be competing in Rio. Like Semenya, Chand chose to fight her case:

In court, the I.A.A.F. acknowledged that men’s natural testosterone levels, no matter how high, were not regulated; the rationale, it said, was that there was no evidence that men with exceptionally high testosterone have a competitive advantage. Pressed by Chand’s lawyer, the I.A.A.F. also conceded that no research had actually proved that unusually high levels of natural testosterone lead to unusually impressive sports performance in women either. Nor has any study proved that natural testosterone in the “male range” provides women with a competitive advantage commensurate with the 10 to 12 percent advantage that elite male athletes typically have over elite female athletes in comparable events. In fact, the I.A.A.F.’s own witnesses estimated the performance advantage of women with high testosterone to be between 1 and 3 percent, and the court played down the 3 percent figure, because it was based on limited, unpublished data.

Chand’s witnesses also pointed out that researchers had identified more than 200 biological abnormalities that offer specific competitive advantages, among them increased aerobic capacity, resistance to fatigue, exceptionally long limbs, flexible joints, large hands and feet and increased numbers of fast-twitch muscle fibers — all of which make the idea of a level playing field illusory, and not one of which is regulated if it is innate.

Other female athletes have had medical treatment for testosterone reduction, and also surgical treatment to reduce clitoris size, just so they will be allowed to compete.

Chand has provisionally won her case:

… the judges said that the I.A.A.F.’s policy was not justified by current scien­tific research: “While the evidence indicates that higher levels of naturally occurring testosterone may increase athletic performance, the Panel is not satisfied that the degree of that advantage is more significant than the advantage derived from the numerous other variables which the parties acknowledge also affect female athletic performance: for example, nutrition, access to specialist training facilities and coaching and other genetic and biological variations.”

The judges concluded that requiring women like Chand to change their bodies in order to compete was unjustifiably discriminatory.

However, the I.A.A.F. has until July 2017 to bring new evidence and change the policy, but meanwhile Chand pushed herself to the limit to overcome her lost time, and will be the first Indian woman to run the 100-meter race in the Olympics in just over 25 years.

However, many other women (as Chand repeatedly says in the article, most of them from poor backgrounds) face similar humiliation, oversight, and potential defeat–especially if the I.A.A.F. manages to overturn the ruling next year.

Once again, an arbitrary, unscientific “standard” is imposed only on women who have the temerity to do something that society codes as “male.” The women targeted are usually the ones with the fewest resources to fight back. And once again, primarily male rulemakers get to decide what women can and cannot do with our bodies. Women keep fighting back, winning remarkable victories which are then so often negated by the next generation of arbitrary standards.

We’ll be rooting for Dutee Chand in the 100 meters … and in the 2017 court challenge.

Thanks to Lisa Hirsch for the link!

It’s July! Let’s Have Some Links

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Debbie says:

In 1998 when Camryn Manheim was up for an Emmy, which she won. Designers lined up to make her dress, like they do (or did?) for Emmy nominees. Manheim, ever the fat activist, refused to take an offer from any designer who didn’t otherwise make plus-size clothes.

leslie-jones-768Leslie Jones, star of the upcoming Ghostbusters remake, complained on Twitter and found a designer, Christian Siriano, to make a gown for her. At least some of the fashion press thinks this is Jones’ fault. Kara Brown reports from Jezebel:

Pret-a-Reporter talked to Hollywood stylists who perfectly exemplified the stereotypes of the thin-obsessed, catty, narcissistic fashion industry.

 In addition to arguing that designers who have complete control over what sizes they make and still only produce the smallest sizes available do not have a size bias, stylist Jeanne Yang suggests that it would be a financial burden to create a new dress for a woman starring in what will likely be one of the biggest movies of the summer and who will soon be snapped thousands of times on the red carpet. …
It sucks that Jones had to complain on Twitter to get a nice dress to wear and that Christian Siriano was the only designer to step up, but hopefully he will do her right and she’ll show up on the carpet looking like a queen and making those fools wish they weren’t such brats.

All I can say is “Still? After all these years?”

***

In the class of “how was this ever not true?” towards the end of June New York City passed a law providing tampons and pads to all women in public schools, shelters, and correctional facilities.  As Mattie Kahn said at Elle:

New York City is leading the crusade to free women from shelling out for a public health imperative. No one is forcing high schoolers to pay for toilet paper, dudes! 

“Tampon taxes” are going away, but seriously: how did anyone ever think that supplying menstrual products was not a necessary thing?

***

Medium went to Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal to show us a biting overview of how female firsts are covered, from Amelia Earhart to Hillary Clinton. Hint:  the woman’s accomplishments are often not given any credit. Here’s just one of my favorites:

December, 1903, OSLO, Norway — “Ignoring voice vote, rigged Nobel Prize committee hands award to Marie Curie.”

Bee also cites reports about Billie Jean King, Sally Ride, and … Joan of Arc! Sadly not surprising, but well worth the two-minute read.

***

I really liked B.A. Beasley’s essay at The Toast on genderqueer parenting:

You see, there’s no such thing as a parent. We only have mothers and fathers.

Here’s what I don’t mean: I don’t mean that women and men are hardwired to parent differently. I don’t even mean that the social construction of gender is so overpowering that overcoming motherhood or fatherhood is difficult for individual parents. I mean the social category of parent just doesn’t seem to exist.

I say this despite the fact that my social world is filled with people who are deeply invested in egalitarian parenthood. I personally know inspirations in the realm of splitting reproductive labor. They are not doing it wrong.

But all the good people in the world making all the right decisions about sharing, pitching in, and helping each other out can’t fix the fact that every form you complete, every book you read, every law you face, every policy you confront has two categories: mothers and fathers.

There’s a lot more: very thoughtful and some of it very personal. If the topic interests you, read the whole thing.

***

Discussing a different aspect of families, social circles, and social expectations, Amalthea Aelwyn at Queen of the Chaos Circle wrote a long, detailed advice column for the families and friends of people with autoimmune diseases. Her piece has over twenty bullet points of things to think about and do: here’s just one that struck me.

  • She will already be her own worst critic. In her head, she will most likely be struggling to avoid chewing herself out regularly.   Nothing you can say will possibly be as harsh as she is on herself.  So she needs you to be especially careful of the things you say to her, and how you say them.  It’s okay to have your own feelings, and to express feelings, but you always have a choice in how you say something. There is a big difference between grumpily demanding “why do I have to stop eating wheat (candy or whatever else), just because you’re sick all the time!?” and saying “I wish there was a way to make you better, so we wouldn’t both have to skip candy and soda.” The first statement becomes an attack on a person who can’t help that she has this problem. The second statement is a way to express your frustration in a way that shows you care about her, and know that she misses those things too. It is even okay to be mad at her disease, but it’s not okay to take that mad out on her. Tell her that you are mad at her disease, too, if you want. But don’t yell at her for it. She can’t help it.

I have both family and several friends with autoimmune diseases. I found this a hard read, the kind I sometimes push against saying either, “That’s not fair to me!” or “But I already do that!” in my head, which usually means it’s things I need to hear. I’ll come back to it again and again when I need it.

***

Finally, Casey Chan at Sploid features an adults-only video by SuperDeluxe that takes those of us who want to go there (not for everyone) through a sex-doll factory:

Being inside a sex doll factory and watching all that plastic nakedness get shaped is much more haunting than it is titillating. It gets unsettling, like if you were trapped inside a scene from a horror movie and couldn’t get out. But it’s also somewhat intriguing, just to see the mixture of products and body parts that they put together in a puzzle to shape a doll.

The queer parenting link is from zulu. Otherwise, links are from my regular reading, which includes Feministe, Shakesville, Sociological Images, Feministing, io9, and TakePart, along with other sources.