Tag Archives: Olympics

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As Ruth Padawer reports in the New York Times, chromosome testing has been replaced by monitoring testosterone levels–only in women, and generally in women who are either extremely fine athletes or have some “male” physical characteristics, or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.

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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!

February Links

Debbie says:

Just after the turn of the year, when everybody and her sister was telling you how they were going to lose weight in 2016, Veronica Bayetti Flores at Feministing released a whole post of great music videos to counteract the bullshit.  Here’s just one of my favorites, from Mz 007 in St. Louis:

And we really need those antidotes, because Ragen Chastain at Dances with Fat, who is always alert to fat-shaming, found one of the most horrifying anti-fat stories ever (and that’s not easy):

Elaine Yu, an assistant professor and clinical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, will be conducting a clinical trial to see if taking pills containing the freeze dried fecal matter of thin people will make fat people thin….

Fecal transplants have been found to a legitimate, and very helpful, treatment to help people with bacterial infections, and the freeze-dried poo pill technology was developed as a way to facilitate these transplants. So now Professor Yu is going to give 20 fat people 6 weekly doses of poop pills (far fewer than in the bacterial infection studies where subjects were given 15 pills a day for 2 days), then track their weight at 3, 6,  and 12 months, telling subjects not to make changes to their eating and exercise habits (obviously, that’s difficult to determine, and I imagine that knowing that you are ingesting poo might have an effect on appetite – I know that researching ingesting poo did for me.)

Further into the post, Ragen deconstructs the assumptions behind this incomprehensible experiment with her usual good sense and flair.

Also deconstructing assumptions about fat we find Ampersand reviewing the Swedish study which said, basically, that you can’t be fat and fit.

I’m not saying that this Swedish study should be ignored (although it has limitations – see below). But it’s one data point among many…

This study only measured fitness at age 18….

So the study didn’t measure if being currently fat and fit reduces current mortality; it measured whether being fat and fit at age 18 reduces mortality over the next three decades. That’s an interesting thing to study – but it’s hard to see how this speaks to whether or not someone like me – a 47 year old fat man – might reduce my risk of mortality with regular exercise in my current life.

Furthermore, since the study only followed male subjects, it’s unclear if these results can be generalized to women.

Staying in the same arena, I saw lots of  links to this story by Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley at Gastropod about why calories don’t correlate to weight. This article doesn’t excerpt well, because it makes so many separate points. If you are at all interested in what calories are, how they are calculated in the lab, how the lab calculations relate to what happens in your body, and why restricting calories doesn’t seem to change your weight (if it doesn’t), this is a don’t-miss story. I’m adding it to my file of “send to people who claim losing weight is simple” links.

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I did not realize that 2015 showed a marked spike in news and information about menstruation, but apparently I’m the only person who didn’t. Reina Gattuso at Feministing links to a number of mainstream articles on the subject, and then focuses on two student-led anti-period-shaming groups: Pads Against Sexism and Happy to Bleed.

According to the organizers, Pads Against Sexism (also called Pads Against Patriarchy) was inspired by a public art project by German artist Elone Kastratia, who celebrated International Women’s Day by sticking sanitary napkins (period diapers? vagina towels?) with feminist messages across her city….

Activist Nikita Azad started Happy to Bleed in November, as one of a chorus of feminist responses to a statement by Prayar Gopalakrishnan, president of the Travancore Devaswom Hindu Temple administering Board in the southern state of Kerala. Women aren’t currently allowed access to the state’s Sabarimala Temple (one manifestation of many world religions’ charming tendency to stigmatize menstruation). Gopalakrishnan posited that this could change when a magical machine was put into use to detect whether blood was — in the immortal words of Trump – coming out women’s whatevers

In response, Azad posted a rallying cry wherein she encouraged feminists across the country to post their own messages of menstrual solidarity on pads and social media.

A flurry of media activity in response to both campaigns helped lower the stigma and raised the profile of menstrual issues in India. Writers also took down the idea that periods are only chill because they’re important in making babies and babies are important to patriarchy. And Azad and other activists pointed out that menstrual stigma particularly affects lower-caste women and women living in poverty, who are often forced to miss school during their periods or have no sanitary accommodations at work. 

Oh, how I wish this conversation had been around when I was in high school and college!

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Two victories for trans people. The Transgender Law Center reports on advances in restroom availability:

This week, San Francisco joins Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Austin, Seattle, Santa Fe, and New York City in requiring all businesses and city buildings to designate single-stall restrooms as all-gender. While transgender and gender nonconforming people have the legal right to use restrooms that correspond to their gender, this kind of legislation is still a relief for people with disabilities, trans and gender nonconforming people, and families with small children — not to mention women simply tired of waiting on line for the women’s restroom while the single-stall men’s bathroom stands empty.

And Bobby Hankinson at Towleroad reports on advances in competition guidelines:

Previously, trans athletes were required to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. According to guidelines made public on Sunday, the new recommendations remove any restrictions on trans men, and allow trans women to compete in the Olympic Games after one year of hormone replacement therapy.

“The new IOC transgender guidelines fix almost all of the deficiencies with the old rules,” chief medical physicist, radiation oncology, Providence Portland Medical Center Joanna Harper wrote to Outsports via email. “Hopefully, organizations such as the ITA will quickly adapt to the new IOC guidelines and all of the outdated trans policies will get replaced soon.”

Harper, who is also a trans woman, attended the Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism that helped craft these guidelines in November.

And finally, if you are interested in artistic interpretations of human/cyborg/machine transformations, George Dvorsky at io9 shared a fascinating video. Sonoya Mizuno dances in “Wide Open,” the latest music video from the British electronic duo The Chemical Brothers.

 

All links from my regular reading, which includes Feministe, Shakesville, and Sociological Images,, along with Feministing, and io9, which are featured here, along with other sites. Also, we’re always on the lookout for interesting posts that connect racism and body image, and even more so during Black History Month, so send links if you have them.