Guest post from Renee of Womanist Musings
We have all become accustomed to the drug testing athletes must undergo
to ensure that their performance has not been enhanced. Female athletes
however are subjected to a new form of gender based policing based in
the idea that someone have a natural biological advantage because of
things like hormonal imbalances.
There are some who believe that this
amounts to an unfair advantage ever as it encourages gender policing
that is harmful emotionally to girls and women.
Caster Semenya, the South African runner who
was so fast and muscular that many suspected she was a man, exploded
onto the front pages three years ago. She was considered an outlier, a
But similar cases are emerging all over the world, and Semenya, who was
banned from competition for 11 months while authorities investigated her
sex, is back, vying for gold.
Semenya and other women like her face a complex question: Does a female
athlete whose body naturally produces unusually high levels of male
hormones, allowing them to put on more muscle mass and recover faster,
have an “unfair” advantage?
In a move critics call “policing femininity,” recent rule changes by the
International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the
governing body of track and field, state that for a woman to compete,
her testosterone must not exceed the male threshold.
If it does, she must have surgery or receive hormone therapy prescribed
by an expert IAAF medical panel and submit to regular monitoring. So
far, at least a handful of athletes — the figure is confidential — have
been prescribed treatment, but their numbers could increase. Last month,
the International Olympic Committee began the approval process to adopt
similar rules for the Games. [source]
these tests and probes are meant to define what constitutes woman.
Even if a woman has always identified as female and lived her life as a
woman, simply a complaint to the IAAF is enough to force her to endure a
battery of tests and treatment that she may not want or need, to be
deemed suitably female enough to be able to compete. This is beyond
intrusive and amounts to cissexist gender policing.
The moment we begin to define gender strictly through biology, we limit
the definition of what it is to be ‘woman’. It has also not escaped my
notice that this is something that is only happening to female
athletes. No one is looking at men for supposed feminine
characteristics largely because anything considered female is not
socially understood to benefit men. We know for instance that women
have a lower center of gravity and this could come in handy in sports
like gymnastics or even diving, but no one is on a mission to ensure
that men are suitably masculine enough to perform.
This policy comes down to policing gender and more importantly, policing
womanhood. This standard that has been created will effect all women.
We already live in an extremely cissexist world and trans women are
subjected to all manner of abuse daily. Subjecting female athletes to
this test suggests that there is only one true standard for womanhood
and failing to meet that marks one as “other.” It encourages people to
question someone’s gender even when they are clearly identified as
female and will give rise to more cissexism.
Woman is a broad category and any attempt to narrow it is an assault on
all women. No one should have to be subjected to invasive testing and
medication that they don’t need for their bodies to function naturally
to run in a race, dive or participate in any sport. This testing is
divisive and any athlete who agrees with this testing to me is only
worried about taking home a medal at any cost.