In case anybody hasn't heard yet: the winner of the women's 800m final at the Athletics World Championships, Caster Semenya of South Africa, is being put through a full battery of "sex tests" by the IAAF.
The supposed justification for sex tests is to do with "masculine advantage", the biological difference in musculature etc. between "typical" men and "typical" women that's correlated with the men's world records being faster, higher etc. than women's (also correlated: a whole lot of societal expectations and other environmental differences). Sex tests used to be mandatory, until the 1990s. The decision to test Caster now is apparently based on the following:
•"She burst onto the international scene out of nowhere" ... but she was in the World Junior Championships last year, which means they had plenty of time to make discreet enquiries if they wanted to.
•"She doesn't look feminine" ... I'll come back to that one.
•"She can't be a woman, she's too good" ... not what they say, but what I hear them implying; I remember that a British paralympian was reclassified so that she'd have had to race against women with more mobility, because her times had improved and somebody claimed she couldn't be as disabled as all that. It's one of those Catch 22 things, where women have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good, but if they really are good, they get their status challenged. The World Championships is supposed
to find women who are better at their events than other women, right? Also, Semenya didn't break the world record; if I've understood correctly, someone with a similar build set a faster time last year, without having her "gender" questioned; but she
was white, and the appearance thing is at least partly about that.
I don't know what I would have thought if I'd first seen Semenya in the lineup for the final without having already heard people talking about the challenge to her eligibility. As it was, she looked androgynous to me, which is a good look in my book, and also not unusual among track athletes. Part of why I see her that way is because I've only seen her dressed for the track, which evens out most people's personal gender performance except for hairstyle. Her hair is in cornrows, which is apparently not considered a feminine style ... by people who are looking for European/White beauty standards. Another part of why I see her as androgynous is that I'm polluted by those racist expectations too; I'm not used to her features and her hairstyle. I'm not immune to the media constantly telling me that women are of no account unless they have big bouncy boobs and long flowing locks. I'm sure Black women have to work twice as hard to be thought half as womanly (and also that my analogy is full of holes).
The experts involved in the testing include a psychiatrist. Now some of the other stuff is offensively intrusive, but that plain doesn't make sense. Nobody who isn't a frothing-at-the-mouth bigot has accused her of consciously cheating; the "concern" is that her natural hormone levels might give her an "unfair" advantage, a purely medical consideration. What's the psychiatrist for?
I first commented on this at the F Word
(as Legible Susan).
The racist appearance standards involved are being discussed at What Tami Said
The sex-segregation of sports, including ones where there isn't an obvious performance difference, is included in this open thread at Shakesville
. Rana's comment "Indeed, I suspect that some of the reasons that sports are sex-segregated is to spare men the possible humiliation of losing to women" reminds me that in the early days of competitive ice-skating, a woman came second and they promptly changed the rules to exclude women, adding the women's events decades later if I recall correctly. That thread also includes women who have high testosterone levels for medical reasons pointing out that it hasn't helped them
become world-class athletes.Mindy at Hoyden about Town
points out that athletes of both sexes are routinely tested for steroid abuse but only those competing as women have their identity questioned.
(Edited to fix a typo)