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Stop the Sex Scare in Sports (Dave Zirin & Sherry Wolf)

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Duncan Grant Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 08:21 PM
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Stop the Sex Scare in Sports (Dave Zirin & Sherry Wolf)

Caster Semenya of South Africa after winning the women's 800 meters final during the world athletics championships in Berlin

Forget for a moment that the term "hermaphrodite" is as outdated and offensive as "mulatto." Forget that these test results were leaked first to the Australian press, which also referred to Semenya as a hermaphrodite. Forget that Australia was the country that brought these accusations against Semenya in the first place.

Besides being a cruel and idiotic practice, sex testing doesn't account for the idea that gender is at least in part socially constructed and far more fluid than the iron categories of male and female. An 18-year-old woman is being torn apart in the press for doing nothing but winning a race. If it is the goal of the media and IAAF to destroy the life of a young, talented female athlete by outing her as potentially intersex then they are not simply pitiless; they are socially repugnant.

From the notion that women are somehow weaker and slower than men, to the not-so-subtle racism of Western standards of appearance, and on to their profound ignorance about the fluidity of sex and gender, these institutions are threatening to catapult women in sports back into the Dark Ages. We can't let them.

Being a woman--or a man--is not reducible to internal organs or chromosomes. Social, historical, political and economic forces shape who we are and how we perceive our gender identities, in addition to our biology.

It's a great read.
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Teaser Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 08:27 PM
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1. This is true
but professional sports is built on making these distinctions. This unfortunate woman is throwing a monkey wrench into those distinctions, but I cannot believe she will prevail. Modern sports rule making is based on turning statistical entities into iron categories. It works because it *usually* works. I don't think modern sporting institutions get any percentage out of trying to do any better than that.

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HeresyLives Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 08:37 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. I don't think you read the article.
If professional sport is founded on distinctions, they're going to have to abandon that idea.

'In Atlanta in 1996, eight women 'failed' the sex verification test because they had a Y-chromosome (strictly speaking, they had the SRY gene or the Y-chromosome). All eight were allowed to compete." '

The Olympics allows transgendered athletes. Have done for 5 years now I believe.
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Teaser Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 09:19 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. what you think I did matters little to me.
but I just happen to think it's overly optimistic. And that the Olympics did something means little to me. I'll be impressed when major league sports (football, basketbal, hockey, or baseball) start allowing intersexed individuals, or their internal pressures don't force gay athletes into the closet forever. They are the moneymaker sports and the ones where rigid public attitudes about gender and sexuality are at their most stone age.

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damntexdem Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 09:27 PM
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4. Hermaphrodite is still appropriate used for other animals.
Intersex for humans.

And whatever the rules for sports, the real tragedies are what gender roles can do to the psychology of an intersex individual.
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One_Life_To_Give Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Sep-18-09 07:14 AM
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5. Its about levels of Steroids in the blood
Womens sports are seperated because men have a higher level of Testosterone in their system. There is a reason you don't see women at the top of the PGA tour. It's regrettable that some people are in between the common binary ranges for this hormone. Never any easy thing to determine what to do with them regarding who they are allowed to fairly compete against.

I agree the media's handling of this is pure crap. But the concept that some men who can't quite make it at the top of mens sports, see competing against women by whatever means as their ticket to success. Thus we have the imperfect solution of testing to protect the acheivements of those who achive success without the benefit of higher levels of Testosterone.
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insleeforprez Donating Member (321 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Sep-18-09 11:25 AM
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6. With sports, biological differences are relevant
I can only talk with any direct knowledge of my own sport, rowing. It is a fact that men are stronger rowers than women; at the Head of the Charles (the biggest rowing event in the world), my high school (boys') eight was faster than every girls eight except for the US National Team. Thus, the distinction between men's and women's events is more than arbitrary. This distinction is what gives women the opportunity to compete in athletics.
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sui generis Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Sep-18-09 12:57 PM
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7. okay, outdated term yes. Offensive???????
sez who? and why? don't swallow every piece of candy a stranger gives you.

Let's talk about sports though - if we want an intersex entry, then we should have that category of entrant. Men don't normally compete against women because there really are physiological differences. Certainly if you have an organ that produces testosterone you shouldn't be competing against PEOPLE who don't, sine testosterone IS a differentiator, gonadic arrangement notwithstanding.

This article is (borrowing words) repugnant, and outdated by the way. It stirs outrage rather than addressing the real issues - it's not worthy Duncan.

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Duncan Grant Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Sep-18-09 03:43 PM
Response to Reply #7
8. The exchange of ideas is a wonderful thing. Fortunately, we don't have to agree.
I thought the article was interesting, especially this:

If Semenya's biology is not "normal," it's worth asking, what world-class athlete does have a normal body?

No one brands Shaquille O'Neal abnormal because he is seven feet tall. Michael Phelps, as was remarked by breathless Olympics commentators, has unusually large and flat feet that act like flippers in a pool. Usain Bolt has a stride that allows him to cover an insane amount of ground in only a few steps.

As Tommy Craggs of Deadspin writes, "Great athletes tend not to come from the vast middle of human life. They're all freaks in one way or another.... But Semenya has nevertheless been portrayed as some lone oddity on the margins, like some Elephant Man of sports, with everyone obsessing like Victorian scientists over the presence of a couple internal testicles. It's funny: People seem to think her very weirdness is grounds enough for stripping her of her medal and drumming her out of track. But this is sports. Her weirdness is perfectly normal."

Regarding the offensiveness of the identifier "hermaphrodite": I work with LGBTQQI people everyday; local custom in SF is to use intersex -- never hermaphrodite. Obviously, it's anecdotal. I'm sure word usage is different in other areas.

Again, the real value for me (today) is the exchange of ideas. Great to hear from you! :hi:
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indigo32 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-21-09 09:24 AM
Response to Reply #7
9. the outrage, and repugnancy
is how this issue was handled. I assure you as someone who falls under the category of intersex in the medical books, though I have never considered myself anything but female, that this is a huge issue. I think you'd be very upset if your medical records were leaked to the press without your consent.

Surely the issues surrounding professional sports can be discussed, but it's really really wrong how this was handled.
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