How a female athlete’s body became a battleground for gender assumptions (again).

For those of you who follow women’s basketball you will have already heard of Brittney Griner. Though only 21 she has been making waves the past few years most recently having received Associate Press’ Player of the Year and the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Like many elite level athletes Griner possesses some unusual physical traits (think swimmer Micheal Phelps with his wingspan as long as 26 monarch butterflies lined up in a row…or more simply, 6’7”). Standing 6’8″ tall, Griner wears a men’s US size 17 shoes.

The use of the word “unusual” over “unnatural” is an important distinction and kind of the crux of what this blog post will be about. I recently read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. It’s a young adult historical fiction novel about a upper class white girl who finds herself as the only female passenger on a voyage across the Atlantic in the 1800s. As she transitions into a competent member of the crew the antagonist Captain Jaggery attempts to squander any solidarity she builds with the other crew members. In a particularly memorable scene Jaggery accuses Charlotte of a crime using an argument about her “unnaturalness”:

“Doing her part like we all was,” the captain echoed in a mocking tone. “Mr. Barlow, you are not young. In all your years have you ever seen, ever heard of a girl who took up crew’s work?”
“No sir, I never did.”
“So, then, is it not unusual?”
“I suppose.”
“You suppose. Might you say, unnatural?”
“That’s not fair!” I cried out. “Unusual and unnatural are not the same!”

The captain goes on to say that due to Charlotte’s obvious “unnaturalness” it was the duty of the crew, of the men, to “protect the natural order of the world” by getting rid of her.

Bringing this back to Brittney Griner (…and Caster Semenya and all the other female athletes that have been scrutinized for their “unnaturalness”) her most recent splash in the news was about her decision to remove herself from consideration for inclusion in the London 2012 Olympics. She cited school obligations and family health issues as her main reasons. What caught my eye in this Women Talk Sports article was the author stating, “I saw pokes and jokes about the fact that she’s afraid of genetic testing and that’s why she doesn’t want to play for the USA, because she’s actually a man.” I thought, oh shit, here we go again. So I searched “Brittney Griner+gender” to see what the media and sports pundits had been saying.

At the beginning of April after Griner’s team won the Women’s NCAA Championship game the opposing coach (a woman) said of her after the game, “I think she’s one of a kind. I think she’s like a guy playing with women.” Apparently referring to Griner’s gender was not a new thing at this point but this coach’s comment is important because it led to many articles devoted to Griner’s gender appearance. The articles ‘defending’ Griner are what prompted me to write this blog. Save for this excellent piece at Fit and Feminist I was sorely disappointed and surprised given the excellent progressive articles written about Caster Semenya and the shit show around her “gender testing.” The author of the CBS article titled Questioning Griner’s gender? Please, just shut up and go away is rightly very angered by the scrutiny of Griner’s gender but his conclusion is, “If you think Brittney Griner is a freak, or not a woman, or something other than what she purports to be, either bring proof or shut up. And since you don’t have proof, you’re really left with Option B.” Similar is the attitude behind this Washington Post article titled Brittney Griner’s gender? Shame on those who even ask the question which starts her defense by remarking that Griner didn’t “ask for” a deep voice and size 17 feet. I’m happy that these mainstream journalists are condemning offensive comments about Griner but the conversation is severely lacking in an analysis of gender policing in sport and why this keeps happening to female athletes (especially non-white female athletes). This has nothing to do with the exceptionality of Griner and everything to do with patriarchy and racism as played out through the institution of sport.

The “institution of sport”― this is something that Dr. Ian Richie from Brock University emphasised while I was interviewing him about the history of sex testing in international sport. He started off the interview with saying, “The reason I think sex testing is so interesting is because it really provides a lens into the institution of sport. And, we have to remember that sport is an institution, a social institution created by human beings, it’s not grown out of the natural earth so to speak. There’s no any one way that sport has to be done…sport as an institution was created around gender lines and assumptions about gender.”

Richie went on to remind us that this resulted in sport being raised out of the celebration of masculinity. Masculinity being socially understood as synonymous with strength, speed and all other manner of athletic prowess. This is why it’s foundation shattering to have elite female athletes existing and why, Ritchie and others argue, sex testing―something so fundamentally at odds with human rights―is acceptable in the institution of sport and nowhere else.

This ideology of “natural” gender roles was furthered propped up by the institution of science during the 19th century . A most hilariously ridiculous example being the ‘research’ that found that bicycling would cause a woman’s uterus to implode – it being such an unnatural act. Science was not only interested in proving the naturalness of social gender roles but also white supremacy. When Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Hilter’s Germany he shook up racial assumptions. The response of science and society as neatly summed by PBS’ excellent documentary Race: The Power of An Illusion, “How could a society steeped in the science of racial inferiority reconcile itself to Owen’s four gold medals? By conceding innate athletic superiority to African Americans while denying them so-called civilized capacities.” i.e. black athletes were bigger and stronger since it wasn’t that long ago that they were living in a jungle running from animals.

“Experts” may not say such things out loud anymore but these are the assumptions that sport and our society were built on and it will certainly take more than a few decades to be rid of these deep seeded prejudices. Gender and race are not genetic and there’s nothing “natural” about society’s expectations of either. These systems of injustice are what need to be scrutinized and the institutions that keep these ideologies the norm through such behaviour as the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to completely abolish sex testing. Brittney Griner need not enter the conversation unless we’re remarking on her amazing slam dunks.

Follow Ellie Gordon-Moershel: @EllieGordonMoe

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29 Comments on “How a female athlete’s body became a battleground for gender assumptions (again).”

  • What a fantastic article. Well done. So aptly and accurately describes the state of sport in our world as it is today. You are very correct in stating that the likes of the IOC will not speak the truth of their opinions and views, but now invent so called ‘medical conditions’ that they then redeem to require ‘treatment’ (including surgery). They now call it ‘hyperandrogenism’ ….time for the ‘good ol’ boys’ of sport governance to be gone

  • Great post! (And not just because you linked to my blog, either. BTW – thank you!) Sex testing in sport fascinates me because it’s ever shifting over time, as the definitions of “woman” and “man” change depending on the most recent science, the politics of the time and the prevalent ideas about gendered bodies. People seem to think it’s as simple as checking for an XX or an XY chromosome, and it’s not. (Not that I even agree with the idea that gender and chromosomal sex automatically correlate.)

    Anyway, I came across a piece of research that made the same point that Dr. Richie makes, which is that success in sport is defined according to standards normally associated with elite masculine physicality. As a result, any woman that is too good at a sport is going to be suspect. It’s a situation in which women are pretty much set up to lose.

    Thanks again for contributing such a nuanced, thoughtful piece to this conversation.

    • Ellie

      Thanks Caitlin! I really enjoyed your piece as well. Very frank, passionate, and informative. Thanks for visiting us over here.

  • Hecuba

    Brittney Griner’s ‘gender’ is not being questioned rather it is her biological sex which is being challenged by Male Supremacist advocates, because if a biologically born female is far more skilled in her sport than a biologically born male then obviously Brittany Griner must be male!

    Once again we see a reassertion/claim that women and men are innately biologically different with regards to their physical/mental skills and the status quo must be maintained at all costs. What is the status quo? Why men’s declaration that men are innately physically and mentally superior to supposedly innately (sic) inferior female sex. So it is not ‘gender’ which is being questioned rather it is women’s sex roles which are being reimposed on Brittney Griner. ‘Gender’ is Male Supremacist construction of how women and men are supposed to enact appropriate behaviour/roles which are deemed to be innate. However, sex roles refer to the person’s biological sex and woe betide any woman or girl whose appearance deviates from Male Supremacist System’s proscribed ‘female sex role.’ That is why women are supposed to possess huge breasts and large buttocks because men claim this is how women’s bodies are supposed to look like.

    Because Brittney Griner’s physical body is one wherein her height is 6’8″ means she is, if one believes Male Supremacist lies then clearly a male in a female body! Only men are supposedly achieve great heights (pun intended) and women are expected to have tiny statures but with huge breasts and buttocks in order to emphasise they are ‘sex’ and nothing else.

    White Male Supremacist System continues to claim that non-white men (but not non-white women because all women as a group are judged to be inferior to default human male) are innately inferior in physical strength and intellect than white men. That is why black Athlete Jesse Owens was judged to be an anomaly when he (it must have been luck not skill!) achieved four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games. Why? Because like all women non-white males are supposedly biologically innately inferior to default white human male.

    So the issue is men’s re-imposition of biologically essentalist claims wherein women continue to be defined as ‘other’ compared to default male human. In other words – because men declare their intelligence is far superior to women’s then as and when women prove they are as capable if not more intelligent than a male this means woman/women must be male!

    Can’t have any woman beating men at sport can we? So answer is to make misogynistic claim Brittney Griner is really a male in a female body!! Plus all women are identical in physical appearance are they not? Just as all men are physically stronger and taller than all women are they not? No in reality physical height and strength is far more similar between the sexes than diametrically different. Certainly some men are taller than other men just as some women are taller than other women but Male Supremacy claims all men are taller and stronger than all women. Logical? No but Male Supremacist System ignores logic because its only aim is to maintain male domination; policing and control of all women.

    • Ellie

      Thanks for your comment Hecuba. The funny thing about the IOC, other sporting bodies, and the sport experts is that often they use ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ interchangeably. Certainly they base their arguments around chromosome testing for female athletes as a basis to determine biological sex (with the inference, as you pointed out, that being biologically male – whatever that means – is an unfair advantage) but yet the IOC actually uses the term ‘gender’ in its most recent writing on the subject. Since compulsorily sex testing was ended in 2000 the IOC has taken on the on a “case by case” criteria as stated in the Stockholm Consensus: “In the event that the gender of a competing athlete is questioned, the medical delegate (or equivalent) of the relevant sporting body shall have the authority to take all appropriate measures for the determination of the gender of a competitor.”
      I think that’s so interesting – that in some ways they don’t even need to pretend they’re talking about biology. Ashley McGhee, an F Word radio guest, quoted Laura Wackwitz’ response to the Stockholm Consenus which was, “Now that sex testing… is to be applied on an as-needed basis… Will sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity, country of origin, and/or economic status become markers for differential testing?” This has spun so far out of realm of any sort of “natural” or genetic indicators and whether it’s even possible to determine anything concrete about biology sex in the first place is a whole other article.

  • Yes, there’s a problem with stupid gender expectations. And, yes, that’s 95% of the problem and we don’t need it. Granted. I’m not arguing with that point at all.

    I’m a biologist, and I wanted to ask about the issue of steroids, specifically the testosterone-y ones important in sport. There is always a range of natural variation. Women produce a low level of testosterone (just as men have a low level of circulating estrogens). Steroids unquestionably confer an advantage in some sports, and some women will have higher levels than others. Okay. All natural and beyond anyone’s control so far.

    But Nature ignores the gender binary right down to the cellular level. It’s possible for chromosomal crossovers or other genetic processes to create a situation where a genetic female (XX) is producing way more testosterone than most women. In effect then, the other female athletes are having to compete against a woman “on steroids” so to speak.

    I can see where that is a problem.

    As the linked article points out, top flight athletes are all about biological advantages. Height, flexibility, fast twitch muscles, and hundreds of other genetically determined things that put the Olympics out of reach for most of us. And, yes, something like basketball would be a whole lot more boring if it was limited to players with no genetic advantages.

    But, on the other side, athletic accomplishment is also about the triumph of persistence, grit, will, and all that good stuff. That’s only possible if, among the players, the biological field is fairly level. Hence all the rules against doping.

    So what do you do when there’s a huge natural advantage in testosterone? (I’m not saying Griner has that. I know nothing about any medical tests she may have had. I’m just talking about the hypothetical situation where a female athlete has, say, three times the usual female level of the hormone.) Do you let the other athletes take steroids to level the advantage? (Wouldn’t be good for them, but this is just theory.)

    Or, does sports need some reforming instead, so that people are matched by strength and speed classes rather than gender? I mean, if boxers can do it, from bantamweight up to heavyweight, why not apply that idea to all sport? The whole problem arises because athletes are sorted on an irrelevant criterion — gender — when they should be sorted on characteristics relevant to the sport in question.

    • Ellie

      Yes, that is the million dollar question…how then do we reform sport? I appreciate the idea of separating by strength and speed. What’s also complicated is that I think it’s incredibly important to have women and trans sporting spaces since these populations are routinely marginalized in the sporting institution and it’s important to have safer spaces for folks to gain confidence and create community around sport. That being said, there is a huge difference between recreational sporting spaces and elite level athletics.

      As to your remark about a female athlete having an unusual amount of testosterone and whether this is too unfair in competition…I, again, just think this kind of scrutiny is useless and based in sexist and racist rhetoric. Not only is it incredibly difficult to even test and determine complex genetic advantages – why is it that a woman with 3 times the amount of testosterone has “too much” of an unfair advantage over someone like Yao Ming who at 7’6″ towers over baseketball superstar Steve Nash at 6’3″. As you said athletes who compete at elite level will have through years of training already exploited some genetic advantage to be in their position in the first place.

      Again, I am especially wary about this kind of power to determine gender/sex ‘advantage’ to bodies like the IOC which have a horrible track record of racism, sexism and colonialism. Even if all of this testing was possible to determine levels of fair play the IOC does not have our best interests at heart.

      Thanks for your comment. It’s complicated stuff for sure!

    • While you response and questions are somewhat valid, it does suffer one major flaw which I think you should ponder ….not once did you question the natural variability of testosterone and androgens in males. Are they allowed to be as high as absolutely possible? …do men with low testosterone not compete at a ‘disadvantage’ to men with very high levels of testosterone? …should that not also be monitored or should this only be aimed at female competitors?

      On that note, we (sports women working on education and change in sport) often hear the phrases “level playing field” and about “keeping sport fair”, but nobody has ever been able to define those terms. Isn’t the whole point of competitive sport to find the best, the strongest, the fastest etc?

      At what point do you decide a level, or variance, of variability acceptable and at what point is it not (with regards to testosterone levels for example)? ….and who decides that? This is what the IOC has been fumbling with for 5 decades and they are still getting it wrong.

      For example, when Caster Semenya *came second* in the 800m race in the world athletics, she did not break world records, but she was questioned and tested because of her looks teamed with her performance. When Usain Bolt starting winning races, he was breaking world records and the world could do nothing but celebrate him and wait in anticipation to see if he could do more, if he could go faster.

      In our sporting world, stereotypes of femininity are alive and well, but women are still not allowed to be strong bodied. Women can do amazing things, as long as they still conform to [western] notions of femininity.

      There is a long way to go and maybe future sport does need to be split into ‘androgen’ classes (like the different levels for boxing and weight lifting). But make sure this is aimed at *all* competitors, not just women.

      • Ellie

        Hi Mianne,
        I’m a little confused. I believe that your articulate comment (excellent point about comparing Semenya and Bolt) doesn’t contradict anything my article was writing about. I think we’re in agreement. The reason I don’t mention men (though I did in the comments about bball players Ming and Nash) is because this ‘gender’ scrutiny is exclusively reserved for female athletes – due all the systemic sexist attitudes as described above.

        • Hi Ellie,

          I can understand the confusion. …my response here was more to Quixote which I really should have addressed at the beginning of my reply. Sorry ’bout that…. While it’s great to see so many intelligent responses here, there are still some points of view the seem to need ‘expanding’. Quixote has made valid observations, but all of the views were directed only at the variation of testosterone in women. It is pretty much the same thinking that has been the approach of the IOC until now.

          Progress will never be made with this issue in sport until the approach is changed. Problem is that the IOC are either unwilling, or incapable, of changing their approach. They merely keep coming up with different titles for the same approach without justifiable grounds for doing so. When they approach ‘the issue’ (I use that term lightly) from an overall perspective of human diversity, only then will we start to see real change in sport.

    • Nic

      Thanks for the article Ellie!

      quixote – While testosterone, hormones and ‘performance enhancing drugs’ get talked about a lot in ‘fairness’ debates. When we start talking about ‘unfair’ advantages we HAVE to also considering socio-cultural aspects of this. I’m sure you understand that someone who has the time and resources to train from day one of their life and to travel and compete in elite sporting events is going to have an advantage over someone else who does not, so how do we separate these advantages/disadvantages in competition? This is where analyses of race, class and gender come in.

      In reality if you consider all the different aspects you would never stop separating athletes into different categories. I would say that elite sport is the problem here and not variations of testosterone and hormones and whatnot. Elite sport is ALL about creating an unfair advantage otherwise everyone would win!…and the IOC would definitely not like that.

    • Just to clarify, I was thinking of the “steroid test” as, say, a blood test for testosterone. Not as some very complicated genetic testing. And that’s only necessary if the system separates people by sex. If it separated them into classes by relevant characteristics then any effect from a naturally high level of steroids would already be part of the result. And, yes, of course men have variation, too. The same idea holds. As for how the levels are defined, that’s necessarily completely arbitrary. Nature varies along a continuum and doesn’t care about the IOC’s problems. At all.

      I have to admit, my mind boggles at the type of un-hung-up straightforward pleasant world where we could actually do things that way, without regard to gender. Guys would just die if they got categorized as having average levels of testosterone. It reminds me of how condoms come only in “large,” “mega,” and “grande” (or whatever it is).

      Back in the real world, I completely agree with Ellie that people who want to participate in sports with a specific group of people should have that option. Absolutely.

  • Great article, very informative – i had no idea sex-testing was a norm in the world of sports, that is truly revolting!

  • If any of you would like a relevant research paper to read, I can highly recommend this one by Sheila L. Cavanagh and Heather Sykes: Transsexual Bodies at the Olympics ..

    It goes beyond what the title of the paper implies and is a great read.

    Ellie: I may be mistaken by what you write, but the announcement by the IOC to stop sex testing in 2000 and the Stockholm Consensus of 2004 (if that is the one you refer to) are two separate things. The Stockholm Consensus (if we are referring to the same one?) was a policy they developed to address transitioned athletes in sport.

    The policy is a disgrace and fails on numerous levels. Firstly, it completely ignores the huge array of diversity naturally inherent in the human race and fails to address this diversity as a whole. It also very specifically addresses one very small minority of people, singling them out for discrimination and by definition, is not a policy aimed at inclusion at all.

    One would think that an organisation such as the IOC would have used extensive medical expertise to come up with such a policy but alas, they didn’t. During a conference call I was on with Kristen Worley ( ) and Dr Patrick Schamasch (the outgoing Medical Commissioner for the IOC), we were informed that the Stockholm Consensus of 2004 came about after presenting the IOC Athletes Commission with some medical information regarding transitioned athletes (which would have been very limited indeed) and the matter was put to a popular vote.

    So, as you correctly state, they now use this for ‘sex verification’ while stating to the world that they no longer carry out sex testing. And as I mentioned in my earlier reply to your [brilliant] article, they have now added ‘hyperandrogenism’ in to the mix to address intersex athletes. So, they want to continue to abuse and basically rape women in sport, under the guise of ‘keeping sport fair’. Who the hell are they kidding!?

    The world is waking up and more and more people are realising that they have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. After ruining countless womens’ lives in sport, they are probably doing more to avoid saying “sorry, we were wrong” than anything else. They have never been held accountable for the abuses and we’re sure they never want to be.

    • Ellie

      Yes, the IOC is pretty disgraceful on many levels. You are certainly right about the Stockholm Consensus (and probably more knowledgeable than I on the circumstances surrounding the decision)as being developed primarily to address transitioning athletes. I mention it because it also addresses the IOC’s updated version how they plan to deal with athletes who’s gender is ‘questionable.’

  • From Mianne’s link:

    IF male and female bodies are not natural THEN blah blah blah (we should let transpeople do whatever they want). I hate stupidity. Bodies are indeed “natural” until altered through hormones or surgery — this is not rocket science, nor is a degree in neurobiology required in order to comprehend basic logic.

    Here’s the thing, please notice: With the exception of biological sex, no additional criteria for determining who got to compete in which class, was necessary until the transfolks came along. Notice that part. Up until the transfolks entered the picture, determining biological sex was easy: females in one group, males in another. There wasn’t even a question of somebody trying to compete in the wrong class because the participants knew that their sex could easily be determined in the gym showers. Prior to the introduction of transgenderism, the only objection to ANYTHING was limited to drug use; as in, who was giving themselves an unfair advantage by injecting artificial hormones. But again, to reiterate, as soon as the transfolks show up, all of sudden biological sex isn’t considered to be the adequate determiner of who gets to compete in which class, and now unfair disadvantages from hormones don’t seem so illegal or terrible. All of sudden, AFTER the advent of transgenderism, suddenly the experts need more criteria than mere biological sex to determine biological sex.

    If it were true that additional criteria was genuinely needed in order to determine who gets to compete in what class, then that specific need should have appeared decades ago, BEFORE the advent of trans. All of this new gobbledeegook is merely in response to men who want to compete in the women’s section, and male supremacists who want to help them.

    Do female-to-male transitioners fight tooth and nail to compete in the men’s section? I’m asking, hello. Are there any ftm athletes? If so, do any of them ever win? I’m still asking, hello. If it were true that mtf have no advantage due to their biology, then we’d expect to see an equal number of ftm competing in the men’s section, AND winning at a similar number of events compared to the number of mtf who compete and win in the women’s section. Has anybody ever compared those numbers?

    My primary point: Trans supporters prefer to muddy the issue by pretending that the equivalent problem of “men barred from competing in the women’s section”, is “biological females who are harassed for appearing too masculine”. This is a false comparison meant to deceive — and after they have succeeded in distracting everyone with a false comparison, they then assert the argument that “bio men have no natural advantage”. Well hot damn, THAT assertion is easy enough to prove or disprove: Just look at the number of female-to-male who are vigorously demanding to compete in the men’s section! See how many of them win their events and then compare the percentages! I’ll help: MtF are X percentage of the total female athletes, and they win Y amount of events. FtM are X1 percentage of the total male athletes, and they win Y1 amount of events. Should be the same relative percentage, if their assertion is true that natural biology confers no advantage.

    Yet logic predicts the answer…

    • oh wow sorry. Just to be clear, I realize the author of this blog isn’t trying to deceive. Rather, it’s that we’ve been looking at the problem wrong and taking the statements of trans supporters at face value instead of digging deeper. The opposite of “mtf demanding to compete in the women’s section” is “ftm demanding to compete in the men’s section”. Instead, we’re distracted by women who look too masculine, as if men are ever thrown out of the olympics for appearing too feminine.

      Those are two different subjects. One’s a conversation about gender norms, and the other is an argument about biological essentialism.

      • Nic

        m Andrea

        You say ‘Trans supporters prefer to muddy the issue by pretending that the equivalent problem of “men barred from competing in the women’s section”, is “biological females who are harassed for appearing too masculine”. This is a false comparison meant to deceive — and after they have succeeded in distracting everyone with a false comparison, they then assert the argument that “bio men have no natural advantage”.

        These are two different issues you present here. The critical discussion of ‘biological females who are harassed for appearing too masculine’ is not just examined in an attempt to allow transfolk to compete in that category. These arguments are not one and the same and it is troubling that you make it seem that way. It is far more complicated than that. Perhaps you may be right that there are some male supremacists (out there somewhere) who want MTF athletes competing in the female category at the Olympics, but really who are these male supremacists? and why do they suddenly care about women’s’ athletics? and why do they suddenly care about transfolk?

        I agree with you that we shouldn’t take every statement at surface level and that we should figure out why and how it is being used. But we are also fed statements of sorts that women aren’t natural women unless they perform femininity so what do we say to that? This article isn’t about a transathlete, it is about a female athlete being scrutinized in the media for being a black female athlete not performing femininity.

  • barb

    to everyone… what a lively debate. i’ve really enjoyed it. well done ellie on keeping the conversation going.

    to m Andrea. Your comment is one of these cases where I’m hoping you are using satire at its best/worst. But, outside of a couple of terms which make me think that maybe you have some sort of progressive knowledge about the trans community, your comments are not only ill informed but down right offensive to men, women and everyone else. You’ve ahistoricized sport and erased the experiences of so many folks who have been marginalized based on many different aspects of their identities and themselves. To take this great discussion and say people who support the trans and women’s liberation movements are trying to dupe people with false arguments is a true disservice to the people who have taken the time to write and engage on this site and also to the many many many people who dedicate their lives to educating people around these very issues so that, hopefully, one day in the future, everyone will be able to enjoy play without fear of oppression and marginalization. And no, what you’re doing is not liberating women, particularly not from trans people. And yes, your arguments are radical (just not in a good way).

    I would love to get into the nuisances of your comment and challenge each of your points, but given the intelligent conversation already on this page I would just be redundant. It doesn’t seem you’ve really taken the time to understand what this thread is trying to get at. it’s much more than a conversation on gender norms and it’s much more than a conversation on bio essentialism.

    looking forward to further open, educational, respectful and engaging dialogue.


    p.s. “the advent of transgenderism?” really??? that you think folks who challenge normative conceptions of gender and sex have just recently appeared out of the blue (in sport and in life) demonstrates your lack of understanding in this area. If you’re open to learning more about trans folks, sport history, intersex folks, the marginalization of effeminate men in sport and so on I will happily post a short reading list here for you to check out. I’m sure Ellie and Mianna and others would gladly add their own favourites.

  • What an appropriate article for this very discussion…. :)

    For Women at Olympic Games, Messages are Mixed:

  • rt

    Sounds like we should eliminate women’s-only competition, since the construct of gender is not genetic and sex testing should be outlawed. Yep, have everyone compete together is the only way not to oppress people.

  • Discordia

    It is really sexist and horrible that Brittney is being treated this way…if she identifys as a women then she is a women IMO and it is obvious that she is otherwisse she WOULD not be playing in women’s basketball…she may very well have a condition where she produces more testostreone then the average woman but really who cares…notice her competitors and teammates are not complaining…its non players that are like oh noooooo!!!!! If it turned out that Kobe produced more T then the average man or had advantages do you think people would care? probably not!

  • DCfree

    Not saying that feminine women are inferior at all… but larger muscles, etc… that a woman usually don’t have certainly provides an advantage. Brittany is probably intersexed. Her athletic ability is much attributed to her genetic makeup. She may be more male than female. There are many out there who are intersexed as well. Recall Caster Semanya: …”The 18-year-old South African champ has no womb or ovaries and her testosterone levels are more than three times higher than those of a normal female, according to reports..” Now, if she is intersexed… the sports realm needs to come up with a policy.

    The Polynesians have recognized and accepted a 3rd gender. The issue is for US to define a 3rd gender as well.

    • Discordia

      She very well may be intersexed, and have an advantage over non intersexed women. However, lots of players have advantages over each other for various reasons. It really really bothers me how the media treated Caster Semanya and a few other players who were just way to good to be women. Caster being interesexed should not have been slashed in every magazine and there was even a magazine shoot where they coercered her into feminine clothes to make her more acceptable. IT disgusts me how this lovely women is called a man all over twitter and is even being accused of being in the womens game because she really is a man and not good enough for the mens game. In fact there were even a few cracks about comparing this to the movie the Ringer, comparing women’s sports to the special olympics.

      *mumbles about how intersex IS NOT a third gender*

    • Nic

      This comment is rather chock full of racist and sexist assumptions, Let’s not forget those issues when we’re reading the media reports on these athletes and then using them to make comments on blogs that is critiquing that exact issue.

      While intersexed athletes exist of course, the issue is NOT that they exist but that the only athletes who seem to be ‘questioned’ about their gender are those who are not achieving white feminine heteronormativity.

      • Discordia

        I’ve noticed this too….in fact the William’s sisters have also been called men a lot.

  • Nic

    The above comment was a reply to DC Free, if that isn’t obvious.

  • AJ

    Is it fair for an individual born with aspects of both genders, with mostly male attributes, not strong enough to compete with men, but too strong to compete with women to compete against women? Why won’t anyone answer this simple question? Do 100% women mind losing in competition to an intersexed person every time they go for a gold medal? Does anyone think this is fair? If so, why? Many have undescended testes that still produce high levels of testosterone and give them an indisputable advantage no woman can overcome without the use of PED’s. How do we solve this issue? I feel bad for any woman who trains her entire life for the gold and loses to such a person who isn’t in her category, and likewise, I feel bad for anyone born with such a condition. Thinking about what they must go through makes me really sympathize with them.

  • AJ …you are so ill informed it’s not funny. You ask “…why won’t anyone answer this simple question?” ..well, I ask “why don’t you read more and get better informed” (and this counts for everybody!

    I love that there are outlets for intelligent discussion on topics such as this, but it would certainly help if people could be certain of what they state as [so called] fact when wanting to make a point. Every time I read these forums, most people are stating something as fact, as something they ‘know’, when in fact it is completely untrue.

    AJ your assumptions are:

    - all intersex women will beat all ‘other’ women at sport or physical feats. ..untrue.
    - that you think sport is about fair. Please define it for us. Is sport not about finding the best, the strongest, the fastest etc. Would this winner not always have some sort of advantage over other competitors?
    - define ‘aspects of both genders’ please and what are ‘male attributes’?
    - define ‘too strong to compete with women’.
    - if a person has undescended testes, then it’s likely that such a persons body also has the inability to respond to and utilise the higher levels of testosterone, which makes the measurable levels of testosterone irrelevant.
    - how did you arrive at undescended testes giving an athlete “…an indisputable advantage”? it is not very difficult to dispute.

    - do you think that all women’s levels of testosterone are the same?
    - are you aware that the mere act of elite level and physical training increases a persons testosterone?
    - should limits of testosterone also be applied to men? …if not, why not?

    All women are in the same category.

    Do you sympathise for all those poor men who also have lower testosterone than other frequent winners, knowing that they’re likely to never win?

    Before you reply to this, please read this paper (and anything else you can find to get you better informed):

    …I have plenty of other things I could send you.

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