Gender in Sport

Taya Connor

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To those of you familiar with Santhi Soundrarajan and Caster Semnya you know that they faced discrimination due to their own genetic advantages. In Santhi’s case, she was publicly humiliated upon winning the women’s 800m in the Asian games, due to athletes and officials questioning her sex. She was then subjected to a series of sex-related tests, including having her entire body physically examined. The results of her tests concluded that she did not fit the genetic and biochemical standards to that of a woman, stripping her of her medal, even though she had previously passed these tests in the Asian track and field championships. These events led to Santhi’s attempted suicide, and the end of her running career. The backlash Caster faced led to her taking medication to reduce her testosterone levels, as they were up to 3x higher than that of her competitors. Why is it fair to subject athletes such as Caster and Santhi to testing, and leave their athletic counterparts just waiting to see who “rightfully” deserves first place?

One of the main issues in sex typing is testosterone levels, and more specifically how much effort it has on your cells. Balancing testosterone levels among athletes is a one of the main goals that come from genetic testing, as athletes with high levels are most commonly told to take testosterone suppressants to balance their own levels. However, many intersex athletes also exhibit similar testosterone levels, which they are scrutinized over. Whereas men in sport, more specifically men with testicular cancer or Klinefelter Syndrome, resulting in lower than average testosterone, can be given therapeutic exemption to take additional testosterone. If genetically “deficient” athletes can be given testosterone because their genetics made it although they weren’t at “par” with their competition why must intersex athletes take testosterone suppressants due to a genetic advantage they had no control over? These athletes identify as women and have participated in sporting events as women. There must be a place for them in sport.

At the root of this problem is the patriarchal expectations that dictate sport, force competitors into a gender binary, and remain discriminatory towards women. Athletics often serve as a vessel or a magnifier for societal norms and expectations. Women are not purely discriminated against through ‘gender testing’ which men are not subjected to, but through uniform too. In the 2015 Pan Am Games the women’s volleyball uniform consisted of a bikini whereas the men wore knee-length shorts and t-shirts Regardless of whether or not the women want to wear these uniforms, the fact stands that they aren’t give the option to wear an outfit with more coverage like their male counterparts are. Furthermore, the men aren’t given the option to wear less fabric. This perpetuates gender roles in the sense that when women play sports and exhibit those typically males traits like power, strength, or endurance, they must be sexualized (volleyball players required to wear bikinis) where men are not.

It is important that we understand these issues here at BSS, as awareness and education combat bigotry.