Redefining the Sexes in Unequal Terms

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From The New York Times:

Published: April 23, 2011

The good news is that the International Olympic Committee and the International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body for track and field, have worked hard to come up with a new policy to deal with athletes whose sex development is unusual.

Although sports officials contend that this reworking is not a specific response to the fiasco surrounding the South African runner Caster Semenya, what happened to Semenya constitutes reason enough to seek reform. Surely no athlete should learn from watching television, as Semenya did, that her sex has been called in question on the international stage. And no athletes should have to face the previous patchwork policy on sex testing, wondering what will happen if their particular condition is not clearly explained in the rules.

The new policy no longer allows any room for a simplistic “I know it when I see it” approach to who counts as a female athlete. Women who test in the male range for functional testosterone will have to have their levels chemically squashed in order to play. (Functional testosterone means not just the amount the body makes, but also how the body responds to it, because some people’s cells lack receptors to respond.)

The bad news is that the new policy seems sexist in its philosophy. Indeed, it is so sexist that it may even count as a violation of Title IX, which will matter because the international policies will undoubtedly trickle down to school-based sports.

The hormones in question are not naturally exclusive to men. Women and men naturally make androgens — sometimes called strength-building hormones — including testosterone.

Yet despite the fact that testosterone belongs to women, too, the I.O.C. and the I.A.A.F. are basically saying it is really a manly thing: “You can have functional testosterone, but if you make too much, you’re out of the game because you’re not a real woman.”

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