“I am a woman and I am fast”: what Caster Semenya’s story says about gender and race in sports

Sylvia

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“I am a woman and I am fast”: what Caster Semenya’s story says about gender and race in sports: https://www.vox.com/identities/2019/5/3/18526723/caster-semenya-800-gender-race-intersex-athletes
Semenya has never publicly identified as intersex, a term that, according to the Intersex Society of North America, refers to a person born with “a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.”
No matter what her personal medical history is, her story illustrates the way people, especially people of color, can be scrutinized when they seem to fall outside gender norms.
Being intersex is not the same as being trans, but society at large tends to conflate the two, Pagonis said. “And a lot of people hate trans people.”
Meanwhile, “I see a lot of intersex phobia that is heightened because she’s a black woman,” Pagonis added. “Had Caster been a gender-conforming, straight-identified white girl who just was faster than the other people, they would have never invaded her body” by demanding testing, they said.
 
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Sylvia

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Opinion: The Caster Semenya verdict is 'wrong and demeaning'
Champion sprinter Caster Semenya has lost her appeal against regulations limiting testosterone levels in certain women's athletic events. DW's Zipporah Nyambura takes issue with the ruling.
https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-the-caster-semenya-verdict-is-wrong-and-demeaning/a-48594933
Two-time Olympic 800 metres champion Caster Semenya lost a landmark case against athletics governing body IAAF on May 1, meaning it will be allowed to restrict testosterone levels in female runners. The case grabbed international attention, not just because of its complexity but also because of its impact on other sportswomen in a similar situation. As an African woman and a journalist, I am embarrassed by the torture — physical and emotional — that the young South African athlete from the village of Fairlie in Limpopo province has had to endure.
 
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Sylvia

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The demonization of Caster Semenya continues by Bruce Kidd, Professor of Kinesiology, University of Toronto: https://theconversation.com/the-demonization-of-caster-semenya-continues-116495
As a professor of kinesiology and physical education who competed in athletics at the 1964 Olympics, it’s my view the explanation is to be found in a misunderstanding of natural testosterone, a narrow misreading of the Olympic values, the distrust engendered by almost century of sex testing in international sports and a failure of leadership on the part of the IAAF.
Synthetic testosterone is justly banned from Canadian and international sports (except for approved therapeutic purposes). If taken carefully, at the time of hard training, it can enable significant strength and speed gains and reduce the risk of injury.
But natural testosterone is not the same thing. It may aid performance, but it may not. As Yale University researcher Katrina Karkazis has argued, there is no predictable relationship between natural testosterone and improved performance. Even in the same person, testosterone levels can change over time, depending on a range of factors. It’s not a reliable measure, and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to monitor without frequent, invasive testing.
 

FiveRinger

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Breaking news: Update on Semenya’s case.

Her appeal is currently with the Swiss Supreme Court.

I hope that people figure this out, and soon. They are dragging Semenya through all of this, in my opinion, for absolutely nothing. Once again, a woman is being called out for being called a woman. In a man, unique attributes that they are born with (i.e. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt) are acceptable and admirable. They are expected to use them to their advantage, and they do, as they should. But when a woman has them, they are considered an unfair advantage, some going so far as to call it cheating. What bullshit! Competitors need to step up their games and compete. We didn't hear this kind of whining when Flo Jo blew past all of her competitors. The girls and ladies aren't complaining because Simone is tumbling higher, farther, faster, than everyone else. They didn't necessarily have additional testosterone, but they did have unique physical attributes that allowed them to excel in their chosen sports. All of these athletes were/are respected in their disciplines. But Semenya is being condemned by her competitors. Why? It doesn't make any sense to me. It's really sad. My understanding is that the testosterone that she naturally has is not giving her a performance benefit, that it is not that type of testosterone, according to research. So what happens if she decides that she doesn't want to take the hormones and retires? How will her competitors feel then? Will they feel good about winning titles knowing that one of the best is sitting at home watching the race on television because they were too gutless to compete against her? Who wants to win that way? That does not sound like the attitude of an athlete, let alone a champion, someone who trains to win, to be the best that he or she can be, which does not necessarily have anything to do with anyone else. That sounds like fear and a lack of confidence. And, if that's the case, that means that the athletes are part of the problem, not Semenya.
 

Japanfan

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Once again, a woman is being called out for being called a woman. In a man, unique attributes that they are born with (i.e. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt) are acceptable and admirable. They are expected to use them to their advantage, and they do, as they should. But when a woman has them, they are considered an unfair advantage, some going so far as to call it cheating. What bullshit! Competitors need to step up their games and compete.

If there is going to a limit for testosterone levels in women, there should also be one for men. Seems to me that if there isn't, this is clearly a case of discrimination.
 

FiveRinger

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If there is going to a limit for testosterone levels in women, there should also be one for men. Seems to me that if there isn't, this is clearly a case of discrimination.

To my understanding, there isn't a cap for men, only for women.
 

MacMadame

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To me, this is about trying to define who gets to be a "real" women in a restrictive way. Society is always doing that. I think all women should always fight that because just because it's someone not that much like us this time doesn't mean it won't be the kind of woman we are next time.
 

MichaelK

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As long as there is a separation between men's sport and women's sport there has to be some definition of who is a man and who is a woman. For most people, this is not a difficult question to decide but for a small percentage of people this is tricky and it depends on what criterion you use. Caster is likely to be one of these people. However, if she is deemed a woman then she should not be required to take drugs that are potentially impeding on her health and be free to compete.
 

MsZem

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I don't see how that can be justified. To me it clearly looks like discrimination.
It can be justified because testosterone is used to differentiate between men and women's competitive categories. And while anyone can compete in the men's category, there needs to be some boundaries set for the women's category in order to ensure that women can compete fairly. There are no categories based the physical attributes that many athletes have, but there are sports that have weight categories, and athletes have to meet certain weights or move to a different category. Of course it is much easier to change one's weight than one's testosterone level.

Note that I am not commenting on whether this or any other testosterone criterion is justified; it's hardly my area of expertise. And obviously, Caster Semenya has done nothing wrong and is fully deserves the right to appeal the original CAS decision.
 

Japanfan

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It can be justified because testosterone is used to differentiate between men and women's competitive categories.

Okay, so there is a testosterone level that distinguishes men from women. But wouldn't there then be a testosterone limit for women (below the level at which they are deemed male), but no testosterone limit for men, since there is no level at which they are no longer men?

This just doesn't seem fair to me. I understand the logic, but it seems really skewed to me. There are no higher levels of testosterone than male testosterone levels, hence no limits on male testosterone. But a man could have incredibly high testosterone levels relative to men in general, and that would be an advantage for him were he an athlete.

Should a woman have high testosterone, she gets punished.

To me this is an example of gender standards that skew to a male default.


And while anyone can compete in the men's category, there needs to be some boundaries set for the women's category in order to ensure that women can compete fairly.

:confused:

Boundaries aren't needed for the men, to ensure that they compete fairly?
 

MsZem

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Okay, so there is a testosterone level that distinguishes men from women. But wouldn't there then be a testosterone limit for women (below the level at which they are deemed male), but no testosterone limit for men, since there is no level at which they are no longer men?

Boundaries aren't needed for the men, to ensure that they compete fairly?
Women are at a disadvantage competing against men. Testosterone differences are used to differentiate between those who can compete in women's events and those who do not.

There's an argument to be made about the fairness of this criterion. I don't think there's an argument to be made that gender-based categories are unnecessary.

And there are limits related to fair play and level playing field for everyone - weight categories, age limits, and of course banning PEDs. But given that men's competitions are the harder ones in terms of gender differentiation, that is the upper end. Just like anyone can compete in the top weight category.

And again: this is not a comment on Semenya's case.
 

MichaelK

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:confused:

Boundaries aren't needed for the men, to ensure that they compete fairly?

I don't agree with your logic. Assume you have a sport event in which weight is a generally benefitting feature that has weight categories under 70 kg and above 70 kg (let's for simplicity assume only two categories). This is not a discrimination against lighter people even though there is a maximal weight for them as opposed to the heavier people that can weigh as much as possible. In contrast, it gives lighter people a chance to succeed and win so they can demonstrate their athletic skills. And if you would not allow people above a certain weight to competition at all that would actually be discriminative.
 

MacMadame

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However, if she is deemed a woman then she should not be required to take drugs that are potentially impeding on her health and be free to compete.
This is it exactly. She has been tested by these people and they said she was a woman. If she is a woman, then she gets to compete against other women without having to take drugs to be more of the sort of woman they want to see.

They could have said she was a man and had to compete with the men but they didn't.

Women are at a disadvantage competing against men. Testosterone differences are used to differentiate between those who can compete in women's events and those who do not.
But testosterone doesn't have to be one of the criteria. There is some debate as to whether it should be and some disagreement over how much having high testosterone even helps an athlete in track and field.

There's an argument to be made about the fairness of this criterion. I don't think there's an argument to be made that gender-based categories are unnecessary.
There are people who argue that.

Here's just one article that I found that makes some good arguments for why not all sports should be separated by gender:

https://howwegettonext.com/is-gender-segregation-in-sports-necessary-dc188150f242
 

MsZem

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But testosterone doesn't have to be one of the criteria. There is some debate as to whether it should be and some disagreement over how much having high testosterone even helps an athlete in track and field.
That's why I noted that I'm not arguing that testosterone levels should be a criterion, only that it is not unreasonable to separate men and women's sports if women cannot be competitive. And that requires some differentiating criteria. I am not knowledgeable enough on the subject to argue what those criteria should be.

Here's just one article that I found that makes some good arguments for why not all sports should be separated by gender:

https://howwegettonext.com/is-gender-segregation-in-sports-necessary-dc188150f242
That was... not convincing. There are already sports in which men and women compete against one another - the one that comes to mind if for me is equestrian sports. But in most sports, women are not going to be competitive with men, and I'd like excellent women athletes to have the opportunity to showcase what they can do against a level playing field.
 

MacMadame

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I didn't say it was a fantastic argument. I said that there is an argument (several actually) for not separating them. You may not agree with that line of thinking, but it does exist.

Btw, in endurance running, we are already at the point where women will win a race overall. I would say it already doesn't make sense for that sport to be separated by gender.

In other endurance sports, we aren't there yet but the top women in Ironman are often in the top 10 overall for the event so I think that day is coming.
 

FiveRinger

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@FiveRinger, I think it was later opined that FloJo was doping.
I disagree. FloJo was tested more than the average athlete during that time because it was rumored that she was taking steroids. All of her tests came back negative. No one was able to prove that she was doping. They also said the same thing about her sister-in-law, Jackie Joyner Kersee. Both women were just phenomenal athletes.
 

MsZem

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I disagree. FloJo was tested more than the average athlete during that time because it was rumored that she was taking steroids. All of her tests came back negative. No one was able to prove that she was doping. They also said the same thing about her sister-in-law, Jackie Joyner Kersee. Both women were just phenomenal athletes.
Lance Armstrong didn't test positive either, until they came up with better tests and looked at past samples. Carl Lewis tested positive, and it was covered up.

It's possible that FloJo didn't dope, but given the state of the sport at the time, it seems unlikely. I would be very surprised if Semenya is doping, however.
 

allezfred

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FloJo was tested more than the average athlete during that time because it was rumored that she was taking steroids.

US Track and Field had a history of covering up tests by their star athletes.

The United States in fact has a lengthy history of doping at the Olympic Games and other international events, and of turning a blind eye to its own cheating. That’s especially true in track and field, the front porch of the U.S. Olympic program because of track’s ability to drive American medal supremacy.
Nike’s track-and-field training program, for example, has been dogged by doping allegations since at least the 1970s, when its top officials were allegedly aware that athletes used steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Since the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, every single U.S. Summer Olympic team has included at least one sprinter who either had previously failed a drug test or would later do so. And that’s to say nothing of athletes in the other disciplines.
American drug cheats include some of the country’s most notable Olympians. Carl Lewis admitted in 2003 that he had failed three drug tests prior to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but avoided a ban with the help of the U.S. Olympic Committee and won two golds and a silver instead.
 

mag

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I disagree. FloJo was tested more than the average athlete during that time because it was rumored that she was taking steroids. All of her tests came back negative. No one was able to prove that she was doping. They also said the same thing about her sister-in-law, Jackie Joyner Kersee. Both women were just phenomenal athletes.
Lance Armstrong didn't test positive either, until they came up with better tests and looked at past samples. Carl Lewis tested positive, and it was covered up.

It's possible that FloJo didn't dope, but given the state of the sport at the time, it seems unlikely. I would be very surprised if Semenya is doping, however.

Flojo, Jackie, and Carl all had sudden and unexplainable increases in speed. There was an article done many years ago which charted the improvement. A number of experts tried to explain it and the only answer they could come up with was doping. The testing was new and the US authorities were certainly complicit in the coverup. I am no fan of Ben Johnson, but his biggest mistake was being Canadian.

As for this case, it is yet another example of how women are expected to conform to a given standard. Anything outside that standard is no acceptable. The whole situation is outrageous. Did anyone do extra testing on Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt, no, of course not. They are men. It is the same bs that Serena Williams has dealt with her entire career. Different accusations, same BS.
 

MsZem

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As for this case, it is yet another example of how women are expected to conform to a given standard. Anything outside that standard is no acceptable. The whole situation is outrageous. Did anyone do extra testing on Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt, no, of course not. They are men. It is the same bs that Serena Williams has dealt with her entire career. Different accusations, same BS.
As I mentioned above, the Phelps/Bolt comparison is irrelevant. If you're going to have separate categories for men and women's competition, there needs to be a way to determine who can compete in women's sports. Using testosterone as a criterion may well be unfair, but there is no category differentiation based on Phelps or Bolt's physical attributes, so there is nothing to test them for.

There are sports in which athletes are divided into categories and have to meet category restrictions - like wrestlers, boxers, and judokas who must meet weight requirements, except for the heavyweight category. But it is easy enough to say whether someone weighs less or more than a target weight, while it became clearer over the years that what makes someone a man or a woman is not nearly as straightforward.

Semenya has done nothing wrong, of course, and she deserves a lot of respect for how she's dealt with the ugly - and often racist - speculation about her body and the most private details of her life.
 
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FiveRinger

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I had to do some research before I responded to the FloJo allegations. I didn't pay that close attention at the time. Or, I should say, I only paid attention to what was presented by mainstream media at the time. Yes, after having dug around, I realize there is the possibility that she doped. She might have been a poor example choice. Thank you for educating me....one reason I love FSU....I always learn something.
 

Sylvia

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Her appeal is currently with the Swiss Supreme Court.
Sept. 8, 2020:
Caster Semenya has lost her appeal to Switzerland's Federal Supreme Court against the restriction of testosterone levels in female runners.
Semenya is not allowed to compete in events between 400m and a mile without taking testosterone-reducing drugs, following a 2019 rule change by governing body World Athletics.
"I am very disappointed," the 29-year-old South African said.
"I refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am."
"Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history," Semenya added.
"I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born.
"I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere."
The Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected a Semenya challenge against the rule last year.
The Swiss Supreme Court then temporarily suspended the ruling, before later reversing its decision.

:(
 
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