Friday, July 8, 2016
Sex-Testing Female Athletes: Humiliation Masquerades as Gender Fairness
New York Times (June 28, 2016): The Humiliating Practice of Sex-Testing Female Athletes, by Ruth Padawer:
By all accounts Dutee Chand is a running star likely to win a gold medal for India in the Rio Olympics. But along the way, she was been subjected to a litany of questions aimed at ascertaining her "true gender."
Like other female athletes before her who know nothing about testosterone levels or "abnormal" sexual development, Chand has been subjected to repeated doubts about her gender, to the extent that authorities in India demanded a "gender verification test" so that she would not be an embarrassment to Indian athletics. The gender verification test proved highly invasive and even mortifying. It was an evaluation of testosterone levels and included "measuring and palpating the clitoris, vagina and labia, as well as evaluating breast size and pubic hair scored on an illustrated five-grade scale." The results showed levels that were too high, and Chand was barred from racing. She was accused in the press of being a boy, a hermaphrodite and a transsexual.
Refusing to be cowed, Chand sued the International Olympic Committee for discrimination based on atypical sex development. The IOC has a sordid past of questioning whether women who excelled in athletics were actually male. Decades of suspicion that countries have been passing men off as women have led the IOC to develop protocols for verifying gender. But the chromosome test it preferred and the "hyperandrogenism" test that replaced it were flawed: they could not identify the women whose elevated levels of testosterone were actually of benefit in athletic competition. Still, the IOC claims it must protect female athletes from having “to compete against athletes with hormone-related performance advantages commonly associated with men.” Nonetheless, there is absolutely no hand-wringing over elevated testosterone levels in men, and no attempt is made to argue that they would give anyone an athletic advantage. Moreover, a number of physiological differences that offer specific competitive advantages--increased aerobic capacity, resistance to fatigue, exceptionally long limbs, flexible joints, large hands and feet and increased numbers of fast-twitch muscle fibers--remain completely unregulated, to say nothing of the socio-economic advantages that so many athletes bring to competition.
Last July, the Court of Arbitration for Sport disapproved of the IOC's testing women athletes for testosterone. In the court's estimation, the degree of advantage provided by naturally occurring testosterone is no more significant than is more significant "than the advantage derived from the numerous other variables which the parties acknowledge also affect female athletic performance: for example, nutrition, access to specialist training facilities and coaching and other genetic and biological variations.”