The final part of my new book “Beyond Title IX: The Cultural Lament of Women’s Sports,” includes many more calls to eliminate sex-segregated athletic competition than I imagined there would be when I began doing the research.
In 2009, the controversy over Caster Semenya renewed old concerns over gender testing and putting male and female athletes in totally separate boxes. The critics would rather blame it all on the pressures of cultural conformity than biological reality:
“Gender testing critics and intersex advocates lashed out more harshly about the cultural implications of Semenya’s banishment than they sympathized with her plight. Canadian feminist theorists Amanda Nicole Schweinbenz and Alexandria Cronk:
“ ‘Female athletes have struggled to negotiate their desire to be strong, muscular, and competitive with heteronormative femininity. Those who have conformed to the accepted image of the heterosexual feminine athletes have reaped the benefits of media attention, endorsements, and even fan approval. Nonconformity continues to result in overt heterosexist discrimination.’
These assertions also fall into the standard academic feminist protest against what’s called the “gender binary,” or a distinctive definition of two clearly marked sexes. For those who believe that gender is a “social construct,” drawing any kind of a line, even for sports, is unforgivable.
“Alice Dreger, a bioethics professor at Northwestern University, told Ariel Levy of The New Yorker that concretely determining gender ‘is not a solvable problem’ because ’science is showing us how much blending there is. . . it becomes impossible to point to one thing, or even a set of things, and say that’s what it means to be male.’
“Even after the IAAF cleared Semenya to return to competition against women, Dreger was upset that its revised policy requires women who test for high levels of testosterone to undergo hormonal treatments:
‘The game being played seems to be a kind of controlling who will count as a sexually appropriate woman: submit to being made sexually ‘normal’ through hormone treatments or you cannot compete.
“But this isn’t a game, it’s about whether an athlete has a decided physiological advantage. Dreger’s insistence that the IAAF policy ‘is so sexist’ that it may constitute a Title IX violation is ridiculous, since she is only presuming it will be adopted at the scholastic sports level in the United States. More importantly, her protest doesn’t settle the quandary of how to classify women and men for competitive sports purposes.
“Will it continue to be left to bodies like the IAAF to draw lines — sometimes clumsily — without the guidance of so-called experts who categorically resist such an idea?”
This book was published right before the International Olympic Committee issued new guidelines that could bar women from competing with other women if their testosterone levels are as high as those of a typical male. Gender-testing critics were quick to be upset:
“The problem is the misperception and bias against people who are not gender-conforming.”
For those who insist that gender is a “social construct” and not a biological fact, they will always be tilting at these windmills.
But in this final section, “Apparitions of Androgyny,” I argue that the case for literal gender-blending doesn’t do much to advance the cause of women’s sports. In some ways, it’s a serious detraction.
The small handful of women athletes who biologically, hormonally and psychologically transgress gender lines are hailed as examples of the need to blur, and ideally eradicate, those lines altogether.
Ultimately, androgyny agonists want to drive out of sports culture anything smacking of traditional feminine dress, behavior, activity, symbolism and expression. This includes the laughable suggestion that it’s an insult to call a female athlete a “lady,” especially if her team includes the word in its nickname.
I’ve been grateful to those who’ve said they’ve bought the book and are reading it, and I even see a couple of “likes” on the Amazon link. If you “like” what you’ve read here, you can get the whole book for $3.99.