“Excuse me Miss, but are you a ‘real’ woman?”…

…”Can you please step this way so that we can test your sex?”

Quick History Lesson

In the 1936 Olympic Games Dora Ratjen, a german athlete, came a respectable fourth place in the women’s high jump. In 1956 Dora revealed that she was really Hermann Ratjen- a man forced to complete as a women by the Nazis.

From the 1960’s women athletes at Olympic Games have been subjected to tests to prove that they are in fact women as it was believed that the Soviets would attempt to pass male athletes off as women in order to win extra medals. Initially women athletes had to parade naked before a panel in order to prove their sex, but from 1968 this procedure was replaced with chromosomal testing. Using this method no males purporting to be females were uncovered but rather some women’s previously undetected chromosomal abnormalities were found.

Beijing Olympics

Anyway the NYT has run the story today as a lab is being set up in Beijing to in order to do the more modern version of the sex verification test — athletes are now evaluated by an endocrinologist, gynecologist, a geneticist and a psychologist.

Here are some quick thoughts on the matter. It just goes to show that sex and gender are a) not a simple matter, b) still being policed with the most sophisticated and up to date science and rhetoric of the day, c) Once again, women, and their bodies, are at the centre of the dispute as both the battle ground and the testing ground.

9 comments on ““Excuse me Miss, but are you a ‘real’ woman?”…

  1. headslammer says:

    I don’t know if “policed” is the right term. Maybe investigated, or tested?

    I think “policed” means that they are being watched with a critical eye and if busted, a punishment is in order.

  2. Anna says:

    headslammer, what do you think will happen if a woman fails?

  3. rayedish says:

    According to the NYT this is what happens:
    “They did turn up several athletes who were born with genetic defects that made them appear — according to lab results, at least — to be men. In 1967, the Polish sprinter Ewa Klobukowska was barred from the sport because she failed the chromosomal test, even though she had passed the nude test a year earlier. In the 1980s, the Spanish hurdler Maria José Martínez Patino was disqualified because the test revealed, to her surprise, that she was born with a Y chromosome. Her eligibility was reinstated in 1988.”
    I didn’t make it clear in my post, but this test used to be mandatory for all female athletes in the Olympics.

  4. LuLi says:

    So the men were not forced to take the test as well? Thats just bullshit.

  5. headslammer says:

    Anna, if what you mean by “fails”, meaning the tests show she is a male, when she knows she is definatlely not, then I think she will put up a fight to prove that her gender is female.

    Unfortunately she may miss the Olympic games because of the tests she has taken. But she will have legal action taken against the Olympic Committee and whoever conducts these tests.

    Now I ask this, does whatever kind of performance enhancing drugs these athletes take have an effect on the outcome of these tests? Was something proven to have been in these women’s bodies to alter the outcomes?

  6. oldtimer says:

    Far better that a few transgender athletes win a few meaningless medals than we put our female athletes through this.

  7. rayedish says:

    Agreed oldtimer and LuLi.
    headslammer The NYT article makes no mention of performance enhancing drugs, it specifically refers to a test to determine the SEX of the athlete. I understand the point that you are making, for example if women athletes use testosterone to enhance their training that is cheating and might affect such tests. But the tests being referred to are chromosomal and not hormonal. What the story discusses is women who are both considered, and consider themselves to be female, who were declared to fail the test on the basis of rare chromosomal conditions. There are not only the professional implications of this (being barred from participation in the Olympics), but how this would effect a person’s sense of self. Being ‘cleared’ at some future time doesn’t restore lost opportunities or undo the stress and other psychological effects of being declared, not to technically be a woman.

  8. Stevie says:

    As a teacher who tries to teach gender studies to High School students, I’ve been teaching them that the gender debate has been one on social constructs. However, what I find fascinating about this all is that there has been a biological/genetic debate going on as well. And like in the social world, women seem to be the ones to suffer while people are trying to get concepts right.
    I can not think of an instance where a male has to be subjected to this kind of intrusion in any sporting endeavor. It seems we (the hegemonic patriarchy)have once again found a way of limiting so called “male experiences” for women to try and hinder their participation in this traditional male bastion.

  9. polerin says:

    I don’t have documentation on this, and I may have to go look it up… but my current understanding of the Olympic regulations concerning transpeople is that you have to have had SRS (for MtF) and have been on hormones for more than a year. I am unsure what the FtM regulations are.

    Just an interesting side note.

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