Women athletes have faced severe stereotypes and discrimination throughout history.
Today, they continue to struggle with this oppression. Rebecca Jordan-Young spoke about this oppression in her presentation, “Racing with Testosterone: What’s at Stake in the Controversy over T levels in Women Athletes,” centered around her own research about a series of policies regulating the levels of naturally occurring testosterone in the bodies of elite women athletes.
Her presentation was part of the Department of Kinesiology’s annual Women’s History Month lecture. Professor Bradley D. Hatfield of the Department of Kinesiology introduced the event by honoring the woman who the lecture series is named after, Joan S. Hult. Hatfield said Hult is a legacy of the Maryland kinesiology department, an advocate for women’s athletics and took an important role in the history and advancements of women in sports.
The honorary speaker, Jordan-Young, is also the Chair of Women’s, Gender, and Sexual Studies at Columbia University’s Barnard College. She is the author of Brain Storm: The flaws in the science of sex differences and has done research about intersection of science and social differences with a focus on gender, sexuality and race.
Jordan-Young said beginning in 2011, the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) started regulating the natural variations of testosterone in women, a rule that has never been implemented among men. She started her presentation by honoring “Dutee Chand for her bravery and integrity in fighting this policy and all the women athletes who have been affected by the policing of sex and gender in sports.”
Junior kinesiology major Kayla Ruiz said, as an athlete herself, she was interested and able to connect to what Jordan-Young had to say.
“There are different standards for women [athletes] where they need to be both feminine but good at what they’re doing, so it’s kind of hard for them balance, and I’ve definitely felt that before so it’s really cool that she’s about to speak about it.”
The discrimination against Chand as a woman with high levels of testosterone and her fight against the policy was the focal point of Jordan-Young’s presentation. Chand is a 20-year-old sprinter from India who was banned from competing against other women in 2014 because her levels of testosterone exceeded the IAAF’s regulations. She appealed the ruling and is now a 2016 Olympic hopeful.
Jordan-Young said the use of “racing” in her presentation’s title wasn’t unintentional. Most of the policing has occurred to track and field racers. The rule also literally affects race. Jordan- Young said “[the policy] reinvigorates some very ugly ideas and practices in divisions and how the rule itself participates in racialization of athletes and is a particular way of … suring up a very old and damaging idea that true femininity is white.”
She said ever since women have entered elite sports, there has been skepticism about their sex because athleticism has always been correlated with masculinity. Athletic organizations have only been concerned about the possibility of male imposters entering women competitions, which Jordan-Young points out anyone “ [who thinks] about the structure of sexism will figure out that that’s not very plausible because within the structure of the sex-gender hierarchy, there is no glory for men … as a woman.”
Mandatory sex-testing in international competitions was common, either by stripping nude or karyotype testing, the longest lasting sex testing that analyzes a person’s biology to possibly identify a male chromosome. None of the tests ever found a male posing as a female athlete. Jordan-Young said organizations require these tests for women athletes who defy gender stereotype and discriminate against them on that basis.
She said a woman’s “gender presentation and sexuality, that someone decides a woman doesn’t look feminine enough, doesn’t act feminine enough … can tip someone off [to investigate a person’s sex.]”
None of these sex-gender tests work because “sex isn’t just one thing of the body, sex is lots of different things, it is chromosomes, it is the gonads … it is hormone ratios, it is genitals.” Jordan-Young said biology is usually predictable, but as humans, each person differs in variation.
The levels of testosterone, a hormone produced more heavily by the male testes than a woman’s ovaries, also differ from person-to-person. Elite athletic women often have higher natural-levels of testosterone, and to the IAAF, it is unfair for these women to be competing against other women with lower levels because testosterone correlates with muscle and bone mass.
The IAAF also claims it is necessary to regulate the levels of testosterone because women with higher levels are at risk for certain types of cancer; however, there is not sufficient evidence to back that claim up, Jordan-Young said.
Jordan-Young said the policy “violates biomedical ethics, it pushes medically unnecessary and irreversible interventions, and finally, it is a violation of human rights.” These women are subject to invasive medical operations, including drug therapy or having to undergo surgery, in order to be fit to compete under IAAF’s standards.
She said black athletes are often subjected to these tests under the policy because of the idea they have higher levels of testosterone and their “work ethic, the rigor, the focus, the extraordinary determination, the smarts, the skills, etc. are not emphasized the same way.” Jordan-Young admits the racialization of athletes has the least amount of research but it is an area researchers strive to address.
The IFC and IAAF have previously admitted women with high levels of testosterone have no advantage against other women, according to a poster they created in 2010, a year before the policy was implemented.
he bottom line is this policy is a solution in search of a problem, there is no problem here, the problem here is the anxiety about others, the anxiety about women who are too fierce, women who are too strong, women who are too competitive,” Jordan-Young said.
She said women often blame the racist, sexist stereotypes they are oppressed with when they lose competitions, and this policy is based on those stereotypes and perpetuates the fear of women athletics. Jordan-Young said she would love for this policy to go.
Attendee Daniel Callow, sophomore kinesiology major, said lectures that address different types of stigmas are important for students to attend to become more knowledgeable and aware of the obstacles different people face.
“[The] stigma idea … of what you don’t know is scary,” Callow said. “Just understanding and knowing a little bit more would go a long way.”
Featured Photo Credit: Featured photo courtesy of Pixabay user skeeze.
Allie Melton is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.