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Ain't I A Woman?

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Ain't I A Woman?

Caster Semenya is an elite athlete hailing from South Africa who is a two-time Olympic medalist and on May 3rd logged her 30th consecutive 800m victory in 1min 54.98sec — the third-fastest of her career and the eighth-quickest outdoors of all time. 

In the same week, the IAAF ruled that female athletes who have levels of testosterone that exceed the “normal” limits for women (anything above 10 nmols/liter) will have to chemically suppress their testosterone levels below five nmols/liter in order to compete. It’s important to note that these figures are arbitrary; there is no scientific research that backs up any claim of “normal.”

If I can quote Trevor Noah, this is some bullshit. This ruling is misogynistic, transphobic, and racist.

We celebrate athletes like Michael Phelps for their biological gifts that allow them to be the strongest, the fastest, the best at what they do. And we punish women because we live in a world that tells us you have to fit inside the box. TIME TO BLOW UP THE FUCKING BOX. 💣💣

Natural advantages are exactly what makes certain people elite athletes. Phelps has a disproportionately vast wingspan, his double-jointed ankles give his kick unusual range, and he produces just half the lactic acid of a typical athlete. And we love him like he's the last man on earth. Semenya is a woman who has hyperandrogenism, a condition that naturally increases testosterone levels. And we shame her, degrade her, strip her of her accomplishments.

Furthermore, this policy is based on weak "science." There is no research that definitely proves that natural testosterone improves performance. Three different researchers failed to reproduce the results on their own, so they asked that the data set be released. When that happened, the scientists found what they called a “pervasiveness of problematic data” because there were so many errors in it, and called for the study to be retracted immediately. The World Medical Association also has told doctors not to use the IAAF rules, due to their basis on “weak evidence” as well as running contrary to “WMA ethical statements and declarations.” The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports, which directs Canada’s anti-doping program, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sports and AthletesCAN, the association of Canadian national team athletes, have condemned the decision. Athletics Canada has said it won’t implement the policy in Canada. The UN Human Rights group wrote the IAAF urging it to cancel the policy. 

While some of Semenya’s competitors are responsible for the "confusion" over her being wrongly identified as trans and the ultimate invasive testing that led to this decision, here’s what Madeleine Pope, one of her competitors had to say about the ruling: “I encountered the vast literature written by advocates of women’s sport who oppose the exclusion of women athletes with naturally high testosterone for both scientific and ethical reasons: scientifically, because biological sex and athletic ability are both far too complex for scientists to reduce to measures of testosterone, and ethically, because these regulatory efforts have always been characterised by considerable harm to the women athletes singled out for testing.” 

So what can you do about it? The next time someone attempts to “set the record straight” by citing her level of testosterone or the fact that she wasn’t born with XX chromosomes, you can recite this email, forward them the links, and then tell them to Google it cause you don’t have the spoons or the time to engage in a conversation that is inherently racist, misogynist, transphobic, and based on faulty science. You can also Tweet at Nancy Hogshead-Makar who is using her massive platform to spread dangerous thinking about the issue.

Want to read more? Here you go from Huck Magazine, The Guardian, and the Columbia Journalism Review

Till next time…