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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Semenya -- Is Gender Even a Consideration?

Today's gender disputes in athletics can be very complicated. Time magazine reports just how complicated according to one surgeon. "In his paper 'Intersex and the Olympic Games,' Rob Ritchie, a urological surgeon at Oxford University, notes that in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta — the last Games in which all female athletes were subjected to gender testing — eight female athletes were found to be genetically male. Seven of them had androgen-insensitivity syndrome (AIS), a condition in which a genetic male is resistant to androgens, the male sex hormones that include testosterone. In such cases, the testes never descend from the abdomen and the genitalia may resemble female genitalia." The seven genetically male athletes with AIS at the Atlanta Olympics were allowed to compete as women. Still, the incidence of AIS in Atlanta — seven cases among 3,000 athletes — compared with the rate in the general population, which is 1 in 20,000, suggests that partial AIS can boost athletic ability," Ritchie says. 1. People with AIS often have high levels of testosterone as the body produces more in an effort to exert its actions. For this reason, Semenya's high testosterone levels could be in keeping with an AIS diagnosis. 2. People with complete AIS, although genetically male, display fewer signs of the presence of testosterone than the average female, who does produce and absorb a small amount of the hormone. 3. People with partial AIS, however, have some sensitivity to testosterone and develop masculine features — such as larger muscles — alongside feminine features. 4. People with AIS, according to Olympic officials, do not consider AIS to necessarily confer an advantage. In other words, it's never been proven that women found to be genetically male may have any physical advantage than what may be seen in extremes of genetically female women. 5. People who compete in International Olympic events as a woman are subject to a comprehensive evaluation by the International Association of Athletics Federations requiring examination by a panel of specialists (including an endocrinologist, a gynecologist and a psychologist) to determine whether an athlete can compete as a woman. 6. People who compete in International Olympic events as a woman will also likely to be required by the IAAF to complete a psychological profile to see whether she feels herself to be a woman. 7. People with AIS do not necessarily know they are cheating as it is quite common for neither her or her parents to realize that she is genetically a male. Indeed, AIS is sometimes diagnosed at fertility clinics only when women seek help because of their inability to become pregnant. So, the parents may have rightfully yet unknowingly brought such an athlete up as a female. 8. People with AIS have a right to privacy. South Africa's parliament is preparing to file a complaint with the UN over Semenya's treatment. A World Championship official has admitted questions concerning the runner's gender should have remained confidential. 9. The controversy over gender, itself, has been characterized as racist and sexist by some commentators, politicians and activists. The Los Angeles Times reports, "Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the ex-wife of former President Nelson Mandela, said no one had the right to perform tests on 'our little girl' and warned South Africa's news media to be more patriotic 'without insulting one of our own. Use the freedom of press we gave you properly, because we can take it from you.'" Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, the minister for women, children and people with disabilities said, "Is it because she's a woman? Is it because she's African? We want to know why this was done." A Los Angeles Times (Robyn Dixon, August 21 2009) report stated, "The newspaper Beeld quoted high school principal Eric Modiba as saying that Semenya always wore pants instead of skirts, played rough-and-tumble with the boys and that he didn't realize she was a girl until she was in the 11th grade." Athletics South Africa President Leonard Chuene, speaking by phone from Berlin, said Semenya was an inspiration to rural girls, some of the most powerless and disadvantaged people in the country, yet she was being raked over the coals with questions on her gender. "I'm angry. I'm fuming. This girl has been castigated from day one, based on what?" Chuene said. "There's no scientific evidence. You can't say somebody's child is not a girl. You denounce my child as a boy when she's a girl? If you did that to my child, I'd shoot you." Semenya has said little in public so far, but her mother, Dorcas, 50, is fierce in her defense. "She's a girl. I'm the mother of that girl. I'm the one that knows about Caster. If they want to know about Caster, tell them to come to me." (Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times, August 21 2009)
So What's Your Take On This Sport?
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