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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Olympics, Part X: A matter of human rights?

One of the dumbest articles ever in favor of allowing intersex athletes to compete as woman just appeared on Yahoo: Caster Semenya delivers poignant message while savoring gold medal. It was full of cliches about dignity and inclusiveness, all meant to obscure the real issue.

The relevant excerpts (with my comments in parentheses): 

RIO DE JANEIRO – After she won an Olympic gold medal Saturday night, Caster Semenya was compared to Nelson Mandela. Semenya smirked at the reporter who did so. Mandela is one of the great men in modern history. Semenya is an 800-meter runner who Saturday won an Olympic gold medal. Beyond their South African roots, they share something else: a fight for what’s fair and what’s right and what a better world might look like.

(See? Semenya is another Mandela.)
Madiba, as South Africa fondly refers to Mandela, fought for racial equality. Semenya, still today, is fighting for sports to end their warfare on human biology that she has fought for seven years.

(Is "warfare on human biology" an accurate characterization of what "sports" are conducting?)

“Sports is meant to unite people, like Madiba said,” Semenya said. “I think that’s what we need to keep doing. It’s just fantastic. I think I make a difference. I mean a lot to my people. I’ve done well. They’re proud of me. That was the main focus. Doing it for my people and the people who support me.”

(Certainly no one can argue with any of those statements; the problem is, none of them address the issue that intersex competitors raise.)

Those people stuck by a woman whose career sent her into the jaws of stigmatization, questions of her gender, leaked results of the disgraceful sex testing she underwent. She reportedly has been forced to take drugs that changed who she has been since she was born because the ever-shifting definition of womanhood in international sports happened to settle on something that deemed her physiologically unfair.

And after all that, listen to what Caster Semenya thinks of the world, one that so often sought to bring her down.

(The world didn't seek to "bring her down," only to see if she was female, since she wanted to compete as a female. Though it does sound as if she barely escaped being eaten by the "jaws of stigmatization.")

“It’s all about loving one another,” she said. “It’s not about discriminating against people. It’s not about looking at people how they look, how they speak, how they run. It’s not about being masculine. It’s not about sports. When you walk out of your apartment, you think about performing. You do not think about how your opponent looks like. You just want to do better. So I think the advice to everybody is just go out there and have fun.”

(Again, cliches about loving one another and wanting to do better and having fun -- all of which are inarguable -- don't really address the issue at hand.)

Semenya had plenty of fun Saturday. She laid waste to the field in the women’s 800-meter race at the Rio Games. Some competitors argued she shouldn’t be allowed to compete because of hyperandrogenism, which means Semenya’s body produces an excessive amount of testosterone. Then she ran the race in 1 minute, 55.28 seconds, beat all seven opponents by at least a second and flexed as she crossed the finish line before breaking into a LeBron James-style Silencer.

(If I were Semenya's agent, I'd advise her against striking that arms flexed pose after her victories.)

Which is about right for all she has endured from the people who have called her a man and said she should not be allowed to compete in the Olympics because of a natural advantage. Not only is this argument morally repugnant and ethically flimsy, it runs in direct contrast to the charter that governs the Olympic Movement and makes clear that the rights of an athlete are beyond reproach.

(It always helps to paint a viewpoint you oppose as "morally repugnant and ethically flimsy." But if the rights of an athlete are "beyond reproach," why castigate dopers?)

The Olympic Charter was written to protect athletes like Caster Semenya. It outlines the seven central tenets of what the Olympics are supposed to mean. One in particular speaks specifically to Semenya, whose blessing and curse was to be born with a different anatomy than most.

On Page 12 of the Olympic Charter, principle No. 4 reads: “The practice of sport is a human right.”

(Do separate men's and women's competitions infringe on human rights?)

Here’s the reality: Caster Semenya doesn’t look like what a cisgendered society expects of a woman. Her hair is tightly braided to her head. Her breasts are small. Her muscles ripple. Her voice is deep. Her partner is a woman. Rather than the sports-bra-and-short-shorts uniform her competitors in the 800 wore, she prefers a full-body suit like the one used by male track runners....

(Again, that's not the issue: small-breasted, muscular lesbians with braided hair are welcome to compete as women at the Olympics. In fact, a substantial percentage of the female competitors can be described by one or more of those phrases. But having internal testes rather than ovaries is a different matter.)

Complicated though this issue may be, the fearmongering is reminiscent of all baseless propaganda perpetuated by frightened, exclusionary, ignorant people. Nobody wants men to compete in women’s sports. This is not opening the door for that.... 

(Get it? If you oppose allowing Semenya to compete against women, you're "frightened, exclusionary, and ignorant." You don't want to be those things, do you? Then get with the program!!)

Neither of these cases applies to Semenya. She is a woman, indubitably so, and because the IAAF has determined to view womanhood through the lens of a hormone more prevalent in men does not make her any less so and should not make her any less capable of competing against those with whom she shares a gender. Competitors who want to complain about it should take up the issue with their parents. Just like Semenya, that’s where they got their DNA and all other biological components.

("Indubitably?" Why? Because you say so? And the issue is not that she is "less capable" because of her condition, it's that she's more capable. But yeah, if you don't like it, go complain to your parents. Good suggestion. "Hey Mom and Dad, why couldn't you make me like Caster? I feel left out -- I wanna be a hermaphrodite too!")

Another piece of the Olympic Charter applies directly to Semenya. The second principle says: “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity...” 

(Again, useless platitudes that do nothing to address the question at hand.)

All Caster Semenya ever wanted was to run like she was born to, and CAS allowed her that. Once she got that, Semenya wanted the world to grow, to understand who she is, understand that she deserves, like everyone else, her dignity and the chance to compete. To unite people, as they should be.

(That's the real problem here: not that Semenya has an unfair advantage, but that the world has to grow.) 

It can't be emphasized enough, Semenya is not a cheater like the many dopers at the Olympics are; she was simply born the way she is. But that doesn't settle the issue, which is, as long as you're going to have separate competitions for women and men, then you have to be clear about exactly how "female" is defined. Anybody born with a vagina, but with internal testes instead of ovaries, occupies a gray area in that regard. 

There's no easy solution. It's not fair for women to have to compete against the intersexed, but it's also not fair to demand the intersexed compete against men. It's certainly not the cut and dried, clearcut issue this simple-minded Yahoo article presents it as. And however this issue finally gets resolved, it's not going to be because one side occupied the moral high ground, as Yahoo would have it. 

If he were around today, Samuel Johnson would say that political correctness is the last bastion of the scoundrel.  


Anonymous said...

john off topic, but fyi

the part about the child traffickers rings true..

genuinely insane and beyond frightening information. a large part of it is publicly verifiable.
if you apply the iceberg principle, the mind boggles at what may really be going on, behind closed doors.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Wow. If that's true, and I have no idea whether it is, though it's certainly conceivable, part of me wants to see the whole government brought down on charges of treason. Certainly Hillary has already been treasonous, what with having sold her office as Secretary of State to the highest bidder, especially when it came to that uranium sale.....I wonder if this is what the Russians have in store as their rumored October surprise.

And yes, it makes sense that child molesters would be attractive as employees because you could control them through blackmail.

Anonymous said...

I saw Semenya win the 800 and felt bad for the other finalists. Semenya clearly has the musculature, running stride and other characteristics of a man. As you said, it's complicated, but how would you feel as the fourth place finisher or other medalists. Perhaps an intersex medal be given and also have her run in the men's 800 final, so viewers could see what a 1:55 run with the men looks like.

Also, how can you tell her women rival not to dope, because it's unfair? Are there any other cases like Semenya in track or swimming?

John Craig said...

Anon --
I felt bad for the other runners too, though not so much for the third place finisher, Margret Wambui of Kenya, who also lookalike a man. You just know that every single one of the non-medalists in that final are going to go home and have all of their friends and family members tell them, "Hey, you got beaten by a man!" And all those other finalists will be able to do is to nod and shrug helplessly.

It doesn't seem fair at all. But no one should dope, that's clearly cheating. And doping is different from being born intersex, which Semenya did not choose to do. As I've said ad nauseum, Semenya herself is not at fault here, no one can blame her for being the way she is. The people who are sickening here are those like the writer of that Yahoo article, who are so self-righteous about Semenya's right to compete as a woman. It's just not that simple an issue, despite what the Yahoo writer would have us believe, and it's certainly not a matter of "woman's rights" or "feminism," since the people who are being hurt by this are other women.

I can't think of any swimmers who have been intersex. Certainly, larger more muscular women do well, but practically all the cases we've had of injustice in the pool have been matters of doping. In track, as I recall, there was a Russian shot putter from 50 or so years ago who was declared ineligible because of the way she was born (intersex of some flavor, I think). And more recently, there was an Indian runner who had a similar problem, although she was allowed to compete. (She didn't do nearly as well as Semenya.)

Rona said...

That article reads like a parody of equalist nonsense. They must use a checklist when writing this stuff. I can't decide which liberal trope is most amusing what with the variety of choices presented.

Do these rather uninteresting events play like superhero movies to liberals? Semenya, following the footsteps of wise and noble Mandela, fights for what’s fair and what’s right and what a better world might look like. Faced with the jaws of stigmatization created by fearmongering, exclusionary, ignorant cis bigots she ran 1 minute, 55.28 seconds defeating hate and ushering a world of harmonious development of humankind. To unite people, as they should be.

IAAF screwed things up by allowing her to compete as a woman. A XY human is not a woman regardless of hormone levels or removed testes. It's another case of buying into unreality as long as consequences aren't too severe. If they disqualified on the basis of developmental abnormalities, levels of testosterone wouldn't even be an argument.

John Craig said...

Rona --
Parody is right. And the really funny thing is, they don't even realize it.

The mentality of the liberals who buy into this simple-minded viewpoint ARE on a par with that of the kids who read superhero comics, you're right about that.

My understanding is she never had those internal testes removed, she just took drugs to suppress their hormone production for a while (and couldn't break 2:00 for the 800). But then when the IAAF reversed course last year, she stopped taking the drugs and reverted back to her 2009 form.

Rona said...

What a joke this whole thing is. I have respect for any person who trains hard and wants to reach their highest ability, but as you said elsewhere, this competition is restricted category.

So now a XY person with hormone producing testes is being hailed as a woman champion. By this logic, healthy XY male willing to chemically suppress testosterone to maximum levels permitted under female category should be allowed to compete.

John Craig said...

Rona --
Yes, why not transgenders while we're at it? After all, if they're allowed to use whichever bathroom they want....

I wrote about a transsexual competing in the UFC here:

Right now I think (though I'm not positive) the rules are that transsexuals can compete as women as long as they take hormone-suppressing drugs that get their testosterone below a certain level. But there are still advantages that accrue to having wider shoulders (for greater leverage), narrower hips (for quicker pivoting), and a longer body (for all sorts of reasons). Your by-this-logic theoretical has actually come to pass.

Steven said...

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yes, opinion seems to be shifting a touch back in Lochte's favor. The Rio police aren't coming off smelling good either.

GT said...

Caster Semenya update

John Craig said...

GT --
Thank you, interesting, I hadn't seen that. I remember looking at those Russian athletes in the past and thinking that they were just tougher than us (Americans). But it seems guts had little to do with it, they were all just dirty. I have my suspicions about a number of current Russian athletes, like the breaststroker Julia Efimova (who's actually been found guilty of using lesser drugs, like Meldonium), and Vladimir Morozov, the sprint swimmer. But all of the recent revelations make me wonder about some of the Russian greats from the fairly recent past. Was Sergei Bubka on the juice? Alexander Popov? Who knows.

GT said...

My feeling is Russia has to dupe because they do not have the high-tech training facilities or the genetic diversity to compete in the wide range of Olympic events. I think the Russians have a government sponsored doping program. They do not want to look bad on the world stage. But someone always talks or gets caught and the program gets exposed and they look bad on the world stage... Those pesky Russians

John Craig said...

GT --
You're right. They don't have blacks of either East or West African descent there, so they're not going to dominate either the distance races of the sprints in track. They do seem to have come up with a lot of great female middle distance runners, like Savinova, which is smart, since the 800 (and to a lesser extent, the 1500) are still the sweet spot for white runners. But now a lot of their fairly recent greats, like Svetlana Masterkova and Tatyana Kazankina, now have a cloud over their heads just because they were Russian. As far as swimming, the sport I know best, I have to wonder about their program too. My read on Russia is that they just don't have hundreds of thousands of parents who are carting their kids to practice every day in hopes of athletic glory and a possible college scholarship. I'm convinced they take short cuts there, too.