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Construction of Gender in Sports. Gender Tests in Elite Athletics

Seminararbeit 2019 13 Seiten

Geschlechterstudien / Gender Studies



1. Introduction

2. Relationship between society, gender and sport

3. Gender verification in sports
3.1 Socio-historical background
3.2 The genesis of the biological sex
3.3 The genesis of the social sex
3.4 Procedures in sports

4. The challenge of intersexuality

5. Summary

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

When Caster Semenya won the gold medal in Berlin in 2009, the sports scene was appalled. Semenya duped her competition in the final of the 800-meter track. With powerful dynamics, she ran away from her rivals in the world's best annual season and won with over two seconds advantage. In the world of elite athletics, this ad­vantage is significant at this distance. Right afterwards, Sports officials and journal­ists questioned whether she could be able to perform such an amazing performance as a woman. The experts looked skeptically at the then 18-year-old South African (Conradi & Wiesemann, 2009). Her muscular body and facial features were more reminiscent of a man's appearance than a woman's. After her victory, her gender was suddenly in the center of public interest, because the International Association of Athletics Federation – in person of Secretary General Pierre Weiss – invited the in­ternational media to a press conference. He announced, ‘There is doubt about the fact that this person is a lady, is a woman’ (Montañola & Olivesi, 2016, p.25). The press quickly took up the case and announced that a gender test would bring clarity.

At first glance, the question of a person’s gender acts as if the answer is obvious. Gender is one of the central structural principles of our society. The population con­sists of women and men, girls and boys. There is a social system of the two sexes and sex seems to be given by nature. In everyday life it is associated with the idea of a recognizable and invariable distinction between woman and man. This is closely linked to the assumption of gender polarity. Thus, there are assumptions of different characteristics and behaviors, as well as a natural gender hierarchy and perfor­mance. Girls play with dolls, put on make-up, wear pink clothes and are especially tender and sensitive. Boys, however, are ambitious and self-reliant, playing with toy cars and crafts. But the fact that this societal system received such great social sig­nificance for the two sexes is not based solely on the natural conditions. Rather, it is a social order that has developed in our society since the eighteenth century and has been proven by biology and medicine since the nineteenth century. An understanding was developed by supposedly scientifically precise facts of the natural sexual char­acteristics of women and men.

In the context of this thesis the topic of the gender construction is taken up. Subject areas of the social and natural sciences try to find the causes of the gender-specific differences with the aid of various theories. At first, an analysis of the relationship between society, gender and sport should make it clear how the social subsystem Sport was influenced and structured by everyday theory. Using the example of the controversial phenomenon of sex tests in sport, it should be shown that the gender of a person cannot be measured using biological-medical criteria only. This thesis is contrary to the widespread opinion in medicine and biology that sex can be clearly determined based on five criteria. Therefore, a fundamental understanding of the procedure and basics of gender testing should be created by summarizing these cri­teria. In a second step, it is shown that it is possible by a social-scientific point of view to question hypotheses of a purely biological, pre-social nature of man. A basic in­sight is that the society in which we live is a result of our own actions. The everyday distinction between man and woman is an expression of attribution that does not refer to the individual but to the cultural system. It raises the question of the social aspect in the gender categorization. This questions the collective assumptions of the binary system of attribution as it considers the process of forming different genders in the social world (Bereswill, 2008).

2. Relationship between society, gender and sport

Sport is considered a mirror of society, as it always interacts with social, cultural and economic conditions. As part of our social system, the sport went through several stages of development. Since the Enlightenment in the 18th century, the exercise was no longer just as an elitist pastime, but was accessible to a larger group of the population (Küchenmeister & Schneider, 2011). However, access was still denied to women due to socio-cultural characteristics such as gender. The participation of the female population in the established social subsystem of sport was not comprehen­sive, as in other areas of society.

Contrary to our understanding of everyday life, in our society before the 18th century, gender was not considered a generally valid structuring principle. In the course of modern society, the term "gender" lost the previous social context of genealogical content and henceforth referred to a biological difference between woman and man. The connection of previously primary social structuring principles, such as civil status, gave way to the descriptions of sexual characteristics, which were formulated in op­posite directions. The male sex was attributed to qualities such as strength, courage, and activity, but weakness, anxiety, and passivity to the female sex. Medical research should confirm the thesis of gender inequality. By shifting the structuring principles into nature, different physical characteristics were interpreted as gender specific. In almost all body regions, gender-specific physical differences were sought and found. These then served as evidence of opposite gender characteristics and formed a nat­uralization of the social. By measuring the skeleton, the sexes were brought in an evolutionary-biological order in which women were expected to be placed at a lower stage of development (Müller, 2009). The supposedly different physical performance of the sexes was the result of these studies. In this way, a biological gender difference was legitimized. Until the 20th century it was propagated – out of concern for the woman's ability to give birth – that non-natural types of exercise or sport would ex­ceed the powers of women and cause permanent damage (McCrone, 2015). Based on such claims, women were excluded from the societal subsystem of sport because of their socio-cultural characteristics.

Within a couple of decades, woman’s rights activists and socio-politic circumstances changed the predominant opinions on woman’s sports. The Olympics offer a wide range of disciplines, almost all of which are open to both sexes.[1] One must take into Some disciplines like the decathlon are exclusively for men.

consideration, that this fact doesn’t represent an overarching equality in high-perfor­mance sports. The Olympic movement is exposed to a large variety of incontrollable influences such as marketing, extreme increase in training effort and performance standards. Female athletes must overcome a lot of obstacles to participate in the Olympics, especially depending on their nationality (Pfister, 2002).

3. Gender verification in sports

3.1 Socio-historical background

Due to the increasing active participation of women in athletic competitions, a precise classification in women and men was indispensable. Based on the theory of everyday life, gender was determined on the physical characteristics and genitals. For many years, the combination of first names in the identity papers and outward appearance was enough to qualify for entry in the women's class. The different framework condi­tions for women and men, such as the different weight of throwing equipment, were not perceived as unlawful but considered legitimate due to the everyday-theoretical certainty of gender antagonism and the associated different levels of performance. Due to the lighter conditions in the women's competitions rumors and fears increased that men dressed as women would take part in them. Presumably, these rumors arose solely because of the external appearance, which changed greatly through the professionalization of women's sports. Sportswomen were mostly noticed for their pronounced musculature, which did not correspond to the contemporary gender ste­reotype (Müller, 2006). Dora Ratjen, aka Hermann Ratjen, was probably the most famous case of this time. Ratjen participated in the women's high jump competition at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Ratjen, however, had male genitals that were tied up during the competition, which led to the exclusion of all competitions after becoming known (Ferguson-Smith & Ferris, 1991; Müller, 2006; Stephenson, 1996). As a result of the annual emergence of rumors and reinforced by the propaganda of the Cold War, sex tests were demanded and enforced from 1960, especially by the United States. The Olympics were the scene of ideological conflicts, the results of which led to a symbolization of dominance. This political dimension took sport to a whole new level (Müller, 2006). Sports associations and officials responded to the demands for sex tests in order to unambiguously clarify the rumors that arose each year. In 1966, the IAAF and the IOC initiated the setting of official statutes for female athletes to compete (Ferguson-Smith & Ferris, 1991). These provided, that women could be admitted only after a positive sex verification. Sex determination was based on biological-medical criteria. Due to the complexity of the various criteria, these should first be differentiated and discussed in order to ensure a basic understanding of the subsequent explanation of the test procedures.

3.2 The genesis of the biological sex

As mentioned before, gender is perceived in our society as natural, binary, constant and contrary. Biology claims to provide accurate empirical facts about gendered bod­ies in order to prove the psycho-physiological natural basis of gender (Palm, 2008). Since there is a two-sex social order and a related system of knowledge in our cul­ture, the search for biologically determinable divergences between the two sexes has been and is being sought. Specifically, this biological explanation approach refers to five criteria that assign a human to one sex or another.

According to biology and medicine, a person's sex is already fixed by its genes. The combination of sex chromosomes after the fusion of paternal sperm and maternal oocyte determines this fixation. This invisible difference denotes the ‘chromosomal’ or ‘genetic’ sex (Schandry, 2016). Despite the determinant chromosomal sex, the development of the embryo initially proceeds independently of this in an identical manner. The first obvious distinctions between the sexes exist only after approxi­mately six to seven weeks of gestation. It comes to the differentiation of the so called ‘gonadal’ sex. The gonads are until then undifferentiated and develop into ovaries or to testicular preforms. In the further course of embryonic development, the gonadal sex differentiates itself through the production of the corresponding sex hormones (Neyer & Asendorpf, 2018). Hormones affect the development and growth of an in­dividual. These chemical substances are formed by the gonads. The most relevant sex hormones are estrogens and androgens. With the differentiation of the sex-spe­cific gonads, the respective sex hormone is increasingly produced and distributed. These specific hormones not only influence the genesis of the genitals, but they are also responsible for differentiating the brain according to a male or female pattern (Tillmann, 2010). It should be noted, however, that both male and female individuals produce the same sex hormones. As a rule, much more estrogen than testosterone is produced by female individuals. Male individuals, on the other hand, produce more testosterone and less estrogen. Therefore, ‘hormonal’ sex is a quantitative, not a qualitative feature (Neyer & Asendorpf, 2018). Until puberty, however, the hormonal situation is almost the same. The genesis of the ‘morphological’ sex begins from the seventh pregnancy week and describes the phase of the formation of primary and secondary genitalia. This is genetically induced and hormonally controlled (Stier, Weissenrieder & Schwab, 2017). The male primary genitalia are assigned to the pe­nis, testes and vas deferens. The female primary sexual characteristics are the vagina, ovaries and uterus. The genitalia are therefore a very suitable symbol for the seemingly natural sex difference (Meuser, 2008). The ‘cerebral’ sex refers to the dif­ferentiated brain development based on neurobiological and neuropsychological re­search. These studies indicate, that the link between left and right hemisphere in women is much more intense than in men. It follows that women have a more inten­sive connection of the emotional brain area with the verbal area, while men can better distinguish between reason and feeling through the weaker connection (Nieder-bacher & Zimmermann, 2011).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
Institution / Hochschule
Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster – Sportwissenschaft
gender test gendertest construction of gender elite athletics



Titel: Construction of Gender in Sports. Gender Tests in Elite Athletics