The exact nature of Caster's biology have not been publicly disclosed, but it's clear that it's not enough to simply say she's an XY female. Because of this, the properly cautious approach (which most news organizations have adopted) is to avoid saying anything about her actual biological condition.
This article is unnecessarily inflammatory, and insinuates pretty strongly that the mere presence of Y chromosomes should subject Caster to scrutiny; the reality is likely a lot more nuanced.
The article explicitly states several times Caster Semenya is not male or female but intersex female with male characteristics -- no womb, ovaries but internal testes.
> insinuates pretty strongly that the mere presence of Y chromosomes should subject Caster to scrutiny
The article praises Caster and does not "insinuate" she should be subjected to elevated scrutiny, it instead singles out reporters for over-simplifying the situation and omitting important biological facts; it insinuates reporters are taking a social justice angle (woman with high levels of testosterone not allowed to compete) when Caster is more appropriately described as intersex, and unfortunately the Olympics do not have an intersex category.
It's not critical of Caster at all and struck me as a balanced, well-written take.
Fairness is not absolute, the intent, effort, consideration (of past effects, and possible and likely outcomes) matters.
Sometimes making a race more interesting is more important, than allowing someone to dominate it for decades. However, that sounds like a pretty serious difference in rules. But. But we should consider that we already have a lot of complex rules (doping rules are not completely fair either, because biology is complex), and similarly the problem of how to separate males and females for competitions is not new, and never was simple.
Genetics is generally a poorly understood subject. Even in online discussion groups for people with genetic disorders, basic information about genetics is often not well understood by many of the members, even though almost all will be there because either they or an immediate family member has a genetic disorder.
I'm saying the reporters probably didn't really get it.
I will make one last attempt to make my original point:
I have a homozygous recessive genetic disorder, as does my oldest son. Genetics 101 tells me that my other son and ex husband are both carriers.
People who have the same genetic disorder or who are caring for a child with the same genetic disorder have asked me how I know these immediate relatives are carriers.
So my confidence that most people know anything about basic genetics is pretty low -- even if they happen to be reporters, editors, etc.
Though writing simply doesn't pay well these days, if at all. That fact is undermining the quality of the writing we are seeing.
Newspapers and all kinds of other writing is being squeezed financially. Ad revenue is way down. Local papers are shutting down left and right.
As a poverty-stricken writer myself who gets told to quit my bitching and get a real job, I'm not super sympathetic to the world's demands for good writing that is also magically completely free.
As an example take the 1.7% intersex figure quoted in the article. Apparently a reporter took this to big number to inflate the importance of her message. I think that disqualifies such an author to be credible.
What she choose as legal gender should not care much, as nowadays it's much easier to choose that. Good so. What is more important to her is what the sports classification panel put her in, because that's what's her income is. She can easily run in men competitions, no one forbids that. Letting her run with women was unfair to all other women. And you cannot compare that to the former hormone-doped women (e.g. the former east european runners). They had no testicles and no XY chromosomes.
This is a minefield of an offensive topic, but I will give it a shot.
Each outlet has a narrative that all stories support. "Right wing" outlets like Breitbart run the narrative that women are being pushed out of their own sports organizations by (insert polite term for all of the recent expansions to the definition of women here.) Most others run the narrative that this expanding definition has no negative consequences and we all accept it with jubilation. Reporting the XY chromosome detail could cause some readers to support the opposing narrative.
There's a massive intersectional narrative at stake whereupon reality can be bent if need be in this case.
My original encounter with this story was the IOC's decision to allow Caster to compete: the NYT had a story supporting it, I thought it was enlightening. Until my bias radar went off and I did further research and found 'the most relevant facts' changed the story quite dramatically.
The NYT left out the fact she was intersex / hermaphrodite entirely!
So why would even the NYT leave out such critical information?
Google 'caster semeny new york times' for the latest headlines. Among them you'll find 'The Myth of Testosterone' - trying to convince us that we really don't have any advantage due to testosterone!
It's interesting but ultimately maligned, so one must wonder why they'd take up such a position that should undermine their credibility?
The issue is identity: reality seems to be less important than people's right to choose their own expression, which is a current 'rights' issue ... and so the truth gets utterly muddled.
It's one thing when it has no consequence, it's another thing altogether when power/rights are bestowed due to it.
We're tricked with language: 'women' to most has biological implications, though we recognized not always. But when headlines such as this appear (in Quartz):
"The demonization of Caster Semenya’s womanhood is part of a dark history in female athletics"
And this classic from Vox:
"I am a woman and I am fast: what Caster Semenya’s story says about gender and race in sports
The constant scrutiny into the runner’s medical history reveals what happens to women who don’t conform to stereotypes."
I think this headline really summarized the root of misinformation:
Caster is a woman by choice. She could have ostensibly chosen the male identity. She has utterly fundamental biological differences that are material in sport. Which in her life, is her business of course; but in sport, it becomes another issue.
So when they refer to her as 'female' and then reference the antagonism to her, it's a terrible straw-man.
Caster is not just a woman who 'doesn't conform to stereotypes'. Having male sex apparatus, XY chromosomes, and the testosterone of a male athlete which endows her with considerable and obvious advantage ... is not a 'stereotype'.
Effectively, a false parallel is drawn between trans people under scrutiny for 'non conforming identity' issues, into Caster's situation, where there are material differences to be addressed.
It's an information war unfortunately.
In terms of the article you reference, first: "mid-distance running seems to be testosterone independent" this is highly speculative, and I say bogus. Men utterly dominate women in that sport, and most of the differentiator is 'testosterone'.
Most importantly - Caster is not famale. She is a woman, yes, but her sex is not male or female, she is intersex.
We divide sports ultimately on the basis of sex, not really 'gender self identification'.
The NYT et. al. are oddly trying to conflate gender and sex due to their concern about 'rights'. They are creating a straw men situation "people attacked female athlete's in the past" as though this is 'more of same'. It's not - there's totally reasonable and fair grounds to discuss the intersex positioning in all of this.
If someone has the testosterone levels of a man (and testicles that produce it) has XY chromosomes ... well maybe they ought not to be competing with other women for whom this would be very unfair?
Naturally, but maybe because they are bigger (and have bigger muscles, and have better VO2max?) and that's probably not due to testosterone, but due to the whole body having the male body plan set as set-point from a very young age.
> Most importantly - Caster is not famale. She is a woman, yes, but her sex is not male or female, she is intersex.
I'm simply not up to date on this topic to know. What female means? Is that a biological only term? If yes, does it mean having only female-like characteristics? Is that a genetics term?
Of course, the whole problem is that whatever dimensions we look at, in terms of athletic/sports performance, in (almost?) every sport based on some biomechanical activity the distribution of outcome has a nice bimodal shape, and it kind of makes sense to make two leagues/categories, to make races interesting.
And naturally, where these distributions intersect with the other very bimodal distribution (that is the spectrum of biological sex, or male-female-ness), we find that in almost all cases it matches the male-ness or female-ness part, so it was easy to sort athletes into their respective leagues, but the middle part was never empty. There was always females that were bigger/faster/stronger than some males, and of course their female-ness was regularly questioned on the basis of fairness. (Which is a completely valid question.)
> If someone has the testosterone levels of a man (and testicles that produce it) has XY chromosomes ... well maybe they ought not to be competing with other women for whom this would be very unfair?
Yes, and I would have no problem with saying that we don't know exactly what makes her better, maybe it's not testosterone per se, but it clearly seems to be biologically based more than based on how well she trains, what kind of shoes she wears, etc.
And I don't know how the Athletic Federation (and the Court of Arbitration) argued exactly, but it seems that the NYT op-ed claims that they cited something that does not make sense (the too high testosterone levels), and in that regard the op-ed is probably right. (Hence why I called their argument simple, not the problem.)
Is it right-wing to not accept that with jubilation? What does right-wing mean at that point other than doubleplusungood?
Thinking biology and hormones matter and saying so, no matter with how much respect and how much scientific fact, is increasingly subject to censorship.
> Reporting the XY chromosome detail could cause some readers to support the opposing narrative.
So could not flagging this story, so it must be flagged, I guess. But it's all in service of something "we" all agree to with jubilation, all enemies are a monolith, they're right-wingers, while no brainwashing can be found over here.
Therefore, if we want any women participation in the Olympics, we have to have more than one category.
-Sprints (100m, 200m, 400m),
-Middle distance (800m, 1500m)
-Long distance (3000m Steeplechase, 5000m, 10,000m)
-Hurdles (110/100m, 400m)
-Relays (4x100m, 4x400m)
Men would dominate every distance, you'd have no women competing.
More cynically I'd point out that all high-level athletics are really television shows and the audience (deservedly) wants women's sports.
To me the solution is a new intersex category.
They use the "protected category" expression in the article
Which is obviously not true in learning and, as it turns out, in sport.
Sport are meant to celebrate the best of Humans in fields of physical endeavor.
She was assigned female at birth.
What's one of those touchy subjects is that those other combinations are clearly outliers, and while we should obviously accept everybody as humans, it's much less clear why society as a whole should complicate the notions of sex/gender so much for the benefit of a few, especially when this complication is arguably in many cases not really necessary.
(There are obvious and indisputable things that society should do to accomodate people with outlier sex, like distinguishing bathrooms by stalls vs. urinals instead of by gender/sex, and getting rid of gender/sex questions on pretty much all forms/questionnaires ever. What distinguishes those changes from some others is that they're about making gender less significant rather than more significant, i.e. they're attempts to solve the problem by simplifying gender/sex instead of making it more complicated.)
1. Biological sex is defined in relation to the roles played in sexual reproduction.
2. Sexual reproduction involves only two, namely, male and female.
3. Thus, biological sex is only two, namely, male or female.
Consider the case of plants that reproduce sexually. When we discover a plant missing parts of its sexual organs, we do not thereby conclude that we have discovered a third sex. Rather biologists rightly concur that what you have found is a defective plant. Likewise, in human beings, when one has an extra chromosome, or defective genitalia, you have just that: a sexual defect at the physical level. Such people often are wonderful, loving, and morally upright persons, but physically something has gone wrong.
Hermaphrodites are individuals with both pairs of sex organs. While in very rare cases some human beings have both pairs of genitalia, in no case whatsoever has it ever been observed that both pairs are fully functioning. True human hermaphrodites with both male and female sexual organs that fully function don’t exist. Such is why no cases of self-fertilization have ever been recorded in human beings.
Even if we did discover an individual human being with both pairs of fully functioning sex organs, such a case would not disprove the binary distinction. What you would have is someone who is both male and female; one who is able to act either as male or female depending upon the other sex with which that individual desired to reproduce. Hermaphroditism, rather than disproving the traditional binary distinction, actually reinforces it. We would not even know hermaphrodites existed, let alone be able to speak of them, unless we knew of the male-female binary.
It's incredibly complicated and it's frankly amazing that sexual dimorphism and reproduction works even as well as it does.
> Specifically, Fausto-Sterling computes the incidence of intersexual births to be 1.7 per 100 live births, or 1.7%. To arrive at that figure, she defines as intersex any “individual who deviates from the Platonic ideal of physical dimorphism at the chromosomal, genital, gonadal, or hormonal levels”
So someone with elevated estrogen but normally functioning male genitalia and XY chromosomes would be part of this 1.7%, as might an effeminate looking man or a boyish female.
I rather suspect that is not what most people would assume when reading that number.
Note that trans women (m->f) get to compete with other women. That’s part of the unfairness here. A male athlete can surgically make their body female and be allowed to compete, but Caster Semenya who was born essentially the same way is blocked from competing.
It’s not just surgically. Athletes are required to reduce their testosterone levels, which is the issue here.