Tag Archives: sports

What is Fairness?

On a basic level, “fairness” means equal opportunity. The idea of fairness gets more complicated when personal strengths and weaknesses are added into the equation. It should still be considered fair if one person has a natural advantage over another person, to an extent. In sports, for example, it is fair to separate youth sports teams by age, because generally, athletes that are older are naturally bigger and stronger.

The debate over the fairness of self-identified women athletes who have either some male genitalia, or chromosomes that aren’t XX has existed for years. With major sports separated into female teams and male teams as they are today, there is no clear place to put these athletes in our binary society. The majority of these women athletes in question may only have a slight natural advantage, such as a marginal increase in testosterone, which should be treated the same as an athlete with naturally long legs, as mentioned in Laura Hercher’s article on Olympic gender verification. It would be unfair to discriminate more harshly on one natural occurrence than another.

Hercher, Laura. “Gender Verification: A Term Whose Time Has Come and Gone.” National Society of Genetic Counselors, 8 Sept. 2010.

Big Question: What is justice?

Bestowing gender upon an individual in cases of sexual ambiguity poses serious concerns about justice. How should we confront children born with both a penis and a vagina? Our strict two-gender system prevents us from dealing effectively with such cases. Whereas some contend that sexually ambiguous children ought to be “normalized,” others have suggested that transgender children ought to decide their own fate once they reach the age of maturity (even if that means remaining transgender). Yet others argue that the very notion of having to decide to become either male or female is demonstrative of a more fundamental issue: that our two-gender system fails to reflect the wide spectrum of sex.

However, in making the case against the prevailing system, we often lose sight of why humans are so prone to classification. Classifying simplifies complex situations such that we can better understand and respond. Although it may appear foreign to those who object to gender labels on a principled basis, labeling individuals as male or female is beneficial in ways. In Arthur Caplan’s piece on the case of Caster Semenya, he describes why sexual ambiguity poses a major challenge to eligibility determinations in sports. In certain sports, physical advantages that individuals with gender disorders might have over their competition creates both an unfair advantage and a serious safety risk.

How can we reconcile our desire to accommodate sexual ambiguity and tangible concerns like safety in sports? What do you consider a “just” solution?

Caplan, Arthur L. “Fairer Sex: The Ethics of Determining Gender for Athletic Eligibility: Commentary on ‘Beyond the Caster Semenya Controversy: The Case of the Use of Genetics for Gender Testing in Sport'” Editorial. National Society of Genetic Counselors, Inc. 8 Sept. 2010: n. pag. Print.

Big Question: How does biological sex function in society?

We’ve studied and settled on the idea of gender as a cultural construct, within whose system society forces us to choose an identity of male or female. The role that biological sex plays in social roles is less clear. As it’s usually tied to gender, sex identity seems fairly straightforward–perhaps not as an identity at all, but a fact.

Even cases of intersex persons being forced to choose a sex seems to be tied to gender. The confusion of sex identity plays a role, but for the most part, sex as a category seems to be considered most as it pertains to gender–i.e., if the child doesn’t know their sex, how can they know what gender to perform?

The biology of sex comes up particularly, however, in “gender testing” in sports. (A side note: should it be called “sex testing” because it pertains to physical characteristics?). That testing testing is meant to measure physical advantage based primarily on testosterone levels; because of the potential of physical advantage, in sports, sex is an important category. Physical attributes dictate how the world of athletics work. In a hypothetical gender-neutral society, individuals with more testosterone would still excel at sports, regardless of gender identity. I’m interested in this because it suggests an area where cultural facts could be based almost entirely on physical, natural characteristics.

Do you agree? Are there other categories in society where having a normative sex identity–having more or less testosterone, for instance–plays a significant role, apart from its ties to gender? At least off the top of my head, I can’t think of other situations in which biological sex, not gender, manifests itself culturally. That is, in sports, the actual physical qualities of sex seem more relevant a category than elsewhere. What do you think?