Dear Olympics: Stop Policing Black Women’s Bodies

By Sarah Nicell || Layout Assistant

Following an absolute nightmare of a year, some optimists may have been looking forward to the 2021 Olympics this July. After enduring the effects of COVID-19, countless protests and uprisings over human rights, political chaos, and the insufferable isolation of a year without proper socialization, it seems like a given that such a special quadrennial occasion would stir up a great amount of excitement.

However, instead of spreading hope this summer, I fear that the Olympics instead are sending a message of exclusion, disappointment, and inaction in the wake of supposed social change. Through the unjustifiable disqualification of multiple black women from major events, the world of sports has again affixed itself to a broken system that contradicts itself at every turn. By medically regulating natural hormones exclusively within the bodies of women while simultaneously villainizing the use of otherwise legal cannabis, the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) fails to properly differentiate between ethical and unethical consumption of drugs.

Testosterone—typically referred to as the primary male sex hormone associated with strength, sex drive, and major developments during puberty—is largely framed within the sphere of masculinity. High levels of testosterone spur within us thoughts of brawny, swashbuckling macho guys who bench double their weight and boast about it daily. We think about aggression, power, muscle, and most importantly, manliness.

However, testosterone is not inherently male, nor does any hormone belong to a single sex or gender. Just as AMAB (Assigned Male at Birth) bodies produce some estrogen, AFAB bodies make testosterone. Despite our preconceived notions about the hormone as a masculine trait, it acts as an androgen, manufactured in the ovaries and the adrenal gland. In this setting, testosterone has multiple purposes, including the influence of sex drive, bone strength, and ovarian health. This indicates that regardless of sex, testosterone plays a vital role in the balance and maintenance of one’s body. Even in a hypothetical scenario in which testosterone is only present in AMAB individuals, this alone would not make it a purely masculine hormone due to the existence of people outside of the gender binary.

Therefore, testosterone is just as much a feminine biological function as a masculine one, and there is no reason to categorize it as attributable to a single sex unless you are inclined to disagree with scientific facts.

Unfortunately, the IAAF does just that.

World Athletics currently restricts female or intersex athletes who have a DSD (Difference of Sexual Development) that heightens their level of testosterone beyond a certain point from participating in track events that are or are greater than 400 meters. This condition exists only for Female Classification and remains in place unless the athlete chooses to decrease her testosterone levels “by use of hormonal contraceptives”. In other words, in order to compete, women with “excess” testosterone must use drugs to alter their bodies months in advance despite their normal conditions being natural and healthy.

How can one quantify femininity? Certainly, the IAAF does not believe that you are more or less of a woman depending on how much of a hormone your body naturally produces. If a woman was to produce high levels of estrogen, there is no doubt that she would be permitted to compete, and the same applies to men with high levels of testosterone. AFAB people who naturally possess excess testosterone and identify as women are still cisgender, and therefore neglect to even fit the transphobic restrictions surrounding professional sports. She is a woman regardless of hormonal differences, in the eyes of LGBTQ+ haters and allies alike. So what is the problem?

Does the rule, then, only apply to situations in which strong women get to claim victory, witness success, and receive praise? Is it unfair for a woman to run as one would expect a man to, with strength and ease? Are strong female bodies only acceptable when they come in eurocentric cishet frames? Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, for example, are two South African athletes disqualified from DSD restricted events due to their naturally high levels of testosterone. At just 18 years old, what makes these young women not feminine enough to compete in the Olympics?

Black women face constant masculinization by white society, and in sports, this proves to be the same. People will do whatever it takes to ensure that powerful women cannot win without first being deemed normal, for any detections of social deviance, whether they be intentional or merely biological, result in rejection. The IAAF would rather have healthy black athletes alter their biological makeup to fit in with imaginary standards than let them taste victory.

In the same breath that black women on the verge of triumph were told to take drugs to inhibit their success, Sha’Carri Richardson was disqualified for testing positive for cannabis—a non-performance enhancing drug that is legal recreationally where she raced—following news of her biological mother’s death. These realities are extremely contradictory, yet they co-exist: take drugs to weaken your chances of winning, don’t take drugs that also may weaken your chances of winning, be mentally powerful enough to cope without aid, don’t be physically powerful enough to win. All orders that doom black women from the start.

As long as the IAAF forbids black women from choosing what goes in or out of their bodies, whether that be hormonal contraceptives or non-performance enhancing drugs like cannabis, the Olympics will not be worth watching. After all, when athletic success is dependent on the agreement to be subject to manipulation, racism, and gender discrimination, victory doesn’t quite taste the same.

In the meantime, I’ll be watching athletes like Sha’Carri Richardson, Christine Mboma, and Beatrice Masilingi, who will undoubtedly find their futures to be far brighter than the discriminatory gloom of the 2021 Olympics.

Sarah Nicell is a Layout Assistant for The College Reporter and can be reached by email snicell@fandm.edu

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