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How long will sportswomen have to keep proving their sexuality?

Chand’s blunt refusal to undergo hormone therapy and surgical procedures to alter her androgen makeup was a bold step in the direction of more women and sportswomen taking charge of their destinies, bodily and career-wise. It must be remembered that gender (a sum of how someone is brought up and self-identifies as a woman) is not sex (a limited biological understanding of the individual based solely of the morphology of the primary and secondary sex organs). And both are not hormonal equivalences that can be easily mapped and measured and neatly graded. Chand’s “hyperandrogenism” is purportedly a tactical advantage to her with respect to the “average woman”, but how do we determine how this averageness comes about? Why should a sporting talent suffer because we are still mired in our medical, legal and cultural prejudices?

 

Dutee Chand’s body was accused of being more muscular, lean and mannish by IAAF, even though this weaver’s daughter has been raised, identified and trained as a woman athlete. When Chand was made to undergo tests in lieu of practising for the Glasgow Commonwealth, it was revealed that her body produces more than the average woman. Now, while there ought to be some yardstick to determine a sporting category and define its eligibility criteria, how can a simple deficiency of a so-called male hormone be the main driving factor? Human bodies are as variable as they can be, and fluctuations in visible characteristics – such as having more body hair, heavier voice, height, muscularity, etc – are as much influenced by rigours of training as they are adjusted by inherent/physiological traits. Why should one set of characteristics offset the hard work and sculpting put in by the other? Why should “nature” trump “culture” and pin down what’s womanly and what’s not?

 

Chand’s victory, much like Castor Semeneya’s, the South African female athlete with supposed HA, who won gold in 800-metre race in 2009 World Championships, will go a long way in reconfiguring rigid gender norms in sporting activities, particularly on the track and field. Here are four takeaways that Chand’s intrepid struggle to self-style offers us.

 

Dutee Chand, the 19-year-old female , formerly India’s under-18 100-metre champion and an aspirant from Odisha, has, however, steadfastly resisted such crude and restrictive definitions that the has had to endure so far. Chand, who “suffers” from “hyperandrogenism” (HA) – that is her body produces natural levels of testosterone considerably higher than the average woman – has just won the right to compete on world stage after the Court for Arbitration in Sport upheld her appeal challenging the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) ruling which had barred her from taking part in the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Glasgow citing HA.

 

The body of the sportswoman, particularly the one from a “developing” nation, is usually under relentless scrutiny from the self-proclaimed national and international governing bodies, regulators and authorities that scan, check, arbitrate, rule, rule out, invade, inject into, make incisions, cut off, cut into, add, delete and perform numerous other acts of ordering and defining it. In other words, the sportswoman’s body is in a state of perpetual self-defence, as also self-defiance, because the “self” in question is, more often than not, at unfathomable odds with the set norms, notions and prescriptions of what are the limits of the woman in the sportswoman.

 

 

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