Why Testosterone Ranges Should Replace Sex-Segregation in Title IX Sports

In the waning months of the Obama Administration, the Departments of Justice and Education advised schools and colleges that gender identity discrimination was to be considered a form of sex discrimination covered by Title IX (the federal sex non-discrimination law that applies to all federally-funded educational programming, including competitive college sports). Within a month of taking office, Trump’s administration rescinded that compliance letter, in a stroke erasing any explicit protection for transgender student-athletes. Perhaps, though, where the Obama Administration really went wrong was in not going further to name sex-segregated sports as a source of “gender identity” discrimination.

What is gender discrimination and how do sex-segregated sports trigger it? In my book, Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?  I use the term “sex identity discrimination” instead of “gender identity discrimination” because I think it is more precise. The traditional understanding of sexism in the U.S. involves stereotypes about what a person can and cannot do because she is a woman or he is a man. Sex-identity discrimination involves such stereotyping, but it also involves judgments about who does and does not belong in the very categories of female and male. With this refinement in mind, we reveal how people who may not self-identify as transgender can still be subject to sex-identity discrimination when others perceive them as not adhering to the gender norms associated with being a “real woman” or a “real man.”

Because an athlete’s self-understanding of their sex-identity may be at odds with an administrator’s judgment, we should be very careful about how, if at all, we invoke sex classification in sports policy.

In Beyond Trans, I suggest a liberation from the rote presumption that maleness and femaleness always—or even often—matters. More often than not, gender isn’t clearly or rationally linked to specific policy goals. When sex classification is relevant, the onus should be on policy makers to provide a clear definition of the terms “sex” and “gender” within the contexts of the policy, a clear statement of the policy goal at issue, and a clear explanation of why it is necessary to invoke sex classification in order to achieve the specific policy goal.

One of the legitimate policy goals at stake in competitive sports is “fair play.” There is a longstanding presumption that permitting men and women to compete against one another in competitive sports, especially sports involving physical contact, would not be fair—that men would always have a competitive advantage over women based upon “biological” sex differences. But not all sex-related characteristics provide a competitive edge in sports. For example, it matters nary a bit whether you have a penis or vagina, a beard, or soft skin for how fast you run or how high you jump.

Instead, when we get more specific, we can say that certain sex-related physiological features, such as muscle mass, lung capacity, and aggression, are relevant to ‘fair play.’ These mutable characteristics are affected by the amount of functional testosterone in an athlete’s body, not by the presence or absence of genitalia.

The NCAA has followed the International Olympic Committee  to decree that athletes wishing to compete as female must prove that their testosterone levels fall within the normal range for women. If their testosterone exceeds levels for female competition, the athlete must compete against males or will be excluded from competition. By adopting this administrative policy, the NCAA is effectively using hormone levels instead of sex identity as its sorting criteria. Perhaps the most logical next step would be to get rid of the sex markers altogether, leaving a simple division into categories based on testosterone levels. Consider that some transgender women use estrogen therapy to achieve some of the secondary sex characteristics associated with female sex identity, such as an increased ratio of fat to muscle and the production of additional breast tissue, just as some transgender men use testosterone therapy to achieve some of the secondary sex characteristics associated with male sex identity. Other transgender people don’t use hormone therapy at all, and some people identify as genderqueer, gender fluid, or non-binary rather than “transgender.” Further, a not insignificant number of people are born intersex, meaning that their chromosomes, hormones, and/or physiology are not dyadic (unequivocally “male” or “female”). With all of these possibilities present in the field of play, can a male/female dichotomy work as a functional policy? Taking gender and sex identity out of the game may level the field significantly.

If we were to replace sex-segregation with testosterone levels in Title IX sports, we would, of course, not be making a trivial change. Part of the sense of “losing tradition” is tied up with losing the social aspect of gender-based affinity that is considered formative to young athletes: girls and boys and women and men working together toward common goals and competing to achieve them. But this social aspect claim holds most validity at the recreational level. When it comes to elite competition such as NCAA Division 1 sports and Olympic play, competition takes precedence over all else. While it seems simple, it comes down to the single question of whether gender matters—and if it does, when, why, and how? Replacing male and female competitive sports with hormone levels seems, on its face, radical, but the NCAA and other elite sports organizations have already begun rewriting the rules in favor of fair play.


Heath Fogg Davis is Associate Professor of Political Science at Temple University. He is the author of Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? (NYU Press 2017), and serves on the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs in Philadelphia.  @heathfoggdavis


— Photo by nchenga nchenga

Will Conservative Women Flourish in the Trump Era?

Donald Trump owes his presidency to women. Many political observers had assumed that Trump’s boorish behavior would alienate women at the polls and, while exit polls showed that Trump won just 42% of them to Clinton’s 54%, Trump secured a majority of the votes of white women in the 2016 election. One of the strongest contingents in this bloc comprised outspoken, conservative women leaders who honed their political skills in the Tea Party—a group that I profile in my book Tea Party Women.

U.S. right-wing movements are nothing new. What made the Tea Party distinctive was the extent to which its initial leadership came from women.

For both men and women, my research finds that conservative ideology, being an Evangelical Christian, and opposition to Barack Obama are all statistically linked to identifying as part of the Tea Party—factors that, undoubtedly, are common among many Republicans. Yet, I argue that women emerged as leaders in the Tea Party, rather than in the GOP, in part because opportunities to get involved in mainstream Republican Party politics were limited or unappealing.  Some Tea Party women I spoke with encountered “good ‘ol boy” networks in local party politics, while others confronted a political establishment that they believed was ineffectual and too willing to compromise on authentic conservative values.

In this last way, many Tea Party women were natural allies with Donald Trump, whose disruptive candidacy in the GOP primaries was based partially on uprooting the Republican Party status quo.  Moreover, Trump’s nationalistic themes, which included harsh stands against undocumented immigrants, also appealed to many conservative women, who were willing to overlook his misogynistic rhetoric. Although support for Trump among Tea Party activists was mixed during the primaries—many initially endorsed Texas Senator Ted Cruz—once the campaign moved into the general election, the goal of defeating Hillary Clinton ensured that Tea Party support was firmly behind Trump’s candidacy.

With Trump in the White House and both houses of Congress under control of the Republican Party, are conservative women now poised to become leaders within the GOP?  Can right-wing women convert their electoral influence into recognizable policy gains?

In answering these questions, it is important to delineate between descriptive representation—meaning simply that more women have a seat at the political table—and substantive representation, through which, regardless of the gender of political elites, women’s policy interests are addressed.

The Trump administration is failing in the first: descriptive representation. Unlike either the Clinton or Obama administrations, both of which prioritized diversity in their cabinets, Trump’s selection of four women to his cabinet is closer to the number of women George W. Bush nominated in his first term. None of them are in Trump’s “inner cabinet”—the most prestigious positions heading up the Judiciary, State, Treasury, and Defense departments.  Whether Trump is primed to nominate more women is an open question, but as of mid-March, just 27 percent of the openings in his new administration were filled by women.

Two women—Kellyanne Conway and “First Daughter” Ivanka Trump—serve in high-profile advisory positions within the White House. Conway has studiously avoided the promotion of policies specifically geared to women’s interests, famously quipping that “all issues are women’s issues,” whereas Ivanka Trump has made working women a major theme of her time in the White House, announcing a joint task force with the Canadian government to promote women entrepreneurs and advocating for federally mandated paid parental leave (to this point: Ivanka Trump has had difficulty in securing congressional sponsors for such a bill, and her father’s silence on the measure appears to doom its prospects).

If paid leave for parents is typically a Democratic policy, limiting access to abortion is a “women’s issue” policy long-championed by social conservatives.

In this respect, Trump’s selection of Charmaine Yoest, who previously led the anti-abortion organization Americans United for Life, as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at Housing and Human Services (HHS) and Teresa Manning, a former lobbyist with the National Right to Life Committee, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs at HHS, will likely find favor with most Republican women. My analysis in Tea Party Women shows that a robust two-thirds of Republican and Tea Party women believe abortion should not be legal in nearly any situation.

Trump’s Education Department is also signaling a desire to change how Title IX rules—the federal civil rights laws that prohibit sex discrimination in public education—are interpreted, including how they are applied to sexual violence on campus. Previously, the Obama administration urged college campuses to lower the threshold of evidence under which alleged perpetrators of campus rape could be held responsible.  More recently, the department’s acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, faced backlash for her remarks that most college sexual assault accusations are the result of drunken encounters and bad break-ups.  She later apologized for her choice of words, but not for the sentiment: she is among a group of conservative activists who believe that the Obama administration’s Title IX guidelines deny due process to (mostly) men accused of assault and over-hype the presence of rape culture on college campuses.

In Congress, Republicans are committed to defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing the Affordable Care Act—moves championed by conservative women’s organizations such as Concerned Women for America and the Independent Women’s Forum.

My research in Tea Party Women finds that many Tea Party women activists strongly oppose the Affordable Care Act because they believe it represents an overreach of federal power that could potentially usurp their families’ medical choices.

In terms of women’s substantive representation, then, the Trump Administration is doing well in the eyes of conservative women. In terms of descriptive representation, however, it is unlikely that any changes holding gender dimensions will be led by a new cadre of women appointees in the bureaucracy or by an influx of women into Congress. In fact, Republican women’s representation in Congress—and in state legislatures—has actually declined over the past decade, while the share of Democratic women has increased.

Moreover, Tea Party Women finds that just one in four American women identify themselves as Republicans; far fewer—about 5 percent as of 2016—consider themselves part of the Tea Party.  So, the pool of women on the right from which to draw new leaders is not nearly as big as it is on the left.  Nor is a commitment to gender diversity a priority of the Republican Party.  Indeed, PRRI found last October in a national poll that only 37 percent of Republicans—including just 42 percent of Republican women—believe “the country would be better off” with more women holding public office.  (By contrast, 77 percent of Democrats agreed with this sentiment.)

So, while conservative women played an instrumental role as movers and shakers in the Tea Party, they appear less likely to translate this leadership into roles within the Trump administration or among Republicans in Congress.

The policies that Republicans are hoping to pass will no doubt please many of these conservative women, but are unlikely to be met with widespread support among the majority of American women. Given this confluence and the diversity of women as a political force in the United States, substantive political representation may be well out of reach for many American women under the Trump Administration.

–- Melissa Deckman, Louis L. Goldstein Professor of Public Affairs and Chair of the Political Science Department, Washington College

— Photo by Susan Adams

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Aging in the Eyes of Others: Black Girls Aren’t Given A Chance to Be Girls, with Painful Consequences

n a daily basis Black girls experience the world differently than their peers. Data show that from the schoolyard to the classroom, to the streets and into the juvenile justice system, adults treat Black girls differently than their white peers. Black girls are vulnerable not only to stereotypes, biases, and perceptions based on their race, but as importantly, based on their gender. Recognizing the significant impact that adult perceptions can have on children, researchers at the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality set out to examine for the first time whether adults view Black girls as possessing qualities that render them more like adults—and less innocent—than their white peers.