Female olympiads, Laurel Hubbard and Kuinini Manumua; The Olympics are an open forum to policing womanhood.

TLDR: Sports = competition = placements. So, is the issue about the fairness of being a man or a woman? Because these scientific distinctions between a man and a woman are too reductionist to call. Is it about being in the Olympics? Then what exactly does the Laurel Hubbard’s #7 spot represent? Is it about the sanctity of athleticism? Because sports are already fucked by Western modernist thinking.

To be clear, I won’t argue for whether Laurel Hubbard or Kuinini Manumua should compete in sports if it requires policing womanhood. Womanhood goes far beyond the realms of athleticism in sport.

(for details on my opinions on the issue itself, scroll down to part 2)

Part 1, Content analysis for the video direction/production:

This video highlights a historical milestone for the Olympics, and it obliges us to celebrate this occassion. So, a necessary (but at the same time, a hesitant) congratulations to Laurel Hubbard for becoming the first [trans] female athlete to “qualify” for competing on the New Zealand women’s olympic team. I emphasize [trans] and “qualify” because this video only briefly addresses the Olympics’ history of policing women’s bodies, and this must be critically addressed before we fall into mainstream talking points around deciding how women qualify as contestants.

First of all, I am trying to be as sincere and highly critical of this scenario that Laurel Hubbard is in. I have no knowledge in her personal struggles with her identity, but it feels like this video baits its viewers into a red herring (i.e. distraction) around her history with the men’s lifting team. Just considering the linear fashion of this video’s storytelling, NowThis sets up Laurel Hubbard’s injury in the men’s team almost as a cause and effect for her entry into the women’s team. They then justify her inclusion by highlighting her “qualifications” as a female lifter. However, the qualifications of female athletes in professional and amateur sports are wrought with a racialized & gendered history of White hegemony (i.e. the cultural influence of White people in power) policing a women’s body.

So while it might be a coincidence to have a Black woman segue into NowThis self-insertion of its other stories, I can’t help but think how this unconsciously positions NowThis as a third-party observer when they’re adding fuel to the flames of this debate. Consider this: the video starts with all white people talking about a seemingly all-white topic because sports and the Olympics are centralized into Western modernity (White/Western run). However, this video doesn’t address how the Olympics have been especially cutthroat and sensationalized around policing women’s body by proxy of Black female athletes. Namely Caster Semenya, who I’ll talk about later. So, to put a black woman’s face after an all-White discussion over an intersectional issue that involves a history of Black women in sports feels like NowThis washing their hands of the topic because they are an unbiased news source. I know that I sound like a liberal snowflake trying trying to stretch out a progressive agenda, but I feel like it’s my duty step out of the oven and into the frying pan. Not to create an issue out of nothing but to demonstrate how actions, regardless of intention, reflects the circulation of power. And for this content analysis, it’s about how NowThis presents itself within a controversial issue. Now for my actual opinions on this issue itself…

Part 2, my personal perspective on the subject:

About Inclusion. I wanted to preface my perspective on this subject with a content analysis in order to stay relevant to what’s on the video and bring up issues that the video doesn’t address. Because I fully support Laurel Hubbard and her entry into the women’s olympic team of New Zealand. Her entry does serve a monumental occasion for all female athletes and not just “trans” women. However, her entry does more to draw lines on who should and should not be qualified as a woman in sports. Her qualifications, under IOC rules, are that she falls under the testosterone “requirements” for female athletes. Except this quantification of the female body continues to categorize all women as subject to Western sport’s definition of female. Let me be clear, my stance on this subject is to advocate for inclusion period. I am not trying to opt out of the discussion about who should or should not be included because my issue with this topic is philosophical. So, I need this to be answered before I dive further in about inclusion: How do we advocate for inclusion in an institution that bases itself on the merits of exclusion (i.e. competition)? Such an institution continues to force the conversation around a “scientific” determination of rules and regulations where the winner is Western modernity and the losers are all women.

About Exclusion. The whole Western conception about the rules of competition are that people will be defeated or replaced. Yet, the biggest talking point I’ve heard now is about how Laurel Hubbard’s inclusion (top 8 qualifies) into the Olympics ultimately excludes Kuinini Manumua (#9 does not qualify). This aligns with conservative talking point that states trans women will ultimately exclude “real” women from participating in sports. However, this continues to centralize the issue around who qualifies as a “real” woman. I am definitely not in a position to determine who qualifies as a woman and I cannot without understanding womanhood. Nevertheless, there is no singular womanhood. There are also BIPOC, LGBTQ, and/or White womanhoods. Without recognizing all that goes into the policing of womanhood, it would be too reductionist to fall back onto a scientific definition of womanhood. Especially when those in charge of shaping scientific thinking are often [White] men and we ignore the struggles of women in transition. Once again, I am not trying to shift the subject away from whether Kuinini Manumua deserves her spot. It just begs to question whether Laurel Hubbard deserves her spot. So, what are we really arguing about when it comes to discussing who deserves to compete in the Olympics? The rights of women? Our preconceptions of sex and gender in athletics? The notion of being a top athlete where, by any other gender, Laurel Hubbard only reaches #7? Personal feelings toward seeing a Tongan American representing the US (I feel for and whole heartedly cheer for more BIPOC athletes)? But if it’s an issue of being in the Olympics itself, what does the Olympics represent?

Inclusive or Exclusive? I brought up Caster Semenya earlier because she is a Black woman whose personal and private life was put under a microscope and enormous public scrutiny because the IOC accused her of being a man in disguise. The lines that are drawn between Black [assigned female at birth and identifies as female] Caster Semenya and White [assigned male at birth and identifies as female] Laurel Hubbard adds more context on who gets policed, BIPOC women. While I wish to continue advocating for Laurel Hubbard being included in the olympics (and I still will), I must return to the whole issue of Caster Semenya being excluded. Everything feels too arbitrary to make ideological distinctions between a man and a woman. There are also racial issues between Caster Semenya being excluded but not Laurel Hubbard. You cannot separate the exclusion of Caster Semenya and the inclusion of Laurel Hubbard from from each other without recognizing how sex and gender is racialized.

To be clear, I won’t argue for whether Laurel Hubbard or Kuinini Manumua should compete in sports if it requires policing womanhood. Womanhood goes far beyond the realms of athleticism in sport.

to be continued…

SFSU Master student in Kinesiology - working on my writing and personal reflections about what I’m learning in grad life