Is Testosterone "Male"?

A recent study looking at testosterone, women and "risk behavior" coincides with the South African return of track and field star Caster Semenya (at left/above with Winnie Mandela), the runner who underwent "gender testing" after her record-breaking race last week.

The study, which examined MBA students at the University of Chicago, found higher levels of testosterone in women coincided with riskier gambling behavior, but the same wasn't true of the men. Previous research suggests that women are generally less risk averse than men, and this new study suggests that these same women with higher levels of testosterone choose riskier careers like finance or investment banking. In the study, only 36 percent of women chose such risky careers compared with 57 percent of men in the study.

People were freaked out by Semenya's athletic ability, causing many to question how "female" she is. As the BBC reports today, the athlete is determined to have three times the "normal" level of testosterone a woman, and some asked she not be allowed to run as one. Both the study and Semenya's experience show us that when we see women emerging as in fields that are traditionally dominated by men, we look for a reason.

Semenya's experience aptly demonstrates that people became frustrated and confused when she didn't fit neatly into preconceived gender stereotypes. The study also looked at women, who tend to be risk-averse, and asked why they might enter a high-risk career like stock trading. If we have learned anything from Semenya, it is that gender is complicated. As Anna previously pointed out, "It's true that if gender testing is something that athletes only have to undergo if other people raise suspicions - and if those suspicions are only raised when an athlete is 'too good' to be female - then the process is hardly fair."

Recent news shows that Semenya's coach has a sordid past. Dr. Ekkart Arbeit, has been accused of feeding testosterone hormones to at least one athlete on a team he coached in East Germany during the 1970s and '80s. One of his former proteges, Heidi Krieger, accused Arbeit of giving her so many steroids that she underwent surgery to live out her life as Andreas Kreiger. Still, Arbeit claims he hasn't been involved with such drugs since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The story of gender testing in athletics puts the study of high-testosterone women in high-risk careers in new light. We will hardly begin to see "gender testing" implemented for highly successful (or risky) female stock traders or investment bankers. But if we don't want to make sure our investment bankers fall into neat gender categories, maybe we shouldn't make successful runners do the same.

New Twist In Semenya Gender Saga [BBC]
Women with high levels of testosterone 'take riskier jobs' [Telegraph]

Earlier: Coach: Gender Concerns Reasonable Because Runner "Looks Like A Man"
Semenya Takes Gold, But Gender Issue Is Ongoing