December 26, 2007

Foekje Dillema: Schrödinger’s gender cat in the polder

Filed under: Sports by Branko Collin @ 6:25 pm

Photo: a young girl running. By Nevit Dilmen. Released under the GFDL license 1.2.

How do you know who is a man and who is a woman? Schrödinger would say: through observation. But what if that observation takes place in a black box and its results are never reported? One of the great secrets in Dutch track and field are the results of a “sex test” the somewhat manly looking Frisian short distance runner Foekje Dillema had to undergo. On July 13, 1950, the Dutch athletics union KNAU brought together a group of female athletes for a sex test. As a result Dillema was banned for life from competing in athletics, her times were stricken from the books, and she was condemned to a life of shame. But get this: the union never published the results of the test.

Now, a week after her death at age 81, KNAU has recalled the ban and restored her times, although the union did not want to “go as far as to” apologize for the controversial sex test.

That the union set Dillema up for a fall was clear from the onset. The other athletes tested were presumably only there to make up the numbers, so that it did not seem so obvious that the union was targetting Dillema. Some of the subjects were already mothers at the time of the test. For a year after the test, Dillema would not leave home during the day, and she spent the rest of her life in relative seclusion.

The K in KNAU stands for “koninklijke,” literally “royal,” a title an organization is only allowed to carry if it is of unblemished character. You have to wonder how the KNAU’s K is allowed to stand.

Via Hetkanwel.

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