The Cold War and women (?) in sport: The portrayal of the body of a woman–athlete from the Socialist countries in the Western sports press
The article discusses the portrayal of sportswomen from Communist countries in selected journals published in Western Germany, Switzerland and the USA. This image quickly attained the form of “false women” (women displaying masculine bodily features), which according to Western journalists was proof of inhuman treatment of women–citizens by the communist authorities. Sending such persons to women competitions was discredited as fraudulent. Frequently the press contrasted the beautiful sportswomen from the West with their unnaturally masculine counterparts from the East, who were the opposite of the feminine ideal of the second half of the twentieth century in the Western countries. In effect, in 1966 (and starting with the 1968 Olympic Games) gender tests for women were introduced during sporting events. Originally such tests were conducted by a medical panel, before which the women–athletes appeared naked and were subjected to a physical examination; later on chromosome screening was introduced. The tests resulted in eliminating transsexual persons (hermaphrodites) from the competitions, but the majority of the “false women”, as the press had it, passed the tests. The testing also aroused medical and ethical controversies.
According to Wiederkehr the press image of an Eastern sportswoman was political in its origin. During the Cold War the sporting arenas were frequently viewed as rival ground for clashes between the communist and capitalist worlds. The domination of the Eastern Block in feminine sports (measured in the numbers of medals won) was overwhelming. After the introduction of gender testing the Western press did not reverse the picture, but only changed the accusation from fraud to doping. The author also points out that while the journalists were greatly scandalized by cases of positive anti–doping tests among Eastern sportswomen, they were far less vociferous in similar incidents among Western women–competitors and reluctant to notice their muscular looks (e.g. of the hammer–throwers). When the Cold War was finally over, gender tests for women were dropped (since the 1998 Olympics).