South Africa’s Caster Semenya, I Am A Woman.

I find this story fascinating. It’s about a gender test being demanded of an athlete, South Africa’s Caster Semenya, who is competing at the world games. The world track and field federation calls this test, “extremely complex, difficult,” involving a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender. I’m curious what constitutes such an expert. The spokesman for the track and field federation is quoted as saying,
  • If there’s a problem and it turns out that there’s been a fraud … that someone has changed sex, then obviously it would be much easier to strip results. However, if it’s a natural thing and the athlete has always thought she’s a woman or been a woman, it’s not exactly cheating.

Where I suddenly paused was the phrase, “the athlete has always thought she’s a woman…” This should have been well taken care of before the world championships in Berlin, and importantly, how difficult and hurtful this must be for Ms. Semenya. The comments raise some interesting points, and generate questions about what it means to compete against legitimate vs. illegitimate opponents.


  1. Sex and biology don't fall so neatly into categories human beings make. I thind this interesting as well. the whole gender/ sex issue is a controversial one in science, not as clear-cut as most laypersons would thing. In the NT Times article on this issue, I found the following quotes (from a scientist critical of the sex testing used by sports) very interesting:

    "But at the end of the day, they are going to have to make a SOCIAL decision on what counts as male and female, and they will wrap it up as if it is simply a scientific decision,” Dreger said. “And the science actually tells us sex is messy. Or as I like to say, ‘Humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.'" [emphasis added]

  2. El Nuyorican thanks for your comment. This should be very interesting.

  3. We make things more complicated by overthinking. She is either a man, woman or hemorphidite. A simple exam would clear things up for me.

  4. @remorji: But that's EXACTLY what scientists say isn't so simple... Most laypeople don't understand the biology behind gender... SCIENTISTS don't fully understand it, so how can a "examination" of any kind actually give a definitive answer?

    -- Eddie

  5. Remorji, nothing could be farther from the truth. Gender really goes beyond body parts. Ann and El Nuyorican are right on. It's complicated.
    Sports gender test used to just be a simple cheek scrape to determine male or female. That test is found to be inconclusive. But Ann is right that this all should have been done before the race.


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