She Doesn't Run Like a Girl

Rejecting the notion that Caster Semenya needs to prove that she's female

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Caster Semenya is close to becoming one of the fastest women in the world. That is, if she can prove that she's a woman. The 18-year old South African just won the gold medal in the 800-meter event at the World Championship in Berlin, but questions about her gender overshadowed her victory. In an attempt to get to the bottom of this, the International Association of Athletics Federations has asked the athlete to undergo a gender verification test to prove that she is a woman, and was eligible to compete in the race.

Have officials gone too far? Around the world, several voices agreed that they not only did just that, but they also owe Caster Semenya, and women everywhere, an apology.

  • Gender Is Not Binary, writes Laurie Essig in TrueSlant, who says it's the sports world who is confused. "Determining a person's sex is a very messy business that is not easily confined in the neat little categories of boy or girl." Essig says. "As a culture, we Americans pretend not to see (or be) these intersex bodies. They're too messy, too disturbing to the binaries we hold dear: like male and female, black and white, good sportsmanship and cheating." At Gawker, Hamilton Nolan wants to know what officials are hoping to find. "What are they looking for down there??" he riffs.
  • The Racist, Twisted History of Sports, said David Zirin of The Nation. On MSNBC yesterday, Zirin said Semenya was not only the target of sexism, but racism as well. "A lot of people don’t know this but forty or fifty years ago, Olympic officials said that African American women maybe shouldn’t compete because they look, quote-on-quote, 'hermaphroditic.'” He also said Semenya might have "enemies in the track and field world." At Townhall though, Greg Hengler isn't impressed with that analysis. "Zirin's ability to uncover the "casual gender categories" us restrictive male and females put fellow human beings into are truly ground-breaking."
  • Sport Crosses a Line, writes Matthew Syed in the London Times. "Was it really necessary for these deeply personal issues to be paraded before the world, subjecting Caster Semenya to forensic scrutiny and shrill speculation of a kind that must have led not merely to deep anxiety but intense embarrassment?" The real scandal, according to Syed, "is that a young athlete, raised in poverty in one of South Africa's northern villages, who trained with such palpable devotion to reach the top, has been humiliated before the eyes of the world in her moment of triumph."
  • Too fast to be a woman? asks the Truthdig blog. "How is this development supposed to make women feel?"

Not everyone was so sympathetic. At Global Post, a blogger said what many are apparently thinking: Semenya does resemble a man. "In all honesty, she walks like a man, shaves like a man and has boobs... or... er, not.... like a man, so I can kind of see where they are coming from with these allegations, but it must be very distressing for him to have to go through all this." The Guardian reported that Semenya's father Jacob Semenya had a few words of his own to add to the debate. "She is my little girl," he said. "I raised her and I have never doubted her gender. She is a woman and I can repeat that a million times."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.