Lessons From Caster Semenya's Saga

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Caster Semenya, a runner whose biological sex sparked international controversy, will be returning to the sport this July. The International Association of Athletics Federations has cleared her to compete as a woman. Debate, however, persists about how the matter was handled.

  • So This Is What It Takes to Make a Female Athlete Famous Calling the "global scrutiny" Semenya endured "tragic," Salon's Anna Clark points out that "even as she gets back to the starting block, she still faces an unsettling reality: It took cruel speculation about Semenya's 'true' gender for her to become world-famous; her profound skill wasn't enough."
  • Athletic Men Are Blessed, Athletic Women Are Wrong "I am pleased that Semenya is being allowed to return to racing," writes Shakesville blogger Melissa McEwan. "I remain angry that she was ever required to stop in the first place." McEwan quotes a commenter on one of the posts who points out that that swimmer Michael Phelps's body, "wired" for "extra functionality," is considered freakish but acceptable. But Semenya "has the misfortune to exist as a gender that is coded for ornamentality rather than functionality, and therefore extra functionality is seen as cheating." McEwan, responding to that comment, notes that therefore "there is, perhaps, no better evidence of Semenya's womanhood than the fact a year has been spent hand-wringing over her womanhood."
  • Aren't All Athletes Physically Different, Technically? Jordan Rubenstein of Change.org argues that, though "the IAAF is trying to prevent athletes from getting an unfair edge due to particular biological advantages, gender policing is not the way to go." In fact, "all competitive athletes benefit from physical advantages that differ from most of society. While reports suggest that Semenya has three times more testosterone than an average female, the average female athlete is not your average female." The bottom line, says Rubenstein, is that "regardless of how different an athlete appears, no athlete should have to endure public scrutiny about their gender."
  • Clearly, Some Questions Remain for Sports "Can sports survive without imagining sex as either this or that?" wonders Laurie Essig at True/Slant, who, like many, sees one very strong message in the recent controversy: "sex is messy." Meanwhile, Miriam at Feministing also argues that the "wide variations" in sex pose a real problem for "gendered sports ... One thing is clear though. No one should be subjected to what Caster had to endure, especially not on the international media stage."

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