'She's a Woman ... and a Man!'

Outrage from women pundits as the intersex track star is mocked before the world

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Caster Semenya's ordeal began when she ran the 800 meter race in the world championships faster than anyone else. Before she could savor the victory, the International Association of Athletics Federations demanded that the South African athlete submit to "gender verification testing" to prove she is a woman. Immediately, a heated debate developed over gender, race, and the role of sex in sports. Yesterday, The New York Daily News reported that the test results show Semenya has no uterus, internal testes, and testosterone levels three times higher than that of "a normal woman." In other words, Semenya may be intersex.

"Tests show that controversial runner Caster Semenya is a woman...and a man!" the first line blared. "She's a hermaphrodite," the article continued. The IAAF has yet to say what the results mean for Semenya's gold medal, but female commentators around the world have already issued their own verdict. Caster Semenya's treatment by the sports world and the media, they say, is beyond the pale.

  • Back Off, says Jacquelin Magnay at The Sydney Morning Herald of Australia. "MEMO to all of the people out there calling Caster Semenya an 'it'. Back off. Semenya is a woman. She has lived her life as a female."

  • Media Coverage of Intersex Athlete Is Appalling, said Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing. "Mainstream news coverage, within South Africa and worldwide, has reflected ignorance, and worse." At Shakesville, Melissa McEwan says intersex people deserve more respect. "I don't know about anyone else, but I feel pretty damn okay with letting every world-class intersex runner on the entire planet (all, like, one of them) compete as the gender as which she lives."

  •  Gender Is Not Binary, writes Samhita at Feministing. The obsession with binary gender continues as she is ostracized for potentially transcending comfortable notions of gender, including biological ones. She might lose the medal."

  • Sore Losers, at Double XX, Dayo Olopade is outraged, and says the controversy smacks of jealousy. "Gynecological investigation? I mean, really? Yes, excuse me--I'm off to watch Serena Williams outrun, outserve, and outlast another star-crossed U.S. Open opponent."

  • "Is There Such a Thing As 'Failing' a Gender Test?" John Hawks asks at his anthropology blog. "She's done nothing wrong; she did not seek out this advantage." 

Semenya says the tests don't matter. "God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I'm proud of myself," she told South Africa's You Magazine.

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