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Champion Runner Caster Semenya Asked to Prove Her Sex

Eighteen-year-old champion runner Caster Semenya has been teased by her peers all her life for looking "like a boy." After the South African won the gold medal at the World Championships this week, surpassing her nearest rival by an astonishing 2.45 seconds, some of her fellow competitors began accusing her of being a man. Now, she faces questions over her biological sex, not from schoolyard bullies but from the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), who wants her to undergo a series of tests to prove she is a woman.

Caster's mother denies the allegations saying "I gave birth to that girl from my womb" and other black South Africans point to the accusations as an example of insensitive and demeaning attitudes of black African women held by Westerners.

As for the IAAF, the officials say they do not doubt that Caster was raised a female all her life, they just hope the complex tests will determine whether she was given an unfair medical advantage. Sadly, these tests, which look for the presence of two X chromosomes, are potentially inaccurate and discriminatory against women with sex chromosomal disorders. (Some women can have XXY, XXXY or any number of variations of X or Y chromosomes.)

Regardless of whether Caster passes the test, do you think a woman who might have a Y chromosome, but the physiology of a woman, should be able to compete against other women?

Image Source: Getty
Join The Conversation
Janine22 Janine22 7 years
Flickster: Just wanted to comment that I don't think that anyone is questioning her gender because she is so much better than others at her sport. I think it is because she physically looks and sounds like a man. Have you heard interviews with her? She does not, in any way, shape or form sound like a woman or look like a woman. I think that is the reason for the controversy. And yes, top male athletes are faster runners than female athletes. It is just a fact. Therefore if Caster is actually a male, than he would have an unfair advantage in this race. It is very unfortunate that they waited until after the race to conduct this testing. If there was any doubt as to her gender, the issue should have been addressed before she ran.
ali321 ali321 7 years
I watched a few interviews of her and all that I can say is that she does look and sound like a guy. She also sort of acts like one. I can see how people might question. But either way I feel bad if she has been raised as a female and now has to go through all of this so publicly.
cotedazur cotedazur 7 years
flickster, men ARE better athletes than women... it's a scientific fact. look at every record for every sport at every distance - the men are faster, stronger, jump higher and farther, etc. Honestly, it's not that unreasonable to think that with performances as spectacular as caster's, she must have some unnatural advantage. it's just unfortunate that she's being embarrassed on a global stage. this could have been handled better.
Natalie-Love Natalie-Love 7 years
The thing I'm confused about- if they suspected she was a male, why did they only test now, after she won? It seems quite cruel. Couldn't they test competitors before the race to see if they qualify as enough of a "woman" for it? Not after they won!
Autumns_Elegy Autumns_Elegy 7 years
Lynn, many women have a Y chromosome without knowing it, and have the same biology as any XX woman. XXY does not a man make. Personally I think they should do hormone and steroid tests before labeling her as a man. But I don't think it should tarnish her amazing feat.
If countries had not tried this before, I might be asking whether this was, indeed, a situation that was meant to demean women in general. Sadly, in situations like what is being suggested, it is women who suffer the loss when men take what is rightfully ours. If Caster Semenya is indeed female and is that good without enhancement drugs, good for her! If, however, Caster Semenya isn't female, then the testing will have exposed a possible scam. Are all women okay with assuming no such thing could ever happen? Too late...
elizabethsosewn elizabethsosewn 7 years
WAIT WAIT WAIT. since when does being SO MUCH BETTER than everyone else mean you can't be a woman? Since when does being male mean you'll be better at physical stuff than a woman? Did we make a time jump, and I didn't notice? What the hell is going on here! it's so amazingly offensive that they'd take it so far! First, that's extremely discriminatory. second, wouldn't they bother testing for steroids, before jumping to "she's too good to be a woman!!" it just KILLS ME, that she's so good that everyone doubts her as a woman. It says a lot about how far we have come, and how far we have to go for equal treatment. It's disgusting
soapybub soapybub 7 years
Do we really want to make the olympics or any other international athletic organization so exclusionary?* (sorry, I kept on writing 'olympics' towards the end there after my Santhi Soundarajan tangent).
soapybub soapybub 7 years
The unfortunate part in the whole situation is that this kind of testing basically creates no place for people with anything but XX or XY chromosomes in a competition that is supposed to be anti-discriminatory. If she is proven to have anything but XX chromosomes, she will most likely be disqualified. This has actually happened before to an intersex olympic medal winner. Unfortunately she ended up being disqualified, which led to her attempting suicide just months after her disqualification. It just lays emphasis on how black and white the world is. Shouldn't a talented intersex person be rewarded for years of hard work and training, too? Also, as stated, if she is intersex, she had no idea. Those tests are expensive, and there is no way she should have been expected to have one conducted before her actual win. What the olympic council is doing is extremely intrusive, and it would be a terrible waste of training and hard work if they disqualify her. Do we really want to make the olympics such an exclusionary sport?
HereComesTheSun HereComesTheSun 7 years
I mean, she kinda looks like a man, and higher level (possibly an unfair amount, because it is an advantage) of testosterone could be the reason for her physical appearance. I think it's totally fair to ask someone to be tested. It's no different than asking to be tested for steroids. "She's too good so she must be on steroids?" Quite possibly... and she might be too good because she's a male. Get over it people, without sounding like a meat-head, fairness in sports is a big deal.
Angela123 Angela123 7 years
I agree with Spacekat and Christne. It DOES make sense that they want to investigate, to make sure that no one has an unfair advantage, even if they were born with said advantage. However, if the ONLY reason her gender is in question is because of her performance or her looks, then I think that's terrible.
emmebeth emmebeth 7 years
I sincerely hope that this issue will bring up the importance of understanding gender & sex chromosome abnormalities. Many people don't understand that your chromosomes are not the only thing that determine your physical gender. "Gender Verification Tests" were once mandatory for female athletes competing in the Olympics, now they are only used when questions about an athlete's gender are raised (never for men though). It is nonsense to think that a woman who was not born XX could be disciplined for this.
Chrstne Chrstne 7 years
I feel weird about this. I don't understand their grounds for assuming she is not a woman. Is she just THAT good, or is it because of the way she looks? Honestly, if you were raised a woman, you have woman's body parts, or you simply just do not identify with being a man, then you are a woman...point blank. Sometimes you aren't a woman biologically, but still in all, a woman. Testosterone DOES give you an advantage, so I can see how they would want to level the playing field. But even if they do allow her to go because she is truly a male or something -- it is still discrimination.
ladychaos ladychaos 7 years
tlsgirl...we don't know for sure if it is or isn't an advantage to her. Just because someone has an extra y chromosome doesn't necessarily mean their body recognizes it and uses it (which probably is why they need so many different tests to be ran). Anyways, the point is, even if she were being tested, do it privately. Publicly humiliating a teenager is terrible, especially when it's global. I feel so bad for that girl, and I will be praying for her nightly because people are monsters.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 7 years
I can see both sides of this one. It's hugely public and demeaning to her accomplishments, and Smacks is right about the message it sends, but at the same time, it's also a huge advantage to her.
kia kia 7 years
my bad, not an geneticist... the last expert is an endocrinologist that will determine hormone levels, etc. that is part of the point that spacekatgal was getting at
kia kia 7 years
The worst part is that even with chromosomal abnormalities there is no substantiated support that they contribute to any advantage for an athlete versus an XX athlete with no abnormalities. At this point they are only different. I am curious to what the gyno, internal med specialist, psychologist, gender expert, and geneticist are going to find.
Briandiesel Briandiesel 7 years
I definitely see both sides of this argument.
leslievanhouten leslievanhouten 7 years
fantastic point Smacks83
kels19 kels19 7 years
i can understand why the IAAF would wonder. perhaps she is a woman with extra testosterone. still the fact that this has been made so public is shameful. how embarassing for her and her loved ones!
Smacks83 Smacks83 7 years
So, she's so good that she can't possibly be a female? People, listen up, this demeans us all.
kismekate kismekate 7 years
Of course! This is one of the most awful stories I've heard of in a long time. I don't even have the words to describe how much this upsets me that they would do this to her.
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