Track Star Caster Semenya Controversy

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goofy girl

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** if this is too "hyde park-ish" feel free to close the thread, but I felt this is important to discuss.**

As we've all heard by now, the track star could possibly lose her title due to issues regarding her gender.

Story here


Runner’s dad rebuffs doubters: ‘She’s a woman’
IAAF suspects that South African teen track star Semenya isn't woman
The Associated Press
updated 2:28 p.m. ET, Thurs., Aug 20, 2009
BERLIN - The South African teenager caught up in the gender-test flap bowed her head to receive the gold medal for winning the 800-meter win at the world championships on Thursday, while officials and family came to her defense.

Caster Semenya won by a huge margin Wednesday in the face of revelations that the world track body asked her to undergo gender testing.

Asked while walking into the medal ceremony how she was feeling, Semenya smiled and said, “Good, man.”

Dressed in a yellow and green track suit, Semenya waved to the crowd as she ascended the podium to receive her gold medal. She stood with her hands behind her back and mouthed the words to the South African national anthem.

Her dramatic improvement, muscular build and deep voice sparked speculation about her gender. Her father, grandmother and cousin dismissed speculation she is not a woman.

“She said to me she doesn’t see what the big deal is all about,” South Africa team manager Phiwe Mlangeni-Tsholetsane said. “She believes it is God given talent and she will exercise it.”

About three weeks ago, the IAAF asked the South African athletics federation to conduct the gender test after Semenya burst onto the scene by posting a world leading time of 1 minute, 56.72 seconds at the African junior championships in Bambous, Mauritius.

Her father, Jacob, told the Sowetan newspaper: “She is my little girl. ... I raised her and I have never doubted her gender. She is a woman and I can repeat that a million times.”

Semenya’s paternal grandmother, Maputhi Sekgala, said the controversy “doesn’t bother me that much because I know she’s a woman.”

“What can I do when they call her a man, when she’s really not a man? It is God who made her look that way,” Sekgala told the South African daily The Times.

South African athletics federation president Leonard Chuene defended the teenager Thursday, and insisted Semenya is facing intense scrutiny because she is African.

“It would not be like that if it were some young girl from Europe,” Chuene told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “If it was a white child, she would be sitting somewhere with a psychologist, but this is an African child.”

Chuene also said there was no evidence to prove Semenya was doing anything wrong.

“If there was evidence, she would have been stopped,” Chuene said. “Where I come from, you’re innocent until proven guilty.

“They’re judging her based on what?” Chuene added. “Who can give me conclusive evidence? I want someone to do that.”

Semenya did not attend the medal winners’ news conference after winning by a margin of more than 2 seconds, in 1:55.45. She was replaced at the dais by IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss.

Weiss said the testing was ordered because of “ambiguity, not because we believe she is cheating.”

If the tests show that Semenya is not a woman, she would be stripped of her gold medal, Weiss said.

The gender test, which takes weeks to complete, requires a physical medical evaluation, and includes reports from a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender.

“We have to be very scrupulously fair and sensitive about” the issue, IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said Thursday. “It’s all very well people saying she’s a man, she looks like a man — that’s not good enough. You have to be very careful and cautious about that.”

Davies added that Semenya has already undergone some of the necessary tests at specialist hospitals in South Africa and Berlin. He said some of the documents in Berlin on Semenya’s case were leaked.

Gender testing used to be mandatory for female athletes at the Olympics, but the screenings were dropped in 1999.

One reason for the change was not all women have standard female chromosomes. In addition, there are cases of people who have ambiguous genitalia or other congenital conditions.

The most common cause of sexual ambiguity is congenital adrenal hyperplasia, an endocrine disorder where the adrenal glands produce abnormally high levels of hormones.

Morris Gilbert, a media consultant for TuksSport, the University of Pretoria’s sports department, said the issue of Semenya’s gender has not been raised since the 18-year-old freshman began attending the school, where she studies sports science.

He attributed her recent success to hard work and rigorous training.

“She trains a lot,” Gilbert said. “If you go to the athletics track, you’re sure to find her there. I don’t think she had really good training before she came to the university. She’s from a very poor area.”

But Semenya’s former school headmaster said he thought for years that the student was a boy.

“She was always rough and played with the boys. She liked soccer and she wore pants to school. She never wore a dress. It was only in Grade 11 that I realized she’s a girl,” Eric Modiba, head of the Nthema Secondary School, told the Beeld newspaper.

Semenya’s family in the village of Fairlie, about 300 miles north of Johannesburg, said she was often teased about her boyish looks.

“That’s how God made her,” said Semenya’s cousin, Evelyn Sekgala. “We brought her up in a way that when people start making fun of her, she shouldn’t get upset.”

Semenya moved to Fairlie at about age 13 to help care for her grandmother.

Her cousin Evelyn, who also lives with the grandmother, remembers Semenya playing soccer with the village boys, before a teacher got her interested in running.

Evelyn said the family was pleased Semenya took up an interest in sports, and not in drinking and partying like other teenagers.

Her grandmother would give her money to enter races.

“She was mainly interested in running,” Evelyn said. “She wanted to further her athletic dream.”

While Semenya’s case has attracted a flurry of attention, it’s not the first gender controversy in track and field history.

In 2006, the Asian Games 800 champion, Santhi Soundarajan of India, was stripped of her medal after failing a gender test. Perhaps the most famous case is that of Stella Walsh, also known as Stanislawa Walasiewicz, a Polish athlete who won gold in the 100 at the 1932 Olympics, and was later found to have had ambiguous genitalia.

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Now, I know I'm a bit naive about things, but I never realized that gender testing is performed on athletes in major (or any) competitions.

Is this really fair?? I can see it in some circumstances - I'm thinking along the lines of Tootsie, Bosom Buddies and Mrs Doubtfire here - but this seems extreme.

We don't know all the facts yet, but I would think that if Semenya has felt she is and lived her entire life as a woman than she should be able to compete in female sports.

Thoughts?
 

Geektastic1

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Here is how I feel about this:

http://nsrc.sfsu.edu/xx_why_tell_IAAF_to_stay_out_of_Caster_Semenyas_pants

Gender testing on athletes has it's origins in the Cold War era, when Eastern Bloc countries were suspected of entering male athletes in female competitions. From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_verification_in_sports

Kudos to the reporter of this news article for doing good research and for explaining the fact that biological sex isn't as simple as people assume it is. It's not just a matter of XX or XY chromosomes. A person's chromosomal sex, gonadal sex, and phenotypic sex don't always match, and there is a lot of room for in-between. Here's some info on intersexuality from good old Wikipedia again: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersexuality
 

Melian

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As a biologist, I feel compelled to argue in favour of delineating athletes based on biological sex.

It's an issue of fairness for all competitors (and in this sense, ALL competitors should be tested before entering a high-level sport). In this particular case, she was showing a ridiculously high level of testosterone, or so I heard on the news last night, which may have arisen naturally or from doping. Once a person who is female by gender crosses into male levels of testosterone, her mind might recognize that she is female but her body believes it is a male - the response is formation of tighter, larger, more efficient muscles and certain other male physical characteristics that bestow a significant advantage over female athletes.

It is a very gray area, I'm sure. I just can't help but think back to my (girls) hockey team as a child - another team had two guys posing as females on it, and they SMOKED every other team. It wasn't that we were bad....it's just that they were huge, powerful, faster, shot harder, etc, and it was largely the result of their physiology.

Anyway, just an opinion. No flames, please ;)
 

Observer

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Exposing female impersonators who were in fact male on a city hockey team is one thing, but this case is far different and seems a bit too much.

Certain African tribes have exceptionally lanky builds and are supurb runners, probably the swiftest in the world. They can even catch caribou on the run. We all know that.

Why should anyone be surprised that a female African who has been into sports all her life can go into rigorous training and suddenly start setting running records? Its in her genes - and I don't mean her sexual identity ones.

This whole thing to me sounds like sour grapes by those not so gifted.
 

katorade

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Certain African tribes have exceptionally lanky builds and are supurb runners, probably the swiftest in the world. They can even catch caribou on the run. We all know that.

Except for the fact that there are no caribou in Africa.


Also, even if she were a male identifying as a woman, her physical build alone would give her an unfair advantage over women, period.













And seriously ironic, unfortunate name. Semenya. Semen, ya.
 

mergirl

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Except for the fact that there are no caribou in Africa.


Also, even if she were a male identifying as a woman, her physical build alone would give her an unfair advantage over women, period.













And seriously ironic, unfortunate name. Semenya. Semen, ya.
Well how do you explain the muscle bound Native Americans? Don't you know they evolved that way from fighting with polar bears and riding on narwhals!!!:mad:
tee-hee:p
 

mergirl

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Exposing female impersonators who were in fact male on a city hockey team is one thing, but this case is far different and seems a bit too much.

Certain African tribes have exceptionally lanky builds and are supurb runners, probably the swiftest in the world. They can even catch caribou on the run. We all know that.

Why should anyone be surprised that a female African who has been into sports all her life can go into rigorous training and suddenly start setting running records? Its in her genes - and I don't mean her sexual identity ones.

This whole thing to me sounds like sour grapes by those not so gifted.
I..i quite literally do not know where to begin!!!
One, which African tribes are you talking about? Africa is a BIG continent and is host to a diverse selection of peoples.
Ok..the Cariboiu has been covered.
Sexual identity genes? Please cite evidence for the discovery of 'Identity genes' -I kinna always though identity was socially constructed but maby you were taught differently.
I have more to add regarding stereotying of groups of people and genetics but i need to go get my dinner and i don't want to come across as a genetically argumentative scot! Though, my Scottish genetic identity is VERY strong! :D
 

goofy girl

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As a biologist, I feel compelled to argue in favour of delineating athletes based on biological sex.

It's an issue of fairness for all competitors (and in this sense, ALL competitors should be tested before entering a high-level sport). In this particular case, she was showing a ridiculously high level of testosterone, or so I heard on the news last night, which may have arisen naturally or from doping. Once a person who is female by gender crosses into male levels of testosterone, her mind might recognize that she is female but her body believes it is a male - the response is formation of tighter, larger, more efficient muscles and certain other male physical characteristics that bestow a significant advantage over female athletes.

It is a very gray area, I'm sure. I just can't help but think back to my (girls) hockey team as a child - another team had two guys posing as females on it, and they SMOKED every other team. It wasn't that we were bad....it's just that they were huge, powerful, faster, shot harder, etc, and it was largely the result of their physiology.

Anyway, just an opinion. No flames, please ;)
See, this is exactly the kind of thing I was wondering about- I just am bad at saying stuff LOL Everything you said made a lot of sense to me.
 

lovelocs

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Exposing female impersonators who were in fact male on a city hockey team is one thing, but this case is far different and seems a bit too much.

Certain African tribes have exceptionally lanky builds and are supurb runners, probably the swiftest in the world. They can even catch caribou on the run. We all know that.

Why should anyone be surprised that a female African who has been into sports all her life can go into rigorous training and suddenly start setting running records? Its in her genes - and I don't mean her sexual identity ones.

This whole thing to me sounds like sour grapes by those not so gifted.
OK. So there are no caribou in Africa. OK.
And I don't know what sexual identity genes are.
In short, maybe this post could have been a bit better worded or researched.

So here goes.

"Certain Africans" seem to be the Kalenjins of Kenya. 1/2000th of world population, and a surprising number of world class distance runners.
Some e-forage:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalenjin_people

http://www.as.ua.edu/ant/bindon/ant475/Papers/Beardsley.pdf
(a student paper, but worth reading)

http://www.playthegame.org/knowledge-bank/articles/from-tradition-to-the-olympics-running-cultures-in-mexico-and-kenya-949.html

It seems that genetics (lung capacity and lactic acid buildup in muscles), adaption to altitude, "running" culture, and a diet high in carbs all play a role in producing world class runners.

Other world class runners:

The San of the Kalahari (persistence hunting of a Kudu)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wI-9RJi0Qo
Tarahumaras (Mexico) (They also run down deer. The practice is called persistence hunting)
There's a group in Japan, too, but I couldn't find their name.

I think what's important about the case of Semenya is that she is enforcing stereotypes. Black women have been seen in popular culture as being physically masculine, muscular, hard, and unfeminine. (Think some of more ignorant criticisms regarding Michele Obama's arms). And she also plays directly into the stereotypes of Blacks as superior athletes.

And yet, the truth is the truth. If she is a female, she has both the nature and the nurture to be a superior runner. And she stretches the boundaries of what an acceptable body looks like, and is capable of. I think that is what ties her case to the fat acceptance cause. She has to fight for her body to be seen as permissible, and so do we.
 

butch

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OK. So there are no caribou in Africa. OK.
And I don't know what sexual identity genes are.
In short, maybe this post could have been a bit better worded or researched.

So here goes.

"Certain Africans" seem to be the Kalenjins of Kenya. 1/2000th of world population, and a surprising number of world class distance runners.
Some e-forage:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalenjin_people

http://www.as.ua.edu/ant/bindon/ant475/Papers/Beardsley.pdf
(a student paper, but worth reading)

http://www.playthegame.org/knowledge-bank/articles/from-tradition-to-the-olympics-running-cultures-in-mexico-and-kenya-949.html

It seems that genetics (lung capacity and lactic acid buildup in muscles), adaption to altitude, "running" culture, and a diet high in carbs all play a role in producing world class runners.

Other world class runners:

The San of the Kalahari (persistence hunting of a Kudu)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wI-9RJi0Qo
Tarahumaras (Mexico) (They also run down deer. The practice is called persistence hunting)
There's a group in Japan, too, but I couldn't find their name.

I think what's important about the case of Semenya is that she is enforcing stereotypes. Black women have been seen in popular culture as being physically masculine, muscular, hard, and unfeminine. (Think some of more ignorant criticisms regarding Michele Obama's arms). And she also plays directly into the stereotypes of Blacks as superior athletes.

And yet, the truth is the truth. If she is a female, she has both the nature and the nurture to be a superior runner. And she stretches the boundaries of what an acceptable body looks like, and is capable of. I think that is what ties her case to the fat acceptance cause. She has to fight for her body to be seen as permissible, and so do we.
Thanks for the information, lovelocs. I think your analysis at the end is spot on, too. It seems like many in the US are still are wrapped up in the idea that black women are either Sapphires, Mammies, or bush women of the Kalahari, and it needs to stop. It would be so interesting to have seen how this would have played out had Caster been African American, instead of South African.

The last line of your post-bravo! Welcome to the GLBTQ Forum, btw. :)
 

katorade

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I think what's important about the case of Semenya is that she is enforcing stereotypes. Black women have been seen in popular culture as being physically masculine, muscular, hard, and unfeminine. (Think some of more ignorant criticisms regarding Michele Obama's arms). And she also plays directly into the stereotypes of Blacks as superior athletes.

And yet, the truth is the truth. If she is a female, she has both the nature and the nurture to be a superior runner. And she stretches the boundaries of what an acceptable body looks like, and is capable of. I think that is what ties her case to the fat acceptance cause. She has to fight for her body to be seen as permissible, and so do we.

I haven't really seen any non-complimentary remarks about Michelle Obama. I mean, there are work-outs targeted at getting Obamarms.:rolleyes: It actually surprises me to hear that there really are those critics out there because she's a truly beautiful woman. The most stylishly influential first lady since Jackie O, anyway. Her arms also aren't really that much more muscular than any white woman's I've seen that works out to the same extent.

I don't really think that Semenya is literally TRYING to put across any messages about her own androgyny. I think she just grew up in an environment where it wasn't paid any attention to, and her family didn't deem femininity as important, something that is going to be highly misunderstood when she enters a society that is largely driven on aesthetics.

I'm not saying she's wrong to not address her appearance, because red lipstick and a pair of heels isn't going to get you far in athletics, but I can't really fault the IAAF, either. She looks and sounds like a man! Even when compared to the stereotype that black women can appear masculine, she is an extreme, especially the voice. You really couldn't just take somebody's word for it in a case like this. It'd be like taking someone's word for it who is inhumanly strong that says they don't take steroids. If you're that far out of the norm, there's bound to be questions.
 

exile in thighville

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if she agreed to show a doctor her vagina and have a press conference, that would be great (what the fuck is gender testing?), but if she refused - and she has every right to at her career's own risk - i'm not sure what to say. hell of a biopic if she turned out to be a man.
 

ThatFatGirl

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This was in the headlines this morning. You Magazine, a South African publication, did a girlie-girl makeover on Caster and made her their cover girl.

 

goofy girl

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You know what's funny? Is I didn't even think she looked super masculine or anything until I saw the "girlie" pics
 

LillyBBBW

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You know what's funny? Is I didn't even think she looked super masculine or anything until I saw the "girlie" pics
Yeah she looked female to me. And I'm from the simpleton's school of genetic testing. To me it seems a good gyno and an ultrasound would give us an answer in an hour or less. If they stopped testing gender ages ago due to ambiguity then why is Caster being dragged out and humiliated like this? Suddenly ambiguity is not ok anymore?
 

Jack Skellington

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It's a sensitive issue and I feel for those involved.

But to be totally fair to the other runners, Semenya's male levels of testorone does really give her an unfair advantage. But it's also very unlikely there was any intended dishonestly on her part so it's probably not really fair to take her medal away but at the same time, its still not really fair to the other runners. It's a tough call.
 

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Now, I know I'm a bit naive about things, but I never realized that gender testing is performed on athletes in major (or any) competitions....

This is not new. In the 1960s there were a good number of Eastern Block athletes suspected of having an unfair athletic advantage due to gender uncertainties. Look up Tamara and Irina Press for prime examples. At the time that was viewed as part of East Germany's and Russia's efforts to rack up as many gold medals as they could to prove the supremacy of communism.

With regard to the current issue, I do not know about South African naming and hairstyle conventions, but to my eyes and ears, both probably contributed to the international uncertainty.
 

LillyBBBW

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What a way to find out. I'm still a bit puzzled as to why suddenly this has become so important. They used to test everyone's gender for a while but stopped according to what I read. Gender seems a complicated issue which is why they stopped I presume and if that is the case why is this one different? She is a runner so if she wanted to compete, in which competition would it be appropropriate and eliminate the unfair advantage/disadvntage? I can't help but feel bad for her, she's worked so hard.
 
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