The opprobrious scandal surrounding the issue of athlete Caster Semenya’s gender is raises bigger questions about the role of gender in our society and in my opinion reinforces the shockingly regressive views of the world media.
Primarily it makes us question whether we are examining solely a person’s biological sex, or combination of this and their gender when we assess to which “category” people fit when looking at sport. If, as I am under the impression, we assess sex only, we are surely faced with innumerable problems. For example, the Confederation of African Football’s gender testing ahead of next year’s African Women’s Championship will be using the sole definition of a woman as: someone who is menstruating. This, as you can imagine is highly problematic, especially when dealing with athletes who probably take medical aids to help them maintain peak fitness… If we assess only biological sex it forces questions such as to which category do women with genetic conditions like androgen insensitivity syndrome (meaning that women can have male chromosomes which would not give them any athletic advantages) fit into? Surely its hugely unethical to exclude people from sport on the basis of something which they have no control over. Unfortunately however, this is precisely what appears to be happening at the moment.
Whatever Semenya’s “biological sex” is “proved” to be, and whatever this means for her future sporting career, much can be learned from this scandal. Sport must question the importance of gender and society as a whole must reflect on the consequences of so rapidly humiliating such a young individual. Indeed, everyone seems to have overlooked the fact that this girl is a mere 18-year-old…as if competing on the world stage isn’t scary enough at any age, being faced with this sort of scrutiny must be hugely distressful. I literally cannot imagine being faced with the grossly offensive headlines such as the Sun’s “Mum backs ’800m and 2 veg’ star…The fact that other papers such as the Guardian seem to have “jumped on the bandwagon” and plastered her face over their front pages is massively disappointing. Furthermore the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) must reflect on their utter failure in not protecting this athlete. It is a disgrace that this information has been released before the results have been proven, even worse that there was discussion even before she had competed in the final.
My biggest hang-up with this issue is that I can’t imagine that this would ever happen to a man. Obviously in sport as men are usually more physically capable there would be very little motive for a woman to pose as a man and therefore I can’t imagine anyone being accused of it. However, it is the principle. I am embarrassed that such a humiliation has been allowed to occur. Frankly one can only admire the strength that Semenya has shown throughout the scandal.