What Does Caster Semenya's Sex Teach Us About Competitive Culture?

The issue of Caster Semenya’s sex-testing has been dissected from seemingly every angle. The Science of Sport blog called questions about the runner’s gender “a problem that was foreseeable, and one that [Athletics South Africa], had they had their ducks in a row, would have been able to pre-empt.” The AP published an article in which Semenya’s sexuality was referred to as “a medical condition that blurs her gender and gives her an unfair advantage.”


Even Semenya’s coach, Michael Seme, has sounded off. “People probably have the right to ask such questions if they are in doubt,” he said. “I can give you the telephone numbers of her roommates in Berlin. They have already seen her naked in the showers and she has nothing to hide.”

What all of these narratives share is a tendency to only recognize Semenya’s sex in oppositional terms – that is, as totally male or totally female. The resultant “debate” has become more of a collective assault on sexual ambiguity than anything else. And though much could be said (appropriately) about the fluidity of gender constructions and sexuality here, I think the most important point is ideological.

Indeed, the dichotomized thinking – ‘male’ and ‘female,’ ‘eligible’ and ‘disqualified,’ ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ – swirling around Semenya is a linchpin of all competitive sports. Androgyny, be it physiological or simply perceived (Semenya’s tests are not yet completed), is like a draw: It leaves both sides confused, unsatisfied and ultimately uncomfortable. 

This is what makes Semenya so important. The results of her tests are actually irrelevant; more pertinent is the way her androgyny has put the sports world’s linear, organized mindset into an ideological full Nelson – the way she has placed a mirror to a culture nourished by absurd oversimplification.

Caster Semenya, regardless of her sex, represents a befuddling challenge to a whole world’s established vocabulary. The fact that she’s the fastest female 800 runner in this very same world comes (unfortunately for those obsessed with wins, losses, boys and girls) in second place.


#story_page_post_article

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.