Runner Semenya forced to take gender-verification test
by Malavika Balachandran
South African runner Caster Semenya, winner of a gold medal in the 800 meter race yesterday in Berlin, is now under scrutiny as many believe she is a man. In fact, she is undergoing a gender-verification test to make sure she is a woman, or she will be disqualified from the race. Officials believe she is intersex (having female genitalia but male chromosomes). Citing her speed, lack of breasts, and "manly" facial features, officials have called for gender-verification test, which according to CNN will consist of "examination by a gynecologist to see what her genitals look like" and "an ultrasound to see if she has all the normal female reproductive organs." Most athletes have an athletic build and consequently possess small breasts. Semenya is competing in a race, not a beauty pageant. She should not be judged for having facial hair or a square jaw.
The media frenzy is causing 18-year-old to endure international humiliation, regardless of whether she is actually intersex. Semenya is only one of many female athletes who face this scrutiny. The degradation has caused not only gender confusion for these women, but severe depression. Santhi Soundarajan, another runner, was stripped of her medal in 2006 after "failing" a gender test and later attempted suicide. Officials have done nothing to protect Semenya's privacy and have openly discussed her "manliness."
Following a series of tests conducted by a vast array of doctors - gynecologists, endocrinologists, psychiatrists, and more - officials will decide if Semenya is a "real woman" and thus deserving of her honor. But the only reality is that if she has any significant hormonal imbalance or chromosome abnormality, officials will likely disqualify her and say she is not a woman. Yet no one questions male athletes' masculinity, and most probably think that it is unlikely a good male athlete has any feminine characteristics. But far too often, exceptional female athletes face skepticism about their femininity, and this incident has reignited the debate about what, in the world of sports, gender should mean.