Activity: Intersections of sex and gender in one life

This activity involves learning and thinking about the life of a very prominent and controversial person, Caster Semenya, a middle-distance runner and world champion from South Africa.  Born in 1991, Mokgadi Caster Semenya is 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs approximately 140 pounds.  At the age of 17, Semenya won the women’s 800 m race at the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games with at time of 2:04.23.  Less than 9 months later, Semenya won the women’s 800 m at the 2009 African Junior Championships, with a time of 1:56. 72 – more than 7 seconds faster than the previous competition.

This phenomenal improvement led the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to order drug testing. Semenya was suspected of using performance enhancing drugs.  But the IAAF and Semenya’s coach neglected to mention that they were also conducting “gender tests” (they actually meant sex tests) to determine whether the athlete was female or male.  The announcement took the international sports community by storm and ignited a controversy that has yet to fully subside.

Semenya’s story has been followed closely by the media and the internet is chock full of coverage – images, articles, interviews and videos.  Below you will find six selections.  Read through the articles, listen to the interviews, watch the videos and decide if you believe Caster Semenya to be a woman, a man, neither or both.  Consider the following questions as you are reading and listening: they can help you analyze why you have reached your conclusion.

  1. Which dimensions of sex and/or gender are you focusing on to make your decision?
  2. Where do sex and gender intersect in the controversy?
  3. Who is or should be making a determination about Semenya’s sex?
  4. Why might we feel the need to decide if Semenya is female or male?

Internet Selections

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