The Meaning of Caster Semenya

Gender a more fluid concept than sports are prepared to handle
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 23, 2009 1:43 PM CST
Caster Semenya celebrates after winning the gold medal in the final of the Women's 800m at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin.   (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)

(Newser) – South Africa has rallied around Caster Semenya, but the IAAF still has no idea what to do with her—or the question of gender as a whole. Semenya’s case is particularly personal for South Africans. The country has an unusually high number of intersexed individuals, and apartheid left behind dark memories of people being reclassified against their will, Ariel Levy reports in a lengthy profile on Semenya for the New Yorker.

The IAAF still hasn’t decided what to do about Semenya. IAAF policy says an athlete can be tested based on any challenge—in this case, it took a single blog post. But there’s no one test for gender. The IAAF “seems to be working with a kind of ‘I know it when I see it’ policy,” says one bioethics professor. “And science is making it more difficult and not less, because it ends up showing us how much blending there is.”