Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It Ain’t “Nuthin’ But a Gene Thang”: The Complexities of Sex and Gender and the Caster Semenya Case

After hearing about the case of the South African track star Caster Semenya, I quickly decided it was a topic worth exploring for this blog. Unfortunately, my co-worker thought the same thing. But there are aspects of this case that warranted discussion which Lettie did not touch upon in her post.

My colleague mentioned that various media outlets have reported that Semenya is a hermaphrodite, which is false. Further research reveals that there are at least 45 other variations of intersex conditions besides hermaphodism. And according to this, some experts estimate that 1/1500 infants are born with an intersex condition.

As a student working towards a major in child development and a minor in psychology, my coursework has taught me that a person’s sex is biological, and the concept of gender is learned. Semenya’s family maintains that she is female, and that she was raised as such. And Semenya herself identifies as a woman. The concept of a person’s gender is an extremely complex one, and it is difficult examine through our society’s stereotype-fogged glasses.

Many intersex conditions are not diagnosed at birth; they might not be noticed until later in life, if signs of puberty are delayed or not present. It has been revealed that Semenya does not have any ovaries or uterus, which means she would not have a menstrual cycle. Before this knowledge had been acquired, her amenorrhea (absence of a menstrual period) could have been attributed to the Female Athlete Triad. The Female Athlete Triad is a cluster of symptoms (amenorrhea, disordered eating, and osteoporosis) that, as the name suggests, is prevalent among female athletes and runners are particularly susceptible.

On a positive note, Semenya is a hometown hero; her community is very supportive, and celebrates her victories. After the blatant violation of Semenya’s privacy and human rights, it is at least a comfort to see her accomplishments respected and appreciated.






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