Gender, races and when a woman could be a man

Submitted by Francis Ngwa-Niba on 21 August 2009 - 11:06am

For an 18-year-old, the psychological stress and mental torture 800m South African athlete Caster Semenya is going through is unfair.

Two of the women that she easily beat in her 1:55:45 record breaking 800m race on Wednesday August 19th, some journalists and the International Athletics Federation officials made matters worse by announcing shortly after her record breaking race that she is undergoing a gender test.

The test will involve physical, gynaecological, chromosomal and other related tests that will prove once and for all that Caster Semenya is who she says she is, a woman, or as some believe a man competing in a female category.

Semenya's story also has some similarities with that of Maria Mutola, another record breaking African athlete whose gender was also questioned. Like her, their physique is usually the problem.

In 1991, Mozambican long distance runner Maria Mutola won an Olympic solidarity scholarship to study in the USA. The scholarship is given to athletes from developing countries.

Mutola was 18 then, the same age as embattled Caster Semenya who like Mutola, looks like a man and like Mutola, is also a medal winning 800m runner.

Gender tests

Whatever the results of her gender tests, this controversy could have a far reaching devastating psychological effect on Caster Semenya.

In 2006, Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan was stripped of her 800m silver medal at the Asian Games when she failed a gender test.

She was so traumatized by this that she almost committed suicide. Her supporters claimed she suffers from Androgen Insensitivity syndrome which means though a woman, she does have some male chromosomes.

Other notorious cases of gender benders who have been exposed include, Dora Ratjen, a 1936 Berlin Olympics high jumper whom the Nazis forced to compete as a woman.

She spoke with a deep voice and refused to shower with women. Edinanci Silva, a judo star was born with male and female sex organs. He had surgery to compete as a woman.

A long list of people could be responsible for Semenya's present predicament. First will be her parents. Did they know they had a son or daughter?

Her mum and grandmother are categorical Semenya is a woman. They are aware she looks muscular but for the past 18 years, they knew they were raising a girl.

"Like a leper"

The South African athletics federation is also under the spotlight. Its president Leonard Chuene is angry and says Caster is being treated "like a leper".

The world athletics federation also shoulders a large part of the blame. It ordered a gender test on Semenya more than three weeks ago and should have waited for results before allowing her to run more races.

It now claims Semenya will be stripped of her medals if the tests prove she is really not a woman.

Unfazed by the whole gender crisis, Semeya responded in the way only someone who has undergone this humiliation before can. "I don't give a damn", she told a journalist who challenged her.

Whatever the results of her tests, Caster Semenya is now tainted material. This could have technically killed her sporting career.

How does she mingle in dressing rooms with other jealous female competitors who will often turn up their noses at her and often will tell her in no uncertain terms they don't want her?

This young woman should be celebrating her brilliant 800m victory and not wondering if she will be stripped of her medal.

She did not make herself to be who she is. God created her that way. She is not the first and will not be the last woman to look like a man. Isn't that why the word "tomboy" was created to reflect? a woman that looks and behaves like a man?

Caster Semenya's "crimes" are twofold; first she was born in Africa and has no right to be as successful in athletics as she is presently doing and secondly, nature has made her to look like a man.

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