Should A Female Athlete Have To Take a Gender Test?

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
9/4/2009 6:05 AM   :  159 comments   :  12,227 Views

UPDATE: Semenya withdraws from race in South Africa. If you follow track and field, you might be familiar with the controversy surrounding African runner Caster Semenya. She won the Womens 800m run at the World Championships last month, and now questions are being raised about her gender. People are asking if she's really a woman, and the South African athletic federation has been asked to conduct a gender test.

18-year-old Semenya has little international experience in track and field. She won the race by more than 2 seconds (a significant amount) and has substantially improved her times in the 800 and 1500 over the past few months. Her results, combined with the fact that she has masculine features, are raising eyebrows.

Conducting a gender test isn't as easy as it sounds, and the results aren't always conclusive. It requires a team of doctors (including a gynecologist, endocrinologist and others) and was actually standard for female athletes in the Olympics until 1999. But not all women have standard female chromosomes, and there are always special cases (like ambiguous genetailia, for example.) Therefore, the standard test was dropped 10 years ago.

Semenya has the support of her family and country, who say she's being unfairly targeted. The South African athletics federation feels she's being singled out because she is African, and are disappointed that this controversy overshadowed her outstanding accomplishment on the biggest day of her life.

The testing has begun, but takes weeks to complete. So it might be a while before we learn the results. But if the results aren't always conclusive, there's a possibility the test won't give people the answers they are looking for. And then what happens?

What do you think? Should a female athlete with masculine features be forced to take a gender test? Is this a form of discrimination just because she doesn't look like a "typical" woman?


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Comments

  • 159
    Tough call! Maybe just part of a physical that ALL of the athletes must have to participate might be the answer along with drug tests etc... - 10/19/2011   8:47:34 AM
  • 158
    Oh this just frustrating... I've been aware for many years now that the cases of androgynous birth, intersex or hermaphrodite (dual sex, which is really not accurate way to describe in humans - no true human hermaphrodite...), sometimes mixed DNA from twins etc ("chimera") and other people have been increasing more and more as time goes on. The causes of "intersexuality" might be debatable, but some feel a general decline in our DNA because of too many generations of alcohol and drug abuse, some of it unknown to other family members etc. I don't believe Semeya is trying to game the system - she just looks like a guy because she doubtless has some of these physical issues. She may very well even have two different DNA structures (I've searched all kinds of topics - are human Chimera also intersex? what causes intersex hermaphrodite births? etc etc). The latest on this from summer of 2010 seem to indicate that she is cleared to run as a female. Maybe the more accurate decision should be to set up a 3rd tier of races - mens races, womens races, and intersex races? Who knows? Only a decision for one as wise as the Biblical Soloman!! - 3/4/2011   7:32:28 PM
  • 157
    What I think needs to happen is the acceptance of more than one gender - it's not always a clear-cut issue, and I think this makes that clear. - 1/29/2011   2:36:14 PM
  • 156
    I agree this is not a clear-cut issue. Obviously Semenya considers herself a woman and has lived her entire life as a woman. Why is it assumed that her condition would give her an automatic edge over other female competitors? Everybody has some inborn abilities that can wither or grow depending on nurturing and training. She has worked hard, and because of a chromosomal condition that she has no control over her hard work was being dismissed. Even though she's now cleared, she's missed out on races for over a year which is a big chunk out of an athlete's few years of peak ability. I hope the IAAF has learned something about protecting athletes in the future. - 10/25/2010   8:59:19 AM
  • 155
    So does this mean that if you have been blessed with extra chromosomes, or ambiguous genetalia, that along with all of the other problems that might occur, you are barred from excelling in sports???? - 10/23/2010   1:34:25 AM
  • 154
    If you're going to make an athlete take a gender test, it needs to be administered to both men and women, done before he or she competes instead of after the event has been won, and made standard, like a drug test. None of this, "Well, now that you've won, and we didn't think you would, we think you look like a man and can't have possibly won fairly. Strip." nonsense. What crap. - 5/22/2010   12:07:39 PM
  • 153
    I can't help but wonder about competitive sports in the future: will we have men's, women's, and other's categories? - 11/24/2009   10:58:36 AM
  • 152
    Here's another great article that breaks down how being an intersex person is basically a birth defect.

    http://sports.yahoo.com/top/news?sl
    ug=ys-intersexplight090913&prov=ap&
    type=lgns


    That it's not different from being born with a hole in your heart or like my grandmother with one kidney missing.

    It doesn't mean she's not a woman. I hope this case brings to light the plight of people who suffer from this condition and more understanding and empathy from this masses, not ridicule and taunts.

    I feel so horrible for this athlete and the Indian athlete who almost killed herself because of the same situation.

    - 9/13/2009   7:50:39 PM
  • 151
    While I have to agree that the entire Semenya matter has been handled HORRIBLY, I don't agree with those who think that gender testing is in any way a black-and-white kind of issue. A bit of research into the complexities of gender ambiguity and gender-based performance advantages will quickly reveal that there really isn't an easy or 100% correct answer to the question "should a female athlete have to take a gender test?".

    A website I'd recommend for anybody following this issue (they've done a wonderful job of both reporting responsibly AND explaining all the intricacies) is http://www.sportsscientists.com /. - 9/13/2009   5:09:47 PM
  • 150
    An Australian newspaper has reported that the 18-year-old has male and female sexual organs. The Sydney Morning Herald said extensive examinations of Semenya have shown she is technically a hermaphrodite. Medical reports indicate she has no ovaries or womb, but rather has internal male testes, which are producing large amounts of testosterone.
    Speculation is that she'll be allowed to keep her medal but won't be able to compete against women in the future because of the unfair advantage. - 9/10/2009   10:58:28 PM
  • BIENEGOLD
    149
    This is really awful on so many levels. How ridiculous. I think it smacks of racial discrimination for the first.

    I also 'like' how the first assumption is that she's transexual. She could also be intersexed and not even know (although I certainly think that racism is the larger factor here). The content of one's chromosomes can be incredibly misleading. - 9/10/2009   9:48:32 AM
  • 148
    With all the cheating that went on in the past that led to the introduction of the gender test in the first place, I believe that athletes, coaches, teams, and countries will stop at nothing to win. They even lie about things like gender.

    I played high school and college sports, and was asked to take drug tests. We all had to take them. That was fair. They never singled any of us out because we looked manly, or had exceptional performances. We all had to take the tests.

    I think that this should be a lesson to the athletic committees. They need a foolproof test, one that is standardized, and administered to every athlete in international competition. People cheat and it's a shame that they ruin it for everyone.

    I don't know if this person is male or female. I believe that the experts should weigh in on it and decide. It is unfair to just single out people, but on the other hand, it is unfair that a man could beat women in women's events. - 9/9/2009   7:53:14 PM
  • 147
    I agree with so many of the comments .Everyone wants fair and equal. But surely this question should have been raised and sorted before all the complicatoins and embarrasment. Let her doubters walk a mile in her shoes. Shame on them - 9/9/2009   4:52:32 PM
  • 146
    That's funny - - - but sad at the same time.
    I'm sure they could test almost conclusively if they wanted to!
    There's brain waves and things like that.
    Medicine has made great advances in even the last 5 yrs.
    TEST HER.
    If that country gets upset, too bad.
    However, if she gets tested, then ALL should be tested.
    AND - - - -
    In her specific case, since other people & nations are pointing the finger, then THEY SHOULD PAY for all that fancy-pancy testing.
    - 9/9/2009   4:07:35 PM
  • 145
    So her coaches lied about the tests she was being submitted to?

    Her new look is nice but we as women are forced to wear dresses and paint our nails to be considered "female"? Is this the year 2009??? I hate dresses and I don't wear fingernail polish. Guess I better line up! - 9/9/2009   3:46:05 PM
  • HOTOES40
    144
    I do think it is fair to test if there is a question, ask the female cyclists that lost to a transgender cyclist how it feels, to know that they would have been 1st, and were the fastest born female competetor. Just because someone took hormones, or had gender reassignment surgery does not take away the advantage that being male and all that goes with that, more muscle mass, etc, gives someone. I feel bad for her that it had to be so public, but in fairness as long as they are competing separately, they should. - 9/9/2009   3:39:02 PM
  • 143
    Maybe, if she has five o'clock shadow.

    BUT, the question has come up before, so why all of a sudden is it a big deal and questions have been asked. Nobody ever noticed before? PUH-LESE!

    IMHO, this is just another example of bureaucrats doing their power thing and it simply shows how arbitrary, stupid and ineffectual they are.

    Yeah, she could have whipped me when I was in the best shape I was ever in (with 11% body fat). To me, that simply means I don't have the stride, speed or endurance to keep up with her, and I ran distance races in high school.

    Gender testing? Don't wait until something like an Olympic or World event to raise the question.

    BO-GUS! Totally bogus.

    And my first sentence was meant to be sarcastic, not serious. - 9/9/2009   1:35:05 PM
  • ROGUE2113
    142
    AMANDALU3, absolutely. Leave her alone with her accomplishments. She's earned them and no one has the right to dispute that. - 9/9/2009   12:03:04 PM
  • MEVETTE
    141
    Female athlete with masculine features should not be forced to take a gender test. Well said AMANDALU3. The test should have never been done. Congrats to her Win.

    A link to Caster Semenya new look.

    http://sports.yahoo.com/olympics/be
    ijing/blog/fourth_place_medal/post/
    Embattled-track-star-Caster-Semenya
    -gets-new-coa?urn=oly,187999


    - 9/9/2009   10:28:52 AM
  • 140
    Well said, Amandalu3! - 9/8/2009   11:21:58 PM
  • BARBIEGURLYGIRL
    139
    Totally 100% agree with AMANDALU3 - 9/8/2009   8:23:36 PM
  • 138
    I honestly have to say I am SHOCKED... not because of the article but because of the comments that followed the article. I am so disappointed in the majority of the people who commented. How dare anyone say it is fair to humiliate an amazing woman by forcing her to prove she is a woman. I have been following this story and Caster Semenya is an amazing person. But to announce to the world that she isnt a woman is just wrong.

    How would any of you feel if someone told you that you are not a man or a woman? Just honestly stop and really think about what that would feel like... Its humilating and wrong!

    We have no right to spend weeks evaluating this young woman, these tests involve many doctors and even include psychiatric exams... what??? If she thinks a certain way she isn't a woman? It is absolutely ridiculous! Even if she does have a gene mutation she IS A WOMAN! It is how she was raised and it is how she identifies. There is no way she is just trying to cheat the system what good would it do a man to win a womens' race its not like it would give him bragging rights.

    I also want to say (to clarify what some people have said) that this is not the result of a sore loser, the women that came in after Caster Semenya completely support her and think she is an amazing woman. It is the race officials that are questioning it and they were questioning it before the race (they just didn't have time to complete the tests pre-race). But none of this matters... no matter if it is pre-race. post-race, during the race, or anytime it is not appropriate to test the sex of an athlete. What an awful world we have become! - 9/8/2009   5:08:45 PM
  • 137
    From the articles I've read on this issue, the question has been dogging Semenya all of her life. - 9/8/2009   4:55:22 PM
  • 136
    This is a hard one.
    While I believe that this lady is female, her genes; chromosones; hormones or something may show an abnormality. If it does I do not believe that this makes her any the less female.
    She has in no way shape or form tried to cheat, she has just done her best which happens to be incredible.
    I don't care what the outcome, let her run as the woman that she is. Even if that does give her an advantage. I'm sure that she is not alone. - 9/8/2009   2:09:11 PM
  • AJE_SPARK
    135
    I believe gender testing is appropriate. We already test for performance enhancing drugs to level the playing field. This is just one more way to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity. Drug testing ( and gender testing) may be done randomly or in some sports targets the winners. A genetically male athlete, even if he/she has had gender transforming surgery, should be competing against male athletes. - 9/8/2009   12:11:09 PM
  • 134
    I agree with LBRANDON64. If she hadn't won, they wouldn't care. If there were any questions about her, they should have been dealt with BEFORE any race occurred. - 9/8/2009   11:50:35 AM
  • 133
    why not test all athletes for gender, perhaps randomly? athletics is big money and big industry, we should do all we can to keep it fair and ethical. - 9/8/2009   11:23:53 AM
  • 132
    maybe all athletes should be requred to take one ?Difficult one to call. - 9/8/2009   9:44:05 AM
  • 131
    I believe that this is unfair and should not be done. If her gender was in question then the testing should have been done before the event. If she wouldn't have won then they wouldn't have questioned it. Sounds like to me someone is a sore loser and is now finding something to challenge. Leave her alone, she won fair and square. - 9/8/2009   8:29:09 AM
  • 130
    If one person of any gender is required to take a gender test, then all entrants (of every gender) should have that requirement. It should not come up AFTER the race. That is discriminatory (to anyone), humiliating, and poor sportsmanship on the part of whomever requested the test.

    Also, if test results are not conclusive, one must question whether or not it should be done in any case. - 9/8/2009   7:42:07 AM
  • 129
    All contestants should be tested before they compeat. Isn't it just a mater of haveing a Y cromazon or not.???? Everything else varies. - 9/8/2009   5:45:09 AM
  • 128
    Definitely. The idea is to insure that the contest is won on a level playing field. The test is only to insure that she is a woman and not a transgender which may provide that person with an unfair advantage. As for her self esteem she should be more confident once the truth is known. All this unnecessary crying about the gender test is merely making it actually worse than it really is. - 9/7/2009   11:44:54 PM
  • 127
    I feel this is so unfair, if she is to be tested, everyone should be tested. What is this doing to her self esteem? I haven't heard much on her accomplishments but isn't that typical when it comes to reporting things on the AA race...hear the negative leave out the positive. I feel so bad for her, her family and her country...Lord help us! - 9/7/2009   8:08:53 PM
  • 126
    I do not agree with this. As stated some have both chromosomes. I have a relative that was born as a woman but has some male hormones. She had problems with her health all her life because of this but she is definitely a woman that has male traits. - 9/7/2009   7:21:07 PM
  • 125
    I think that as long as they have "men's" events and "women's" events separate, they should be tested. As several here have mentioned... it should be standard for all ahtletes if it is done on one. And, yes, BEFORE the event! - 9/7/2009   3:36:11 PM
  • CMB113
    124
    An elite athletic trains extensively for years to reach their peak. The suspisious occurred becuae an unknow runner with no substaintial record or training regiment (even her high school track coach was interviewed and said he thought she was a he and not one of his fastest).
    Given the history in sports in general and track and field specifically, of drug use, the requested test is valid.
    But I am happy to see the postings of tolerance that people have made. These are the kind of people one wants in the world versus all the hatefull ones we've seen in the media lately. - 9/7/2009   12:32:08 PM
  • ALC71261
    123
    I guess the question would be, "is she faster then men?" And why can't she be?
    And should she be punished because she puts more into her sport than the other women? - 9/7/2009   10:01:28 AM
  • 122
    I am showing my ignorance here, but why would it take a host of various Doctors and tests to determine whether she was a him or a her! If testing must be done (and she does come across as ?male) wouldn't hormone blood tests and perhaps a CAT or MRI scan (to check the internal organs) be sufficient? I did put the ?male because I have seen some women who have come across a little on the masculine side, but then they have had exceedingly punishing work-out regimes for quite a while. I had known them prior to their interest in exercise,they were quite feminine and had had children. Excessive exercising meant they stopped menzies in their early 30's and developed a bit of a masculine look. - 9/7/2009   4:46:55 AM
  • 121
    What is so sad is that none of her achievement is highlighted. I first heard about this story on my local news. I had NO IDEA that she won ANYTHING. Because of the way that the story was promoted and delivered, I only knew that there was a question about her gender.

    I have to admit that I agreed with some comment my husband made at a time. Now I look back and realize how callous and thoughtless it was. It's terrible that her remarkable record isn't what's even being mentioned, much less celebrated!

    There are always new ways to grow and better understand the world and others in it.

    Jocelyn - 9/7/2009   1:07:33 AM
  • 120
    this whole story has gotten out of hand and I think if any testing be done do it in privacy for all the ones entering the compatations. not just her. - 9/7/2009   1:02:23 AM
  • 119
    It's a complicated situation that's for sure. This has nothing to do with color! I saw pictures of this woman running and it's not even totally about how pretty she looked or didn't look. I agree with the person who said as long as we have female and male athletes, we should have testing. I remember watching the Olympics as a child when we would all ask if the East German women were tested for hormones. The swimmers almost always looked more masculine.I saw this runner and her abs looked like a mans. Forget about any other part of her body. Why does race have to be injected into this? It has nothing to do with race. The competitive world of sports has all sorts of things going on and testing is a part of that world. If you don't want to be tested than don't compete. - 9/7/2009   12:58:48 AM
  • 118
    I think they shouldn't test. Some people just have more masculine features, such as my sister-in-law. It can be very hurtful because its making judgements based on the way she looks. If she was prettier there wouldn't even be a question. They don't test all females, so why she they test here. - 9/7/2009   12:47:19 AM
  • 117
    As long as there are separate competitions for men and women, it's probably fair to ask athletes of both genders to establish proof of gender for purposes of international competition. If required, it should be asked for routinely in advance of an event, not to try to prove there was wrong-doing after someone wins. It certainly shouldn't be done punitively. Biological testing could be suppIemented by other kinds of evidence in cases where the biological evidence is inconclusive. I regret that it's necessary, but these are high stakes events that must be seen to be adjudicated fairly, and unfortunately there have been too many people trying to cheat in recent years (mostly with illegal drug use). In this woman's case, it seems as if there were reasonable grounds for doubt if even her teachers/school officials from way back were mistaken about her gender. This was an extreme case and it wasn't handled well, but there should be a transparent process that is clearly articulated and understood by all parties in advance of a competition. In this case, references from local physicians or clergy who have known the individual for a long time might be seen as sufficiently objective. May it be handled better next time! - 9/7/2009   12:01:03 AM
  • SUZZYBFIT
    116
    What in the heck is this world coming to when they feel they have the right to question a person's gender!
    Discrimination for sure and if there is a standard, the testing most assuredly should have been done prior to the race and not afterwards.
    Sounds tome like a lot of people are just to greedy for their own good and can't accept that they didn't win - 9/6/2009   11:34:53 PM
  • 115
    If there is a standard definition of female for the purposes of the competition, then all atheletes should be tested to determine whether or not they qualify before the race. After the fact, absolutely not. If there is no standard definition then what is the point? - 9/6/2009   10:32:25 PM
  • 114
    She is not transgendered (someone who was born genetically different than then sex they identify with) she is inter-sexed. Inter-sexed people, especially women tend to thrive in athletic situations. The solution is not defining what a woman is. It is being more inclusive. I say let inter-sex women race, she is not trying to cheat the system. - 9/6/2009   10:20:51 PM
  • 113
    Wrong order of events. If they have allowed her to race, the results are final. The question should have been asked before the race, not after. If others, in the group are contesting then it should be all or nothing - meaning all the racers are tested, not just one.

    There should be clear rules written on where mosaics, XXY-Klinefelter's, XYY ...these usually seen as "male" and Turner's-X0, XXX generally seen as "female", should be placed for racing purposes. I think DNA is the only reasonable way to judge this since anyone can make external changes. Which leaves the whole question on the table of how do you treat a Renee Richards? As long as it is outlined upfront as part of the rules that is what matters.

    I think it is degrading that this person is publically having to go through this question - no matter what the situation. If she is female - how evil we are in our judgements. If she is one of the unique cases - how evil for the race official to have not addressed this before the race. The standard should be that all inquires have to happen before the race. - 9/6/2009   9:39:22 PM
  • MARPARMC
    112
    it is wrong wrong wrong. sour grapes just because someone lost, they should be ashamed that they bowed to opinion - 9/6/2009   8:46:09 PM
  • 111
    Bottomline: She won! Color shouldn't matter if you ask me. Then again the tests should've been conducted on all female genders done before the games began! - 9/6/2009   6:06:51 PM
  • LAFEMMEDELALUNE
    110
    This is absolutely discriminatory.

    Even if she was transgendered, there is *no way* she would have gone through such painful and difficult surgery, taken pills with major long term side-effects, painful and long-term electrolysis, etc, etc in order to win at a sport. I have seen what they go through, and been there with them every step of the process....it is not a choice that can be made for something like sports or a career (not even the olympics).

    Being transgendered (or hermaphroditic) is not a choice any more than any other mental or physical configuration is. Both transgendered people and people with less-than-stereotypical features go through enough difficulties without being treated this way.

    My heart goes out to Caster Semenya, her teammates and her family. - 9/6/2009   5:43:36 PM

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