Throughout her entire career Caster Semenya, a South African runner, has faced controversy regarding her gender. Semenya has a deep voice, and large muscles. She appears very masculine, and because of this she has had to undergo numerous tests of gender verification. Though the official results of these tests have never been published, it is said that Semenya has both male and female sexual anatomy as well as hyperandrogenism, which means she has elevated levels of male sex hormones such as testosterone.
Many people, including those at the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) believe that this genetic anomaly gives Semenya an unfair advantage in track and field. Because of this, the IAAF has proposed that all females with elevated testosterone levels must suppress their testosterone levels in order to compete.
The IAAF has supported this ruling with the results of one single study, which clearly states:
“Our study design cannot provide evidence for causality between androgen levels and athletic performance, but can indicate associations between androgen concentrations and athletic performance.” – Stéphane Bermon & Pierre-Yves Garnier
There is no direct evidence that proves that elevated testosterone levels cause improved sports performance.
An extremely tall basketball player would not be prevented from playing their sport even though their height could be considered an advantage over someone who was shorter. Therefore, even if high testosterone levels do allow a more competitive advantage, why should Caster Semenya be punished for having a genetically superior body for running?
A study by Wells and Darnell shows that many people have problem with Semenya, not because she is so fast, but because she does not appear as a “normal woman.” Likewise, the IAAF seems to be less concerned about the truth about potential testosterone advantages, and more concerned about protecting their ideals around femininity and women in sports. Caster Semenya’s problem is that she does fit into the ideals of what a female athlete should look like. Maybe if she had smaller muscles, or if she had a higher pitched voice, people might not have questioned her gender at all.
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