Archives for posts with tag: caster semenya

Throughout our reading of Alice Dreger and our various discussions in class I found myself fascinated by the story of Abel/Alexina Barbin.  As we watched the puppet reenactment of her story in class I began to understand the difficulties all intersex individuals must face, especially in the nineteenth century as Barbin did.  As I read Barbin’s story I began to understand that Abel/Alexina was seen as little more than a fascinating piece of scientific information that needed to be studied, even after her body was found dead.

As I read this I found myself being appalled and saddened that after Barbin’s suicide, scientists were eager to study the body for its oddities.  At first I considered these actions of as something that would only happen in the nineteenth century and concluded that modern society is more sympathetic and understanding to those intersex individuals.  As I thought of this though, I began to relate this story to Caster Semenya’s story and began to realize just how little our society has changed in its treatment of intersex individuals.

As in the nineteenth century, our society demands that each person must be either man or woman, with no gray area.  At birth and till her twenties Alexina identified as a women and fit comfortably into society as such, not until doctors discovered her ambiguous genitalia was she made to identify as a man.  Caster Semenya just as Alexina identified and lived her entire life as a woman, and her gender was brought into to question only because she was succeeding so much in her sport.

Gender is such a fundamental part of our society that we feel we have the right to demand proof of someone’s sex even if it involves invasive testing like in the case of Caster Semenya.  Throughout the readings and the stories of these to women, I can only keep going back to what I have learned in gender studies, that gender is not a simple binary that can easily be defined by genitals.  As a society we should strive to not repeat history and be understanding to those intersex individuals, as insensitivity is shown to destroy lives.  Dreger quotes in her book from the diaries of Abel/Alexina Barbin “Reality is crushing me, is pursuing me,” I feel we must take note of these struggles and work to create a reality that is not oppressive to intersex individuals.

-Claire Amick


After reading and discussing Foucault’s lecture on the “Abnormal,” I wondered about what might constitute the “human monster” in today’s society.  According to Foucault, “what defines the monster is the fact its existence and form is not only a violation of the laws of society but also a violation of the laws of nature” (55-56).  Furthermore, “the monster was also someone with two sexes whom one didn’t know whether to treat as a boy or a girl…”(65).  This particular quote reminded me that those with an undefinable sex are still seen as monstrous in modern society, as people are at odds as how to categorize them.  Specifically, I was reminded of a popular news story from a couple of years ago about a woman runner, Caster Semenya.  Semenya consistently outran her competition, and her muscular, masculine build started raising questions about her “true” sex.  She was forced to undergo medical testing in an attempt to “prove” her female sex, and therefore continue to be allowed to compete in the women’s category.  This medicalization of Semenya’s sex coincides with Foucault’s description of the monster in that he asserts that the monster’s existence “provokes either violence, the will for pure and simple suppression, or medical care or pity” (56, emphasis added).  After some genetics testing, it was realized that Semenya has androgen insensitivity syndrome (or AIS), which we learned about in Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography.  If you remember, AIS means that the individual has X and Y chromosomes with feminized genitalia.  It is very possible that Caster Semenya was completely unaware that she indeed had AIS.  I find it ridiculous that Semenya’s sex was even called into question in the first place, simply based on the idea that she was simply too athletic, too good at running to possibly be a “real” woman.  Don’t even get me started on what I think about the farce of “real” womanhood or manhood, anyway.  Let’s just say I think it’s bullshit.  In the end, it was decided that Caster Semenya can continue to run with the girls.  As it turns out, a lil’ ole Y chromosome doesn’t make you a good runner!  Who would’ve guessed?!  So what was all this medicalization of Semenya’s body really for anyway?  It goes to show that even in today’s “insightful” society, there is an uncontrollable need to categorize sex according to narrow specifications.  We still have a lot to learn.  -Stephanie Halsted