Diablog #5 - Initial Summary - Caster Semenya


In the New York Times article, "Where's the Rulebook for Sex Verification?" by Alice Dreger, she discusses previous methods science has turned to in order to "verify" sex for athletic events. Dreger goes through the different methods, including checking sex chromosomes, genitals, and hormone levels and brings up the exceptions and flaws with each specific method. She points out that although it's generally thought that males contain XY chromosomes and females contain XX chromosomes, there is a gene, SRY, that can "malfunction" and create an individual with XY chromosomes into an "essentially female". Dreger also discusses the commonality of androgynous genitals, essentially posing the question of, "who gets to decide what genitals make a male or female?" Dreger's argument leaves one to wonder if there could ever be a system of what makes a penis large enough to constitute an individual as male, or makes a clitoris small enough to make them female. She continues to discredit the assumption that science has the answers to sex uncertainty with her discussion of hormones. On average, men produce more androgens than women. As Dreger asks, does that leave women who are outside of the "average" to be left behind? Where does that leave these women who fall into the cracks of these very generalized scientific studies? Dreger's specific argument brings up the general problem with science, being that so many individuals fall outside of the "standard" and the "average", that it's very difficult to create a verifiable and error-free system.
In The New Yorker article, "Either/Or: Sports, sex and the case of Caster Semenya", by Ariel Levy, Semenya's case is much more thoroughly discussed and examined. Levy talks about Semenya's upbringing in a very rural part of South Africa, where the income of Black South Africans is almost four times less that of White South Africans. Levy goes on to discuss the questioning of Semenya's sex in the World Championships, as well as the sex verification she had to endure. After said testing, it was discovered that while Semenya externally "looked female", "she had undescending testicles and did not have a uterus or ovaries", and she also produced more testosterone than the average female.
The questions raised by Dreger's and Levy's articles surround the ways in which "sex" is understood. Can we, as a society, turn solely to science to answer our questions about sex? Is there any one way in which to define sex? Are there more than two sexes, and how blurred are those lines? Is there any true, objective, efficient way to determine one sex from another? Do athletic events being separated into two different sexes pose a problem, stemming from the ways society codes for sex and gender?

I look forward to all of the responses and discussion, for this is a very interesting topic!

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