The XX Factor

Is This Champion Runner a Man or a Woman?

We are used to sports federations getting worked up about drug tests. But a gender test? South African runner Caster Semenya won the world championship this week by 2.45 seconds. Watch the video. She’s nowhere near the pack, and barely sweating. The Israeli sportscasters just keep repeating “This is amazing! Where did she come from?” Great Britain’s Barbie runner, Jennifer Meadows, looks miffed. “I’ve heard a lot of speculation,” Meadows says. South Africa’s track and field federation, meanwhile, is being asked to perform a gender test . What does this mean? They won’t really say, except to assure that it’s an “extremely complex, difficult test” that involves a gynecologist, endocrinologist and psychologist, and will take time. I can’t imagine what test one could come up with that would definitively prove gender. If it’s a simple XX/XY test, that would take an afternoon. Her father and paternal grandmother insist she is a female. And if Semenya turns out to be intersex-meaning she was born with genitals of both sexes, or even that she had a sex change operation-is she not a woman? She is, by any humane standards. I look forward to the results. They will, at the very least, provide an important and entertaining philosophical treatise on the meaning of gender.