If you've been following the World Athletics Championships in Berlin, you'll be familiar with the controversy regarding the South African Women's 800 metres champion, Caster Semenya. There are allegations from her fellow athletes and others that the eighteen year old sportswoman is a man.
Here's an aptly entitled (and extremely interesting) blog article that discusses the subject: 'Man or Woman? The Importance of Knowing'. Compare this with a Guardian article on the aftermath of Semenya's Berlin victory.
The International Association of Athletes Federation (IAAF) suggests a possible solution to the problem: Semenya must undergo 'gender verification tests' to establish her true gender status. What do you think these tests involve? Apparently the tests take a week to complete and involve a group of scientific specialists. They may reveal that Semenya has both male and female genitalia which is not an uncommon state of affairs.
Both of the above-mentioned articles point to cases which suggest that these issues are not new. Reflect on the tragic case of David Reimer (article 1) and on the very different case of a female tennis player (article 2) and consider if we have learned to see through the media hype surrounding these cases and to deal with them sensitively.
The issue not only raises questions regarding what it is to be human, but also about the nature of human sexuality. How do we define 'masculinity' and 'femininity'? How do these differ from or relate to our understanding of what it is to be a 'man' or 'woman'? And do these definitions change with the advance of scientific knowledge about the human body? On a more psychological level, we must question the motives of human beings in their social interactions: how far are these motives driven by fear, jealousy and greed? How far is it true to say that those accusing Semenya of cheating are motivated by a 'racist agenda'?