Going for Gold
Sex, Gender, and Competition
Texas Tech University
Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology
University of California, Riverside
This case study introduces students to the true story of Caster Semenya, an outstanding female mid-distance runner from South Africa. Caster won the 800 m race at the 2009 Track and Field World Championships when she was just 18. Since then, she has faced scrutiny about her sex and gender. Due to her high levels of endogenous testosterone, she was banned from running for almost a year by the track and field governing body, the IAAF. In this case study, students use information from news reports and Caster's appearance to determine the possible biological underpinnings likely responsible for her anatomy and physiology. Students are also asked to consider if using circulating testosterone levels to determine if a female can race is a valid method of exclusion. This case asks students to think about how sex and gender are related, and pushes them to discuss societal implications of labeling both of these constructs as binary when in fact they are much better described as spectra.
- Compare and contrast sex and gender.
- Explain how an individual becomes male or female at the levels of the gonads, internal tract, and external genitalia.
- Describe what happens when sex determination and differentiation follow an atypical pattern (specific to the case of androgen insensitivity syndrome).
- Match genotype to phenotype at various levels (e.g., gonadal, gametic, hormonal).
- Use biological data/information to critically analyze a real-world problem (i.e., testosterone levels and competition of female athletes).
KeywordsDisorders of sex development; DSD; sex; gender; testosterone; androgens; AIS; Semenya; sex differentiation; sex determination; female; testicular feminization;
Topical AreasEthics, Policy issues, Social issues, Social justice issues
Educational LevelUndergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Type / MethodsInterrupted
Subject HeadingsBiology (General) | Interdisciplinary Sciences | Medicine (General) | Nursing | Physiology | Science (General) | Sports Science | Developmental Biology |