Monday, August 24, 2009

"The Idiocy of Sex Testing"

by Dave Zirin and Sherry Wolf
Dissident Voice
August 22nd, 2009

World-class South African athlete Caster Semenya, age 18, won the 800 meters in the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships on August 19. But her victory was all the more remarkable in that she was forced to run amid a controversy that reveals the twisted way international track and field views gender.

The sports world has been buzzing for some time over the rumor that Semenya may be a man, or more specifically, not “entirely female.” According to the newspaper The Age, her “physique and powerful style have sparked speculation in recent months that she may not be entirely female.” From all accounts an arduous process of “gender testing” on Semenya has already begun. The idea that an 18-year-old who has just experienced the greatest athletic victory of her life is being subjecting to this very public humiliation is shameful to say the least.

Her own coach Michael Seme contributed to the disgrace when he said, “We understand that people will ask questions because she looks like a man. It’s a natural reaction and it’s only human to be curious. People probably have the right to ask such questions if they are in doubt. But I can give you the telephone numbers of her roommates in Berlin. They have already seen her naked in the showers and she has nothing to hide.”

The people with something to hide are the powers that be in track and field, as well as in international sport. As long as there have been womens’ sports, the characterization of the best female athletes as “looking like men” or “mannish” has consistently been used to degrade them. When Martina Navratilova dominated women’s tennis and proudly exposed her chiseled biceps years before Hollywood gave its imprimatur to gals with “guns,” players complained that she “must have a chromosome loose somewhere.”
Read the rest of the story here.

See also: Caster Semenya row: 'Who are white people to question the makeup of an African girl? It is racism'

Picture Credit


Erica said...

This is nothing more than the usual stereotypical nonsense brought by media in terms of what a woman should look like. I don't remember Billy Jean King or Martina Navratilova being asked to be tested to prove whether they were men.

To me this is another ploy to over look this young woman's achievement by demeaning her based on her looks.

The most important thing that these idiots who want Semenya to undergo "genetic testing" is that the one beautiful thing about being a black woman is that we are unique. We come in a plethora of shades and body types.

We can't nor should we want to comply with what white media thinks our black women should or shouldn't look like.

This is nothing more than blatant racism.

I couldn't imagine the impact that this has had on this young woman.

This is inhumane and totally unacceptable.

Cartmanslover said...

This is a joke. It' s just gone on and taken a life of its own. Amazing how we take ages to react to an influx of displaced Zimbabwean refugees in need of serious aid; FINALLY sorting out the OSD issue for civil servants, responding to Taxi owners' and municipal workers' grievances.

This is just a way for media, society and government to distract themselves from more important issues. It's how South Africa "takes a breather". Look, could this chic just pull her spandex down so we can move on to more pressing matters like say, poverty, AIDS, unemployment, the recession, the list is endless.

South Africans are a very emotional people. They play the race card and milk it for all its worth, on every issue, all the time. It' s tired. If we had lost the World Cup bid, it would' ve been "because we' re Black". When are sports going to stop being used as a platform for political agendas? That's all I' m asking.

Politically Incorrect.

Ridwan said...

Hello Erica:

Thanks for your comment. I knew this post would grab a response from you :)

I read this weekend in a local newspaper that Caster has been tested twice already when she was in high school.

Both tests confirmed that she is who she says she is.

I also remember that Navratilova faced a lot of questions about her physical size, her sexuality, but no-one asked her to prove her gender.

Gender is hardly a biological category and that is the main issue that must be dealt with in this unfortunate case.

Asking Caster to prove her gender is just ridiculous.

That she is a black woman is hardly irrelevant. There are stereotypical images of what a woman should look like and in the forum she competes much of the images are Western and Eurocentric.

Remember when some fans at the Australian Open two years ago made disparing remarks about Serena Williams' body?

For me, Caster's case, would be racism if she was barred from competing because she does not fit some contrived image of a woman.

We are not there yet.

As it stands now it is definitely racist in the manner that she has been selected (singled out), even duped some reports say, to undergo tests to prove she is a woman.

A major problem with this kind of testing is that the results are not always conclusive, or should I say that it does not fit our constructed view of gender and sex.

Still, this is an interesting case and one that has garnered a lot of attention no doubt.

Have fun for me too in South Carolina! :)


Ridwan said...

Thank you kindly for your comment here Politically Incorrect.

I must agree with you that Caster's case seems to have grabbed more headlines and more sympathetic ears than the recent street revolts over service delivery, for example.

Not unlike headlines anywhere, print media (others too) seek to grab attention and sell newspapers and products as you know.

I think that this issue is also one that relates easier to the bulk of South Africans. Race and racism are of course a mainstay in debates here.

That said I think it also important not to ignore the pressing issues that are present.

The intersections of gender, sex, race, and class, are very well displayed here.

At the very least, and from an academic point of view, Caster's unfortunate experience(s) press us to evaluate our mindset/thinking when it comes to the interplay of these intersections.

That said, you raise important points that make this case and its place in post-postapartheid South Africa very compelling.


Eugene said...

Shusli has pointed this story out to me. I haven't followed it too much. Seems like a few in the sports leadership have a better idea of what it means to be a woman than, say, a woman. It just goes to show you just how sick modern society is.

And yeah, I agree with Politically Incorrect! There are more important issues at hand! I mean, haven't you heard? MICHAEL JACKSON'S DEATH HAS BEEN RULED A HOMICIDE!

Oh, yeah, and Obama is amping up the slaughter of Afghani's. And when did the U.S. declare war on Pakistan? Am I missing something here? Shusli informed me this morning that the 8th largest oil field (in Mexico) is due to dry up by the end of 2010.

Screw all that, we should be worried about whether Caster (a woman) is a woman or a man or some other sensationalized thing that distracts us for the more horrific and troubling issues.

Ridwan said...

Eugene you have a knack of kicking the right ass and I respect that.

Caster seems to be faring quite well under the glare of media hype and 'professional' scrutiny.

The sista is still very young and this must be very hard for her.

Just this morning I heard a sports expert debate an official from IAAF about the merits of finding out if she is who she says.

It has become a circus. Not unlike the Michael Jackson circus.

A sad state of affairs no doubt.

You be well brother. Hope you are enjoying the last part of Oregon's beautiful summer ... yeah I know you are ;)