Quick Hit: Kai Wright on Caster Semenya

Check out Kai Wright’s fantastic article over at The Root about Caster Semenya and the absurdity of what she (and other female athletes) have put through by gender identity testing.

The International Association of Athletics Federations has demanded Semenya, who won the 800-meter gold last week, submit to a sex test; bookies are taking bets on the results. But whatever the IAAF’s shameless doctors conclude, the verdict about Semenya is already in–she’s a monster. What remains is to determine what type of monster we’re gawking at. A hermaphrodite? An intersexual? A genetic boy whose parents raised him as a girl? Or just a mannish woman, after all?
If “science” concludes the latter, Semenya can keep her medal. Her humanity, however, has already been sacrificed to Western culture’s desperate, frightened effort to maintain the fiction of binary, fixed gender.

Read the rest.
Courtney also weighed in on the case.

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14 Comments

  1. DeafBrownTrash
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    It’s humiliating, racist, and degrading. They’re bashing her because she doesn’t fit the “ideal” Western, Caucasian female beauty standards, and secondly, they’re basically saying that it’s impossible for a woman to be just as strong, fast, and effective as a male athlete.
    What an insult. I feel so angry for Semenya. I can’t imagine how she must be feeling.

  2. alixana
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    The 2nd paragraph of the excerpt sums it all up very well.

  3. mikearthur.co.uk
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    It’s pretty insane that she’s had to endure all this. The hard thing is if science says she is, biologically, a male, then it’s hard for her biologically female competitors to not feel that they are on an unfair playing field.
    I guess the question I have for more experienced feminists than I is whether sport should be sex-segregated at all?

  4. FrumiousB
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I learned from the BBC this morning that prior to this race, Semenya had testosterone levels 3 times higher than expected for an XX woman and should not have been allowed to compete until the reason was cleared up (doping vs genetics). She was allowed to compete b/c of a technicality that I didn’t follow – something about already being in Germany and therefore not allowed to withdraw.
    While that doesn’t have relevance to the media blitz surrounding her sex, it does indicate that gender testing was initiated for reasons other than (or in addition to, subconcious bias being hard to detect) her physical appearance.

  5. alixana
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know much about sports at all. Whenever a female athlete tests unusually high for testosterone, does her sex always get questioned like this, or do most people jump immediately to the conclusion that she’s been doping and needs to have a drug test? Was this the first time Semenya has been tested and shown signs of high testosterone? I’m so used to hearing about athletes doping that I’m confused about why the accusation this time around has been the melodramatic and over-the-top, “She’s a man!”

  6. Lily A
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    There’s been a fair amount of conversation about just that very issue on other threads about Semenya (click back through the archives a couple of pages). I’d encourage you to read those discussions to see a wide variety of feminist opinions on the issues.

  7. nikki#2
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    I think it is because she has a rather masculine appearance. Honestly when I first saw her picture I thought she was a really attractive man(look at those abs;)). Then I read she was a woman and I didn’t believe it until other articles backed that statement up. But seriously, this should not have been made into such a spectacle. The powers that be should have very quietly run these tests. Not announce it to the world. I’m just glad that Caster has such a supportive family to help her through this ordeal.

  8. TD
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps they can test for the presence of artificial testosterone or they were looking for its side effects, but this looked like more of an issue of naturally high levels.

  9. brightred
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I feel like I keep reading posts/articles talking about Semenya and the IAAF’s “gender identity testing,” and well, at the risk of sounding like an annoying nitpicker, just wanted to point out that I don’t think anyone’s debating that she *identifies* as female/woman/etc. The IAAF, rather, is interested in various details of Semenya’s biological makeup because they’re under the terribly mistaken impression that this information should somehow be uniquely meaningful with regards to how we interpret her performance (I do not think Semenya’s gender identity or even her gender is being tested… though both have certainly become issues what with the generally deplorable coverage of the whole thing).

  10. borrow_tunnel
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I know the problem is with the way the media is treating Semenya, but honestly… she doesn’t even look overly masculine for an athlete, to me. I’ve seen lots of female rugby or track or w/e athletes that look masculine and I don’t ever think anything of it. If they have a higher level of testosterone, lucky for them that makes for a good athlete many times. I just don’t know why Semenya of all women is being called out for it. Plenty of the women she ran with have no hips, a flat chest or large muscles… so? Also, after a lot of training you lose fat, so that too makes for a less curvy body.

  11. kandela
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    I was witrh you until this “they’re under the terribly mistaken impression that this information should somehow be uniquely meaningful with regards to how we interpret her performance”
    So your saying biological sex isn’t a factor in athletic performance? Or are you saying we shouldn’t segregate male and female athletes in athletics? The former isn’t supported by the evidence, the later, I would argue, is ill thought through.

  12. ruth
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I agree that this should never have become a public story where Caster is publically castigated and humiliated. However, as I understand it, other athletes complained that Caster is biologically a man and thuis should be disqualified.
    Of course this claim has to be investigated. Biological males and females do have different performace levels at the elite athlete level. And if cater is biologically a man, then she does she have an unfair advanrage by competing as a woman.
    Of course, this binary gender takes no account of intersex conditions. And it wwas the difficulties of determining whether an athlete was biologically a male or female that led to the ceasing of automatic gender testing for all female athletes.

  13. brightred
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Of course sex (or, more precisely, various phenotypical characteristics that are typically correlated to sex) is often a factor in athletic performance. That’s also true of about a jillion other biologically-determined characteristics — but we don’t, for instance, create separate basketball leagues for short people (and there is no more a purely “natural” way of drawing a line between men and women than there is between short people and tall people). I don’t generally have a problem with sex segregation in sports but people should understand that it’s a somewhat arbitrary and purely pragmatic way of placing people in competition with others who are more likely to be at a similar performance level. When I suggested that Semenya’s androgen levels, for instance, shouldn’t be *especially* meaningful what I meant was that her sex-linked characteristics aren’t any more related to her performance than any number of other non-sex linked traits she inherited that also contributed to making her awesome at running. The only reason they’ve become uniquely important in this whole debate is because of the *social* meaning we attach to sex and gender. Personally, as a feminist, I wish (sigh) that entities like the IAAF could better recognize the socially constituted nature of sex and thus recognize the appropriateness of making allowances for more obviously “social” factors in making their determinations… like the fact that the Semenya has lived her whole life as a woman, and has always identified as one. So far tho, I have yet to read a MSM article on this whole issue arguing that maybe she should be able to race with women because that’s how she thinks of herself.

  14. kandela
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Well actually the IAAF agrees with you more than I do. Their test involves a psychologist as well as geneticists and internal medical specialists. I think that athletes should be separated based on sex alone not gender. I don’t think how you identify should be a basis for segregation.
    The difference between sex and other genetic/biological factors that have an impact on performance is that sex is usually obvious at an early age. Parents, coaches, people in general are aware that women very rarely can compete with men at the highest level in elite sport. Without women’s sport this situation would probably lead to women being discouraged from sport more than they are now. This would then bias the ‘approved’ body image of women back toward beauty ideals.
    Also, some other biological factors while not helping in one sport may help in another. Most marathon runners are short. Hammer Throwers tend to be heavier, etc.

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