Caster Semenya Case Opening Old Wounds

caster-Semenya3I was watching the track and field championships in Berlin last month when Caster Semenya won her 800m gold medal in the fifth fastest time ever run by a woman.

But as I know from my time on planet Earth, if an African descended female athlete excels in spectacular fashion, we get accused of cheating or have ‘that’s a man’ shade hurled at us.

When you combine it with the hypercompetitive world of international sports in which national pride and prestige is on the line, it was inevitable that somebody would try to find a way knock this talented runner out of international competition, especially with the 2012 London Olympic Games on the horizon.

Gender testing for female athletes exists thanks to the blatant cheating of Nazi Germany in 1936, several former Communist bloc nations sending female athletes into competition with questionable external gender characteristics, and the East Germans feeding their female athletes steroids for more than a decade,

But in 18 year old Caster Semenya’s case, it’s ripping the scab off some old wounds. The ripple effects of this case are reverberating across the African diaspora.

For us African descended people in North America, we see it as the continued centuries old attack on the images of African descended women and our femininity.

williams sisters3It’s even more acute for Black women involved in sports. The Williams sisters have not only dominated the sport of tennis in the 2K’s, but these proud, statuesque ladies are making history off the court as well.

I and many other tennis fans found it quite curious when the 2009 Australian Open website omitted them from their list of the 10 Most Beautiful Women.

It wasn’t surprising that the list was full of Eastern Europeans in addition to fawning commentary about Jelena Jankovich’s ‘Number One body to go with her (then) Number One ranking’.

The old saying is beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Black women have always been seen thanks to racist myths rooted in slavery as ‘unfeminine’ vis a vis the vanilla flavored beauty standard.

If you think I’m off base, here’s a challenge for you.

Go to your favorite bookstore or drug store and head to the magazine rack. See if you can find a beauty magazine aimed at a predominately white female audience that has an African-descended woman on the cover.

And no, Oprah magazine doesn’t count.

Our continental African cousins see this in the context of the European colonial powers seeking to embarrass Africa.

Despite the fact that the current president of the Monaco based IAAF, Lamine Diack is from Senegal, the IAAF leadership since its inception in 1912 has been dominated by Europeans.

Continental Africans still haven’t forgotten how 800m runner and 2000 Olympic champion Maria Mutola of Mozambique was dogged throughout her illustrious decade long career by ‘that’s a man’ accusations despite passing test after test.

The way the Semenya case has been handled by the IAAF has only crystallized that impression on the Mother Continent.

Caster-Semenya press conferenceIt’s probably why officials in South Africa are backing her all the way. Makhenkesi Stofile, South Africa’s sports minister said that Semenya and her family maintain she was gender-tested without her consent and that lawyers were being consulted over possible action.

In addition, Stofile has written to the IAAF demanding an apology and seeking a response to those Australian reports claiming that she’s intersex.

Yes, if the IAAF had questions, they should have quietly done those tests. Somebody leaked the info in Berlin that got this hot mess started. It’s also not a coincidence that another leak in this case results in an Australian newspaper publishing those allegations that Stofile reacted to with “shock and disgust”.

You have to feel for Semenya in this case. It has not only put her personal business out there, but has been done so in the most humiliatingly public way possible

In the meantime, her athletic future rests on the results of the gender test and an IAAF Council meeting set to take place in Monaco November 20-21.

Semenya has also received some advice and support from India’s Santhi Soundajaran, the last woman to be subjected to this type of withering international scrutiny.

“She should not let them take away her medal or allow one test to determine her fate. “She is a woman and that’s it, full stop,” Soundarajan says. “A gender test cannot take away from you who you are.”

Even if the people behind this are determined to take away her 800m world championship.


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65 Responses to Caster Semenya Case Opening Old Wounds

  1. bfp says:

    i was noticing the other day that the young woman who made it to the U.S. Open’s quaterfinals–she’s young, nobody expected her to go this far–and yet she’s being described as the “girl next door” and the “media darling” and an “inspiration for young girls” etc. and she’s blond and white.

    this is what happens when you’re a woman of color and blond whiteness is used as the measuring stick for “success.” anybody who is not the body, reproductive organs, hair, skin, of that “girl next door” image is immediately suspect.

    i feel like us women of color need to have us a jack johnson moment with the athletic establishment. Punch that “next great white hope” in the damn face.

  2. Monica Roberts says:

    bfp
    That why the tennis establishment hates the Williams sisters.

    Because they’ve doing for ten years what you suggested here.

  3. Lisa says:

    @bfp
    Yeah, that’s Oiden – she’s 17, from Georgia and has knocked off a bunch of favorites.

    I’m an avid tennis fan and one of the things I CANNOT get over in tennis is who gets “center court” coverage, especially at Wimbledon.

    This came up this past summer when one of the Williams sisters (can’t remember which one) was not on Centre court at Wimbledom…and when you look at who IS on Centre court, it has nothing to do with rank, talent, or performance, but who is more attractive.

    And “attractive” is usually these stickly, fair-skinned, Kournikova/Sharapova-esque carbon copies who are simply not as good as Serena or Venus, but get Centre court nonetheless.

  4. Forrester says:

    this is what happens when you’re a woman of color and blond whiteness is used as the measuring stick for “success.” anybody who is not the body, reproductive organs, hair, skin, of that “girl next door” image is immediately suspect.

    I would tend to agree, except for the bit about ‘reproductive organs’ — that would seem to be a qualitatively different criterion than hair, skin, or physical shape.

  5. dan says:

    As a minority man, I don’t see this as racist or sexist, more along the lines of the debate around the South African amputee with the carbon prostheses being allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes. (I suppose “able-bodied” is not the PC expression here, but not sure what the alternative is.) Is it a level playing field? I think there’s room for doubt.

    As far as the Australian Open having a list of the 10 most beautiful women, WTF? The existence of the list itself is outrageous, regardless of who’s on it.

  6. Cara says:

    As far as the Australian Open having a list of the 10 most beautiful women, WTF? The existence of the list itself is outrageous, regardless of who’s on it.

    This is true, Dan. But it’s also entirely possible to be outraged at the sexism of such a list existing at all, and the racism of who was considered for inclusion on it at the same time. I am.

  7. Kate says:

    I’d like to suggest a reconsideration of the two following sentences:

    “Makhenkesi Stofile, South Africa’s sports minister said that Semenya and her family maintain she was gender-tested without her consent and that lawyers were being consulted over possible action.”

    “Yes, if the IAAF had questions, they should have quietly done those tests. ”

    The first sentence suggests that forcible gender testing is a violation (I would hold that it is a sexual violation absolutely requiring legal attention), but that the IAFF is right to perform such tests as long as it does so “quietly.” “Quiet” sexual violation is far too common, and I don’t believe it can be condoned in the case of official institutions. Just because something is done “in private” (doesn’t cause a media flare-up, etc.) does not mean it is less traumatic for the person being tested.

    It’s also worth considering that Semenya has been backed into a binary gender/binary sex corner by the terminology being thrown around by the IAFF, fellow athletes, and the media. While this purports to be a scandal about being a woman or being a man, it also very blatantly states that individuals who are transgender, intersex, or have any degree of non-normative gender presentation positively cannot compete in big-time athletics, and that to be called intersex is a “horrifying” slur. It’s a system that terrorizes one group by forcing them to both stay on the defensive and to knock down other oppressed groups.

  8. shah8 says:

    Okay, I do want to make this clear, though.

    Semenya is NOT outside of the biological norms of athletic women, assuming the veracity of the reports. She probably doesn’t:

    a) produce enough testosterone to be compared with men.

    b) have very much sensitivity to testosterone

    Furthermore, with the removal of the undescended testes (which probably wouldn’t affect her athletic ability), she will still be absolutely eligable to compete as a woman. Which she probably will be going to London with a grudge.

    And for all the whiners about “fairness” out there. Oh, do lets have big, intrusive exams for the girls so, you know, we can be sure they’re fuckable. White women never got this treatment, aside from the Soviet Bloc women, even though we probably can guess that there are some with this condition.

    This has been such a disgusting series of events.

  9. Marlene says:

    I’ve seen several mentions of the “dangers” of having undescended/undeveloped testes. Smells like gender panic bullshit to me.

    Thanks so much for this post.

  10. Dyssonance says:

    As a note, were such testing to be done in the USA, it would subject to HIPAA laws and she could sue the crap outta them, lol.

  11. Pingback: “Runner Caster Semenya takes gender test — she is intersexed; MSM reporting is offensive” and related posts | One Syndicate: News That Matters

  12. Monica Roberts says:

    @Dyssonace
    Especially in light of the fact somebody leaked confidential medical test results without her permission, correct?

  13. Yolanda C. says:

    What the hell good do the AP style guidelines do? Racist tranmisogynist “journalists” are just gonna fuck shit up anyway where folks like Semenya are concerned anyway.

    And I don’t know about y’all, but I just wish once and for all that white supremacist bigots would keep their goddamn eyes and hands away from POC genitals. Is that too much to freakin’ ask?

  14. Jennifer says:

    This is all very sad because she is only 18 years old and this type of international attention must be devastating. The South African Sports federation and the IAAF should have handled this like adults and professionals after the first race and before Berlin. How incompetent and careless are these people?

    The truth be told, it does not matter if the South Africans are backing her 100%because they don’t control the sport, the sport federation, or the major races so until we can compete in those leagues, they must play be the IAAF’s rules. Also it is curious that I have not heard of any other currently competing athletes supporting her!

  15. Linda says:

    I’m quite interested about the challenge that Caster Semenya poses to the sports community and I must say that I’m completely surprised about this article and the comments that have been made: except for the South African Press, nobody else is making this a race issue. 95% of the news focus on her health condition over her gender condition. Most of the MD’s consulted emphasize that she must be supported and assisted at this moment, because it is a complex and sensitive issue. Then, the discussion focuses on the lack of clarity in the IAAF’s rules. I’m very glad to know that only a minority (like this site) is focusing on Semenya’s race. It demonstrates that many cultures have left this debate in the past. Watching all the people in the Berlin Stadium standing up for the race of Usain Bolt shows that they can appreciate a top athlete no matter what the colour of his skin is. And it’s the same in many other sports. To say that the Williams sisters are not welcomed in the Tennis world is just throwing hatred were there isn’t. They receive a lot of critics because they prefer to dedicate themselves to other activities rather than to the circuit, like most of their other competitors do.

  16. preying mantis says:

    “I’ve seen several mentions of the “dangers” of having undescended/undeveloped testes.”

    So far as I’ve ever seen, androgen insensitivity syndrome–what she’s supposed to have–raises your risk for reproductive cancer later in life, and that’s about it. Which is hardly a compelling danger, especially once you’ve received a diagnosis and can thus begin a more aggressive screening regime earlier in life.

  17. Nentuaby says:

    The results of a controversial gender test on the South African athlete Caster Semenya have been received by international athletics officials but will only be made public after […] Semenya has been informed, according to reports.

    This was in the first story I read on this. (Guardian.co.uk, I think). I nearly choked. Bad enough that the poor woman’s life is now basically ground zero for worldwide bigotry, she gets to read it in the news because not only did somebody leak her confidential medical records, they did it before they even got to her. F@&@ @^&@ @(%*@ @*&#!!!

    And as for the people who, like, totally feeel for her maaaan but think a slightly elevated androgen level is OMG TEH UNFAIR ADVANTAGE and must be banned, I offer as comparison an athlete who nobody has suggested disqualifying from anything:

    Michael Phelps’ heart pumps 30 litres of blood each minute to his muscles, which is double the amount of the average adult male. He also produces only one third of the lactic acid that the average swimmer does, meaning that he does not suffer from muscle burn during intensive exercise like his competitors do. [Reordered …] Also his knees are double-jointed and his feet can rotate 15 degrees more than average

  18. Delux says:

    The Black Looks blogger has already said it, and I agree with her– this is nothing but some Sara Baartman type BS they are putting this young woman through.

  19. Cliq says:

    All athletes, male and female, should have hormones inside normal medically accepted ranges for their gender and body type

  20. bfp says:

    agree, except for the bit about ‘reproductive organs’ — that would seem to be a qualitatively different criterion than hair, skin, or physical shape.

    except that it is her reproductive organs that are in question right now. she doesn’t have what it LOOKS like and is ASSUMED that Oiden has–why do people assume that oiden has all the “right” organs–and it is assumed that semenya doesn’t? Oiden *looks* like what we have been told is “fertility” (aka “proper female” organs) in the U.S. since the 50’s. she is “fuckable” (what is the girl next door except a pornos wet dream?)–to whom? straight men–which means that she *must* have the “right” stuff, right?

  21. jz says:

    Ms. Roberts,

    You listed many issues: beauty preferences, media exposure, feminine preferences, colonialism, privacy, national pride, bigotry……………..all of which are irrelevant.

    The only issue of import is fairness of competition. The gifted, hard-working athletes must be assured of the fairness of competition, or sport is dead. Thousands of female athletes must be assured that others have no unfair advantage. Cyclists are tested for hemoglobin. Boxers and wrestlers are subject to weigh-ins. Baseball and other pro athletes are tested for steroids. One of my favorite middle-distance runners (Suzy Favor) discovered late in her career that she’d been competing against a women (Regina Jacobs) who was unfairly using steroids. Can you imagine how demoralizing this was?

    Early reports reveal that Semenya is a male with undescended testes, no uterus, no ovaries, and three times an average female testosterone level. Fortunately, his awareness of cryptorchidism and orchipexy can circumvent his increased risk of testicular cancer.

    Beyond a “Fair/Unfair” ruling of standards, we should respect his privacy, but even that is secondary to the issue of fairness of competition.

  22. K says:

    The only issue of import to me is fairness of competition.

    Fixed that for you.

  23. preying mantis says:

    “Fortunately, his awareness of cryptorchidism and orchipexy can circumvent his increased risk of testicular cancer.

    Beyond a “Fair/Unfair” ruling of standards, we should respect his privacy, but even that is secondary to the issue of fairness of competition.”

    Um, I’m reasonably sure female pronouns are still in play here.

  24. jz says:

    @K,
    You are obviously not an athlete. If you are sincere to understand what is at stake here, I suggest you discuss it with an acquaintance in the sports field.

  25. Yolanda C. says:

    Early reports reveal that Semenya is a male with undescended testes, no uterus, no ovaries, and three times an average female testosterone level. Fortunately, his awareness of cryptorchidism and orchipexy can circumvent his increased risk of testicular cancer.

    Beyond a “Fair/Unfair” ruling of standards, we should respect his privacy, but even that is secondary to the issue of fairness of competition.

    Smells like transphobia to me. Where are you, moderators?

  26. jz says:

    Ms. Yolanda,
    You desire to “moderate” me away?
    You prefer to make me disappear from this little corner of the web?
    Intolerant are you?
    I’m agreeable to that. I’ll leave you here in your own safe little niche, away from anyone who thinks different than you.

  27. ginasf says:

    Fact is, none of you know the actual nature of Ms. Semenya’s Intersex condition. The level of testosterone means nothing if it isn’t established how one processes androgens. Trying to pretend they somehow care about the safety of her undescended gonads is so disingenuous. Journalists could look on the Internet for 5 minutes and find out there is only a very minor increased cancer risk… it’s just a lame excuse to dribble on about her testicles and to objectify her into some kind of freak. Leaking the preliminary info is disgusting and insensitive to her as a human being and a woman. Endlessly repeating it over the Internet with labels like “hermaphrodite” is even more hateful. And for JZ to repeat it and use male pronouns is just plain bigoted. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    While I totally agree with Monica’s statement about how African diaspora athletes are viewed as being masculinized (as opposed to the white ‘girl next door’) it’s also a fact a large number of white athletes have gone through similar gender grilling as Ms. Semenya has. Tennis player Sarah Gronert had it earlier this year, and she looks like the mainstream media’s blonde white girl next door). None of them have been as successful in competition and have avoided the same level of scrutiny. But I remember the huge controversy surrounding the medal-winning Press sisters from the USSR and the ridicule and hatred they had focused on them for years.

  28. Lucy Gillam says:

    Linda, the fact that other news sources aren’t discussing the racial aspects of this case doesn’t mean they’ve “moved beyond” race. It means they’re not critically aware enough to recognize the racial implications.

  29. bfp says:

    ennis player Sarah Gronert had it earlier this year, and she looks like the mainstream media’s blonde white girl next door).but she was already “out” as a woman with both male and female organs. she had had surgery and had to petition and “prove” she was a woman. And the organizers *accepted* her. and it was interesting because people used the williams sisters as a standard on her “femaleness”–no woman serves like she does, not even the williams sisters.

  30. The Amazing Kim says:

    Gender testing for female athletes exists thanks to the blatant cheating of Nazi Germany in 1936, several former Communist bloc nations sending female athletes into competition with questionable external gender characteristics, and the East Germans feeding their female athletes steroids for more than a decade,

    There’s a nifty little radio documentary about the history of gender testing in sports that played a few days ago. Transcript’s here. Apparently the Easten European female athletes were also trained better – alongside the men.

    Annabelle Quince: And what we now know is that in the late ’50s and early ’60s, sport had become part of the Cold War, and Eastern bloc women athletes were being trained seriously, alongside their male counterparts. They may also have had access to steroids, which would have explained their appearance.

    Elizabeth Ferris: They were getting better training. I mean during the ’50s, training in lots of sports really shot forward the technology and the physiology and the knowledge about sports science, really took a jump, and also women were much more willing to train very hard, particularly in Eastern bloc countries.

  31. Dyssonance says:

    @Monica — correct. Indeed, especially because of that. Since intersex coinditions are medical ones, the release of that information is a direct and blunt defamation of her and an invasion of her privacy. That they leaked it before telling her is even more telling of ugliness and hostility.

    @Linda — when the Williams Sisters first hit the scene, it was after twice the usual number of wins, and the primary coverage at the time focused on their “aggressive serves” and the oddity of their being black. It’s not so much that they weren’t welcomed as it was a case of due to their color, they were looked at as flash in the pans because of their color. Even today, despite their wins, thy are not featured — and the argument for such is that they don’t appeal to the target demographic (tennis watchers).

    @jz — the early reports are that she’s a woman with either PAIS or CAIS — which means she’s XY (not, by itself, an indicator of maleness), that she has the ducts and vagina of any other woman, no prostate, and the development of any other woman excepting periods and reproductive capability.

    To call her a male does her an immense injustice as a human being. If it is PAIS or CAIS, then she could have a hundred times the normal level of testosterone in her body — and it would no good, since her body can’t use it (which is why she developed the way she did). SO to say that she shouldn’t compete with other women (not other females, since it not called female’s sports) is just outright sexist.

    Literally.

    And to call this woman, who has been a girl and a young woman her whole life “him” and “he” and “his”, well, were I not trying to ease people into my personal style of discourse, I would use invective on you the likes of which you haven’t seen.

    Because that really pisses me off.

    As for your suggestion of getting to know someone in the sports field, well, I suggest you get to know someone in the field of respectful discourse and head from hind end removal.

    And for similar reasons.

  32. Ruchama says:

    High levels of testosterone don’t necessarily confer an advantage. I’ve got PCOS, which has put my testosterone levels pretty high when my medication levels were wrong, and it would be ludicrous to claim that I had any sort of athletic advantage at those times — mostly, when that happens, I feel sluggish and have trouble staying awake.

    Also, having three times the testosterone levels of a “normal” female would still probably put her well below the testosterone levels of a “normal” male. (IIRC, the standard for female levels is 10-50, and the standard for male levels starts at 300, or something like that.)

  33. Kristen J. says:

    jz,

    You are an evil little shit. Others may respond logically to the complete bullshit that you shouldn’t have been allowed to spew all over this page, but don’t let that rational, intelligible response give you the false impression that you are anything other than a despicable human being.

  34. sophiefair says:

    jz–

    i was a high performance athlete (soccer). my older daughter is a high performance athlete (gymnastics). don’t even try to patronise me.

    you are a transphobic asshole and a disgrace of a human being. fuck off.

  35. Nicole D. says:

    @jz- I absolutely agree with all the other posts here about why this is not merely a matter of fairness in the field. However, I don’t believe Semenya’s higher than average testosterone levels are a matter of sporting fairness at all. Semenya is a woman with a cluster of characteristics that have combined to make her an exceptional sportswoman, just like every other exceptional and gifted sportswoman in her field. These include longer legs, a good muscle to body fat ratio, an exceptional capacity for cardio-vascular fitness and possibly her testosterone levels (depending on how they are used by the body). I would no more say that her natural levels of testosterone are cheating than any other of her body characteristics which make her such a strong runner. I have legs that are proportionately short for my body length, I have asthma and despite working out four hours a week and being an organic vegetarian I am obviously genetically destined to be heavy. Every runner at that track meet had an advantage over me because of their physiology (with training of course), yet it would be ludicrous to sugest that any of them were cheating because thier bodies were more suited to their chosen field than mine. In this way, and possibly this way alone, Semenya has genetically good luck. So why don’t we allow this woman, which is what she has been raised, encultured and obviously identifies as, to enjoy her giftedness and celebrate the success for which she has worked very hard

    Good luck to you Caster Semenya.

  36. octogalore says:

    Great post, Monica. I actually was just about to hit “publish” on my post about CS when I read yours, and had to modify it to quote you. We can’t ignore the racist history of attacks on the image and bodies of black women as part and parcel of what’s happening here.

    I also feel, as you stated (and in this I disagree with Kate #7) that “if the IAAF had questions, they should have quietly done those tests. Somebody leaked the info in Berlin that got this hot mess started.” I think, as Renee Richards stated, that one needs some kind of gender-related line drawing in sports competition so as not to preclude xx women from elite competition.

  37. Monica Roberts says:

    Okay speaking of fairness. Lets talk about that issue.

    Is it fair to take away her medal when she wasn’t cheating? Was anybody concerned about ‘Fairness’ when they leaked the info that the IAAF was requesting a gender test or the results?

    We accept the fact that in basketball, you have people like Yao Ming and Shaquille O’Neal who are bigger, stronger, taller and more powerful than their peers.

    Back in the 70’s the Cowboys employed 6″10″ Ed Too Tall Jones at defensive end. Nobody complained it was ‘unfair’ for 6’0-6′ 4″ offensive linemen to have to block him.

    Usain Bolt is 6’5″ and has the quickness and speed of a smaller person, but his long legs allow him to eat up space very quickly.

    Michael Phelps has a body build with long feet that act like dolphin flippers, but no one’s crying foul, trying to have him banned from the swimming pool or strip him of the 8 gold medals he won.

    Lance Armstrong has a larger than normal heart that allows him to more efficiently use oxygen, an advantage if you’re a cyclist.

    FYI for some of you peeps. All human life at conception is FEMALE. For a fetus to develop and come out as a male child through the birth canal requires a well timed series of events. Sometimes things happen that interfere with the hormone wash that triggers the fetal development either down the male or female path.

    That’s why you have trans people an intersex people as part of the diverse mosaic of human life.

    I have three words for you folks tripping about the testes in her body. Hormone Replacement Therapy.

    It works. Ask any transperson about it.

    Semenya is probably intersex. It’s not like she was SWALLOWING testosterone like the East German women were for decades. She’s producing it naturally.

    Is it an advantage? Maybe. That’s what the IAAF med team will decide.

  38. Monica Roberts says:

    @dan
    Flag on the play. The overwhelming majority of minority men don’t use the term PC or downplay the fact that racism and sexism exist in our society. They call it out. The only ‘minority men’ that exhibit’ that behaivor is conservative white men.

    JZ,
    I talk to people who compete in international sports like my roommate, and even she sees it for what it is.

  39. sammy says:

    This case is so sensitive and yes it was handled very poorly and those who did it were so very inconsiderate of the young star. This proves that racism is still existing. First of all Caster did not create herself, this is all God’s doing. One way or the other Caster still needs identity, the one that she is being questioned of today. Santhi Soundajaran, adviced that Caster musn’t allow the IAAF to strip her of the medal, which i too think is true, wat else do they want, after humiliating her in this way? I suggest that she keeps her head up high like she’s doing and keep up the good spirit she has, its the talent from the Almighty.

  40. sporty says:

    would semenya be ok with labeling her cause a ‘trans’ cause…? i’m not sure. trying to figure out a way to this without sounds transphobic, but it may be least helpful to her… personally?… to do so. hope my point is coming across.

  41. Monica Roberts says:

    Sporty,
    She’d actually be considered more intersex than trans, assuming the leaked medical info is correct.

    But having said that, there are a lot of threads in this case that intersect with a wide variiety of issues, including trans ones.

  42. Natalia says:

    I think that a lot of people in particular have a sick fascination with tearing down a high achiever like that. Add to the fact that she’s not white and blonde, and it turns into a downright blood-sport. I don’t know what it is with people who insist that women MUST conform to a very narrow aesthetic or remain invisible. “Unfair advantage”? Please. Whoever brought up Michael Phelps is exactly right. We don’t do this to Phelps and we shouldn’t be doing it to Semenya.

    She’s a great athlete. Now leave her alone.

    P.S. On a slightly different note – I gotta step up for Maria Sharapova. She’s no Kournikova. She’s a talented athlete. I readily accept the fact that her looks and her race automatically deem her more popular, but at the very least, she’s hard-working and gets results, and the comparisons to Kournikova make me sad for her.

  43. Monica Roberts says:

    @Natalia,
    Gotta agree with you there. Sharapova has won a Grand Slam tournament and she’s consistently competitive on the Tour.

  44. Bee Stapleton says:

    I really do feel sorry for Semenya. She was raised as a female and consequently competed as such. As a young person, it must be hard to hear your personal medical information discussed on a worldwide forum. I do hope she gets to keep her gold medal. It was well-earned.

    That said, there is no way to logically discredit the lack of female organs: no ovaries, no uterus, no breasts/mammary glands. Now she my have been raised as a woman and consequently think of herself as such. But biologically, she is NOT! In fact without the aforementioned organs, I’m not so certain she even qualifies as a hermaphrodite.

    I am a Black woman, so I say this with all things considered that I do not believe this has anything to do with sexism or racism. Is anyone aware that the silver-medalist was actually the defending World Champion from KENYA? If Semenya were to be disqualified, her title would remain in the hands of a Black African woman!

    Let’s not neglect to recognize that men do in fact posses a physical advantage over women. The mens 800m race is over 10 seconds faster than the women’s race. Any one of the men in that race would have obliterated the female competition if given the chance simply because they “felt like a woman.” If any of you were female athletes in any sport, (boxing, track, basketball, etc.) you would likely feel differently about facing off against genetic men just as you would against steroid injecting women. It is an uneven playing field.

    Just look at it this way, I could enter into race against 5-year old boys and claim that I, in fact, “feel” like a young boy. Yet my biological age and size certainly would give me an unfair advantage of strength, endurance, and leg span. This can not be overlooked by hyper-charges of “racism” and “sexism.” After all, Venus and Serena may not exactly be media darlings, but they are certainly women! Just use a little common sense before such accusations are made!

    As far as Michael Phelps is concerned, he has been training for the Olympics since he was a child. Made his first Olympic appearance at 15 and won no medals! Trained for a ridiculous amount of hours each day, and won 8 medals 8 years later at the age of 23! He doesn’t have gills, he has dedication! Apples and Oranges!

  45. ginasf says:

    @bfp: Your statements about Sarah Gronert are very unsubstantiated. You don’t actually know what her intersex condition is. She was called a hermaphrodite by much the press in Europe, but that bigoted term means absolutely nothing. It could be classic CAH or CAIS or dozens of other conditions. You don’t know what surgery she had, whether she had undescended testicles or not, so let’s not make up stories about her. She’s only about 5’7″-5’8″… not that tall by tennis standards. The only person who’s said she has such an incredibly fast serve was a very bigoted Israeli coach after Gronert defeated his player. Gronert isn’t even a top 200 player, so it’s rather academic. The reality was, she had to have surgery before she was allowed to play, had to petition the tennis associations to participate, had many other tennis players who didn’t want to play against her and her intersex condition was spread all over the world media in a salacious way. Let’s not minimize what she went through.

    I also think it’s important to acknowledge that, through much of the cold war, the United States was directly responsible for spreading rumors about Soviet bloc female athletes either being ‘men’, ‘hermaphrodites’ or using male hormones. In reality, it was really only East Germany that did substantiated doping. Many of the athletes in the USSR had outstanding training programs which the west has since copied, and identified talented athletes at a much younger age than we did. If any of you lived through that era, you’ll remember how the media routinely belittled the appearance and gender of women like Tamara Press. If we’re going to defend athletic women from these types of charges, I hope we do it across the board.

  46. Monica Roberts says:

    @Bee, The point you miss is that Semenya is FEMALE.

    The other point you missed is that genitalia does not equal to gender. You gender identitty is between your ears, not your legs

    @gina
    I found it interesting that both Tamara, the double gold medallist in the shotput from the 1960 and 1964 Games and Irina who won gold in 1960 and 1964 and set 26 world records during the 1960s both suddenly retired from international competition once gender testing was mandated in 1966.

    You would think that the Soviet Union, since it was all about proving the superiority of its athletes, would have if there was nothing to hide let these ladies continue to compete, especially in light of the fact the 1968 Mexico City Games were on the horizon.

  47. ginasf says:

    Monica… isn’t that convicting through innuendo in much the same way members of the media have with Ms. Semenya? What if Caster had said “no, I don’t wish to be put through the humiliation of having my gender questioned” how do you think the media and many members of international sports organizations would have grilled her over the coals for that? Who’s to say members of the USSR sports federation didn’t say “screw them, if they want to diss our athletes, forget it.” The reality is, many coaches and athletes from the former Soviet Union have immigrated to the west and I haven’t heard any of them say the Press sisters were Intersex or using androgens. I have heard many athletes and coaches from the former East Germany say that about their athletes.

    Let’s also not forget the Soviet Union, which was still reeling from WWII (when it defeated Germany at a cost of 25 million lives… not to mention all it went through with Stalin) wasn’t just as proud and protective of its athlete’s achievements as South Africa is of Caster.

  48. Nelly says:

    I absolute agree with Natalia.For some that ‘sick fascination’ in tearing down high achievers can be an obsession and for others still,a profession.Just see what prez Obama is going through over health care reform.A white senator is obsessed with making health care Obama’s waterloo and the media looks for and feeds controversy on the issue to undermine prez Obama’s efforts to pass a bill.The grossly insensitive manner Caster Semenya’s case has been handled smacks of racism and disrespect for human,family and national sensibilities.I doubt it would have been handled in this manner if she was an american,canadian,european,australian or new zealand citizen of whatever skin colour(white,black,aboriginal,maori,latino,asian etc).
    Nelly

  49. sporty says:

    monica – yes, definitely. that was really my point, i.e., not conflating intersex and trans issues, although i felt like the conversation was drifting toward the latter. she did not transition. she’s who she is. talking about trans issues, in this situation, seems to be a disservice – as in – she has to trans in order to be a she (when we all agree she is a she).

  50. bfp says:

    You don’t actually know what her intersex condition is. She was called a hermaphrodite by much the press in Europe, but that bigoted term means absolutely nothing. It could be classic CAH or CAIS or dozens of other conditions. You don’t know what surgery she had, whether she had undescended testicles or not, so let’s not make up stories about her.

    I didn’t say I *did* know her condition. I said that she was “out”–that people *knew* about her condition and she went through surgery and petitioned to be a player again and she was approved. I never said a thing about undescended testicles. That said–I didn’t mean to imply that what she went through in terms of media wasn’t bullshit. It totally was, and I’m sorry I implied otherwise. I was focusing more on the “institution” of tennis and how they accepted her and brought her back into the game. and how the IAAF is trying to push semenya OUT of the game. and I think the difference there is race.

  51. sporty says:

    i like serena’s necklace she’s wearing in her match right now… btw.

  52. The Amazing Kim says:

    You would think that the Soviet Union, since it was all about proving the superiority of its athletes, would have if there was nothing to hide let these ladies continue to compete, especially in light of the fact the 1968 Mexico City Games were on the horizon.

    Except the “gender test” they instituted in 1966 was super-humiliating. The athletes were taken to a hospital, put in birthing stirrups, and given an extremely thorough gynaecological exam. If there was any physical abnormality the woman would be labelled “not female”, have all her medals and records revoked and be banned from all competition.

    You can understand why some women would be nervous, especially if their genitals deviated from the standard even a tiny bit. I mean, lots of women avoid gynaecologists now, and their career and entire identity doesn’t depend on the outcome.

    I don’t think you can take any conclusion from gender tests of that era, none at all.

  53. ginasf says:

    @bfp: “I was focusing more on the “institution” of tennis and how they accepted her and brought her back into the game. and how the IAAF is trying to push semenya OUT of the game. and I think the difference there is race.”

    While I agree what Ms. Semenya is going through is incredibly objectifying, degrading and humiliating, I do have issues saying it’s purely about race. What Gronert and the Press sisters went through was just as bad. The fact remains Sarah Gronert had “corrective” surgery before she participated as a woman, Caster Semenyah hasn’t had “corrective” surgery. (and, please, I’m not suggesting for a second that either woman needs anything whatsoever corrected). You don’t know the nature of either condition to compare their situations. You also don’t seem to know all what Ms. Gronert went through before she could play and bear in mind Ms. Semenya is just starting going through that process—this has actually been a very short period of time. So how can you possibly compare their situations and say it was racially motivated? I’m NOT denying the reality Monica has written about black female athletes getting ragged on by mainstream media for being too “masculine” but I do think it’s a big leap to say that this case is purely about race.

    I’ve heard the same crap said about many white female athletes. Look at a groundbreaking film like “Pumping Iron2″ where, in the Ms. Olympia competition, white bodybuilder, the incredibly buff Bev Francis is considered too muscular and male-appearing and thus the runner up, while the winner, African-American Carla Dunlop is considered prettier and more feminine even if she doesn’t have nearly the musculature of her opponent. Yes, race is certainly important in situations like this, but I’m not convinced it’s more important than discomfort with someone’s gender variance.

  54. xani says:

    Now this is off-topic, but think about another thing: every female who wants to immigrate into the United States has to pass humiliating, degrading and dehumanizing physical exam, like a farm animal, such as her secondary sexual body parts being examined by a (often male and of course pervy) doctor. This can traumatize a person for life, especially those who are from conservative cultures. I see a similar invasion of privacy here as in case of Caster Semenya: being examined for “being fuckable” sort of. I saw someone had posted that Caster’s genitals being examined by a buch of European doctors is something much alike to being raped–I could agree, but think about it 1000s and 1000s of people have to endure the same ugly humiliation and no one is fighting against it.

  55. Phyrbyrd says:

    I’d like to discuss this issue on my new blog – could I link to you please?

  56. Jones says:

    xani – do you think men should be allowed to compete in women-only sports? If not, do you think that anyone who claims to be a woman should be allowed to compete in women-only sports? Once you decide to exclude potential competitors – and women-only athletics by definition excludes male competitors – you have decide how that exclusion will be enforced. This is serious and difficult question, and you don’t move the conversation forward by accusing the people who are trying to deal with it of bad faith.

  57. Pingback: Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Open Thread - Möbius Bach Edition

  58. Oscar says:

    Well. A finnish athlete who was mother of two children was gender tested, and she certainly was white.

  59. Monica Roberts says:

    While I agree what Ms. Semenya is going through is incredibly objectifying, degrading and humiliating, I do have issues saying it’s purely about race. What Gronert and the Press sisters went through was just as bad.

    Gina, I disagree. Sarah Gronert and the Press Sisters aren’t part of an ethnic group whose femininity has constantly been under attack for centuries

  60. ginasf says:

    @Monica: Did you read what was written about Gronert? You’re speaking in a socio, historical political way… I’m talking about what the woman actually went through. Sarah Gronert was suicidal when she was 19 because of all the backlash and ridicule she got about her playing and womanhood. It took 3 years and surgery for her to be allowed on the tennis circuit. Anyone who was old enough to read in the 60s heard worldwide demeaning jokes, news stories and remarks about the Press sisters. And heard them for decades afterwards (and you just perpetuated them in this thread!). The Press sisters were Jewish in the Soviet Union… do you have any perspective about what that was like?

    You can make your points about racism without diminishing what they went through. I agree with the main point of what you’re saying, but I feel you’re trying to remold what’s actually happening here and attempting to leave other big parts of history out to fit your theory. Yes, that Ms. Semenya is African is a big part of this story, but so is that she’s what’s socially deemed “noticeably gender variant” (in many different cultures, including in those South Africa, where I understand she was continually taunted growing up). And I’m curious why you didn’t mention my remarks about Pumping Iron 2… which directly addressed issues of gender variance in women’s athletics?

  61. Monica Roberts says:

    @Oscar…what’s that Finnish athlete’s name? Was her test results leaked to the press?

    Gina
    You assmume I’m diminishing what the Press sisters went through. I’m not doing anything of the sort. I just stated a fact that the images of African descended women have been under assault for 400 years.

  62. preying mantis says:

    “A finnish athlete who was mother of two children was gender tested, and she certainly was white.”

    I’m interested just due to curiosity about what could possess a committee to order a gender test on someone who’d given birth to two children. It seems like the height of fractiousness to accuse someone with a female gender identity and a fully-functional female reproductive system of not really being female.

  63. ginasf says:

    @Monica: “I found it interesting that both Tamara, the double gold medallist in the shotput from the 1960 and 1964 Games and Irina who won gold in 1960 and 1964 and set 26 world records during the 1960s both suddenly retired from international competition once gender testing was mandated in 1966.”

    Not a statement of understanding nor compassion. It’s a statement of skepticism, sneering and assumptions. Whatever. I don’t disagree with your point about pernicious imagery of African descended women and I agree there is a sizable part of the Semenya story which is related to this.

    Far more important is this aspect of the story: http://medindia.net/news/Gender-Row-Runner-Semenya-Placed-On-Suicide-Watch-58003-1.htm

    Yup, an 18-year old woman now feels like killing herself because the international media & pundits need to use her life as an example for its own gender policing. Bravo. Way to objectify someone and make her feel worthless. Way to throw away the life of anyone who doesn’t fit the desired mold.

  64. max says:

    In 1950 The Dutch girl Foekje Dillema was expelled from competition because of an Y-chromosome. Read hert story on http://www.foekjedillema.com.

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