Saturday, August 22, 2009

Re: Caster Semenya - So When A Black Woman Beats You Fair & Square You Accuse Her Of Being A Man?

In the WTH! Files:

Ok, so that Austin Powers clip always makes me laugh but the "Bitter Bettys" and haters who've been bested by South African champion Caster Semenya are not amusing - at all. So will every black female athlete who outperforms her competitors be accused of using performance-enhancing drugs or being a man to disqualify her? Ms. Caster is undergoing gender testing to "prove" she is a she! Not to be vulgar here but is this akin to the "finger test" some doctors performed on young women to "prove" their virginity as well?
The International Amateur Athletic Federation asked the South African athletic federation to conduct the gender test after Semenya burst onto the scene by posting a world-leading time of 1:56.72 in the 800 at the African junior championships in Bambous, Mauritius, on July 31. Her previous best was 2:00.58.

The test, which takes weeks to complete, requires a physical medical evaluation, and includes reports from a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender. Gender testing used to be mandatory for female athletes at the Olympics, but the screenings were dropped in 1999. One reason for the change was not all women have standard female chromosomes. In addition, there are cases of people who have ambiguous genitalia or other congenital conditions.

The most common cause of sexual ambiguity is congenital adrenal hyperplasia, an endocrine disorder where the adrenal glands produce abnormally high levels of hormones. "We condemn the motives of those who have made it their business to question her gender due to her physique and running style. Such comments can only serve to portray women as being weak," the ANC said in a statement.

South African athletics federation president Leonard Chuene insisted Semenya is facing intense scrutiny because she is African.

"It would not be like that if it were some young girl from Europe," Chuene told the AP by telephone. "If it was a white child, she would be sitting somewhere with a psychologist, but this is an African child."

The Congress of South African Trade Unions said it "rejects with contempt the attempts by those who tried to undermine her success by raising bogus and groundless queries about her gender." Huffington Post
Some people take their jealousy and envy to a whole other level I tell ya! There is a putrid intersection of racialized gender bias here. Questioning someone's gender identity and biology all in the name of a win or loss of a sporting event is contemptible. I know these competitions are big money but where are the advocacy organizations like the Human Rights Campaign or NOW on this! Forget about the NAACP as they only care about defending black male criminals. I have NO idea what Ms. Semenya's orientation is but it seems this witch-hunt should be a concern as it could inadvertently ensnare LGBTs. How far is this going to go?

This is a powerful humiliation tactic used against a woman who doesn't conform to expectations of failure. Since when does not being mediocre warrant such outrage? This is some serious gender and racial discrimination going on! What about an athlete who was born intersex? Are they not allowed to compete under their preferred gender (if they've chosen one)? Or what if their parents chose one for them at birth? Is some sports official going to override that and invalidate the entire span of that athlete's career? How is she to protect herself if those officials wanted to deny her gender identity by using her own body against her?

There's also an excellent article at The Nation with discusses the intersectionality of racism and gender bias in The Idiocy of Sex Testing.
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Khadija said...


I respectfully disagree. I believe that BW are making a HUGE long-term, strategic mistake by rallying around this individual with indignant tones of "How dare anybody question her gender?"

We're saying this as if this person is an accurate representation of Black womanhood. Is THIS individual somebody that we want to scream about and lift up as "ain't she a woman, darn it?"

I believe that by taking this posture, we are yet again undermining the image of BW as being desirable and feminine.

A woman can be cut and muscular and still have a feminine shape, as we've seen with many other female athletes. That's not what's going on here.

I've looked at the pictures of this individual's physique. There's NOTHING womanly about her. Including her moustache. I DON'T want this individual lifted up as any sort of example of Black womanhood. I'm NOT claiming this aberrant individual as an example of Black womanhood. "She" doesn't have anything to do with me and other actual, normal women.

Again, I think it's a huge mistake for us to run around claiming this person is a "normal" BW. By doing so, we are cooperating with the idea that we aren't women just like other women on the planet.

I believe that she's intersexed or has some other abnormality (genetic abnormality, something causing high testosterone levels, etc.).

And no, it's not "fair and square" for intersexed individuals or others with abnormally high testosterone levels or other male attributes to compete against normal women with normal levels of male hormones, etc. This is exactly the same unfair advantage that the East Germans and Soviets sought for their "female" athletes in previous eras. The East Germans and Soviets were cheating then by doing this. It's still cheating now to use genetic non-women against women competitors.

Intersexed individuals need to compete against the other athletes***meaning MEN***who have comparable levels of male hormones, and other male attributes, etc. That is what would be fair as far as I'm concerned.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Khadija: I see your point. Those officials used to make women they questioned strip naked in front of them to as "proof". It's my understanding the Russians/East Germans were doping up. I also agree Ms. Caster has less feminine attributes...but some claim the same thing about Serena Williams!!

I'm not saying she should get blind support IF it is proved that her physiological makeup is so different as to render her having an unfair advantage. I also understand it would end her career because I'm not aware these competitions allow for intersex athletes. There's a lot at stake here.

The protection of our image as FEMININE black women is very important. I don't like the implications of discriminatory behavior though. They could do this to ANY "female" competitor at any time.

If it is of such a concern these officials should bring back the mandatory testing BEFORE these athletes compete to eliminate the APPEARANCE of a selective witch hunt. That's all I'm saying.

If Ms. Caster doesn't "pass" their genetics testing I will not rally around her in regards to her athletic career, but she's only 18. I somehow get the impression she'd be ostracized and ridiculed --or worse. I can't ignore that either, though admittedly the added attention will have been garnered by the actions of her and her team.

roslynholcomb said...

I don't know how anyone could look at Serena Williams with all that butt and bosom and see anything but a woman. That's ridiculous.

As for Ms. Semenya, I suspect that she has the misfortune of having very strong features and a very low body fat percentage. In a lot of female athletes when their body fat gets so low their menses cease and this can lead to androgen dominance, so while she's not necessarily intersexed, she probably does have a hormone imbalance of one sort of another.

One of the places women tend to lose body fat is in their face. Normally the body fat gives our features a more rounded and feminine appearance, when it's gone it can result in one looking quite masculine.

And, of course, given the plethora of track athletes using steroids this too could be a possibility. Especially given her young age the results could be quite horrific. I remember the East German swimmers in the 1970s, clearly they were doping, and some may well have had androgen imbalances as well.

At least one tennis player Amelie Mauresmo is dogged by similar rumors. It's my understanding that she's said she'll take a gender test when all the tennis players are required to do so. And that may be the answer to these type questions, test them all. If I'm not mistaken they do that in the Olympics. The only recent Olympic competitor who didn't have gender testing was Princess Anne who competed in 1976. Of course, that would be crazy expensive, but there's a lot of money at stake here.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Roslyn: The thing that set me off in July was a conversation some supposed intelligent, middle class, enlightened black men where they were trashing Serena Williams by saying she had an Adam's apple & all other manner of derogatory things. She was too big, not dainty like the white tennis players, etc.

Another blogger was discussing this story and went down a list of black female athletes who are always called "strong" and "athletic" or "mannish" in comparison to their white counterparts. She mentioned skaters Debbie Thomas & Surya Bonal.i I remember how they'd been dogged and neither resemble a man in any way.

This intersects with a history of devaluing ALL black females athletes. Even now the Williams Sisters do not get the respect they've earned. It also shows the inherent cisgender bias, transphobia, LGBT-related discrimination, lack of acceptance of those born intersex or with other differences that society still deems "abnormal". Like how many with darker skin tones are considered not desirable amongst certain segments.

Doping up is one thing but we cannot change the way we are born.

Halima said...

Yes every person should be gender tested as standard, not just semenya, why single her out. It will indeed play into stereotypes of bw being less of women for sure. i bet if she grew her hair longer and wore it straightened, she would suddenly be female enough.

I was pretty turned off at how michael Johnson when interviewed, kept repeating the word 'cheating'. This is clearly not an issue of cheating but of chromosonal abnormality if anything!

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Halima: I'm thinking about Flo Jo while I read your comment about hair. Even she was accused of not being feminine enough! Despite wearing pink, having talons for nails, wearing makeup and having long, flowing hair. As I said my issue is with the way Semanya has been treated and why. She'll have to adhere to the established rules regarding their gender assessment but had she not won I doubt we'd have heard a peep about this. Do it across the board for ALL athletes: male & female and end the discriminatory selective processes.

Citizen Ojo said...

Hearing about this story and watching Semenya in an interview are two different things. Once you see her being interviewed you have to raise an eyebrow. If you look at the United States Female Sprinters and Middle Distance Runners they are cut but they still look feminine. When people talk about the william sisters that is pure hate. Hate from their peers and people that can't understand that a black woman can be built like a brick house and still move with the quickness. People that can't understand how two sisters always end up playing each other in championship games. FYI - In the 96 games some female athletes were tested for the same issue.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Citizen Ojo: Thanks for your input.

TheVoiceOfReason said...

Give it a rest Khadija no one is holding her up to black womanhood you are going off the deep end. MY problem with this is why did they bring her gender up after she beat a record? Secondly why are people defining womanhood in the first place? If the girl is fast then she is fast let's give her kudos for her hard work, and call it a day. If she had a hormonal imbalance why didnt the docs or coaches say something beforehand? I guess they weren't expecting South Africa to be a threat huh? I guess women are going to be put in a box that they have to be dainty and a little bit slower than a man. Bull.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

TheVoiceofReason: Welcome. You are entitled to your opinion but so is everyone else. I published your comment as is, but will direct you to my comment rules about disrespectful words and tones. This is NOT a slug it out free for all. Since I usually don't have to remind folks of this I will allow you one and only one warning should you wish to delurk in the future. I'd appreciate you adhering to this rules of this forum.