Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Europeans Distressed That Not Everyone Is European

That seems to be, in a nutshell, what the controversy about Caster Semenya, the South African sprinter who the IAAF wants to conduct gender tests on. Inquiry About Sprinter Angers South Africans - NYTimes.com Their evidence? Body type and secondary sexual characteristics don't conform to European standards.

And I love the attitude.
Ms. Semenya, who attends the University of Pretoria, has been described as “traumatized” by the row over her sex. But she has been suspected of being a male before. “Boys used to tease her all the time,” said her great-aunt, Martina Mpati. “Sometimes she’d have to beat them up.”
Of course, all this righteous indignation would go down a lot easier, if the South Africans didn't have a thing for attacking masculine-looking women.
Members of the 070707 Campaign acting to end homophobic Hate found that the murder and ‘corrective’ rape of black lesbians in South African townships are frequently linked to these women’s appearance. They looked too ‘butch’. They didn’t fit the norm, and therefore they must be taught a lesson or disposed of.

Caster Semenya clearly doesn’t fit the model. She chooses to present herself in a particular way that is not the way society might prefer.
And can someone please tell me why a psychological exam is called for? What will that prove? On what will it be based? (Women don't have the will to compete and win?) And will a European psychiatrist really be able to say anything definitive about a black South African from a small village? (I'm sure you psychiatrists believe you do. I am less trusting.)
Few who have studied the photographs or footage of Semenya’s famous race and its aftermath will have failed to notice her androgynous features. She has a six pack that would put any biological man to shame. Her biceps are large and powerful. She seems to have facial hair. She is strong, hugely athletic and runs like the wind.

So what is it about this image that makes us uncomfortable?

Is it perhaps that she doesn’t look like a ‘woman’, at least in the way in which we have come to accept how women are meant to appear?

This non-conformity is acceptable to a degree among the young as they body-pierce, tattoo or go punk or Goth to experiment with their gender identities.

It is less acceptable when men and women shrug off the binary classifications laid down by society, the church and often the law and take up positions that don’t fit. This makes us uncomfortable, disapproving and, at times, murderous.

If you can find a copy of Gender Blending; Confronting the Limits of Duality it is an interesting read. It chronicles the tribulations of women - mostly lesbian if memory serves - who look too masculine. It covers the grief they get in this country. In South Africa, they are often killed.

This is just another hate crime. You don't look the way “we” think you should. You don't act/love/think the way “we” think you should. That “we” being the society and its traditions.

If this was a group of rowdy youth, they would just beat her up. Because it is an international sporting organization, they are beating her up figuratively, in the press.

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