Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Record-breaking runner must undergo "gender testing"--whatever the fuck that means

So I just found this. It's another one of those moments that makes me want to smash my head into something. Or just smash something. I'm gonna find something to smash.

And can anyone blame me? Especially when you read this:

Facing questions about her gender, South African teenager Caster Semenya easily won the 800-meter gold medal Wednesday at the world championships.

Her dominating run came on the same day track and field’s ruling body said she was undergoing a gender test because of concerns she does not meet requirements to compete as a woman.

[...]About three weeks ago, the international federation asked South African track and field authorities to conduct the verification test. Semenya had burst onto the scene by posting a world-leading time of 1:56.72 at the African junior championships in Maruitius.

Her dramatic improvement in times, muscular build and deep voice sparked speculation about her gender. Ideally, any dispute surrounding an athlete is dealt with before a major competition. But Semenya’s stunning rise from unknown teenage runner to the favorite in the 800 happened almost overnight. That meant the gender test—which takes several weeks—could not be completed in time.

Before the race, IAAF spokesman Nick Davies stressed this is a “medical issue, not an issue of cheating.” He said the “extremely complex” testing has begun. The process requires a physical medical evaluation and includes reports from a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, internal medicine specialist and gender expert.(emphasis mine)

First, I'd like to point out the obvious fail in language: the speculation shouldn't be regarding her gender--I think they mean "sex." You know, that whole biology thing. Gender has nothing to do with sex, since gender is how one presents oneself.

Second, what the hell sort of criteria are we going by here?? Are they going to demand a picture of her genitals?

And third--deep voice? Muscles? Omg, it's as if women can't possibly have these things! May I present exhibit A:

(Had to go with Bea Arthur--I miss her so).

And B:

So yeah...these "speculations" are sexist--they're saying a woman couldn't possibly be breaking these records, or be so muscly. This all plays into the "she must be a man" insult (suggestive of calling cisgender women "trannies," which is insulting to cisgender women, as well as transgender women since it implies that transgender women aren't beautiful), saying a woman is masculine or resembles a man.

Again: gender is how one identifies, and how they present themselves. It is not indicative or dependent upon genitalia.

It is not clear in the article how exactly Semenya identifies, as she did not speak about this as of yet. I would like to point out, however, that whatever Ms. Semenya has between her legs is irrelevant.

I feel like more could be said about this, but I acknowledge that I'm not the one to say it. Thoughts?


Update: Monica over at Transgriot has weighed in on this:

But this plays into a larger meme of ignorance and preconceived notions about what is and isn't feminine. The fact that Black women have historically been saddled with the baggage of being considered less than female vis a vis the vanilla flavored beauty standard only adds to this drama.

Add archaic and stereotypical notions about what athletic feats a woman is capable of producing, throw in a little borderline racism and you have a recipe for negative behavior and judgmental commentary to come out of people's mouths.

If it coincides with what the 'experts' consider as 'too rapid' athletic performance for a woman, she may find herself being subjected to a battery of embarrassing and invasive tests just to prove to cynical skeptics that she's 'woman enough' to compete in elite sports with other women.