Friday, February 12, 2010

Caster Semenya: Further Punishment by the IAAF For Just Being Herself

It you do a random Google search for Caster Semenya nowadays, it's depressing. There's two different kinds of articles you'll see:

1) "Caster Semenya: Is This Hermie REALLY A Boy or a Girl?"

2) "Caster Semenya Can't Compete Because of The IAAF."

Let's break it down, shall we?

The articles in article-type 1) are especially depressing, because they show an utter lack of understanding of really basic sex and gender theory that should absolutely be required to be exposed to. These articles are under the impression that sex can only be male or female (i.e., "What's intersex? Is it catching?"). And, in the supposedly rare instance someone's intersex,it's obviously just some sort of a technicality..."Okay, okay Caster's intersex (air quotes here). But is Caster REALLY a he or a she? She's GOTTA be one or the other." Actually, no she doesn't. Like some intersex individuals, she may state that she is biologically male or female (female, in this case) that happens to have a medical condition (a perspective that we'll talk about extensively later). Or she may state that she is biologically intersex, or a variety of other identifications.

These articles are also under the impression that "being a boy" and "being a girl" means that one's sex and gender must match up. A boy is male-bodied, and his gender is male (i.e., he conforms to his male gender role, doing, liking, and acting how society thinks he, as a male, should be - at least for the most part). A girl is female-bodied, and her gender is female, similarly conforming to female gender roles as described. This is very, very interesting because being a "boy" or "girl" in terms of gender - if they had bothered to make the distinction, anyway - is presented as something that is a fixed concept in every single culture worldwide. There are many cultures with very, very different ideas about what biological men and women do, and what subsequent gender roles they have. Some cultures also have concepts of people that are intersex, who also have gender roles. (We'll devote a post to this...don't want to talk too much about it now.) The way we view sex and gender in the US, and what each's relationship is to the other, is NOT the global universal that these articles assume.

The articles in article-type 2) are simply salt in huge, festering wound that is the public exploitation of Caster Semenya. So, when Caster Semenya's competitors bemoaned her talent and stated that she CAN'T be that good being a "real" woman, the IAAF forced her to undergo weeks of physical and psychological examinations. The IAAF has subsequently released that Caster is intersex (or "a hermaphrodite," depending on how totally biologically inaccurate the news source is). They won't release what her specific intersex variation, however. Now, this is certainly not a bad thing, as they shouldn't have said, "HEY, WORLD! Caster doesn't know this yet, but we don't think she's female! So we're going to put her through all these tests and torture. WE JUST WANTED YOU TO KNOW. Come on, Caster! Also, we might need that medal back," in the first place. I do not advocate them releasing any more information out about things that should've never been brought to public light anyway, at least not without enthusiastic consent from Semenya. However, in a theoretical sense, depending on which condition Semenya possesses, it might not exclude her from competing with women in future competitions. Those intersex athletes competing in womens' competitions that HAVE been excluded have been so mainly if they exhibit raised levels of testosterone (i.e., up to "typical male" levels) and/or male musculature - perceived as giving them a biological advantage over non-intersex females. Those reports that have come out already have stated that Semenya possesses higher testosterone levels, although just HAVING those levels doesn't neccessarily mean anything. If my own partial testes were not removed shortly after birth, I would be making heightened levels of testosterone, too, but my intersex affects the cellular receptor that "grabs" onto testosterone molecules so they can be used by the body. I could pump all the testosterone through my body I could make, and it wouldn't mean a damn thing, because no matter how much I produced, I could NEVER USE ANY OF IT. Just producing heightened testosterone levels doesn't mean Semenya's body is actually CAPABLE OF USING IT. This is a distinction that has not been made by the press.

It's so awful in general that the IAAF has been (temporarily?) barred from competition in the first place. If the test results have justified their claims that Semenya has a biological advantage over competitiors - i.e., she can make AND use her "male"-level testosterone and/or has male musculature - then they should tell her if they haven't already. (It's possible they actually have, and instead told articles they're just "deliberating" to stave off looking like bad guys until the public forgets about it and doesn't care about Semenya's exploitation anymore. Nice.) But right now, the IAAF, after putting her through all this bullshit, are still trying to pawn themselves off as the good guys. In one of the most nauseating quotes to date in this whole mess, check this one out:

"Gideon Sam, president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, issued a statement Friday saying she would be ineligible for competition until the investigation is over.

The matter over the results of her gender test are still sitting with the international parent association, the IAAF," he said in the statement. "They are still conducting their work and the process is ongoing. And we have to respect the privacy of the athlete, so any 'confirmation' is premature."

Are you kidding me, IAAF? You apparently can't let Semenya compete until you PUBLICLY announce this information, furthering the exploitation once again. And then, you're only doing this for her OWN GOOD, right? Unbelieveable.

Listen up, shoddy news sources. There's a pretty awesome document that the Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group (AISSG, a UK organization) has put up that's absolutely spot-on. Rock on, AISSG.

You might notice that I haven't linked to very many articles. This is because 1) looking at the vast majority of them spreading the same misinformation and normalizing this exploitation just makes me ill, and 2) you can see evidence of these two article types easily by clicking on almost any article you Google in the first few hit pages. If you want to see the damage by doing a play-by-play of all the articles, definitely do so to see what you're up against. If I linked to all the releveant ones, though, it wouldn't save you any time and I'd be up all night hyperlinking. I don't necessarily mind doing that, but not to link to awful shit like this.

In conclusion, get your act together, news media. You're just making this already disgraceful situation worse. If you're going to report about this, make it biologically accurate and shed some light on why the IAAF's exploitation isn't okay, instead of trying to guess which bits Semenya's got in her pants, huh?

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