Thursday, August 20, 2009

Show and Prove

Let me admit up front that I jacked this blog idea from The Field Negro. Homie is always a source of news on current controversies.



"Excuse me miss, but, are you a man?

I imagine that's how the conversation went for Caster Semenya. The teenage, South African track and field star is currently embroiled in a controversy over whether she fits the genetic profile of a real woman. For more info on exactly what happened check out this and this.

Sure, there was probably a lot more hemming and hawing when officials approached the muscular teenager to discuss her genes. I'd wager there were pregnant pauses and euphemisms galore when the IAAF explained its concerns. Yet, at the base level, that's what these men (because I'd wager big bucks it was men) asked this young woman.

"Are you a stander or a sitter?"

I can't imagine what it must feel like to be a woman and be accused of being a man. Some might downplay the mental anguish of that, noting that Semenya could take it as a compliment due to her track prowess. But, I keep thinking about how I would feel if I was an 18-year old girl with all the body image issues that 18-year old girls possess, and some strange men told me that weren't sure I was really a female.

Yep, I think y'all get it now.

What's even more disturbing is that the second story I linked to states that this is not really an issue of whether Semenya has the correct female parts. That's not up for debate. The issue is whether on a genetic level she truly qualifies as female.

That's some spooky stuff right there.

Who decides what is genetically female? What's next? Deciding what's genetically human? Just saying, if this young sister was never a man, then she's a woman. Even if she is a hermaphrodite, she's still a woman if that's how she's been living all these years.

Not only am I appalled with where this genetic inquiry might lead, I'm disturbed by the folks that have shifted blame to Semenya's coaches, or her country for what happened at these events. They pretend that these complaints were inevitable given Semenya's dominance and physique.

But, when i look at the girl, she reminds me of disgraced sprinter Marion Jones. Her body resembles the doped up one Jones displayed when she burst on to the sprinting scene and captured hearts and minds. Strangely, I have not seen anyone accusing Semenya of her doping, just accusing her of not being female.

From my vantage point, it appears that this woman's biggest sin was being born without Jones' good looks, but other than that there isn't much difference between them. Here's Semenya:



Now here is Jones:



Tell, me does Jones look like a man to you? I didn't think so. This issue is as much a referendum on beauty standards as it a debate about whether or not this teenager is truly a woman.

Jones, with her long hair, light skin and amazing cheekbones (yeah, I used to stan for her back in the day) may appear ultra-muscular, but she still fits within the acceptable beauty matrix. I don't know whether Semenya is considered beautiful in South Africa, but I know by American beauty standards she would not be. And I imagine that American standards are the same ones used by folks in most European countries.

The combination of Semenya's face, physique and dominance are apparently too much for most folks to wrap their small minds around. Instead of just acknowledging that this woman is probably either a prodigy or a doper, they decided she must not even be a woman. It reminds of some of the things Venus and Serena Williams faced when they first joined the tennis tour.

I feel nothing but for sorrow for this young woman. From now on, whenever she wins a race there will always be whispers about her gender. No matter what the tests show, some people will refuse to acknowledge her as a woman. That's a terrible thing.

Kinda makes me want to quote Sojourner Truth.







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17 comments:

Darth Whitey said...

Reminiscent of the East German scandals at the Olympics. Were they female? No. Some were men, others were genetically modified through years of steroid abuse.

I think the standard should be to of course to have the correct genitals, but then also the ability to produce even slight cleavage ;-)

/male pig

Esquire said...

I thought the same thing when I read about this. It has got to be tough on such a young girl to have people questioning if she is woman or not.

Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for her, but also believe that there is a point in having women's sports. If you cannot limit the sport to some definition of female, there is no point in having women's sports, and there will be no forum in which women can compete.

It's not "fair" to everyone, but neither is much of biology. Most people don't have large enough hearts to pump the blood needed to be a top athlete. Most of us will never achieve the coordination necessary. Biology limits the vast majority of us.

If she turns out to be genetically male, the saddest thing will be that this wasn't discovered earlier. IF this testing were available in childhood, many women would be saved this humiliation and waste by knowing earlier.

Big Man said...

I would like to hear people's thoughts on the difference between the two photos.

In my mind, the only difference is from the neck up.

CNu said...

Big Man is truth...,

B. Merikle said...

Yeah but...(and you actually got me out of lurkdome!)

It's sports. Not Miss Universe. This sport is judged on who is fastest, not who is prettiest.
Steroids are the scandal that they are because steroids increase your muscle strength which, in turn give you a competitive edge over someone without muscles that are as strong. Steroids are related to testosterone. Men have more of it than women. Hence why we have women's and men's realms in track and field.

It is sad that an 18 year old girl who has gone through a life of being questioned about her gender has to go through it in the spotlight now. The Europeans were not the first to question her gender - according to her cousin, she's had a life of being "questioned" because she liked to play soccer and dress like a boy (by her local African standards...wearing slacks instead of dresses).

It is unfair to say that all you women who cannot naturally produce steroids/testosterone at the level that this ONE woman can are banned from taking steroids to out the hormone levels and compete head to head.

If she is genetically male because of the levels of certain hormones she produces, then she shouldn't be competing as a woman.

All said, I don't think this is a matter of EDGL (European Defined Good Looks) so much as it is an issue of hormone control. The governing bodies would rather ban one over-producing female than let all the other ladies dope up to bulk up.

As for the pictures...to me, Marion is over doped and over built precisely to sculpt a machine and looks like a man from the neck down. Semenya is naturally cut and maybe a tiny bit boyish, but I wouldn't automatically think she was a man from the neck down (as I did with Marion's photo). Place a finger over their faces and Semanya looks like a woman (to me) and Marion doesn't. But then I'm not a muscular chick.

LisaMJ said...

I agree with you Big Man. This story has made me very sad. I do think there is a racial component to this, and looks component, b/c the Williams Sisters, who I think are nice looking, and Michelle Obama, who I think is lovely and who bore children, have also had their gender questioned, not to this extent, but were said to "look like dudes." It is really demeaning. Black women can't seem to catch a break, plus the IAAF, or whatever their acronym is, are pretty crazy b/c remember when they called the guy who lost his legs as a toddler but ran on those articificial hook leg thingees (can't remember the name) and said he had an "unfair" advantage compared to the naturally able bodied runners; as if anyone is going to cut-off their legs to have an advantage. Even if by some chance she is one of the small percentage of women who are considered "intersex" b/c they are born with female genetalia but have a Y chromosome, it still doesn't mean she isn't a woman and she certainly hasn't done anything wrong. SOmething similar happened to a runner from India too, who I didn't think looked mannish or overly muscular. Also those E. European women often didn't technically cheat on their own, many of them were doped from around puberty with testosterone and told they were "vitamins" and health injections and then as adults several died at young ages from cancer and at least one had a sex change as an adult b/c she looked so mannish that it was easier to go to that root. So sad and unfair. That is not the case here though and it seems really mean-spirited. My heart goes out to her.

I also agree with you Big Man, her body and Marion's are quite similar, and the primary difference, as you said, is complexion, hair length, and delicacy of facial features.

Lisa J

LisaMJ said...

Oh and that Indian lady tried to commit suicide a few years ago. I hope this doesn't happen with this young woman

Mr. Noface said...

You are right that difference does occur from the neck up between these two athletes, because from the neck down it looks like those two are seriously on steroids (which we now know in Jones' case at least, was true).

It goes back to the idea of what a proper woman should look like and sadly for women of color (read black women) colorism and the European ideal come into play.

Darth Whitey said...

Anon (who is probably white! heh) makes an excellent point about the need to "protect" women's sports otherwise you might as well scrap it and make everyone compete in the same event.

I don't see why y'all would bring race into this. Puh-leeze. What about the East German "women"?

I think the knock on the Williams sisters is that they are physically much stronger than their competition. The women's game is less about power and more about finesse and guile, as opposed to the men who are all about power with the other things being secondary. That's why I, a tennis afficiandado and avid player myself, I prefer watching women play for this reason. And as such, white or black, I don't enjoy watching the Williams sisters play because they simply overpower their opponents. I even feel they could credibly compete on the men's circuit, though maybe they'd be in the top 20 or top 30 and not on the very top.

Did you know that in chess there's a special distinction for women grandmasters? That's right, it's a lower standard, and that's just brain work too. Weird eh? The only woman known to be able to compete with the top male GM's is Judit Polgar (Poland), otherwise it's blank. So it makes sense only to make the game more interesting to women but I still find it weird since it's a brain only activity (though playing long matches does take a physical toll. When I play tournaments and go through two four hour matches per day for three days my brain is not only fried but I am physically exhausted as well.)

Big Man said...

Darth

You say you know tennis, right?

The Williams sisters are no more physically dominating than that Navratilova chick from German.

Not at all. And people loved her.

All games are about winning.

Darth Whitey said...

Not even close BM, Navratilova (from the old Czechoslovakia) was a weakling compared the Williams sisters. The men back then were wimps too, with their little rackets and their tight little shorts. But, the game was more entertaining.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they don't belong on the women's circuit, no way, I'm just answering a query as to why they're disliked. God bless em for their physical attributes. But at least they have serious cleavage :-)

Sweet Jones said...

Did Marion Jones ever sound like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffW5zeuPcds&feature=related

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Anonymous said...

Darth you are full of crap and a half and are a WHINY little bitch!! Who gives a damn!! If I make my livelihood by playing a sport then I'm going to be the BEST DAMN PLAYER in that sport!! And NO amount of whining from a jealous racist snothead like you will change that. This is the SAME b.s. I saw with Tiger well god freaking FORBID a 'Negro' be better than 'whitey' in a mostly white sport!!

Raving Black Lunatic