Caster Semenya: sports and sexuality

As I read the shocking news that Caster Semenya was subjected to gender tests even before she left South Africa for the Atheltics World Cup, I wonder if she was even told what the tests were for? The lies, the lack of respect and abuse must have left her traumatised, hurt and bewildered. One thing for sure there are people out there, individuals and organisations, who must be held accountable for the damage, hurt and pain they have caused Caster Semenya.

The following is an article by Australian activist and writer, Farida Iqbal on the media invasion of Caster Semenya and “intersex rights, queer rights and feminism”.

Semenya is an intersex woman. But intersex women are not the only women who have been subjected to such scrutiny. The accusation of looking “too masculine” has always been used to degrade female athletes, including Martina Navratilova. For years the media focused on her highly developed biceps.

Semenya was subjected to invasive “gender tests” (actually testing biological sex, not gender). The test results were leaked to the international mass media. Australia’s Daily Telegraph was the first to run the story, revealing Semenya has internal testes and no womb. This may or may not be true.

If it is true, it is a discovery that would prompt any 18 year-old to do some profound soul searching about their identity, their relationship to their body, and their relationship with the world.

Ideally this soul searching would be done in the person’s own time, in their own way.

Yet for Semenya there was no question of privacy. The most intimate details of her body were revealed to the world in lurid headlines in the international mass media: “Semenya has male sex organs” (September 11 Sydney Daily Telegraph) “a woman… and a man!” (September 10 NYDailynews.com) “Is SHE a he?” (August 19 Melbourne Herald Sun).

Semenya is now traumatised and has gone into hiding. She is not the first athlete to have had this experience………..

The ostracism of Semenya doesn’t just affect intersex people. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are affected too. Semenya’s ostracism reinforces the rigid notion of binary gender, a notion that excludes all of us. In Australia, we have a particular responsibility to defend Semenya because it was the Australian media that led the world in ostracising her.

This is also a feminist issue. The incredible scrutiny under which women athletes perform, the media commentary about their supposed “masculine” bodies, and the pressure put on them to assert their “femininity” – by say, posing nude in men’s magazine’s – has nothing to do with their strength as athletes. It is related to society’s commodification and sexualisation of women’s bodies, and its unwillingness to recognise diversity. Read More

Links: Caster Semenya – Praising your name

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