YOU and your pretty little boxes

Is anyone else uncomfortable with the way the media (traditional and new) has handled the question of Caster Semenya’s sex and femininity? When I first saw that Semenya was being tested to verify that she was a woman, ¼ of my mind understood the need to make sure athletic competitions are fair and that competitions exclusively reserved for women can’t be infiltrated by a male ringer but ¾ of me was more concerned about the message in between the lines. When everyone was saying Semenya looked like a man, weren’t they just saying she wasn’t conventionally attractive or that there’s a certain way for a woman to look – not like that?

It was inevitable, I suppose, but South Africa’s YOU Magazine has swooped down on Semenya like a hawk to make her look “pretty”, aka more like a woman ought to look. “Muthafucka for WHAT?” © Steve Harvey. Did we really need a “new and improved” version of Semenya as though something was wrong with her before? YOU is just trying to place Semenya in a pretty little box. A little makeup, a dress, earrings and a new hairdo then BAM! You’re a lady! I’m like, kind of insulted by it all.

When it all boils down to it, Semenya was being asked to prove herself female because she wasn’t cute. I know I might be simplifying it too much but that’s sort of the point. Instead of being rewarded for years of hard work and training (which, along with genetics, likely contributed to her muscular body and features), she was  being criticized.

I wonder what this means for one’s privacy and bodily security. Sure, if her sex had to be verified then the International Association of Athletics Federations [IAAF] should have tested her and moved on. Why did this have to become a public spectacle? According to the Examiner.com, the IAAF insists that the test results will not be made public, “but wasn’t the very existence of the gender test also supposed to be kept confidential?” Semenya’s coach resigned recently, reportedly due to his guilt over not telling Semenya she was being subjected to gender testing (initially she thought it was drug testing), and in doing so, he blasted sports officials.

Hmm, does anyone care at this point how Semenya must feel? Her comments indicate that she’s above it all (“I see it all as a joke, it doesn’t upset me. God made me the way I am and I accept myself,”) but I imagine the whole ordeal must be overwhelming. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Chase pretty much sums up my feelings that, “if Semenya was pressured to do this to silence her critics, then this is a sad story rather than one of retribution.”

Some things to think about: what, if any, are the implications for trans folk and those who don’t fit neatly into the traditional male/female dichotomy? When it comes to participating in sports, will people who choose not to identify as male or female in every other aspect of their lives be forced to pick a side if they happen to enjoy soccer, track, or basketball? I don’t have the answers here but it goes to show that there are complex issues at hand and while you can throw on all the MAC Lipglass you want, the answer won’t be a neat and pretty one.

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