Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the first-ever University of Minnesota Gopher Football game at the new TCF Stadium. The stadium is spectacular and the Gopher’s managed a win over Air Force–a fitting way to christen the stadium. With much discussion over Caster Semenya’s sex verification, this signage posted at the entrance of the TCF Stadium caught my eye. The lines were for security searches and I get the reason for same sex security frisking and privacy issues. This signage highlights in a very simple and real way the arbitrarily chosen binary sex/gender classifications that operate in our society and govern our behavior. Given the news that Caster Semenya is intersexed (An intersexed person has both male and female reproductive organs) which line would be “appropriate” for her?
Note: Thanks to blog reader S.C. for educating me, and now others, that the term “hermaphrodite”, a term previously used for intersexed persons, is considered outdated and derogatory.
Much has been written about the controversy regarding the sex verification testing of Caster Semenya following the IAAF Championships in August 2009 (to read more go here, here, here, here, & here).
Given all Semenya has endured, I can’t say I was surprised (albeit saddened) to see an article today titled, “Embattled track star Caster Semenya gets new coach, new look” which also featured the cover of You magazine (pictured here).
It also got me thinking…When a man outperforms his competition by a large margin—such as sprinter Usain Bolt for example—no one asks “Is he really a man?” No one says, “He is so fast, he might be a woman. He should be tested.” But when a woman wins by a lot—such as sprinter Caster Semenya—her sex is immediately questioned, “Is she really a woman?” This appears to be a clear example of marginalizing female athletic performance, homophobia, and sexism. Unfortunately Semenya’s ‘new’ look is not a new phenomenon for female athletes who have fallen under scrutiny as a result of outstanding sport performances.
Following South African Caster Semenya’s 800m win at the Track & Field (IAAF) World Championships, a storm of opinions and commentary erupted over her subsequent sex testing/gender verification.
Some of the best I’ve seen is The Nation piece written by Dave Zirin and Sherry Wolf, an MSNBC video exposing the “Twisted, Sexist, Racist, & Heteronormative” Track & Field History, and two blogs by After Atlanta (here and here).
One sport sociology colleague on Facebook asked pertaining to most of the existing media coverage…”Are we in the 1950’s?” As Zirin and Wolf write, this issue is a “minefield of sexism and homophobia”….but thankfully the critical perspective has emerged.