I’m writing tonight because I really feel pain for someone. Her name is Caster Semenya. She recently won the gold medal for the 800m sprint in the 2009 World Championships in Athletics, representing South Africa.
I feel pain because I remember what it was like to be 18 years old- the confusion and personal ideals that I struggled with. The decisions that I had to make relating to my mental and physical existence. But never could I imagine having my body scrutinized and inspected across major media outlets, as if I am not even a person. This is currently what’s happening to this 18-year old woman. Let us not get it mistaken. She is a woman and was raised a woman. How her biological make-up is besides the point here. If she has known herself to be a woman her whole life, who are we to classify her and smear her name as if she never had one.
If the IAAF wants to make an issue of her possessing certain physical/internal qualities that gave her an advantage over other female runners, they need to put in place a system where she can be fairly judged and able to keep her medal. Why not make a category for hermaphrodites and trans-gender people instead of attempting to fit people into rigid categories that prove not to be sufficient. Until they put into place some sort of system, they cannot fault this woman for an error that has been long-standing in their competition.
I was also disturbed when I saw that Semenya attempted to acquiesce to the claims that she is a “woman” by posing for a South African magazine in so-called feminine clothing, make-up, and hairstyle. This speaks volumes to the pressures that all women face when they don’t fit into pre-subscribed notions of femininity. And even in this attempt, her image was still wrung out to dry.
In respect of her privacy, the exact results of her gender tests should not have been made public fodder for every media outlet, but rather given to her and her family and dealt with in a manner that does not exacerbate the stigma and humiliation that is currently developing.
This whole incident is strangely reminiscent of the story of Saartje Baartman (Venus Hottentot)- how she was paraded around Europe as a circus/museum attraction due to her “exotic,” “strange” body parts. She was made a spectacle of.
I’m kind of all over the place tonight but I really ache for this 18-year old woman named Caster. There has to be a better way to treat human beings and their unique struggles.