Thursday, August 20, 2009

IAAF accused of insensitivity over Semenya statement

Hours prior to the women's 800 meter final, the IAAF released a statement asking South Africa to determine the gender of their athlete, Caster Semenya. Semenya had already breezed through the semi-finals and was expecting a podium position in the final, but the timing of the IAAF statement was heavily criticised as wholly insensitive and unnecessary. The IAAF conceded that questioning the sex of an athlete is a very difficult issue but they appeared to demonstrate further insensitivity to Semenya by suggesting that she hasn't been accused of cheating as she may be unaware that she is not female.

Whether Semenya was aware of the media furore that was being created over the IAAF statement is not known, and fortunately it didn't appear to have a detrimental effect on her result in the final as she finished first, a full two seconds ahead of her nearest rival. But the effect that the statement and interest subsequently generated from it is sure to cause concern, not least to Semenya herself. Since sex and gender, in our society, is one of the most fixed categories since birth and one of the fundamental tenets of our identity (nearly everything we do is labelled by our gender) to cast aspersions on it is to challenge the very core of who we are. This whole case, unfortunately, highlights the problem with maintaining the binary categories of male and female; categories challenged recently by Gerald Callahan in 'Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the myth of two sexes'. Callahan provides solid evidence that sex is a spectrum not a binary (or tri, if you want to include hermaphrodites) category. Taking Callahan's argument seriously would cause serious problems for international sport which relies heavily upon the premise that only two sexes exist. This accounts for the IAAFs awkward and clumsy defence of their statement when faced with what they view as a someone who doesn't fit the 'standard' mould.

This case highlights two issues; first, the problems that occur when we divide the world into fixed categories leaving no space for grey areas in between, and second, and more importantly, the insensitivity that is created when a real, feeling, human being is questioned over a core part of their identity based on such interminable categories. The IAAF needs to realise that whatever their rules and world view, athletes should still be treated with the respect and dignity that all sentient beings deserve.

6 comments:

Char Weaving said...

Thanks for posting Emily. I find the story quite troublesome. Especially the reports indicating that her coach understands the questioning that Semenya received because “she looks like a man.” Additionally, he has suggested that to verify her femininity or womanliness, the IAAF could simply ask her roommates who have seen her naked in the shower. Yikes! Clearly, it seems that little has changed in track and field whereby women athletes continue to experience tension unless they possess non-threatening talent and fit the heterosexual-feminine-ideal.

Carl Thomen said...

I agree totally Emily and Char. I am absolutely disgusted by the whole thing.

Chris said...

I feel bad for her because she probably has been mocked all her life. At least she can be finally do something that she can be proud of. Besides, why are they questioning her gender now after she won. If there was a problem, they should have checked her out discreetly before the race instead of embarrassing her after she won.

Anonymous said...

It seems like this is a good reason to argue that gender-testing, if it is to be used at all, should take place _before_ admission to an evant. This is not like doping, where timing of blood tests matters.

Thanks for your comments about gender - and for all of this, Emily.

David O'Hara
Augustana College

Mike Austin said...

The way this has been handled is very disrespectful of her qua human being. We have a long way to go in sport in dealing with these issues in an ethically responsible manner.

gaohui said...

If you want to look ed hardy clothes and feel sexy, a Christian audigier maternity cocktail ed hardy shoes dress may be the ed hardy outlet fashion choice. There ed hardy Bikini are a variety ed hardy hats of cocktail dresses ed hardy swimsuits available, from a sexy ed hardy clothing black to an eye catching red. You can ed hardy glasses either choose a dramatic wrap-dress ed hardy or a sophisticated jersey dress. There ed hardy iphone cases are a variety of styles, patterns, and designs ed hardy dresses to suit any occasion. If you are looking for a bit more ed hardy Jackets dazzle, consider a comfy waist band mini skirt.