Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Blog blast past: Semenya was such a freak, you heard it a thousand times that week (and NOW?)

South African runner Caster Semenya has been cleared to resume competing. Remember all the controversy late in the summer of 2009, all the wannabe biologists making jokes she was a man? Of course you do. Here's a told-ya-so post from Nov. 19, 2009.

From the department of "told you so," the South African runner Caster Semenya is keeping her gold medal from the world championships.

Or have people already forgotten about how, for a couple weeks in late August and early September, suddenly everyone fancied herself/himself an expert on gender determination? The temptation is to paraphrase from Jon Lajoie's Michael Jackson Is Dead video ("You fuckin' hypocrites," extremely NSFW). Anyway, point being, whatever is still to come out about Semenya, the fact remains the way some people who should know better reacted is kind of mortifying.

Anyway, a quick google turned up a blog post from U.S. runner Jill Geer, "The myth of fairness meets the question of gender," which is pretty illuminating. She notes that now-infamous photo of Semenya flexing at the finish line (which is just strange since a runner's stock-in-trade is her legs and lung capacity) and her choice of coach did not do her any favours. But still...
"Reading about (Semenya's) case has been an eye-opening education for me as I've learned about the incredible varieties of genetics that cause huge variations in what is male and female. It's like learning that it's not always day and night; it's often dusk and dawn. Until you read about and understand the science, it is hard to understand why the case isn't clear-cut.

"Of course, the uncertainty only makes the issue more tragic. If I were an athlete who finished behind Semenya, I would feel bitterly angry and cheated. If I were Caster Semenya, I'd feel equally cheated, and perhaps even more so: I'd feel I'd been cheated not out of a medal but out of my right to enjoy my life. Not only has her performance been called into question, but her entire life has been made the subject of intense public debate, cruel jokes and salacious rumor-mongering. In a classic bit of side-show grotesquery, she was even trotted out in sequins for a South African women's magazine.

These are just a few reasons to feel angered by the whole affair, but if Semenya was put in a position to compete when people close to her knew there might be an issue regarding her sex, it is even more infuriating.

"... Erin Buzuvis of the Western New England School of Law in October delivered a paper entitled 'Caster Semenya, Sex, and the Myth of a Level Playing Field.' While I don't necessarily agree with many of her assertions, that she attempts to lay out a rational argument as much as possible is to be lauded.

"... Even if competition is divided along the lines of sex, she argues, there is inherent natural variation and "unfairness" within the sexes. What is fair, and is it possible and desirable to try to create fairness when there is no such thing as a truly level playing field in sport? To wit, some women have naturally higher testosterone, and more strength, than others. Some runners have grown up at altitude and therefore have an advantage in distance running. Some athletes are wealthy and can afford training aids that others can't."
Whatever happens, happens, one would hope the reaction is a little more mature next time.

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