eumelia: (flog it)
I don't know why, but ever since I saw Caster Semenya run and win that, now, historical 800m track, I've tried to stay on top of the story, which has not been easy because eventually people got bored with speculating whether she is or isn't female.

Note that I use sex rather than gender, because Semenya herself asserted time and again that she is a woman, she was never treated by anyone else as anything other than a woman and it was only during the gender testing she had to undergo was she ever treated as anything other than human.

I can't recommend hard enough the documentary about her time after she was banned from racing: Too Fast To Be a Woman?. To hear her own voice, her own opinion about what had happened after the 2009 World Championships in Berlin was amazing.
She's a very strong person, I regret the fact that my admiration for her comes from anything other than her ability in sports.

One of the things that was really emphasised in the film is the double standard between male and female athletes when it comes to ability. It was really fascinating to hear people who deal in sport talk in dismay about Semenya being singled out, because it wasn't as though she had broken any speed records and her body wasn't any more "freakish" than other athletes.
As is said in the movie:
"All athletes are freaks of nature, it's what makes them good".

That echoed in my mind for a long time, because take Michael Phelps, the record breaking Olympic Swimmer. His feet are enormous. His arms and legs are longer than is proportional to his torso. No one said he had an unfair advantage over his competitors, on the contrary, he was said to have been "built for swimming".
Or Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive. No one speculated whether he was too fast for a man.

But women, ah, women. They can't be too good, otherwise they're simply not suitable for competing with other (not as freakish?) women.

It drives me up the fucking wall.

There is no limit to what men should be able to do. In fact, the faster, the higher, the more challenging, the better.

No, women, who have an "unfair" biological advantage (like more than average androgen hormones flowing) need to be controlled. They can't be too good, because then, well, what makes them so different from the men we admire so much.

There needs to be enough arbitrary difference so that women who are females with hyperandrogenism can be curtailed and not threaten the status quo of femininity on the field.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) have published new regulations to deal with the issue of hyperandrpgenism.
The article linked above says:
Hyperandrogenism causes abnormally high levels of androgens [testosterone] and a female athlete with the condition could, under the previous regulations, be prevented from competing, as was the case with Semenya.

She has since returned to competition, but the episode lead to the IAAF Council commissioning a review which has taken 18 months to complete.

It's nice that they call the singling out, media frenzy and utter disaster in treating a female athlete with respect, an "episode".
The problems with implicating that there are "abnormally" high levels of testosterone in women are myriad, starting from the fact that it is hormones that dictate ability, rather than be a part of the body-machine. As well as the implication that these hormones dictate gender and thus the differences of gender.
Also, the only time androgens are too high, is when there is a life threatening issue of hormone regulation like with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (one of the better known cases of intersexuality).

But okay, some female athletes have higher levels of testostorone than the, say, non-athletic woman, why this insistence on doing a comparison to men?
Testing levels for men and women differ because males naturally produce more androgens. A female athlete will be permitted to compete in women's competition if their androgen levels are below the male range.

I'm pretty sure, though please correct me if I'm wrong, that male athletes will most likely have on average, higher levels of testosterone than non-athletic men.

As I said, women will be tested for hormone levels, to make sure they're not, you know, too "masculine", or on the contrary, just "feminine enough". While men will continue on their hyper-masculine merry way.
If a female athlete has androgen levels within the male range, they may compete if they have an androgen resistance, which would reduce any competitive advantage.

Remember "ladies", if you're too close to male level athleticism, you're too good to compete.

Suck on that.
eumelia: (Default)
Okay.
You all know what I think about the whole Caster Semenya debacle, because that is exactly what it is.

It being the day after Transgender Day of Rememberence and the News about her so-called innocence coming out the day before, is all a convergence of an issue of which there is little to no awareness in the mainstream media.

Gender variance.
Beyond that, treating gender, sexuality, physical and mental abilities as though they are some kind of moral compasses for people.

The fact that the Guardian article linked above states:
South Africa's government, Semenya's lawyers and the IAAF had reached total agreement that she will retain her gold medal, title and prize money because she has been found "innocent of any wrong", the ministry said in a statement.
Emphasis mine.

What, exactly, was her crime? Surely, she was publicly tried and put through hell... but there was no criminal trial in which she had to stand on a podium and claim her innocence of anything.
I'll tell you what her "crime" was.
She won the race. Her opponents ate her dust. Her body is strong, big and built to run as Dave Zirin wrote in the article Standing with Caster.
That - Those - were her crimes.
Her public offences.

Because she doesn't look as feminine as women are "supposed to", her entire life, and career, was ruined for running too fast for a woman.
It really should go without saying that African women and women of African descent have always been under the suspicion of not being feminine enough - or on the flip-side, being overtly sexual.
So, not only was Semenya too good as a woman athlete, she was not good enough as an African woman who is supposed to be all curves and pliant flesh on which to be colonised.

There is a reason the first "foul play" cries came from her White European opponents*.
They could not believe that a woman beat them with such a huge margin.
Obviously, she had to be a man.

The fact that her family feels the need to attest and confirm her sex ("female") is just too terrible for words. Her very identity was put into question, her body was presented as a freak show for having a advantage which makes her the supreme athlete that she is.

She gets to keep her medal, I wonder how much of a consolation that is for the loss of dignity she has had to put up with for the four months.

The findings of her gender sex tests will remain confidential, as the whole speculation whether or not she is Intersex was a leak to the press.
We will never know and you know what... it's none of our business!
Really.
Let's get over this, because when you begin to question another person's gender you are basically saying: "You are a liar", "You are a freak", "Your identity is a failure".
How do I know this? Seeing as I'm cisgender and gender-conforming in my appearance.
#1 There was a time I wasn't gender-conforming in my looks.
#2 I do my best to listen to people.

Friends, #2 isn't that hard.

I know that as I've gotten more politically vocal I've been told (by various people) that I'm intolerant of other people's opinions, that I'm rigid in my views, that I'm un-accepting.
I wonder if the various people who tell me these things realise that huge swaths of the population whose voice is routinely silenced.

People who have a greater chance of being raped and murdered simply by walking out the door.

Because Caster Semenya supposedly didn't look like a woman "should", the mainstream media had no qualms about turning into Yellow Journalism over her bits and instead of reporting about this great breach of privacy, and colossal mistreatment and humiliation of a champion athlete, they went along with the sensationalism of what a person may or may not have between their legs.
Because there are men and women and people who are neither who chose the live their lives with integrity, how they see fit and not through the "M" or "F" that was issued to them at birth... they are silenced, brutalised and killed.

Silence is violence.

Speak Up!

Footnotes:
* Even though the Silver went to Kenyan Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei - but she only had 0.3 seconds over Bronze medallist Jenny Meadows of the UK, that's a "normal" margin... not a whole 2.45 seconds! That's crazy... Info from wiki.
Back to text.
eumelia: (Default)
She gets to keep her medal.

More on this and other crap tomorrow, because folks... this is not just about Semenya.
eumelia: (Default)
Caster Semenya on suicide watch.

Colour me unsurprised and royally pissed off.

I've been keeping up to date on the story ever since Germaine Greer's transphobic comments regarding the affair.

I have about ten tabs open with articles and blog posts all talking about Semenya.
Many people are talking about the issue, as well they should.

To me, it reads as a cautionary tale to those women who dare to be exceptional, who dare to toe the line of the gender assigned to them at birth, of women who cannot (visibly) be intimidated by a man.

We will crush you, if you dare. The same goes to any gender non-conformist. Caster Semenya had the misfortune to be a good runner, she beat the European competition (in Berlin no less) and was then (almost literally) dissected in public to make sure that she didn't have an "unfair advantage".

The intersection of sexism, racism, colonialism, gender essentialism and the problematic state of women athletes in track and field sports all seemed to coalesce in the most destructive way possible on this woman, whose life (not to mention career) has gone down the drain.

The public eye, the policing of what is considered appropriate identity will kill you dead if you dare step out of line and show that you are good at what you do.
Your identity, that thing you spent so much time moulding and attuning and making your own is shattered by the fact that the medical institute insists that we are as our bodies say we are.

Biology is destiny.

Various hair products, plastic surgery, body-modification parlours and trans people who go through hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery (top and/or bottom) tell a different story.

A woman's body is up for public consumption. Add racism into the mix and you have the masses demanding she be made "presentable".

It was the beginning of the end when I saw that Semenya had been made over. Her androgyny (pic before makeover) became a source of contention in the aftermath of her win. Moreover, the history of black women's bodies being forced to conform to Euro-centric beauty standards and the issue of how black femininity is culturally lesser than white femininity also raised the level of what Semenya needed to do in order to compensate, nay, publicly apologize for the fact that she's a masculine woman (pic after makeover).

In the article The Unforgivable Transgression of Being Caster Semenya, the author expands on the fact that black women (people of African descent in general) have historically been targeted as gender non-conformists, or even failures:
South Africans aren’t the only ones angrily comparing Semenya’s treatment to that of Saartjie Baartman, the nineteenth-century Khoisan woman who was exhibited throughout Europe as a sexualized monstrosity. White audiences guffawed, prodded and poked at her exposed body, which they laughingly demeaned as that of a “Hottentot Venus”: the inverse of European standards of beauty. Challenging Semenya’s femaleness, people now assert, is imperialism all over again.

I'm loath to call gender essentialism imperialism, but different kinds of oppression do often come from the same place.
The policing of identities and bodies into the dominant world order and subjugating those identities and bodies in order to maintain that world order.
The gender binary is the world order.
And it kills.

What I really enjoyed in the article linked above was this paragraph:
[I]nstead of insisting upon the naturalness of her gender, how about turning the question around and denaturalizing the world of gender segregated, performance-obsessed, commercially-driven sports, a world that can neither seem to do with or without excessive bodies like Semenya’s and their virtuosic performances?

The rush to compare Semenya to Saartjie Baartman, while obvious for nationalistic reasons, misses something crucial. Baartman was exhibited and castigated for what the imperialist eye took to be her abberant femininity. A better comparison here would be to the many trans bodies (like famed jazz pianist Billy Tipton[link added by [livejournal.com profile] eumelia) who have been disciplined and punished for their female masculinity.

One of the first things I learned when I became immersed in feminism was that society isn't the way it is, it's how we think it is.
Or rather, it's how we see ourselves as part of it.
That's why racism is systemic and there is a difference between a white person calling a black person a "nigger" and a black person calling a white person a "cracker".
The personal wound to either goes without saying, the history of the words are different and the affect that history has over our minds, bodies and social groups is severe.
Apartheid may be "over" in South Africa.
The disparity between those who Have and those who Have Not remains largely unchanged.

Caster Semenya is paying the price of being too good. Of being a woman whose biological body is now considered medically inapplicable to her gender. She may be Intersex (ETA: a fact that was leaked to the press before the results actually reached her. Classy), but she's a woman and she's being punished for not being female enough.

The article The Sad Saga of Caster Semenya writes:
[I]t is important to note here, critically, that Caster Semenya has always been a woman, has always defined herself as a woman, has lived her life as a woman, has to this date considered herself to be a woman, not transgendered, not a transman. It is critical to note this here as to understand both the statement to come as well as what a public scrutiny of gender is like.

It is a horde of people thinking they have a right to decide where you belong with only an ignorant impression of your gender proclivities and expression with zero understanding of your internal sex. And their opinion is to be given credence over your own. Transpeople undergoing Harry-Benjamin style therapy for “permission” to transition know this feeling very well. It is humbling, infuriating, and leaves you feeling powerless and adrift.

And for her there’s no point at the end of it, just the threat of the removal of everything that has brought you joy, the threat that all of this can be taken away because you were suspicious. Now the public and an arbitrary standard noone fully understands can remove the one passion that has defined your life and remove from you the dream of a little girl (to compete, perchance to medal in the Olympic games, to bring honor to your country and family, and most importantly to yourself).

Gone in an instant.
Emphasis mine

Anyone's perception of self would be undone by the unbearable melancholy of one's identity being forcibly yoinked from pillar to post because of public demands, because gender is a prison even when you supposedly overcome it. Which is what woman athletes do of course, over come the infirmity of their weaker bodies - and they're still not considered to be worthy of same attention as men athletes, because the best woman will always be lesser than the medioce man. Suck on that Billie Jean King.

In conclusion:
Well, it doesn't end here. I hope I don't wake up tomorrow morning and discover that Caster Semenya ended her life because society deemed her unacceptable. The trauma is undeniable, the humiliation is beyond comprehension.
Gender essentialism continues to be the building block of oppression as we live it and no one is safe from the assault on the self if you dare to toe the line.
Failing in your gender, it's a killer, literally.
eumelia: (Default)
When I began my feminist education I pretty much went chronological and began reading about Suffrage, Harriet Taylor Mill, John Stewart Mill, Seneca Falls, The Declaration of Sentiments etc.
Then came the Second Wave, you know "The Second Sex", "The Feminine Mystique", "The Redstockings Manifesto"... "The Female Eunuch".

I really liked Germaine Greer.
Her deconstruction of gender was cutting edge at the time. She managed to lay out the Materialist aspect of femininity, womanhood, etc.
Though after reading Monique Wittig she seemed a bit dated.

Any way, I really like her and I've kept her in a nostalgic corner of my heart. However, like many radical feminists who seem to be stuck in the Second Wave, which gave us many tools into seeking liberation, but were very marginalising for identities that didn't mesh with the very dichotomy that feminism sought to deconstruct.

Greer has made Transphobic remarks in the past which I had the privilege to ignore, because I wanted to keep liking her.
This though.
I can't ignore, because it's just too hateful, too anathema for me to reconcile that a feminist of her stature would be so intolerant towards women who lived different lives from her.

In her article in the Guardian Caster Semenya sex row: What makes a woman?, she writes:
Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women's names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn't polite to say so. We pretend that all the people passing for female really are. Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man's delusion that he is female.

Screw You, Germaine!

I feel like I should deconstruct this article line by line, but frankly that's boring and I'd have to read it again.

Not only is Ms. Greer reaffirming the disgusting stereotype of "female parody" that are trans women, that is, that trans women cannot look female, as though there is some standard that women must abide to. She also negates the trans identity as a delusion, continuing the idea that trans people are mentally ill because they "believe" that are the opposite gender.

Who the fuck are you Greer, the "Sex" Police?

Because she's writing about Semenya, she also briefly writes about the exams Semenya must undergo in order to establish her femaleness:
And then Caster Semenya appeared. Big, blokish and bloody fast, could she really be a girl? No simple chromosomal test will decide. Establishing her sex will require the services of an endocrinologist, a gynaecologist, an expert on gender and a psychologist. For those of us who have never been allowed to doubt that we were female, the process seems bizarre. We don't know if we think like women or not. We just think. Is there a reputable psychologist out there who would dare to distinguish a female thought process from a male one?
Emphasis mine
Germaine are you kidding? Are you high? Wow, hypocrisy just isn't as subtle as it used to be.
I cannot imagine the humiliation that Semenya is forced to under go in order to prove she is who she says she is.
She's being punished for being too good.
The line between male and female is culturally based.
If a Woman is made, then so is a Man.
That doesn't make these identities any less real, a woman who was male assigned at birth is no less a woman than one female assigned at birth.
Just different.
The feeling of being forced into a gender that doesn't suit you is painful and no, you cannot doubt which gender you are, that can bring about a hell of a lot of trouble and strife into your life.
Surely, Germaine, you can relate to that.
No?
Oh well.

I suppose I'll just have to make fun at the fact that when you write a conclusion that includes a sentence like this one:
People who don't ovulate or menstruate will probably always physically outperform people who do. But then, doesn't all competitive sport canonise and glamorise the exploitation of genetic advantage? Who said life was fair?

I suppose Ms. Greer isn't aware that most women athletes once they reach a certain level of fitness, weight and musculature do not menstruate any longer.
And yes, many athletes both female and male have an "unfair genetic advantage", that's part of what makes an athlete rather good.
Would you ban Michael Phelps from swimming because he has extra big feet?

In short, Germaine Greer you suck! Get over yourself and start living in the now, rather than in the 1970's.
eumelia: (Default)
Just this evening, at the Berlin World Track and Field Championships, Caster Semenya of South Africa won the 800 metre distance run.

I saw it on teevee and I was amazed.

She left them all in the dust, a few of the other athletes were utterly bewildered.

Now she faces a gender probe, more info here.
That is, she's going to go under the invasive procedure of "making sure" she's female, because she did too well in her field.

Such is the fate of female athletes who are too successful.

I don't know what how Semenya ID's, nor do I care, however, her appearance is butch... too butch for the comfort of the athletics committee.

Diversity within female "sex" is verboten, obviously.

I'm smelling the misogyny, transphobia, homophobia and racism from here, in my little dusty room.

Maybe one day athletic categories will be divided through comparative abilities, rather than through gender segregation.

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Eumelia

June 2015

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V and Justice

V: Ah, I was forgetting that we are not properly introduced. I do not have a name. You can call me V. Madam Justice...this is V. V... this is Madam Justice. hello, Madam Justice.

Justice: Good evening, V.

V: There. Now we know each other. Actually, I've been a fan of yours for quite some time. Oh, I know what you're thinking...

Justice: The poor boy has a crush on me...an adolescent fatuation.

V: I beg your pardon, Madam. It isn't like that at all. I've long admired you...albeit only from a distance. I used to stare at you from the streets below when I was a child. I'd say to my father, "Who is that lady?" And he'd say "That's Madam Justice." And I'd say "Isn't she pretty."

V: Please don't think it was merely physical. I know you're not that sort of girl. No, I loved you as a person. As an ideal.

Justice: What? V! For shame! You have betrayed me for some harlot, some vain and pouting hussy with painted lips and a knowing smile!

V: I, Madam? I beg to differ! It was your infidelity that drove me to her arms!

V: Ah-ha! That surprised you, didn't it? You thought I didn't know about your little fling. But I do. I know everything! Frankly, I wasn't surprised when I found out. You always did have an eye for a man in uniform.

Justice: Uniform? Why I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about. It was always you, V. You were the only one...

V: Liar! Slut! Whore! Deny that you let him have his way with you, him with his armbands and jackboots!

V: Well? Cat got your tongue? I though as much.

V: Very well. So you stand revealed at last. you are no longer my justice. You are his justice now. You have bedded another.

Justice: Sob! Choke! Wh-who is she, V? What is her name?

V: Her name is Anarchy. And she has taught me more as a mistress than you ever did! She has taught me that justice is meaningless without freedom. She is honest. She makes no promises and breaks none. Unlike you, Jezebel. I used to wonder why you could never look me in the eye. Now I know. So good bye, dear lady. I would be saddened by our parting even now, save that you are no longer the woman I once loved.

*KABOOM!*

-"V for Vendetta"

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