Reader Blog
Reader Blog

What’s the agend(er)?

By Jennifer Thorpe

Caster Semenya, an 18-year-old athlete from South Africa wins a race with such speed and skill that she becomes the target of “gender probes”. Now for those of you who aren’t already uncomfortable with the thought of any sort of probe, this one should make you run for the hills. For people who are confused, here is a distinction that will serve you well for the rest of your life:

Sex: is what bits you have (biology), male/female.
Gender: is the way that you live in your body. This performance is stereotyped into two terms masculine/feminine, which are commonly used to describe the action of others.

Sex and gender are not the same. Clear?

Now we should all be clear that a test for your gender does not and cannot require any sort of examination of anybody’s genitalia. If you’re looking at someone’s bits, they could say one thing and the person’s performance could say another. Or they could be the same.

If Semenya’s gender is under question, they shouldn’t be looking anywhere near her sex organs, but should be observing her behaviour, which is to run as fast as she can for 800m, alongside several other women. I’m not sure how they escaped the same scrutiny for being unsuitable representatives of femininity — more importantly I wouldn’t think that a sports organisation (which has the potential to create unity and pride in the diversity of representations of femininity) would be so confused that they relegated women to the passive category of small strides, long hair and shapeliness.

Kevin McCullum of IOL said that the issue was “Semenya’s appearance, including obvious facial hair, and muscular build”. The IAAF has apparently been alerted to the issue where they are conducting rigorous screening tests to assess the claim. I’d like to know what these tests include. Possible (retrogressive, barbaric, just plain boring they’re so backwards) examples that spring to mind are:

1. Can she walk in heels?
2. Does she knit a good scarf?
3. Does she feel maternal and caring towards the other participants?
(This list may be expanded to include any other qualities that suit those whose duty it is to assess someone using stereotypes, but I am now exhausted.)

Can someone bring the IAAF and whoever else was involved in this heretical reduction of women to their senses! A woman can succeed, and remain a woman whilst having facial hair and muscles. She can rule the world, run a race fast, be competitive and be successful and none of these characteristics should result in anyone examining her body for signs that she is not a woman. Shame on the IAAF. Shame on the media who have taken up this topic with such spectacular fervour and ignorance.