Friday, November 20, 2009

Semenya back in the news; the debate continues

Thankfully it appears that South African runner Caster Semenya is not mired in depression or confusion over the recent questioning and testing of her gender and sex and biology.
Last weekend The Guardian ran a lengthy essay on what Semenya is up to these days: training. And included many photos of the athlete with her teammates and coaches. There was controversy over whether Semenya's conversations with the writer were on-the-record and if she knew that her talks with him would be included in the article. I have only glanced at the article myself so I cannot comment on its accuracy or fairness or sensitivity in covering all the attendant issues.
This week the IAAF ruled that Semenya could keep her medal and her prize money, but discussions are stil underway about whether she will be allowed to compete in the future. The IAAF has allegedly said they will not reveal the results of all the tests they conducted. (Not an especially reassuring statement given how information has been leaked throughout this investigation.)
As this news broke, Jill Geer, who does PR for USA Track and Field (that must be a stressful job!) wrote a blog post on USTAF's website about Caster Semenya. It was interesting. I was a little disturbed by the warning at the top of the post that read: Readers are advised that the following blog deals with issues of gender determination and sexual characteristics.
Not all that surprising that those in track and field and many outside of sport as well have such difficulty even comprehending these issues; they can't even talk about these things--even in a clinical way--without getting squeamish. Say it with me people: GEN-IT-AL-IA. See, that wasn't so hard. It's not as if some child was going to come across this blog post and get turned on by discussions of what kind of gentilia a South African runner has. And if it inspires questions by said child--good! And if you are the parent of said child and cannot answer these questions--email me!
But I digress, back to Geer's post. She displays a great deal of empathy for all involved, which is good. And she laments the way the whole situation was handled--also good. She clearly has an understanding of how gender norms are problematic. I was not too pleased that, right after she explained how she understood the limits of gender norms, she condemned Semenya's post-race bicep flex.
Geer cites my good friend Erin Buzuvis's paper delivered a couple of weeks ago at a conference on sport and law in Baltimore--but Geer doesn't agree with most of her points even as she lauds Buzuvis's attempt to present a "rational" argument about fairness in competition. Having read said paper myself and being one of those gender studies people Geer mentions briefly, I think that attempts at rationality are largely futile given that rationality itself is constructed through dominant ideas of gender, sex, power, science, etc. But I understand that people in governance and policy-making and law like to have rules.
And in the end my hope is that the situation with Semenya will alter not just the rules but our thinking on gender and sex.

h/t to NS for sending me Geer's blog

No comments: