21 August 2009

Minding your manners

"She look like man!" blasted the defeated Russian. "She's a man!" roared Italy's Elisa Piccione. And now, the World Championship gold medal winner, Caster Semenya, has been told she has to "prove" that she is a woman, or lose her medal.

I am fascinated and appalled by this story on so many levels. 

This debate calls a whole host of issues into question. On one hand one could argue that the most pressing issue here is "fairness." I am all for fairness, and am a firm believer that cheating should not be tolerated in any form. But that is not the only driving forces behind this.

What does it mean to be a woman? 

How does one prove that one is a woman? 

What does it mean to be a female athlete? 

How and where do concepts of Beauty and Attractiveness play into this debate? And especially the concepts of Beauty and attractiveness that apply one, (and, dare I say, white/Anglo) Western rule of thumb for all womankind. 

Let's break this down in lay(wo)man's terms: Caster Semenya isn't pretty. She ain't Beyonce Knowles. 

But cases like this one, bring out the ugly side in everyone involved. One has to question whether the Russians and Italians would reacted as fiercely as they have if Caster Semenya had been a svelte, long-haired, pretty girl from Iceland or Norway? Or would they have just slipped away, suffered their agonies of defeat in silence.

I was very proud this morning to read in The Guardian's coverage of all this that British runner, and Bronze medalist, Jenny Meadows, was "too polite" to make any comments regarding the gender controversy surrounding her South African competitor.

Jenny Meadows' very British stance shows a grace and decorum that serves as a lesson the rest of world could do with learning.


Spike said...

I am so disgusted by this turn of events. Imani- burgeoning track athlete and I are having conversations that clearly were not on my list of things to accomplish before she returns to 7th grade.

What is beauty and who defines it? What makes up a woman and who defines it? Questions and answers that I need to have for my 13 year old "female" athlete.


Iota said...

Good for Jenny Meadows.

Random Thoughts said...

That is a wacky story... Good for Jenny for minding her manners. I feel very bad for Caster. If she is indeed a she, but discovers that she has XY chromosomes like a 2007 Indian runner she will have some pretty tough psychological battles to go through.

Deidre said...

I hadn't heard about this story, but I went to an all women's university in the USA and there was a lot of controversy as to who was allowed into the university. They finely decided that if you were born a female you were allowed in. But nothing seems that adequate.

Bravo for Jenny.

GothGirl said...

I referenced your blog. Interesting story!