In the Blog

Gender Panic at the Track

September 11th, 2009     by Anna Leventhal     Comments

Just read a great article over at Bully Bloggers about Caster Semenya, the South African runner who recently underwent gender testing after she won a gold medal in Berlin. Incidentally, she also recently underwent a makeover, presumably with the purpose of quelling the panic that ensued around having a gender-ambiguous athletic hero. It’s disturbing on many levels, and the article’s author, Tavia Nyong’o, does a great job of tying in historical ideas of race and gender and how they play into what seems to be a good old-fashioned gender panic in the media, both for those who accuse and mock the runner and those who defend her. “If ever a case called for an intersectional analysis that included queer and trans perspectives, as well as anti-racist and anti-imperialist ones, this is it,” she writes.

Interestingly, many forums seem to agree that Semenya must feel “humiliated” (see link above), as much as at the gender testing as at the makeover, which makes her look like a “normal” teenage girl (whatever that means). Although I absolutely agree that no one should be subjected to gender oppression in the form of forced or coerced adoption of gender norms, it strikes me as odd that these media outlets tie “feminine” to “humiliating” so easily, while simultaneously continuing to push the same old agenda of representing attractive femininity as slim, delicate, long-haired and white. And preferably in a bikini. The cries of “she’s beautiful just the way she is!” seem a weeeee bit forced. In any case, I do recommend Nyong’o’s article for an interesting and challenging (if somewhat gender-studies-lingo-heavy) read.

Semenya in action

Did someone say “gender is fluid”?

Tags: body politics, media savvy, race and racism, sporting goods

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