Sunday 18 July 2010

Caster Semenya's pink t-shirt.

I've never given much time to the sartorial semiotics of sporting fashion, but one tight, hot pink tshirt has me fascinated. The tshirt in question, emblazoned with the Nike logo, was worn by Caster Semenya on Thursday night as she ran her first race after being cleared to compete with other women by the IAAF. Semenya, 19, also wore a fetching pastel pink running sweater and sported a longer, more feminine haircut. The fashion statement couldn't have been clearer: I'm a proper girl, a girly girl, a girl who likes pink and labels and bunnies and butterflies. Now, please let me do what I was born to do.

With rumours rife that the teenager is biologically intersex and has had surgical intervention and her hormones adjusted to allow her to compete, Caster Semenya must now face the global gender police once more as commentators cluster like flies to give their verdict on her return to athletics. Semenya has spent the past 11 months in limbo, after speculation over her 'masculine' appearance at the World Championships in Berlin led to the her being withdrawn from professional athletics whilst her gender was determined and the world watched and gossiped. The Guardian reports that Semenya had to undergo a series of grotesque tests that sounded "more like abuse than science":

"She was allegedly made to undergo a two-hour examination of her sex organs, hitched in stirrups as doctors took photographs. Afterwards she sent distraught messages to friends and family. Her coach Michael Seme later said that it had been a wonder she did not "drink poison" and end it all."

Semenya also had to endure a makeover and cover shoot for You magazine, a part of South Africa's attempt to prove that speculations over the young athlete's gender were sexist and racist - by kitting her out in Western beauty drag and plastering pictures of her body all over the front cover. Now she's been declared fit to run, it's clearly crucial that she tone down her boyish looks, so here she is in her pretty pink getup, hoping to placate a global media which has no time whatsoever for women who don't look how women are supposed to look. This week, Senator David Vitter attacked left-wing talkshow host Rachel Maddow for "not looking like a woman" on a radio station in the US, and when he was made to apologise, all Vitter could find to say was that the Maddow "did not deserve" what he clearly felt to be an atrocious insult.

More than any other cultural arena, though, the world of sports is about simple binaries, about winners and losers, about arbitrary rules on and off the pitch. That's part of its appeal, and always has been. Caster Semenya threw those arbitrary rules into disarray by being big, brown, butch and flat-chested, and in an atmosphere of competition that demands that people fit into rigid boxes, it was deemed necessary that she be dragged physically and psychologically back into line in the most brutal, public and humiliating way imaginable. The fact that Semenya is faster and stronger than nearly any other teenager on the planet, the fact that she clocked up the quickest 800m of 2009, was considered less important than the central question of what in particular she had between her legs the rest at New Statesman.


  1. shut up, you're not an athlete, you're one of the ladies with a fat sagging ass. if ya been an athlete u'd know why semenya can't compete as a female.

    i however agree on gender police and possible hormone treatment of semenya (stuff like that can lead to cancer and it's a pity they force this on people).

    anyway you're one of the dump left wing radical nuts, and you're cisgendered woman and no athlete. i'm transsexual and athlete, however, and sorry semenya can't run against females. it looks like they introduced estrogen into her/his system to level her with female athletes--don't see any other way they'd allowed her to compete--too bad she agreed to do it, cause it's very destructive for health.

  2. Ugh. That testing sounds so awful that it is hard to find words for it. And you make a lot of good points.

    But I do feel obliged to point out that I would describe the T-shirt as purple rather than pink. Maybe it's a flaw with the computer screen.

  3. Hmmmm...there are plenty of other 'butch-looking' athletes at most international meets (and lots of 'un-feminine' muscle definition), so why did Semenya fall foul of the gender-test police? Or were the authorities looking for an alternative 'explanation' if/when she tested clean for drugs?


    PS: I'm with vanilla rose re. the colour of the T-shirt - but saying it's 'pink' is far more evocative.

  4. The fact that Semenya has to shave on a daily basis to avoid getting a beard kind of spoils your argument for me.

  5. WTF, Seb Coe? First, there are plenty of cis women with facial hair. If women weren't so pressured to bleach/wax/pluck/shave it mercilessly, you would be able to see that without a doubt. Since they are, though, just take a gander at the women's body hair care section at your local drug/grocery store. You'll see waxes and depilatories specially made for facial hair, right next to the ones made for leg, armpit, and bikini line hair. Secondly, trans women and intersex women are STILL WOMEN, you brainless twat.

  6. Yeah, I know a couple of women who have to deal with excessive facial hair. I hope they don't know that I've noticed, though, as they try to hide it. One has real problems with her periods, something that seldom happens to men. The other has polycystic ovaries, which probably explains the facial hair, but she is actually a mother. Not an adoptive mother, a biological mother. Do men have wombs, Seb?

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