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in limbo, after speculation over her 'masculine' appearance at the World Championships in Berlin led to the her being withdrawn from professional athletics whilst her gender was determined and the world watched and gossiped.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 ...read the rest at New Statesman.