The tense debate around Caster Semenya and Dutee Chand substantiate the intersection between race, gender and medical imperialism
When I was eight years old I called South Africa, my dad’s homeland, for the first time. I’ll never forget running into Jo’burg, examining down over the members of this house in the town and envisioning hundreds of turquoise squiggles and flecks. “Wow,” I said, excitedly,” everyone has a swimming bath here !”
My dad gave me a stern ogle.” Not everyone ,” he said. It was 1987 and apartheid was in its final throes.
I learned a lot on that journey- my first taste of difference at its most raw. By the end of the excursion I questioned many things I reputed I knew. I had thought that it would be lovely to have a wading pool. I had thought that everybody started from a level playing field.
In sport, of course, the proposition is that they do. Sport’s governing mass exist to ensure that athletes arrive at the starting line with a fair chance. They seek to enforce fair play with a catalogue of rules. And yet, this capacity of the enforcer is increasingly problematic, particularly in relation to women and athletic. In seeking to define the boundaries of womanhood- our genetics, our apparel, our most intimate parts and knowledge- dames are being policed. Worryingly, the very regulates designed to protect us are growing our oppressors.
The story of the South African runner Caster Semenya personifies these tensions perhaps more than any other. The multiple world-wide and Olympic 800 m champion is the subject matter of reviles, medically invasive procedures and hysteria since she firstly rivalled on the international stage. She has also been claimed as their own nationals hero, an icon, South Africa’s version of Serena Williams.
Semenya’s story subdivided women working in athletic more. Sometimes uncomfortably so. Italy’s 800 m smuggler Elisa Cusma Piccione cruelly labelled her” a being” after Semenya was diagnosed with hyperandrogenism, a medical malady characterised by the high levels of testosterone. One of Great Britain’s national smugglers, Lynsey Sharp, decreed Semenya’s presence in the play “unfair”, while marathon world-record owner Paula Radcliffe said,” When we talk about it in terms of fully expecting no other make than Caster Semenya to win that 800 m, then it’s no longer sport .” Disturbingly, the female articulations of disagreement are overwhelmingly white. In differ, those women most affected by sportings’ stance on what constitutes a female jock are women of colour from the world south.
” The incongruity of contestants from United kingdom of great britain, which spent PS275m on the process of preparing the Rio competitions, growing fundamental questions about fairness in a hasten against canadian athletes from a country that wasted less than PS1. 9m has somehow lost touch ,” wrote the South African author and commentator Sisonke Msimang. Msimang’s point is important. The money and investment in international sport from the world’s richest countries is the elephant in the room. Ahead of the Rio Olympic Games, only 30 countries were expected to triumph 80% of all the medals. John Hawksworth, premier economist at PwC, coolly observed that this boasting motif reflected the shape of the global economy: a select few powerhouses reaping the greatest rewards.
I was at the Berlin World Championships in 2009, acting as an athletics reporter, when Semenya’s story firstly separated. She was just 18 when the world began reporting on her genitals. It was the most challenging, heart-wrenching, unpleasant tale I ever worked on. The world athletics media didn’t have its own language to cope, as correspondents careened awkwardly through a variety of lingo from “hermaphrodite” to “intersex” to “hyperandrogenism” and “DSD”( ailments of copulation development ).
Nine years on and Semenya has received hormone management to comply with the International Association of Athletics Federations( IAAF) necessitates, but continues to be viewed with idea. Meanwhile, the court of arbitration for play( CAS) decreed that the IAAF’s rules on hyperandrogenism should be suspended unless they can provide incontrovertible evidence to show that elevated testosterone degrees lend an important advantage to contestants like Semenya. Eventually, we are still clumsily navigating our course through this issue.
Hyperandrogenism, as so many have since reasoned, is just one genetic difference among numerous that separates one contestant from another. Eero Mantyranta, the Finnish cross-country skier who predominated his boast in the 1960 s, had a naturally high red blood cell and haemoglobin weigh; Usain Bolt is almost 2m tall and, combined with lightning fast leg turnover, obliterated the contender through three Olympic cycles/seconds. But no one complained that his proximity in the rival constructed for the purposes of an uneven athletic field. So why should gender be singled out for regulation?
I listened a athletics consultation in 2016 and heard the bioethicist Dr Silvia Camporesi discuss these issues. Since the hyperandrogenism pattern are entered into home, says Camporesi, simply women of colour from the world south have been targeted for gender testing.” How could this be ?,” I asked.
” There is an intersection of hasten and gender, and maybe medical imperialism[ in sports governing bodies’ approaching ],” Camporesi says.” This idea is that fornication is binary, and if women do not conform they should have surgery or take androgen curbing regiman- while there is no such requirement on men. In boast there appear to be this idea that to ensure fairness in rivalry you need to suppress outliers if women act too well or too close to the male assortment. There are different genetic and biological changes, plus grooming, mental capacity and other facets that make an athlete a champion. Compare Caster Semenya with Bolt and she’s not such an outlier. Use hyperandrogenism to define fairness is too narrow. Fairness is a much broader theory .”
Katrina Karkazis, a bioethicist at Stanford University, is one of the panel of experts who certified in the Dutee Chand suit- the Indian sprinter whose action at law persuasion CAS to suspend the IAAF’s testosterone rule for two years in 2015. Karkazis has been key in redefining the debate around this issue, in particular objection what she calls the” testosterone illusion “. She has frequently called out the socio-cultural situation.” The IAAF must demonstrate that female jocks with higher total T[ testosterone] have a conduct gap that approximates what male jocks often have over female players; not that female jocks with higher T have any competitive advantage over their peers. In other texts, it has to be a big conduct difference, which CAS put in the 10 -1 2% array. What the results of the study observed is nothing near this .”
In media reporting of Semenya and Chand’s cases, much has been made of their rural upbringing, as though there is a direct link between their birthplace and their genetic make-up. In information, Camporesi says, there is no scientific indicate to suggest that hyperandrogenism is any more prevalent in the global south than it is in the UK.” That would be wrong … and I would be very sceptical of any conjecture that territory it was dependent on hasten. It can be due to different justification. It can come in mild patterns such as polycystic ovary disorder[ affecting one in five women in the UK ].”
Camporesi believes that white players have not so far been picked up because they do not inevitably conform to the” visual triggers” born out of western suggestions about femininity.” My insight is that of course it is a pressure on ladies to comply with a certain heteronormative better standards of femininity. We can shape some extrapolations on the basis of the counter that was included in the IAAF hyperandrogenism regulations .”
The scoring counter that Camporesi refers to is based on a method initially generated by two physicians working in England in 1961. Currently the regulation is suspended, but before the CAS ruling it formed part of the IAAF’s approach to regulating the women’s competition.
Reading the supplement is like encountering something out of a different epoch. It is distressing to consider that this approach was applied until 2015. A division on hirsutism( undue fuzz proliferation) includes a” scoring expanse” that extends 11 different parts of the body, with accompanying hand-drawn portraits. It too endorses a vigorous path of questioning about facial fuzz removal- which methods? how often?- and included for assessment is” apocrine sweat odour “. This is women’s people being measured and categorised, in fright fashion.
When Semenya’s story first divulged I remember being surprised at the certainty with which those around me discussed her gender, based on her impression. If Semenya was white, with long mane and make-up, would there have been the same amount of outcry?
I ask Sisonke Msimang about that visual checklist from the IAAF, an institution viewing women of quality through an inflexible, white-hot, western lens.” It’s true, I’m sitting here talking to you and I’ve got extremely short “hairs-breadth”, almost non-existent, and that’s extremely common for women in South africans, and it isn’t read as masculine or butch ,” Msimang says.” And of course if you look back historically the notion of grey femininity “ve always been” erected vis-a-vis black femininity so what is beautiful in a white dame, if a black lady has peculiarities that mimic that then she is considered to be beautiful. If she doesn’t, then she is considered to be ugly .”
White femininity is the default femininity.” Black women are always going to be on the wrong side of that spectrum. And then on top of that you’ve got Caster, who of course has hyperandrogenism, and then it becomes even more dramatic. But the drama is already inbuilt into the room the category must be drawn up .”
Semenya has become South Africa’s cause celebre.” People are interested in Caster’s story for all kinds of reasons- gender, identity and all that stuff- but I feel people are interested in South africans as a last-place colonial outpost .” Msimang references the South African writer and academic Njabulo Ndebele on the protections of international whiteness.” There is a sense whereby South Africa is owned by white people everywhere. They can move there, feel cozy there, there’s a claiming of it. And I feel there’s something going on with this Caster Semenya act, which is in part about South africans, the claiming and ownership of South africans, and she objection everything about what’s supposed to be. She’s an affront on every single insight, in particular a British sensibility .”