Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Caster Semenya's Got Talent!

In today's world of sometimes blurred gender identity and ongoing discoveries of bizarre medical conditions, it can be confusing how to react to those around us who fall into these categories. But what does it say that when faced with a person of large build with short hair who turns out to be athletically talented, running for a female team, the assumption is made that something must be wrong. Surely someone who looks like this and is so very good at running can't possibly be all girl.

Can they?

Oddly enough, this is a true scenario. Recently, eighteen year old Caster Semenya was declared female after undergoing 'gender testing' the very same day that she smoked everyone in the 800 meter race in Berlin. She is broad shouldered, tall, stocky build and walks with a distinct sway that could almost be described as masculine. Oh, and she runs really fast.

What I can't help but wonder is why did the question arise. Granted, she was not accused of cheating in any way. Rather the testing she underwent had more to do with the possibility of her having a medical disorder which might blur her gender. But the outcome of that test just goes to show how ingrained and pervasive the ideas of what it means to be feminine can be. Was this testing done because of her appearance or because of her ability? Or both? It begs the question. A fellow blogger raised the question would this have been a scandal if she had been a svelte, blond Icelandic girl with long flowy hair and sculpted nails? And ran really fast?

She received a hero's welcome when returning home to probably the biggest show of "I told you so," in recent history. Which leads me to wonder then what if she looked the way she does and couldn't run really fast? What if she was just a regular non athlete girl? Would that diminish her worth in any way? Would she be expected to pretty herself up a bit for the sake of attracting a partner? Or fitting into some Westernized ideology of what a girl is 'supposed' to look like?

I can't help but be a bit outraged by this situation in that she obviously rose to the ranks of greatness within her field, but for whatever reason her gender identity was doubted causing the validity of her ability to come into question. More importantly the situation begs the question where do we perceive that a person's worth is held. Appearance? Ability? Talent? Does the answer change if the person is of a different gender? Apparently, it does.

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