Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

The infamous sex test that has turned the global spotlight on South African athlete Caster Semenya is a negative milestone in our collective history as women world over. It is not just about an 18 year old woman being violated by having her sex questioned in front of the whole world, it is also about a generations- old attempt by patriarchy to define womanhood and ridicule or punish those who do not conform; those who are brave enough to resist the generic categories and write their own life scripts.
I am trying to understand what it is about Caster that makes her a candidate for such suspicion; what makes so many people question whether she indeed is a woman and not a man. Is it, perhaps, because she does not fit the appearance of what ‘common sense’ tells us a woman should look like? Is it because she has a deep voice that does not fit our idea of a woman’s voice? Is it because, her build, strength and sheer speed, do not fit what we know about women and their abilities? It is unsettling because I see a pattern here: Caster is not the first sportswoman to have such a test, which for some reason is being wrongly referred to as a gender test; gender is a social category, it is sex which is biological and that is what is being tested. I think the discomfort that leads to these tests lies in the fact that these women – both white and black – do not in one way or the other, fit society’s idea of what a woman should look like and be capable of. The women they are, flies in the face of some people’s eternally held beliefs about femininity and masculinity. I think the main discomfort in the Caster case is that she challenges the patriarchal aesthetic that to be a woman is to be dolled up, coy, weak, fragile, passive, and all manner of traits people consider feminine. There is actually nothing natural about these attributes. They are mere constructs, which in many ways actually constrain us women. Yet society has naturalised them to the point where to not fit in is to deserve to be called deviant. Consider how many names society has for a woman who questions the status quo: frustrated, emotional female, bitter and so on. Such realities reveal how intolerant society is; how it uses its own preferences as the default position such that anything different is seen as wrong; not up to standard. How un-evolved! Closed mindedness, and its best friend intolerance, is responsible for the suffocation of many progressive perspectives whose only crime is departure from the ‘norm’.
I think what the world cannot forgive also is that Caster is not your typical international star who swears by Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada; or is a mobile advert for L’Oreal, Revlon, Mac you name it. She has not seen the need to manipulate her features: straighten her hair, wax off the facial hair, spot a R3000 manicure and so on. Clearly, she does not fit the TV definition of “hot” and “sexy”, the same portrayals that are being used as a blue print by some people. Consider the scary lengths to which some of my fellow women are going to lose weight, not for health reasons but for purposes of ‘beauty’. Overtime these TV and magazine portrayals of slender, usually light skinned bodies as “hot” and “sexy”
assault those that fall outside these categories. Such that healthy and good looking ‘full’ women suddenly feel the need to ‘shape up’ and trim that excess weight! Excess by whose standard?
For Semenya, the humiliating saga continues with preliminary results suggesting that her testosterone level is three times higher than the average woman contains. So what exactly does this result achieve? I believe that does not make her a man as much as an ‘overdose’ of oestrogen in a man (such occurrences have been proved by Biology) does not make him a woman! And again what does this saga mean for the many intersex people that may be talented enough to enter these competitions, will they be turned away for not being woman or man enough?
Well we will wait and see where all this leads, as for now I will just sit here and try to make sense of the contradictions that attend our reality: the infrastructure and technology around us screams 21 st century yet the mindsets say something totally different.


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