By: Cayleen De Bruyn, Scholar: BA General & Psychology
University of Pretoria
Gender roles make us all excellent actors, rehearsing from birth till the day we pass. Caster Semenya challenges the views we have on gender roles and a governing board is actively trying to rectify this and put us back to the comforting place of the known gender roles.
Semenya faces gender discrimination, in my opinion. In this piece, I want to discuss Cis gender, Gender norms and Gender fluidity, drawing from several articles, and how these impact Semenya and how she is being discriminated against.
Gender norms and gender fluidity:
Gender norms are a tiny little box that has been on the expansion ever since women’s rights movements and ever since women have said no more, enough is enough!
Gender movements have not come from men who are seeking to perform the role of women, as these are seen as precarious tasks they perform. Oppression isn’t challenged or changed from above but rather from the people who are struggling and who are oppressed.
This is evidently proven in the article by [Premilla Nadasen (2002): 270-301]. Where these women had to fight for welfare right, Caster Semenya must fight for her rights to be acknowledged as a woman.
Gender plays a large role in who we identify as, who we associate with, who we see as suitable life partners and even who most of us choose to have intercourse with.
Gender norms do not acknowledge that people are unique and due to experiences, they can identify as cisgender and still defy gender norms, as in the case of caster Semenya.
She identifies with her primary biology (gender = female, sex = known to her as female most of her life but now classified as intersex) Having gender fluidity challenges gender norms as a man may like to dress as the social constructed idea of a women but still identify as male.
Caster Semenya wore a suit at her own wedding and that made headlines as this isn’t what is expected of a woman, thus allowing for grounds to question her femininity and womanhood when she runs, when she is imitation stereotypical behavior of a man at her wedding.
Yet in the global north when a Scottish man wears a kilt (worn only by men) as traditional attire his manhood isn’t questioned in fact it is shown as a sign of his manhood and he still identifies as a man. But when we think about a skirt, we associate it with a female and a man would look girly in it.
An example of gender discrimination
Michael Phelps is a retired Olympic athlete and is on equal playing fields as caster Semenya, he also has a genetic advantage over other competitors, he produces nearly half the lactic acid of his fellow competitors giving him more endurance, and his muscles won’t burn as easily, yet he was never asked to rectify his lactic acid production or find ways to enhance it, he was simply said to be lucky.
This could be a gender and racial issue. Apart from the basic grounds of discrimination it could have to do with the global north and south inequality. It could be seen that Semenya isn’t being treated with equality as her testosterone levels are said to be too high, but the men’s league won’t be tested for testosterone levels at all.
Genetically women have more endurance that men, a minor advantage or a slight difference but none the less they endure more.
When Caster Semenya lost her appeal to the IAAF regarding her testosterone levels, she found herself stuck between a rock and a hard place. She had two choices, either take synthetic hormones to decrease her natural advantage or compete with men.
If you do a quick calculation using the statistics provided by (HALSE, H. (2014).) normal testosterone levels of men are between 280 and 1100 ng/dL. For a woman it is between 15-70 ng/dL.
If caster is estimated at 3 times the average women’s testosterone level and we take the higher side of the estimation that will bring us to 210 ng/dL. Which means if we take the lower end of the male’s scale (not the average, which is 679ng/dL) caster won’t reach the lowest end, how do we justify putting her in a league where she doesn’t fit nor does her testosterone levels but cannot justify that she should compete with women when her biology, as she knew it before all the testing and still her primary sex organs, and gender and the way she was raise correspond with that of a woman.
Semenya isn’t the first to be barred from the Olympics due to her testosterone levels, Dutee Chand, an Indian Olympic runner was barred due to her testosterone levels in 2014.
Another athlete Jameson “Jamie” Weaver did test before starting to train for the Olympics in 2016, he never made it to Olympic level, but he produces more red blood cells (oxygen carrying blood cells) than the average person producing between 25-50% more than the average person.
This is due to a mutation in his erythropoietin receptors. He was only a collegiate track star but even at that level no one stopped him nor said anything, nor did he have to take and arterial drugs in his training for the Olympics.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book ‘’Dear Ijeawele, or a Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’’,(pp.21-22)speaks about the concept of success and how the success of a man does not depend on woman, but the success of a woman directly links to a man’s success.
In the case of Caster Semenya, we can see how the abilities of Semenya is being questioned to be of female biology and capability but rather attributed to male biology and capabilities. Thus, they see it fit to ‘allow her’, rather force her, to compete in the men’s league even when her gender and most of her sex is attributed to female.
It is undeniable that she is intersex, yes, and having a category on its own for this is almost impossible if not completely impossible, yet a governing body (IAAF) is allowed to decide for her who she should identify with and compete against if she isn’t willing to change her natural biology.
In conclusion Semenya is being discriminated against based on several thing including race and gender.
– A Swiss court has ordered the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to suspend implementation of new regulations.