In the wake of the leak to the press about some findings from the medical examination of Caster Semenya, Dave Zirin and Sherry Wolf (I am going to hear her talk tonight!) have another Nation column about the situation. They take to task the IAAF of course but also Australia (probably not the whole country) who called for the initial examination and the Australian press that printed the leak from some IAAF official, and all the people–officials and press–that continue to use the quite unenlightened term “hermaphrodite.” One would have hoped that the people who were actually doing the examining would know better. But even some using the term intersex are transferring the literal definition of hermaphrodite. There are many intersex conditions; they do not all–actually very few–manifest in the presence of both (historically defined) male and female genitalia.
Dr. Alice Dreger must be very busy these days. I think every member of the IAAF and any person in the media who has covered the Semenya case should be required to read Dreger’s Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex. (Note that Dreger is using the term hermaphrodite in the historical sense–not because she is unaware of the derogatory connotations.)
They also point out a pretty important fact: being intersex does not prevent one from competing. Intersex athletes have indeed participated in elite international competition. Unfortunately the publicity surrounding Semenya’s case makes me wonder if she will ever want to or be able to enter the international stage again.
The Serena Williams situation remains quite visible. She has been placed alongside Joe Wilson and Kanye West because apparently it was the week of the outburst. Thankfully others are seeing the sexism and racism in the handling and coverage of her actions. Still, I read probably one of the most naive articles I have seen to date on Serena’s actions. The NYT does that ever so liberal move of saying let’s not look at this through a gendered lens. The writer acknowledges that the reaction has indeed been due to gendered expectations. (He fails to talk about the racism–a glaring omission.) That McEnroe and Connors and Nastase can get away with such behavior because they are men. So the writer seems to suggest we just de-gender athletes all together–no men, no women–just competitors; and view their behavior thusly.
Yes, let’s just all walk around with our hands over our eyes screaming “I don’t see gender! I don’t see gender!” I am sure that will work out just swell.