Caster Semenya deconstructed


Caster Semenya has a right to be a woman. Irrespective of whether or not Science agrees, we cannot deny her this right under SA Law, and yes, this is the ANC strategy for world domination of women’s athletics. Is the world ready for Caster? What is getting lost in the media frenzy surrounding the current 800m women’s athletic champion and the debate which has splintered into polar opposites, with those living in the North, taking the dominant view of rule by genes and hormones , while those in the South appear to take the opinion such genetic presumptions constitute a gross, unfair and discriminatory practice in the light of equality and transgender politics, is the cadence of opinion.

Officials from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), track and field’s governing body for the world, will be conducting a gender testing procedure that includes an endocrinologist, a gynecologist, a psychologist, and both internal and external physical examinations.

Bio-ethicists and civil rights advocates are strikingly absent from a panel which favours a literalist cum positivist approach to the problem of gender.

The IAAF director of communications, Nick Davies, says that the organization does not believe Ms. Semenya has been intentionally cheating but is the victim of a medical condition known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).

AIS is a condition in which a person who is genetically male but is unaffected by male sex hormones known as androgens.  Some people with AIS will have a totally female body on the outside, but will lack ovaries and a uterus while others may demonstrate partial AIS and will develop more muscle mass and have more facial hair than usual.

AIS,  as its name suggests is a “syndrome” not a disease and the board of inquiry comprising various specialists will therefore have to explain why, if ever, a person with such a syndrome should be excluded from track and field events amidst calls from within the Social Sciences to ignore the data as invariably biased in favour of a biological view from the 19th century that has fallen out of favour with the advances of the 21st.

Will South Africa be able to sustain an ideological attack against Scientific determinism, or are we literally becoming a breed apart? It is a problem that is not going to go away. Whatever the outcome of the international panel, the fact of the matter remains, racial discrimination (the gross violation of human rights known as apartheid) has created a political necessity for denouncing genes and hormones as the mark of a bygone era.

In a sense Semenya is an innocent victim of the kind of politics which has created 50/50 power sharing between men and women in Parliament as well as our nation’s boardrooms. The need to cross ideological boundaries and cater for the intersexed may well have spurred the ruling party into a decidedly un-Scientific position. ANC Youth League spokesperson, Julius Malema, never want to court adversity, has even gone so far as to characterise the Scientific wisdom of the day, as nothing more than “educated racism”.

But the mainstream press, controlled as it is by the barons of industry, chooses to see such meanders off the seat of reason, as evidence of insanity. As a nation, when it comes to gender, the casual observer may be forgiven for thinking South Africa to have finally lost its marbles, in fact we are no longer even sure what gender is, let alone what kind of suffering is required in order to endure the hope that Science (not democracy), will one day win the day, providing us all with the means of escaping race (and along with it the various isms that mark such discrimination as a decidedly false endeavour).

We must therefore boycott the Great Race Science, along with the international panel of inquiry into gender which has become nothing more than a means of deflecting public outrage. Rather, let us all believe strongly then, in the virtue of human dignity and imagination. If an athlete wishes to live as a women, then what right do we have to question such a choice? If a person classified as black wishes to be regarded as white, who are we to enforce the fiction of race? Surely the rules of the World Athletics Union, make a mockery of justice and present us with a classic constructivist dilemma necessitating a 21st Century solution.

The world in which we live is not purely scientific, there are other considerations that must come into play, considerations that take into account not mere human evolution, but the evolution of our social and political structures. If we let go of these historical constructs, which invariably result in a neat teleology, then we let go of the stuff that binds us together as a global society still struggling to escape the horrors of slavery and colonialism. The question then — which world would we rather live in?

A world in which the final arbiter of truth is Science, or the Freedom of our Dreams?

Appearances for example can be misleading. Semenya may well turn out to be 100% female, then again she might not. Would we wish to dethrone her, simply because she chooses to be a woman? Less than 85% female or a victim of AIS, what then? She might not even possess the kind of genetic structure that would have classified her as a male or female in other less enlightened societies?

Exactly who or what determines where this distinction lies? Is it our chromosomes, our hormones, or socialisation? The Nature vs Nurture debate has instead turned into a Nature vs Peer Review fiasco in which anything can happen.

Come what may, Caster is surely a result of the strident changes apparent in South African society today, caused as a result of the freedom granted by our country’s constitution. Let this light of intellectual inquiry into the existential and phenomenological dimension of race and gender therefore never die out, or be snuffed into dust by stuffy phallocentric journals with a simple complexity theory — a mathematical shudder emanating from the laboratories of Geneva that reduces the sum total of the human experience to a simple equation.

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5 comments

  1. Nick

    In this whole anti-science piece, few pieces glaringly stand out:

    “If an athlete wishes to live as a women, then what right do we have to question such a choice?……

    Would we wish to dethrone her, simply because she chooses to be a woman?”

    Personal wishes are one thing & are quite apart from, & have no basis on factual reality. Indeed reality/nature sets its “wishes” on us. [for eg whether one’s sex (as opposed to gender) is male or female]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_identity

    Presumably, if Michael Johnson personally felt effeminate & decided to describe his gender (as opposed to his sex) as female, then by your standards he should he allowed to compete in the Women’s 200m race regardless of his obvious natural genetic gifts.

    Questions of culture etc such as gender identity (& not sexual identity) can be answered by Social “Sciences” but it is ridiculous in the extreme to adopt such a wish washy anti-scientific basis & ignore what science has to say on matters, especially regarding the issue of definitive actual biological sex.

    http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/index.html

    Thus the methods of science will determine where the “distinction lies” in the case of sex whereas society at large can argue about the distinction of the cultural role of gender.

    The methods of science have weighed in on the sex question & are as follows:

    “Individuals having two X chromosomes (XX) are female; individuals having one X chromosome and one Y chromosome (XY) are male. The X chromosome resembles a large autosomal chromosome with a long and a short arm. The Y chromosome has one long arm and a very short second arm. This path to maleness or femaleness originates at the moment of meiosis, when a cell divides to produce gametes, or sex cells having half the normal number of chromosomes. During meiosis the male XY sex-chromosome pair separates and passes on an X or a Y to separate gametes; the result is that one-half of the gametes (sperm) that are formed contains the X chromosome and the other half contains the Y chromosome. The female has two X chromosomes, and all female egg cells normally carry a single X. The eggs fertilized by X-bearing sperm become females (XX), whereas those fertilized by Y-bearing sperm become males (XY).”

    APA Style: sex chromosome. (2009). Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica 2009 Deluxe Edition. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica.

    There are sexual differences between male & female (see link above) & some of these traits in males confer specific advantages in certain activities – greater testosterone levels in the general population of men, resulting in the case of physical strength & speed being two such examples. (which is not a basis to assume general superiority in other matters)

    (The biological difference is apparent in the case of “black” men having greater melanin in their skin than caucasians – however this is neither an advantage nor disadvantage in the case of intelligence or physical strength).

    It is foolish to ignore such obvious biological differences between the sexes in the SPECIFIC CONTEXT of athletic sports & resort that we should resort to our “personal wishes” or the “freedom of our dreams” in determining what nature’s impact has on us.

    It never ceases to amaze me the crusade that is launched on science. Alan Sokal in his book “Fashionable Nonsense” as well as Steven Weinberg in his book “Facing up: Science & its cultural adversaries” have articulated this quite tellingly.

  2. davidrobertlewis

    Please see my edits above. Your views betray your insensitivity to those who are intersexed. If Michael Jordon was on hormone therapy which changed his hormones to those of a female, I would probably be arguing for his right to participate in women’s athletics. The issue isn’t whether or not Caster is cheating, but whether she is naturally gifted by a biological anomaly which Science appears to have labled as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. People with AIS are females according to society, or not, we need to open this debate beyond the mechanistic determinism of simple Science.

  3. Pingback: كاستر سيمينيا”… أو نكتة الجندر” - Bekhsoos

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