Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Caster Semenya Gets A Makeover

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Believe it or not, that is indeed South African sprinter Caster Semenya with her nails and makeup done.  Gone are the beautiful cornrows that she wore, replaced instead by a supposedly more feminine hairstyle.  The tag line of “wow look at Caster now” suggests that this what she really looks like and is a way of telling the world, see she really is a woman. 

If this is a look that Semenya chose for herself, I would be in full support, however; since this photo spread appeared after the very public debate as to her identity, I find it doubtful that this metamorphosis was her idea. She grew up wearing pants and playing football with the boys.  When she returned to South Africa she wore track suits and pants.  She is reported as saying that her mother still buys her clothing. 

Why is it that a woman must get her girl on to be considered feminine.  As much as I loves me some Flo Jo, not all women are comfortable sporting nail polish and getting glammed up.  The idea that woman supposedly equals designer dress, nails, heels and makeup is reductive and sexist.  I also believe that it is necessary to point out that cornrows are decidedly feminine.  It was not until recently that Black men started wearing cornrows in their hair.  Very few Black women did not grow up getting their hair braided on a weekly basis by their mothers, including your truly.   This style is only considered masculine by Whiteness because the Black female body has been masculinized for the purposes of exploitation.

Regarding the furor over her gender Semenya stated:

"I see it all as a joke, it doesn't upset me," she says. "God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I'm proud of myself."

In this I see truth.  Semenya has nothing to be ashamed of and in fact it is those that seek to reduce the category of woman that should be feeling shame.  What matters is that for the entire eighteen years of her life she has lived as and identified as a woman.  No matter what the results of the gender testing are, nothing can or should attempt to take away Caster’s female identity.   If gender  can so easily be reduced to preformativity, how many of us would no longer be considered female? 

Gender is not static, it is fluid and the desire to create it as existing solely as a male/ female binary is simply an example of privilege and the use of coercive power.  The deaths and mutilations of the intersex and trans community, serve as evidence of the fact that we are socially committed to employing any means necessary, to insure a limited understanding of gender. Semenya is a woman regardless of what she wears and it is this and not some ridiculous makeover that should be the first and only argument.