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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Guest Blogger Rachel - "What Makes a Woman?"

(This pic was taken moments after Rachel rejected my sexual advances for the nth time in 3 years. But do not fear: she is British, dreamy, and smarter than most people. Therefore, I will not give up. You can give it a try as well at

As always, Rachel has provided us with an amazingly insightful post. This was written a couple of days ago before the latest results were publicized. Leave a comment and lend your opinion. I'll do the same.

What makes a woman? In the case of Caster Semenya, apparently nothing makes a woman, when you are trying to prove that you are one. In the vast history of gender repression, of homophobic tension, and of scientific rule, never has biology been so quickly thrown out of the window. For three years now Caster Semenya has been undergoing sex testing, because while apparently it takes nothing to make a woman, it takes nothing but a winner to make a man. A woman who is too good to be a woman; a woman who is so good at what she does, that the IAAF claim that she must be a man, and not only do they state this in private to each other, written on notes and whispered behind hands, but they are bold enough to come forward and argue their case to the world.

So what made them make this bold statement? Well, other than her incredible sporting power, she has…muscles… and a deep voice. Some say she even looks… ‘mannish’. Try your hardest to hold back the shudders…this is a woman who doesn’t wear make-up. After some speculation, science was eventually called in on the case, and so began the long trial of sex testing. First comes the visual physical test, which (imagine it now) most people would find mortifying, though it comes a close second to the embarrassment of having your gender so openly questioned and denied. She passed step one, she looked like a woman under her clothes, but as we all know, there are ways to get around being the sex you were born and so the next step was testosterone levels. Hers were high, higher than many, but not high enough to conclusively state that she is male. The next step? Oh, gather ‘evidence’ from her hometown, evidence of a tomboyish sense of fashion and a lack of boyfriends. Because if there is one thing we all know, it’s that a lack of men in your life, makes you a man. The issue here is not whether Caster Semenya is a man; the issue is the type of evidence being used to deny her womanhood. Not only do I find this offensive on behalf of women and men, but also on behalf of South Africa, whose females are being judged by a European idea of femininity. The idea that a different culture could cherish different traits in a gender seems to be lost on the IAAF.

This brings me to my original question; what makes a woman? At what point would her testosterone levels bypass female and become male? We are taught sex and gender as if it is all so concrete, so secure and final. At what point do the two genders merge, what is the exact count that would tip the scale and turn a person from one stereotype to the next? And if she did begin life as a man, and she had undergone a sex-change operation, what would that mean for her status now? If the IAAF discovers she was once male, does that mean she cheated? Then of course there is the question of intersex people, and which race should they participate in? To me, this whole fiasco outlines how ridiculous all these gender stereotypes are, the ideas that men and women are born so completely different, with their opposite interests and their gendered character traits. What makes a woman? Attraction to men? A penchant for skirts? A low level of testosterone? A certain body shape? Simone De Beauvoir famously stated ‘One is not born a woman, but rather, becomes one.’ So what do you want to become? Who do you want to become? A man? A woman? A stereotype that can only allow themselves certain talents and shortcomings? Personally, I’d rather just be me. I’d rather just live by what I believe is right and act upon my emotions and not worry about whether I’m meant to be good at something because of my sex, or whether it is strange that I have a knack for something ‘manly’. The huge barrier between what makes a man and what makes a woman is a combined product of society and our unwillingness to accept difference, and if the case of Caster Semenya has taught us anything, it should be that.


Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and let us (and Rachel) know!


Harley said...

I have to agree. The more and more I think about "gender" and it's complexities, the more I realize it's just a facade. Rachel is a whole bunch of awesome!

Kae Tibando said...

Sheer brilliance!