OPINION: Caster Semenya: Beyond a shadow of a doubt
Earlier this week Oscar Pistorius was rushed to hospital because he fell out his bed and injured his wrists. Also known as an attempted suicide IMO (in my opinion). This may be a conspiracy theory, but I for one do not think that the timing of this is purely coincidental. That is - the attempt came just after the start of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Later this month, another South African athlete who should also be admired for overcoming physiological differences will run the women's 800m at the Games. She will probably win. She will not be praised and greeted with compassion. She will, however, be met with controversy, humiliation and insult.
The insults will be vindicated because the finger pointing will be done in the name of science. But beyond a shadow of a doubt, a lot of the controversy surrounding Caster Semenya is because it's hard to objectify her the way other female athletes are objectified. She cannot be "trivialised".
A lot of the condemnation is influenced by the fact that she is just not aesthetically feminine enough and does not meet societal norms of what it means to look like a woman. Never mind her sex, her sex-appeal is societally unacceptable. She is "the other" in more ways than one.
The sporting ecosphere is built on the segregation of male only and female only competition. But Semenya is also a black athlete (sport is one of the foremost degrees of separation when it comes to determining the exceptionality of black people).
Pistorius was a highly decorated athlete, (in spite of the fact that he shot and killed his girlfriend a couple of years back, he still remains so) who overcame the disadvantages of his physical makeup to excel at athletics (at previous Olympic Games no less) and is now unable to compete because he is a murderer.
At the news of his emergency room rush, the sympathy poured in. Not dissimilar from his pre-killer days when the runner was shrouded in compassion and empathy. Poor little white man with a disability. How much more must he suffer? (I'm going to ask you to take find a modicum of chill and exercise it before you jump to the conclusion that I am blatantly being insensitive toward the act of suicide and those who fall victim to it. I am not.) I am, however, going to insist that we use the same degree of benevolence when it comes to Semenya.
Why is it that male athletes are celebrated for exceptional performances in sport when women are not afforded the same opportunity? Exercising this double standard is not exclusive to Semenya. Many women historically have been pushed off the throne of brilliance because of their lack of aesthetic femininity.
Serena Williams, for example, champion of tennis and often regarded as the best of all time (in both the men and women's circuits) is only a winner because she looks the way she looks, ie: Like a man - Muscular, strong and powerful. How dare women not fit the genteel mould cast for them years ago?
Granted, unlike Semenya, Williams's genetic disposition has not been contested or tested. She does not have a higher level of testosterone than most women; she does not have internal undescended testes. Still, she is the subject of foolish judgement rooted in the limitations imposed on women on what it means to be a female athlete.
Why not just accept the fact that Williams, like Semenya, is a superior athlete? Is that not the point of competition? To be better than the rest? Like Pistorius once upon a time before that deathly Valentine's Day? Pistorius has no control over the fact that he has no legs, he made the most of it and chose to identify as an athlete who could and was allowed to participate in able-bodied competition instead of the Paralympics, for example.
Yes, there is the question surrounding hyperandrogenism regulations in sport. Having said that though, there are also many male athletes who fall below what is regarded as the standard testosterone level for men. Should their sex then not be determined for them as well by some external body? More than that, if this policy is exercised with the female athlete, and it is allowed to determine their potential success and ability to compete in the future, should men then not be faced with the same restrictions?
Semenya identifies as a woman.
Her intersexuality should thus be disregarded and she should be allowed to achieve greatness as a woman beyond the measure of testosterone and standards of beauty.
By the way, happy Women's Day. Above all else, don't forget to look like one.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is employed by Code For Africa at the head office in Cape Town as programme manager for impactAFRICA - the continent's largest fund for digital-driven data storytelling. She is a regular commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment. Follow her on Twitter: @sageofabsurd