Liberalism and Caster Semanya
Seth J. Frantzman
September 13, 2009
In July of 2009 South African Caster Semanya was seemingly on track to become a phenomenal runner. The 18 year old was beating her own best times again and again. In August she won the 800 meter at the World Athletic Championship in Berlin. Then questions began to be asked about the competitor’s gender. The International Association of Athletics Federations decided to order the athlete to submit to a wide variety of gender tests. Nick Davies of the IAAF noted that “There is chromosome testing, gynecological investigation, all manner of things, organs, X-rays, scans. … It’s very, very comprehensive.”
South African sports officials proudly defended their native son. One sports minister threatened a war over the accusations. Leaonard Chuene, President of Athletics South Africa claimed; “you denounce my child as a boy when she’s a girl? If you did that to my child, I’d shoot you.” This might not be so un-typical in a country whose President once had a song written about him entitled “Bring me my machine gun.” But actually there seems something touching about a nation defending the honour of one of its own against the invasive prodding of obnoxious sports scientists.
What is not touching is that liberalism has sunk its fangs into the case of Ms. Semanya. If Semanya is being raped once by the IAAF it turns out that the post-humanists want seconds. Kai Wright, writing at the online magazine The Root, decided that the Semanya case was not merely racist but was also raised questions about gender. She noted that the case was really about “Western culture’s desperate, frightened effort to maintain the fiction of binary, fixed gender.” Wight claimed that Semanya’s “Humanity” had been sacrificed to western culture and “science” which Wight puts in quotes, as if here is no such thing. Wight also speaks of “white folks imposing their self-centered notions of feminity, once again.” According to Wight the runner “could be both [boy and girl]. And who cares? It happens. Our social certainty about the male-female divide is not supported by biology.” Consider that the author of this polemic has questioned “science” when dealing with gender testing rules but here we now must bow down to what “biology” tells us about the difference between men and women.
One liberal biology professor was quoted by Wight as saying “humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.” As evidence of this Wight notes that “People have large, protruding clitorises; scrotums divided such that they look like labia; inactive hormone receptors and on and on.” Furthermore supposedly one in 2,000 children are born with similar issues and must have “cruel” plastic surgery to “correct perfectly natural variations.” Supposedly people are “mutilated to fit comfortably inside our mythical gender boxes.” As evidence of the evil of gender testing in sports Ms. Wight notes that men are not subjected to gender to tests. The claim is counter-intuitive. Gender tests exist to keep men out of women’s sports. Ms. Wight seems to forget that rarely do women try to sneak into male events and compete as men, anyway if they do they don’t win against males in such things as running, so there is no suspicion that Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, is in fact a woman. Its unfortunate that women athletes are sometimes humiliated in this manner, but it is because there must be a line drawn in sports as to what a “man” and “woman” is, and its not as simple, apparently, as having them drop their shorts.
But that’s not the point here. Wight tells us that this whole thing is due to the West and its fake concepts of male and female. Wight is part of the liberal parthenon that always tells us that other cultures are better than the “West.” So the West, which liberalism has been attempting to make gender-neutral (i.e that there is no difference in dress, in work, in rights or even in appearance of men and women) for decades. And they have suceeded. Many women in the West look like men and men have become increasingly effeminate. Yet the West is still condemned for its “desperate, frightened effort to maintain the fiction of binary, fixed gender” But if this is what the “West” is doing than that implies that in the East they have no such issues with women who are not women, women with both sets of genitalia or women without wombs (as Semanya apparently has been shown to lack.) Is Wight kidding. Like all liberals she fantisizes about an Islam that is gender nuetral where the Burka is part of “women’s liberation” and the veil is part of “empowerment”. Like Michel Faucault who condemned the west for not accepting his gayness, the liberal believes that the other countries are open to homosexuality and transvestites and hermaphodites and all manner of sexual difference. Unfortunatly none of the myths are true. The East tends to know what a woman is better than the West, rather than blurring the lines between the two as Wight would have us believe, women are more defined as pronounced as women. But liberalism would have us believe that it is the “white folks imposing their notion of femininity.” Hardly. I recently witnessed some Europeans travelling to a museum in Israel. Its not clear what scandanvaian or Low country they were from but the men were all effeminate and weak and the women were tall, mannish and all had short cropped hair, like boys. It is the whites who blurred the gender lines, not the coloured folk of the earth. It is people like Ms. Wight who made it so we can’t determine what a man and a woman are anymore.
And Ms. Wight is not even correct about biology. Nature is not a “slob”. Like all things that create it does a pretty good job creating neat categories while producing minor deviations within the grand scheme. Most women have all the sexual organs of a woman and most men do as well. Its not as if thirty percent of all women are born without wombs and have testosterone levels equal to men, if that were the case than the human race would’nt reproduce successfully. Most people don’t have “both genitalia”. Most have just one, despite the fantasies of the post-humanists who would love a world without sex or gender. We didn’t create a fake binary defnition, rather we are used to seeing on a daily basis the normative sexual creations of nature (i.e women with breasts and so on and men with penises and so on). All of the other variations are not the norm. 1 in 2000 is not the norm. If one out of 2,000 times you saw a dog it bit you would you say “we should dis-abuse ourselves of this normative notion that most dogs don’t bite”?
But liberalism wasn’t done with Ms. Semenya. A New York Times editorial by Mark Gevisser positioned her story amidst South Africa’s past and her politics of ‘angst.’ Gevisser noted the angry reaction of South Africans to questions about their athelete’s sex. The A.N.C. youth leader Julius Malema called sex testing a “racist attack on a beautiful woman,” and Leonard Chuene, asked: “Who are white people to question the makeup of an African girl?” He also said that they should not “allow Europeans to define how our children should look ...” Indeed, if they allow the Europeans to get their hands on African women the women will come out flat chested, secular, lesbian and self hating, the only thing they will have in common with South African women is that they will find black men sexually appealing.
Mr. Gevisser calls the defense of Semenya by athletic officials “jingoism.” And we can’t have jingoism in our pristine self hating world. The word “normative” which is a favorite of the post-humanist writers finds its way into Gevisser’s critique just as it did Wights; “How, in a macho culture that accepts such behavior as normative, does one entrench the values of dignity and privacy that Mr. Zuma himself lauded when he welcomed Ms. Semenya home?” So now a different liberal is condemning South Africa for being too macho, the opposite of Wight’s accusation that it was the macho west determining the sex of the gender neutral Africans? Mr. Gevisser’s commentary, which is hard to follow, concludes that “compels us all to ask tough questions about how we understand the old binary oppositions of masculinity and femininity.”
Mr. Gevisser insinuates that Semanya is the victim of “cruel experimentation” by her formerly East German coach who once worked as some sort of evil German scientist in an old 007 movie. He insinuates that she was slipped some sort of anabolic steroid cocktail and that she was therefore turned into a modern day Sarah Baartman, “the ‘Hottentot Venus’ of the early 19th century, a singer and dancer of the Khoi people who was born into slavery and brought over to Europe by impressarios who put her on public display because of her unusually large [compared to the West European woman who has unusually small] buttocks and genitals.”
Are the post-humanists kidding themselves? First we are told that it is a white-male western conspiracy about normative binary sexual categories that harmed Semanya. Then we are told that she is part of an evil German scientific plot at cruel experimentation, akin to some sort of 19th century racist carnival freak show. In fact the story is much simpler. Semanya won a race. Someone on some committee decided she was too good and that she didn’t look much like a woman. She was subjected to tests. The results of the tests have not been released but rumours show that they determined she has “male and female sex organs - but no womb.” Now the question will be what the rules of the IAAF say determines what a “woman” is and whether she will compete more and keep her medals. Such is life. Its not racism. Its not the West forcing anything on South Africa. Its not the West determining what women should look like or what “normative” gender is.