I opened up my browser to see the headline on Yahoo! this morning: “Makeover for runner in gender flap.” Really?! Okay, so they decided to give her a makeover because she appeared to be too masculine. But of what real concern is this to anyone? Shouldn’t the only concern be whether or not her sex is male or female for sports qualification? Would we be talking about doing a makeover on a man if he were inclined to wear dresses? Dennis Rodman comes to mind…
The BBC reports, “The controversy over Ms Semenya’s gender has angered many in South Africa, including her family who insist she is female.” Meanwhile, I’m baffled by the concept that we’d subject someone to “scientific gender testing”. Who is qualified from a scientific standpoint to test her gender? Gender is derived from social constructs. You are masculine or feminine as determined by the culture by which you are being judged. It has nothing to do with what’s between your legs. This is the Olympics. Are we going to try to take a South African Olympian and apply the gender constructs of the world? And that what point? To prove that she’s too manly? Why? Is someone out there worried that she’s not going to get her sports sponsorship money like the manly but feminine Williams sisters, Serena and Venus? (Frankly, I think she now looks just like one of the Williams in the makeover photo.)
Will she be better able to perform if she were to undo her cornrows and went for the curls instead? Men in certain sports shave or wax every hair from their body to improve performance… this gender bending is okay, but it’s not okay for the ladies? Or are we implying that she’s not a lady?
Really, what is the point here?
Walk away with one thing, please. Understand the difference between gender and sex. The definition below from the World Health Organization (WHO) clearly articulates the difference.
Sometimes it is hard to understand exactly what is meant by the term “gender”, and how it differs from the closely related term “sex”.
“Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
“Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
To put it another way: “Male” and “female” are sex categories, while “masculine” and “feminine” are gender categories.
Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.
Some examples of sex characteristics :
- Women can menstruate while men cannot
- Men have testicles while women do not
- Women have developed breasts that are usually capable of lactating, while men do not
- Men generally have more massive bones than women
Some examples of gender characteristics:
- In the United States (and most other countries), women earn significantly less money than men for similar work
- In Viet Nam, many more men than women smoke, as female smoking has not traditionally been considered appropriate
- In Saudi Arabia men are allowed to drive cars while women are not
- In most of the world, women do more housework than men