South African athlete Caster Semenya is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 800-meter race. Recently, the Court for Arbitration of Sports ruled that Semenya’s naturally high levels of testosterone provide her with an unfair advantage. She is being given the ultimatum to take testosterone-lowering medication if she is to compete in any upcoming races. To reiterate, she is being told that she needs to chemically suppress the hormones that occur in her body naturally if she is to participate in her livelihood and passion. This is sparking a debate about the double-standards in the treatment of athletes with physical characteristics that may give them an edge over the competition, and an even bigger debate about what it means to be a woman.
The idea of suppressing someone’s natural abilities and biological talents is something out of science fiction—seriously. Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” is about a society where everyone is equal because no one is allowed to be special. Extremely attractive people wear bags over their faces to not offend the average-looking, ballet dancers wear weights based on their talent level so no one is stronger or more graceful than the others, and intelligent individuals wear headsets that produce a painfully loud noise in their ears every fifteen seconds to prevent them from having any bright ideas. We are witnessing life imitate art, and it isn’t pretty.
It seems unlikely that a male athlete would experience such scrutiny.
At YWCA Princeton we recognize that the blatant double standards in the treatment of Caster Semenya compared to male athletes are rooted in sexism and racism. We are mindful that exceptional, Black female athletes such as Caster Semenya and the Williams sisters scrutinized for their bodies not looking “feminine” enough. While the Williams sisters haven’t been forced to take medication to dilute their talents, they have been subjected to frequent drug tests, and their passion on the court is used to perpetuate the “angry Black woman” stereotype. These women deserve better, and we will continue to advocate for their fair treatment.