Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Caster Semenya: Rethinking Gender in Kenya

Facebook, my friends tell me, is my stage. I have been on this stage for a few years only and through Facebook's 'interractive theatre', I have had to, as Sylvia Tamale would have it, learn,unlearn and relearn what exactly it means to be a woman, and perhaps more specifically, to be a black woman strongly committed to the feminist agenda.

The events of the past few weeks in South Africa and the world have sent me thinking more about the question of being a woman. I constantly have had to revisit the place of women in a patriarchal world and mostly when this patriarchy is engineered by patriarchal females. Caster Semenya has been my name in some circles. Mrs Semenya has been my latest asset after my numerous other assets of identity. I have my personal feelings about 'Mrs' as a title but that aside, I am deeply disturbed by my being a Mrs Semenya a name which could possibly refer to Caster Mokgadi Semenya's mother in Limpopo. What does 'Mrs. Semenya' say about gender stereotypes? How does my being Mrs Semenya buy into the same debate about Caster's being male or female? What are we actually saying when Caster becomes my boyfriend? What does this 'labelling' say about the people using it? What is invoked by such ridicule of a woman who has been at the centre of IAAF's gender testing (whatever that could be)? How about when this label is given to me by women? What can I make of this when the women are Kenyan (the country of my origin)? How does such ridicule of Semenya reflect the place of gender in the Kenyan society?

I am deeply disturbed, to say the least.

Perhaps it is easier to laugh and make fun of a black woman that has been labelled 'male' or 'not quite female' by white males. It is, indeed, of no consequence to you when that woman is not your sister, your country mate, your mother or even you. It is of course more fun when that woman is a Caster Semenya with a deep voice, facial hair and masculine physique. It is a lot more comic when IAAF claims to have found much more testerone in Caster's genetic make-up than is 'normal' for a woman.

Of course, you are not Caster Semenya. Neither am I.

I agree she is not Kenyan and may be it get's easier for you to laugh at her because she won a gold medal against your own Janet and many others. But wait a minute, where does this leave you in issues of gender and inevitably, the question of race?

I am a worried Kenyan woman.

Am I perhaps too emotional about an issue that doesnt concern me? Am I just carrying burdens of the world? No, of course not. This deeply concerns me and burdens of the world are my burdens. I cannot fathom what exactly is going on with Kenyan women and others elsewhere. I feel that it is time women took issues of women representation very seriously and personal. An insult to Sarah Bartmann remains an insult to me as a black woman. I take it personal when Caster Semenya is considered to be too good for a woman. I feel deeply insulted as a black woman when black female bodies are paraded for the male gaze in hip-hop, rhumba, advertising, in the fashion industry etc. It is an issue of grave concern to me when young men and women form groups on Facebook for women to post their pictures so that they can show how HOT they are. I have no issue with 'brief dressing' (I am so guilty here) neither do I find make-up problematic but my concern is when such 'skin exposure' becomes an exhibition of black female bodies soliciting affirmation (usually from males).

I refuse to buy into stereotypes about how a woman should look like. I am not going to be part of what appears to me to be an emerging, material, flashy 'women oppressing women thought'. Count me out when a disturbingly high percentage of Kenyan women decide to be patriarchal females in a society in which the same women are emotionally, physically and otherwise abused, children are raped over and over etc.

Come to think of it, how loosely can we still take these matters?

I am off to facebook.


M Kilonzo Sila said...

Lovely articles will be back to sample more....on that SA athlete ...nice take 'art wise'...'scientifically' one might laugh it off ....normal tests i gather..

anapolojetik said...

Thank you Sila. But wait, what is a NORMAL test? Who determines who goes through such NORMAL tests? Just asking. Again, thanks.