The Guardian published an article entitled, “Tearful Lynsey Sharp says rule change makes racing Caster Semenya difficult.”
It detailed the comments Sharp made after finishing 6th at the finals in Rio on Saturday. Yes, you read correctly. 6th. 6th. 6th, as in the even number 6 that sits at the nexus of prime numbers 5 and 7. 6 as in half a dozen. 6 as in Drake’s, “I was running through the 6 with my woes.” Yes. 6th. The comments were made regarding the ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport allowing athletes with hyperandrogenism to continue compete with other women. To label her a “hyperandeogenic athlete” as some newspapers have is to reduce her to a medical condition; to undermine the countless hours she spends training.
Sharp reportedly told the BBC, “I have tried to avoid the issue all year. You can see how emotional it all was. You can see how emotional it all was. We know how each other feels. It is out of our control and how much we rely on people at the top sorting it out. The public can see how difficult it is with the change of rule but all we can do is give it our best. I was coming down the home straight, we were not far away and you can see how close it is. That is encouraging. We will work hard and aim to come back even stronger.” (Guardian Sport, 2016)
After reading the article, I shared it post on Facebook laughing at the absurdity of the comments and one of my friends, Sean O’Brien coined the phrase, “Tears of a Bigot,”as a response to the article. The phrase perfectly captures the desperation and stupidity in the sentiments expressed by Sharp.
In his article in The Independent, Dean Eastmond draws our attention to our fear of sexualities existing outside the confines of heteronormativity as the reason why Caster Semenya is the topic of debate. (Eastmond, 2016) While I agree with his statements, I disagree with the labelling of her as “intersex” as it is not a label she claims and because it does precisely what it attempts to criticise; it re-invokes heteronormative binary structures through the labelling as the obsession with taxonomies which is inherent in heteronormativity.
There is also another issue at play here and that’s the matter of her blackness. Sorjourner Truth “Aint I woman?” comes to mind when reading the article. The microaggressive attack on Semenya evokes historical narratives of black womanhood.
Black, female athletes in particular are often dehumanised and masculinised in the media even when their genitals aren’t in question. Examples of this are visible in the countless articles written about Tennis player Serena Williams. From comparing her to horses and attributing the angry black woman narrative to her she too has fallen victim to these vicious attacks. Caster Semenya gives the perfect opportunity for plausible deniability for racism.
In Sister Outsider Audre Lorde writes: “to allow women of Colour to step out of stereotypes is too guilt provoking, for it threatens the complacency of those women who view oppression only in terms of sex.” This quote is befitting of the environment Caster Semenya exists in. Female athletes complain about sexism within sports but fail to address their own prejudices.
The image below taken from the article shows Lynsey Sharp (Team GB), second left, as she hugs Melissa Bishop (Team Canada) after the Olympic 800m finals and South African Caster Semenya attempting to comfort them both. (Something The Guardian failed to comment on.) This is characteristic of the myopic gaze the media exercises when it comes to black women and our vulnerability.
Source: The Guardian. Photograph: Antonio Lacerda/EPA
The Guardian fails to comment on Sharp’s coded attack on Semenya’s womanhood despite the public ordeal she has been put through. Semenya has had to endure endless tests just to prove her womanhood. Caster Semenya is a victim of society’s heteronormative conception of womanhood but in this case, Sharp is positioned as the victim.
The victim crying about Semenya winning despite placing 6th. The gall to open her mouth and attack Semenya is astounding. To place emphasis on her inherent physiological attributes is an insult to the sheer hard work and resilience that has led her to become a champion. The fact is, even if Semenya was absent from the race, she still would have been 5th.
Sharp is not an innocent, powerless victim of powers beyond her control as she claims to be in her statements. Her comments are hateful and they highlight her bad sportsmanship.She is a victim of her own bigotry.
6 reasons why Caster Semenya deserved to beat her
- Sharp qualifying for the 2012 Olympics was contentious anyway. She was chosen despite being, “chosen ahead of four women who had recorded faster times.” (BBC Sport, 2012) Since we are in the spirit of disregarding achievements based on merit and skill alone. We can speculate that her familial connections may have been part of the reason she managed to qualify. Afterall, she is the daughter of Scottish Sprinter Robert Cameron Sharp who competed in the 1980s Commonwealth game.
- Francine Niyonsaba – 1:56.49 (Burundi)
- Margaret Wambui- 1:56.89 (Kenya)
- Melissa Bishop- 1:57.02(Canada)
- Joanna Jóźwik- 1:57.37 (Poland)
- She was the better athlete, no genetics, no bullshit pathology, just simple matter of fact on the day, Caster ran better than her and so did 4 other women!
Semenya stands as a representation for other women like her; she is inspirational and graceful in the face of adversity. Not that she ought to be. The only thing she ought to be is her damn self!