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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stereotypes, Institutions, and the Observer: My reactions to Dr. Sloop's lecture and discussion on Caster Semenya

Dr. Sloop’s lecture on Caster Semenya’s exposure of gender absolutes fascinated my curiosity on a situation widely discussed among my Wabash track & field teammates. I first heard the issue brought up not by watching her race (which I have watched on YouTube; her kick with 250 meters to go is absolutely incredible) but by one of the coaches, who said that in his many years of running/coaching track & field, he said, “She looks like a man” more than he had ever seen before. Many of the comments on YouTube videos of the race reflect my coach’s idea, although often times more demeaning than what my coach based off her visual appearance.
Dr. Sloop opened up to me what many observers—intelligent and knowledgeable in their own rights—were doing by basing their judgments of Semenya by her visual attributes: they don’t realize they attempt to define gender. When Dr. Sloop said, “We are all performing drag now,” it made me see that even in your own sweat and grit often seen on the track, with the race on most competitors and fans’ minds, judgments are made subconsciously about gender. A casual observer can note fairly quickly any difference in their perceived stereotypes of gender, especially if such differences are radical. I think that was part of Dr. Sloop’s point: identity change, whatever it is, is always radical to someone. As he said in his discussion, if the definition of male & female goes far enough, then we all can be considered unisex/intersex in some way. Semenya’s particular case involving the polarizing IAAF—done not necessarily out of malice or ill will—shows that such stereotypes reflect in many of the institutions we take for granted today.
As for Wabash as one of those institutions…I’ll let someone else write about that.

1 comment:

  1. It is a wonder how concious we are of our own definitions of self-identity. What do we want people to know/not know and how do we show them by what we do in public? If queer kissing in public asserts oneself as proud homosexual, does heterosexual kissing attempt to convey a proud compliance to sexual normativity? To me, to claim one is to claim another. If queers cannot kiss without a thought to social perceptions, how can heterosexuals not do the same?

    We are obviously concerned about what people think, evidenced by our classmates asserting their own heterosexuality with, "I'm not gay but..." but is there a line to how much do we do with the perception of others' in mind?

    I don't have a particular answer that would satisfy me, but food for thought?