"Lady looks like a dude!"

Jeremy Gordin on the strange story of Herr Doktor Arbeit and Caster Semenya


There was a stirring piece of journalism on the leader page of The Sunday Independent on - as you might have expected - Sunday.

It was written by Colleen Lowe Morna (known affectionately by me as Colleen Lawn Mower - not original; she coined it), the executive director of something called Gender Links (Lynx?).

In it she explained that "sex" is a biological given, while "gender" is about "society's expectations" of what a woman or man should look like, behave and be.

Bit of a generalisation, I thought to myself, since society is made up of many groups and they might not agree with one another about what a woman or man should look like, and so on. But let it go for the nonce.

Ms Lawn Mower's point was that "testing for sex" was as legitimate in sport as testing for drugs. "There are physical differences between men and women," she conceded - and, to the extent that such differences (e.g., male versus female strength) might give an athlete (a man masquerading as a woman) an advantage, they should be questioned.

However, CLM wrote, gender testing is completely wrong. Why? Because it presumably involves determining whether a person looks or thinks or acts like a woman or a man. And how exactly does a woman or man think or look or act? Who are we - or anyone - to make that designation?

And gender testing, Colleen continued, was exactly what Mokgadi "Caster" Semenya was being subjected to - because she was being "questioned" (I think CLM meant "tested") in terms of our assumptions about how a woman should look and behave, not the biological facts.

"Could it be," asked CLM (now in full flight), "that the real issue is that we are blown away by a confident and fit young woman who exudes not only physical but also psychological strength in a way that challenges our deeply held views about what girls should or should not be?"

Nice try, Colleen, I'm on your side actually (and Caster's), but it just doesn't cut the proverbial mustard.

It isn't about gender verification, whatever the permanently confused and puzzled local (and international) media might call it. You're absolutely correct: it's about sex testing.

What happened was that Semenya got out there on the track and tore off at high speed - improving her previous times for the 800m exponentially - and, well, the other competitors (Australians - the worst sportspeople in the world, even the females) shouted: "Hey, what gives here?!"

They didn't do it because they cared a damn about Jurgen Habermas's concept of the public sphere, Michel Foucault's notions on gender, or Semenya's vibrant psychological strength (what?), but because they wanted the gold and silver medals for themselves.

And, as I said, they looked at young Semenya and (reversing the Aerosmith number) they sang: "Lady looks like a dude!"

Why? Because Semenya has a deep voice, no tits to speak of, and a musculature and height of which Arnold Schwarzenegger might be proud.

Now, CLM might reply, I am simply a crass male chauvinist porker who assumes that women should have softer and/or higher voices than men, larger breasts than men, and more curves around the hips and thighs than men. But: to hell with me, she would say. How dare I make such assumptions?

Well, here's the thing, hon. I'm not making the assumptions. It's how - for want of a better explanation - the Grand Wazoo made us. If you have complaints, take them to Her. It's a physical issue. It's a "sex" (a biological) thing. Most women do not have the sort of voice, height and physical dimensions that Semenya has; those are generally reserved for the male sex. It's not rocket science.

Okay, I concede at this point that matters do get a trifle complicated - in the sense that maleness and femaleness are the opposite ends of a long continuum and that very few of us can be located completely at one end or the other.

In other words, as we know, some fellows have dollops of oestrogen and lots of gals have plenty testosterone. I concede too that there are numerous exceptions to the good old chromosome designation (XX=female, XY=male) and that there are more human beings than we realise whose biological sex cannot be classified as either male or female. Intersexuality is the term used for people who have atypical combinations of the physical features that usually distinguish male from female.

So, "they" can do all the tests they want - gynaecological, internal, genetic, endocrinological, and psychological - but they might not find an undescended scrotum or missing female reproductive organs.

Much more worrying, in my view, are the stories just emerging now that tests carried out some weeks ago indicated that Semenya had three times the normal female level of testosterone in her body - and that - would you believe it? - the head coach of our athletics team is the interestingly-named Dr Ekkart Arbeit ("macht frei"), the former East German athletics coach.

Herr Doktor Arbeit was accused by a female athlete of giving her so many anabolic steroids that she was forced to undergo a sex-change operation and live the rest of her life as a man.

Heidi Krieger, who underwent surgery in 1997 and now lives in Germany as Andreas Krieger, has always blamed Arbeit for the role he played in supervising her drug regime under East Germany's state-sponsored doping programme.

Remember Mary Decker (later Slaney)? She was the American athlete who went boomsa-daisy with our Zola Budd in 1984. Anyway, one day she came running out of a change-room at an athletics meeting because she thought she'd gone into the wrong one (a male one). But it was merely the change-room of the East German female track team - Arbeit's girls.

And my Pilates instructor, Brett, who's small but mean, and knows about such things, responded, when I asked him about Semenya: "Steroids. And the thing is that the new steroids are so new, they haven't even perfected tests for them yet ..." (The IAAF, though, has stressed that the controversy concerns a "medical issue, not an issue of cheating.")

But never mind Semenya - she seems a fine enough human being to me, whatever her sex is - and never even mind Doktor Arbeit ("macht frei") - what concerns me is the hysterical reaction of we Seffricans.

Led by the bozo brigade of Julius "little Julie" Malema, Butana Komphela, Leonard "SMS" Chuene, and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (a well-known dispenser of kindness to young people), we have got the "racism" bit between our teeth and, saliva flying, we are going to take the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the rest of the world to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, so help us God (or the Grand Wazoo)!

As David Smith of The Guardian put it: "Fifteen years after the end of apartheid, public discourse in South Africa can quickly become racially charged."

No kidding.

Madikizela-Mandela said no one had the right to perform tests on "our little girl" and warned the media to be more patriotic "without insulting one of our own. Use the freedom of press we gave you properly, because we can take it from you."

Right on, Winnie. You tell ‘em, babe. You gave it to them, right out of the barrel of a bottle.

Little Julie - who surprised everyone by speaking an almost complete sentence - blamed the media for questioning Semenya's gender and undermining all our women.

"Once again the white-controlled media [Moegsien Williams, Mondli Makhanya, Ferial Haffajee, Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya, and Zapiro] is wrong. ...Please stop bothering Caster," Malema said.

Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, the minister for women, children and people with disabilities, said her department (which doesn't quite exist yet) had written to the IAAF to determine why there are doubts over Semenya's gender.

"Is it because she's a woman? Is it because she's African? We want to know why this was done," Mayende-Sibiya said.

Then Jimmy Manyi, the chair for the Commission for Employment Equity said Semenya was being "targeted" because of society's inability to recognise that black people could excel.

"Because she's black, all kinds of things are coming out now," said Manyi.

Note to readers: Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, is a black man. Karen Bliksem is really a man. Not everything happens because of the colour of your skin. Testosterone is testosterone. Malema, Chuene, Madikizela-Mandela, Komphela, and Manyi should all go and do some work.

Note to the media and the government: There are three, maybe, four issues.

1. Does Caster Semenya have an unnaturally raised level of testosterone, thereby giving her an unfair advantage over (other?) female competitors? It is a purely biological question. 2. The scandal (other than the IAAF, er, cock-up in announcing the tests), if there is one, is whether Athletics South Africa knew this about Caster but allowed her to compete anyway?

3. Has Caster been taking something she shouldn't have, courtesy of Dr Arbeit or anyone else? 4. What is the architect of the East German national doping plan doing as our athletics coach? Does Butana Komphela know? Was Arbeit recruited for deployment when Mac Maharaj's Operation Vula operatives were doing their training in East Germany?

These are questions of fact, but instead of tracking down the answers, much of our media has chosen to indulge in mushy editorialising and the government has gone hysterical about being African or black. Go and do some work, okes.

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