Day Seventeen: March 21

Download Notes Here.

  • No class on Wednesday. Use class time to meet with your diablog groups in order to complete your group media analysis (which is now due on Monday, March 28, along with your blog folders). 
  • Keep checking due date list
We spent the first half of the semester learning some key concepts within the politics of sex. We discussed, and you wrote about, the logic of sex/gender/desire and its ordering of sexed bodies, gender practices and experiences and expressions of desire through heterosexuality. We looked at heteronormativity, privilege and power. We read about and discussed scientific discourse and its power to shape and regulate how bodies become meaningful (as normal or deviant), paying particular attention to how race and gender function together as black women's bodies are hyper-sexualized and over-scrutinized. We briefly traced the history of heterosexuality and discussed Rubin's charmed circle and the radical politics of sexuality, particularly in relation to disability and sex practices. And we reflected on gender rules and practices and the various ways we are compelled to do gender. Now it is time to apply these concepts to some Individuals, Institutions and Ideologies. 

For the next week, we will focus on Individuals in two ways: 1. Today we are discussing one individual athlete, Caster Semenya, and the implications of the media hype surrounding her in the summer of 2009 for our understandings of bodies, sex, gender, sexuality, race and nation. 2. Next Monday, we will expand our investigation by focusing on a group of individuals, "woman" Athletes, and the implications of how they are represented within media for our analysis of the politics of sex. 

After individuals, we will focus on Institutions through our examination of the medicalization of desire. We will watch Orgasm, inc, read various accounts of women's sexual agency, and critically examine the dangers of understanding women's inability to experience sexual pleasure as primarily a medical problem.  

Finally, we will discuss some underlying Ideologies about sexual purity and innocence that shape how we understand and implement sex education in the United States. We will watch the documentary, The Education and Shelby Knox, and read about the limits of abstinence-only education from feminist perspectives. 

CASTER SEMENYA: Sex/Gender/Sexuality/Race/Nation

note: The video that is embedded in this entry no longer works. Here is a link to the video.


What issues does the case of Semenya bring up for our class? Here are just a few that I can think of:

  1. Sexed bodies: natural and/or socially constructed bodies
  2. Gender practices
  3. Normativity: gender, sex norms, being normal/deviant. What is normal body?
  4. The rules of gender
  5. The "truth" of science and the desire to know
  6. Black women's bodies, Venus Hottentot, hypersexualization of black women's bodies
  7. Binary system and straight thinking (male/female; men/women; heterosexual/homosexual; normal/abnormal; either/or)
  8. Policing "Proper" womanhood/femininity
  9. Verifying "gender" or "sex": Which is it? How do we understand "sex"? "Gender"?
  10. Intersexed bodies
  11. Semenya and agency: (how) can she claim her own sexed body/gender identity?
  12. Markers/ways of knowing and proving one's "true" sex/gender: genitals, face, voice, chest/breasts, throat, muscles...what else?
  13. How are men and women different? Is this the only way we should "read" bodies? Can we develop alternative categories? Do we need to categorize?
  14. Do we need gender (in general and in the case of whether Semenya should be able to compete)? Why?
  15. Gender, Sports, Nationality
  16. The media and motivated representations of sexed and gendered bodies

How does gender verification work (and what's the difference between sex-testing and gender verification? How are these terms used interchangeably? What is the significance of this slippage? What are the rules for sex and gender? Where do these rules come from ("objective" facts or deliberation and consensus)?

  • Thoughts?
from Scully, Pamela. "The Trials of Caster Semenya"

The media attention to the trials of Semenya, to Michelle Obama's arms, to Venus and Serena Williams, all speak to societal-wide tensions around varied and conflicting expectations of femininity, and how they are immersed also in racial representations. While white women runners have also faced challenges to their gender, black women have to navigate a more complicated terrain of racial and gendered domination which rendered and continues to render black female bodies particularly subject to the public gaze. Historically, scientists have sought to understand whole societies through examining an individual black female body: science thus is not necessarily a friend to black women...

Remember our discussion of Somerville? Why was Semenya's body subjected to such scrutiny? Connections between Semenya and the Hottentot Venus? Here's a link to the book that Pamela Scully wrote with Clifton Crais, Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography.

South Africa, Sports and National Pride
  • Human rights violations
  • The dangers of classification
  • Importance of sports for national pride
Caster Semenya is from Limpopo, South Africa.
Map of Africa (Limpopo is at A)
Screen shot 2011-03-20 at 8.11.00 PM.png

Map of South Africa (Limpopo is at A)
Screen shot 2011-03-20 at 8.11.41 PM.png

See discussion of "the media" in The Trials of Caster Semenya

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