A Lack of Moral Judgment

William Smith Jr.

Section 009

Blog # 3

“Semenya does not look like most female athletes. People questioned whether she was really a woman.” This is quote found within Ariel Levy’s “Either/Or”, which details the story of Caster Semenya. Semenya is a runner, from South Africa, who came under much scrutiny for her physical appearance, after displaying her athletic prowess. This scrutiny, and inquisitiveness, caused her to be tested without being even told what the true purpose of the test was for. While some believe that she shouldn’t be able to race if she is deemed to be not of the female gender, I believe that the unethical nature of how the test was done reveals an underlying issue in female sports.

When you turn on the television, read a magazine, or simply have a conversation about the most spectacular female athletes, usually there are a few qualifications they must meet. First of all, they have to be well accomplished in their sport or currently tearing it up. Secondly, they usually have to be attractive to the person speaking about them. Lastly, the media in some form or fashion usually sexualizes and completely feminizes them.

Don’t get me wrong; these athletes are very good at what they do. The problem is, I just can’t remember the last time I have heard about a female athlete that wasn’t Lolo Jones, Hope Solo, Skylar Diggins, Candace Parker, Danica Patrick, Lisa Leslie, or the Williams Sisters. Hope Solo was in the ESPN The Body Issue of their magazine, an issue I didn’t expect coming to my doorstep. Candace Parker had been depicted with Shelden Williams and in dresses when I remember her being popular. Skylar Diggins was talked about on social media as “the prettiest female basketball player” people have ever seen and how it’s rare to find a female that good and that attractive at that sport. Danica Patrick had the “Go Daddy” commercials, which always begged you to go directly to the site to see what happened next, usually after a suggestive scene.

Semenya of South Africa celebrates after she won in the women's 800 metres final during the world athletics

http://www.newyorker.com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/magazine/2009/11/30/eitheror

The point is, Caster Semenya did not meet the qualifications of the media nor anyone involved in the sport. As Levy puts it, she “is breathtakingly butch.” I believe her achievement, combined with the fact that she wasn’t as feminine as the female athletes we all love to praise drove people to test her without proper moral judgment. Yes, she may not have appeared the way you think she should, and yes, the tests may have shown physical discrepancies, but the fact that you would go to such lengths to prove your assumptions is disgusting.

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3 thoughts on “A Lack of Moral Judgment

  1. I agree that media typically sexualizes women, but I would argue that media also sexualizes men. In ads and commercials, male athletes are presented with their shirts off and their body covered in sweat so that they appear “sexy” and “masculine.” Not only are men sexualized in media, but many women and men watch sports purely to see attractive men run around in tight pants. Your argument that only women are sexualized is an incomplete thesis. Our world is a world obsessed with sex and everyone in it is sexualized. So although it is unfair that Caster was discriminated against because she was “butch”, she herself was sexualized in a magazine. She was put into a dress, covered in makeup, and had her hair done. Therefore, I believe Caster was discriminated against because of her testosterone levels, not her physical attractiveness.

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  2. A counterexample to your argument about the characteristics of a notable female athlete is Brittney Griner. Griner is currently dominating the WNBA and exerted her physical prowess over her opponents at her years at Baylor where she won the NCAA Championship in 2012. This past year she lead the Phoenix Mercury to the WNBA Championship and won. Clearly, Griner is one of the stars in the WNBA, and yet she is openly lesbian (in fact she is engaged to another WNBA player). She is one of the faces of women’s basketball and yet her appearance, sexuality, and personality does not appeal to a large part of sports fans and society.

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  3. I think you have addressed a prominent issue in the sports world. Female athletes do get criticized and judged more heavily than their male counterparts however I do not agree with your three assumptions that all star female athletes MUST have. Your examples do show some female athletes representing some of the characteristics, but not all. There are female athletes who have been recognized solely on their performance and not on their looks. For example, Billy Jean King was a pioneer who changed women’s sports forever because of her performance on the tennis court. However, I do agree that the media definitely tries to feminize these famous female athletes as much as they can like putting them in magazines with dresses and make up. I believe how they handled the Caster situation was wrong and things should be done so that it doesn’t happen again.

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