Thursday, August 20, 2009

Runner Semenya forced to take gender-verification test

by Malavika Balachandran

South African runner Caster Semenya, winner of a gold medal in the 800 meter race yesterday in Berlin, is now under scrutiny as many believe she is a man. In fact, she is undergoing a gender-verification test to make sure she is a woman, or she will be disqualified from the race. Officials believe she is intersex (having female genitalia but male chromosomes). Citing her speed, lack of breasts, and "manly" facial features, officials have called for gender-verification test, which according to CNN will consist of "examination by a gynecologist to see what her genitals look like" and "an ultrasound to see if she has all the normal female reproductive organs." Most athletes have an athletic build and consequently possess small breasts. Semenya is competing in a race, not a beauty pageant. She should not be judged for having facial hair or a square jaw.

The media frenzy is causing 18-year-old to endure international humiliation, regardless of whether she is actually intersex. Semenya is only one of many female athletes who face this scrutiny. The degradation has caused not only gender confusion for these women, but severe depression. Santhi Soundarajan, another runner, was stripped of her medal in 2006 after "failing" a gender test and later attempted suicide. Officials have done nothing to protect Semenya's privacy and have openly discussed her "manliness."

Following a series of tests conducted by a vast array of doctors - gynecologists, endocrinologists, psychiatrists, and more - officials will decide if Semenya is a "real woman" and thus deserving of her honor. But the only reality is that if she has any significant hormonal imbalance or chromosome abnormality, officials will likely disqualify her and say she is not a woman. Yet no one questions male athletes' masculinity, and most probably think that it is unlikely a good male athlete has any feminine characteristics. But far too often, exceptional female athletes face skepticism about their femininity, and this incident has reignited the debate about what, in the world of sports, gender should mean.

Sexism is alive and well on "Top Chef"

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

I'm not a fan of most reality TV (although I will be tuned in tonight to see the new season of "Project Runway"), but I have had a soft spot for "Top Chef" for quite some time. Our love affair, however, seems to have been rudely cut short by the choices of Bravo executives, who allowed the assholery of a couple of the contestants to go way, way too far. I know they want good ratings, and the way you get that is to have to load up on contestants we love to hate. But the season premiere last night crossed a line. I knew things weren't great when the first challenge opened with Vegas showgirls, dancing through the kitchen (the season is set in Las Vegas, for some reason). But that was soon put to shame, as soon as contestant Mike Isabella opened his mouth.

"No offense," he said, looking over at fellow chef Jennifer Carroll, who was doing some kitchen task I have now forgotten at an equally rapid pace, "but a girl shouldn't be at the same level I am."

Excuse me, but are we out of our minds here? Mike, the charmer, went on to refer to another chef as an "old lady" and, just to show that he doesn't respect anyone, shared his extremely rude observation that a fellow contestant looked like a "monkey" running through the grocery store.

But this isn't all. The chefs were cooking dishes based on their favorite vices (a weird challenge, if you ask me, but strangely, nobody does), and yet another delightful gentleman stepped up to the plate with a RACK of lamb, seasoned with the MILK from a PAIR of COCONUTS. Do you get it? Do you get it? Yep, Michael's vice was "plastic surgery." He didn't even have the class to say "boobs." And Tom Colicchio? Oh, he loved it.

These comments are sexist to a degree that absolutely stuns me. Racism of this level would simply not be tolerated, even if it did garner ratings, and frankly, Mike is irritating enough that I might stop watching just so I don't have to hear the sound of his voice. The producers of this show had a responsibility to curb Mike's mouth - there is a firm line between edgy and offensive, and he crossed it. And let me just say - who knows if this is coincidence - but out of the fairly gender-balanced cast of contestants, 3 of the 4 lowest-scoring chefs were women, and 3 of the 4 highest-scoring chefs were men. And the woman who won the first mini-challenge has already announced that she is a "bitch" in the kitchen. Because clearly, to be successful, you've got to prove that you have balls - and the only way to do that is to make people cry.

So I'm disappointed, and just a bit livid - although that could be because the only vegan dish I've ever seen on "Top Chef" got Jennifer Zavala sent home. I think Tom Colicchio just doesn't like seitan.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Quick links: dating for dogs and anti-burqa talk in Denmark

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Just a few links for your perusal:

Denmark has jumped on the bandwagon with France - a leader of the Conservative Party has called for a ban of the burqa or niqab, which require women to cover their faces in public. After the infamous cartoon incident of 2005, when a series of political cartoons in a Danish newspaper featuring the prophet Muhammad caused riots worldwide, I'm really not surprised. In fact, I lived in Denmark for a year when I was younger, and experienced vague xenophobia because I was American, so I can't imagine what it's like for people who actually look different. In any case, it will be interesting to see if this goes anywhere.

There was a really bizarre article in the NYT yesterday about pet matchmaking. Yes, apparently this happens in India. They are also crazy for male rather than female dogs, to the extent where it is extremely difficult to find girlfriends for these purebred pets. Breeders say that this is part of a societal penchant for Y chromosomes in some parts of India.

Mad Men came back on Sunday night, and there's a good commentary on the first episode on Feministing. If Betty Draper's comment that her daughter was a "little lesbian" (Sally had been caught bashing her father's suitcase with a hammer) is any indication, there's going to be lots of gender commentary in this season, even if it's mildly out of place.

There was an article in the NYT on Sunday about the increasing role of women in the military. I thought that it was actually very skewed and ignored the threat of sexual assault and discrimination that women still face. Thoughts?

And this just made me mad: according to the NYT, it's now hip to have a beer belly. But only if you're a man.

This made me even madder. PETA has gone too far. Look at their latest ad, and tell me that this isn't blatantly offensive and fat-hating. And frankly, going vegetarian to lose weight is possibly the worst reason to become vegetarian that I can think of. For more reasons to dislike PETA, see my post from earlier this summer - they don't have a good track record with these ads.

But, to finish on a happy note, I read a great book last week. A Short History of Women, Kate Walbert's latest, details the lives of four generations of women in an exquisitely written novel that travels from England at the turn of the twentieth century to post-9/11 Manhattan. I really can't recommend it highly enough - the book ties threads between the lives of the characters subtly and beautifully, showing us the ways that women's lives have changed and remained the same. And seriously, how can you not love a book that begins with the sentence "Mum starved herself for suffrage, Grandmother claiming that it was just like Mum to take a cause too far." The book will demand your full attention, but it's an intensely rewarding read.