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Gold medal runner will not lose title but will have gender test

The winner of the women’s 800 metre race at the IAAF Athletics World Championships in Berlin, nearly refused to step up and accept her medal after she was ordered to undergo a gender test.

Gold medal runner will not lose title but will have gender test

South African runner Caster Semanya, who is just 18 years old, was so upset and angry at the decision to make her take the test that it was only after the intervention of her national athletics association head that she stepped up to the podium.

Leonard Chuene told reporters, “She said she did not want to go to the podium, but I told her she had to do it. She said to me, ‘No-one has ever told me I am not a woman – I am not a boy! Why did they bring me here? They should have left me at home in my village.’”

The complicated gender test, which will require a number of gynaecological and psychological tests as well as work by a host of scientists, was ordered after questions were raised due to her muscular physique, deep voice and fast running time.

Some media reports suggest a letter to the athletics association could have triggered suspicions. South African media, which have concentrated on the story of how Semanya managed to pull herself from a dirt poor village, practising running on dirt roads, to the world stage of athletics.

Her parents and grandmother have all testified to her female gender, saying that she was teased at school for her lack of traditional femininity.

Her father Jacob said, “We will not accept that she should undergo these tests and we agree with her that she should have rejected the medal.”

Some questioning her gender have focused on such ‘clues’ as the fact that she looked boyish, was never interested in wearing dresses and instead played football.

It was revealed on Wednesday that she had undergone gender tests in South Africa, while Nick Davies, spokesman for the IAAF, said that she would have been tested under IAAF auspices when she competed in last year’s Junior Commonwealth Games.

The decision to put her through the tests again have sparked outrage in South Africa, where allegations have been made that had she been a white athlete, no such demands would have been made.

South Africa’s ruling part, the African National Congress, even waded in, condemning what it said would be a traumatic experience for the teenager. “What happened is the most humiliating experience which could happen to an international athlete… We have asked Caster to accept the medal for all of us in South Africa,” said ANC spokesman Brian Sokutu.

Davies said even if a gender test were to show Semenya were male, she would not be stripped of her medal. He said, “Legally if you are found to be of a different sex to that declared, that is not cheating. Doping is an attempt to defraud and is cheating. So it is not necessarily the case that she would be stripped of her medal. It is a very delicate matter.”

Any gender testing will be complicated by the growing understanding that male and female are not absolutes, and there is a sliding scale physiologically as well as psychologically, between the two.

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GENDER

Berlin activists show manspreaders who wears the trousers

Manspreading is annoying for everyone on public transport. Now Berlin-based activists are trying to raise awareness and stamp it out.

Berlin activists show manspreaders who wears the trousers
Feminist activists Elena Buscaino and Mina Bonakdar on the Berlin subway. Photo: DPA

A man lounges across two seats on a crowded Berlin train, oblivious to his surroundings – until the two women opposite him suddenly spread their legs, revealing a message on their trousers: “Stop spreading”.

Feminist activists Elena Buscaino and Mina Bonakdar are on a mission to stamp out manspreading – the habit that some men have of encroaching on adjacent seats without consideration for their female neighbours.

“It is perfectly possible to sit comfortably on public transport without taking up two seats by spreading your legs,” said Bonakdar, 25.

The two female activists’ provocative stunt is part of a wider initiative called the Riot Pant Project featuring slogans printed on the inside legs of second-hand trousers.

READ ALSO: How much do women in Germany earn compared to men?

Bonakdar and Buscaino, both design students, came up with the idea as a way of helping women and LGBTQ people reclaim public spaces often dominated by men.

As well as “Stop spreading”, the project’s slogans include “Give us space” and “Toxic masculinity” – which, in a nod to the behaviour of those they are aimed at, are only revealed once the wearer shows their crotch.

“It is only through imitation that the interlocutor understands the effect of his or her behaviour,” said Buscaino, 26. 

Ancient phenomenon

But she also admits that very few men immediately change their posture when confronted with the slogans, as observed by AFP on the Berlin underground.

“They are often just astonished that women are behaving like that in front of them,” she said — but she hopes the project will at least give them food for thought.

For Bonakdar, simply wearing the trousers in itself allows women to “feel stronger and gain confidence”.

Although it may seem trivial to some, the problem of manspreading has existed almost since the dawn of public transport.

“Sit with your limbs straight, and do not with your legs describe an angle of 45, thereby occupying the room of two persons,” the Times of London advised as early as 1836 in an article on bus etiquette, as cited by Clive D.W. Feather in “The History of the Bakerloo Line”.

The term “manspreading” was coined in 2013 when New York subway users began posting photos of nonchalant male passengers and their contorted neighbours on social media.

According to a 2016 study by Hunter College in New York City, 26 percent of male subway users in the city are guilty of the practice, compared with less than 5 percent of women.

The US metropolis was one of the first in the world to try to start curbing the behaviour.

In 2014, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority launched a campaign featuring signs with the message: “Dude… Stop the Spread, Please”.

Gender roles

Similar campaigns have also since been launched in South Korea, Japan, Istanbul, and Madrid, where manspreading has even been punishable with fines since 2017.

The campaigns have sparked a backlash on the internet, with men citing biological differences as a way of justifying the need to spread their legs even if no scientific study has yet proven their argument.

Instead, the phenomenon has more to do with “gender roles” in society, Bettina Hannover, a psychologist and professor at the Free University of Berlin, told AFP.

“Men sit more possessively and indicate dominance with their seating position, while women are expected to take up less space and above all to behave demurely,” she said.

By David COURBET

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