Caster Semenya in a new role – as “glamour girl”?

Scanned from "You" magazine
Scanned from "You" magazine
Scanned from "You" magazine
Scanned from "You" magazine
Scanned from "You" magazine
Scanned from "You" magazine

Exploitation

This week (in September 2009) the South African glossy gossip mag You has a cover showing Caster Semenya posing in a little black number with bling dripping, ever-so like a starlet pitching for a soapy role. The tagline on the cover reads “We turn SA's power girl into a glamour girl – and she loves it!” And then in large, bold type: “Wow, look at Caster now!”

Is this really the way women want to be? And are “power” and “glamour” the values young women in a country with problems of poverty and the unfair distribution of resource should be encouraged to espouse? Is “glamour” better than “power?” Is this really an appropriate response to the still raging controversy over those gender tests and the political posturings of sports officials both here and in Europe?

These were some of the questions that came to me on seeing this week's edition of You with its, to me, exploitative cover images and the four page spread inside which did nothing to allay my suspicions and doubts.

Here is a young woman from a poverty-riddled rural area with hopelessly inadequate resources who has, controversially, been thrust into the international spotlight for two reasons – firstly for setting a blistering world record in the 800 metres at the Berlin IAAF World Championships, and secondly, for having her sex challenged, or at least doubted, in a most humiliating and, I think, avoidable way.

Then on her return to South Africa, as the latest of our “golden girls”, she is turned into a political football kicked around by all the power-grabbing politicians, professional and amateur, who shamelessly use Ms Semenya to push their own agendas.

So what is the purpose of trying to turn Ms Semenya into a “glamour girl?” Is it to preempt the results, which are still awaited, of the gender testing that has been done by the IAAF?

Of course, Ms Semenya loved the opportunity to be pampered and dressed up like a doll. Who wouldn't? And I hope that You paid her well for her time. But it leaves me feeling distinctly uncomfortable – a young woman with a great talent, a world-record breaking talent, being turned into something else – for what?

Does the answer lie in the demographics of the mag, which is aimed largely at middle-class white women? Is this some attempt to make Ms Semenya acceptable to these people? As though middle-class white women are not able to appreciate talent wherever it is found?

Ms Semenya runs fast – very fast. She also has features and a build that have cast doubt in some people's minds about the levels of testosterone in her blood. This is a sensitive, and potentially, at least, humiliating issue for the young woman.

To exploit this, as You magazine has done, is not acceptable. Especially when they use the word “girl” several times. Now for any South African with any sensitivity to our past and the racial issues that still bedevil us, they should know that the word “girl” applied to any young woman, but more especially to a young black woman, has a heavy load of paternalism attached.

The word “girl” was commonly used by whites in South Africa for black women of any age. It was the term usually used for a woman working as a domestic worker in a white household: whites would refer to their domestic worker, of whatever age, as “our girl.” Even young children, young enough to be the woman's grandchildren,would refer to her as a “girl.”

Apparently I am not the only one who has found this issue of You distasteful in the extreme. The chief sports reporter of the Times, Owen Slot, in his on-line column “World in Motion” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/columnists/owen_slot/article6825732.ece), wrote this week: “On the subject of posing for “YOU”, why do it now? Why such a public statement about her femininity now when a team of scientists are simultaneously drawing conclusions that may not agree with it. It is indecently hasty when she could easily have waited until the science had been completed.”

And I suppose that all this writing about the issue of You will only add to its circulation figures. And that's sad, because it deserves to tank for its tastelessness and insensitivity.

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2009

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Comments 20 comments

Catherine R profile image

Catherine R 7 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

Absolutely gross. I always thought YOU magazine was a rubbish publication and this just confirms it. You should write a letter of complaint to them Tony. Mind you - if it wasn't YOU it would have been someone else leaping in to grab a piece of the pie. I feel terribly sorry for Caster - just 18 years old with zilch experience of the horrid ways of the world - suddenly under the microscope with vultures ready to pounce. I wonder whether all this has overshadowed her win - I can't help feeling that it must have.


Makiwa profile image

Makiwa 7 years ago from Australia

Life is tough at the best of times for most black women in Africa. This is very unfair - it was mentioned on Australian TV as well. Let her be what she wants to be not a puppet to make people feel better about themselves. I have not heard her opinion of the article but it sounds as if she went into it willing. Why does she need to prove anything to the world? She is an amazing beautiful person, her youth makes her vulnarable to sharks. A great piece - thanks.


tantrum profile image

tantrum 7 years ago from Tropic of Capricorn

Disgusting to say the least! Why don't they leave her alone ? I suppose they paid her well for the pics, and she being so innocent acquiesced. What a shame !


Artemus Gordon profile image

Artemus Gordon 7 years ago

I am sure that having the opportunity to dress up and be treated like a super model was a great feeling for SA but for You to exploit this issue to sell some magazines is just ridiculous.


ixwa profile image

ixwa 7 years ago

South Africa, known as "mzantsi" by the locals is a very intense and beautiful place. I have been following the story of Semenya Seshego in South Africa. It is really amazing to see her humble beginnings and abode. The dirt grounds in which she trained from are very humbling. This shows human resilience, ingenuity,courage and determination when you come and look at it. Poverty made her look the way she does. It does not mean South Africans do not have a sense of fashion. The black petit bourgeoisie is in step with Paris, Italy, Britain the States, to name a few,fashion-wise. This has caused a stir in the country whose hubs were jumping out of the screen, red hot racism,and racial attacks; people blaming one another, this whole accusing and counters thereof, some blaming the Rugby fans about the Boks, others blaming blacks concerning the soccer national team, Bafana Bafana, and the litany hurled across the divided are so vicious, mean and very disturbing. This is said as it relates to Semenya. It is strange that racism and racialism, hate and distrust are the realities that affect sport, religion, politics, economy and so forth mostly in South Africa and here in the States. That is why I wrote the articles on democracy and Apartheid, to highlight this issue. it is sad now that Semenya is abused and exploited even more than she was in her poor and down-trodden Seshego home. At the same time, this raises even more serious questions about her gender. The struggle to redefine social and other relations in South Africa is not easy because the new government has not yet fully figured how to ameliorate and bring together the different factions of all races under one umbrella. Corruption and many unspeakable acts have left the country unstable, tense and edgy. The Semenya story has only fueled the racial antagonism and opened the door for opportunist sharks and leeches to exploit the situation. It is amazing who is looking for what to determine she's a woman. Duh...


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Oh I am so sad to read this news. I agree with you tonymac, this is exploitation and devalues her contribution to women. The long term ramifications worry me. What a betrayal.


bingskee profile image

bingskee 7 years ago from Quezon City, Philippines

it is so sad that exploitation comes in many ways, and the vultures are always there waiting. this is such a superficial way of defining glamour.


SLM 20904 7 years ago

she is so beautiful stay strong Caster stay strong


ixwa profile image

ixwa 7 years ago

You did not listen to the station, I can tell if you did. I am sorry for Caster and I hope she survives this farce and dogged Racism, which is attempting to take her humanity away.


Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 7 years ago from The East Coast

I hope that Caster has her community and family's support throughout this whole thing. It is not uncommon when an athlete does well, that exploitation happens. I'ts usually mutually beneficial, the successful athlete gets a contract worth millions pushing a brand of athletic shoes, a cereal, whatever and the company has their product bought by millions of the athlete's admirers. This situation with You magazine however is different and distasteful in the sense that it feels that the magazine is trying to persuade the public that Caster is all woman in a certain framework. There is nothing wrong with Caster the way she is. We currently do not know anything about Caster's hormones or gender construction or anything. We do know that she is a superb and dedicated athlete and that is why we should admire her.

Good hub tonymac.


MikeNV profile image

MikeNV 7 years ago from Henderson, NV

Yesterday on Yahoo She was a lead story all day saying she has both male and female gender. What do you do take it out on her? That is the sad part, because she is different she is getting pounded by the World Wide Media. Is it her fault she is an exceptional athlete just doing what she can?


Ms_Shae profile image

Ms_Shae 7 years ago

I find it is unfortunate she is but a young (teenage) woman caught up in such a whirlwind of a media talespin and lies.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

I agree with you, Tony. Even assuming she was completely willing to be photographed this way, it's another example of the triviality of the celebrity culture and of how anything is fair game if it makes a quick buck for somebody.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa Author

Thanks Para for the read and the comment. I appreciate it very much indeed.

Love and peace

Tony


fastfreta profile image

fastfreta 7 years ago from Southern California

WOW! The use of the word "girl" takes me back, 'nough said. Great hub. Thanks!


Microscope Functions 6 years ago

Always a pleasure to come across some work that is useful, thankyou for the information keep the good stuff pouring in


Anouser 5 years ago

Most of them were probably young girls, but the employers liked the word, not caring for how humuiliating many at 30 would feal.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Anouser - thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Love and peace

Tony


Ross 5 years ago

i agreed wit hthis article right up until you mentioned that the word "girl" was dergatory. yes the world girl was used to describe black women of any age (FUNNY THAT SEEING THAT THEY WERE IN FACT GIRLS). Coincidently for longer than apartheid was around the word "girl" also been used to describe young WHITE women in age groups ranging from birth till their late thirties even. coincidently Caster falls within that range, and coincidently apartheid is over. So maybe just maybe they used the term "girl" to describe, well, simply a girl?


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Hi Ross - thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it very much.

I will disagree with you on the issue of "girl" - I still think it is derogatory, especially when used by white people about a black person. We know the history of apartheid and how it intentionally degraded people. I don't think it is OK to call a woman of any race a "girl" once they have reached adulthood, which in terms of South African law is 18. From 18 to about 30 or 35 they can be referred to as "young women" but never, never "girl".

I think we as whites need to exercise special sensitivity with regard to young black women in particular, but actually all young women.

Perhaps the use of the word "girl" for Caster in this article was not intentionally derogatory in the sense that the writer did not mean to insult her. But given the history we come out of that is no excuse - we need to be sensitive and be aware of the words we use and the potential impact of them.

Perhaps Caster doesn't mind - I still think it is wrong because it is sending a wrong message.

Thanks for the comment.

Love and peace

Tony

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