Media Analysis Article 2 – Caster Semenya
Word Count: 2, 015
Caster Semenya is an Olympic star athlete that has sparked a lot of media attention in the past few years surrounding the question of her gender. The controversy surrounding Semenya and her gender has been around since she first competed in the Olympics in 2008. A lot of debate over gender politics in sport journalism has been focused on Semenya in the past few years, with people questioning whether or not it is fair to let her run in female events with Hyperandrogenism. Semenya has a condition called Hyperandrogenism, where her body naturally produces a higher level of Testosterone in her body. This media analysis will be a comparative analysis that analyses how articles represent and portray Caster Semenya in the media, and what assumptions are made about the readers. Three articles that share similar positive viewpoints and create positive representations of Semenya will be comparatively analysed in terms of style and argumentation. The first article, ‘Caster Semenya is the one at a disadvantage’, by Sisonke Mismang was published in The Guardian in August 2016. The second article, ‘South African Caster Semenya prepares for controversy ahead of 800m at Rio Olympics’, by Andrew Webster was published in The Sydney Morning Herald in August 2016. The third and final article, ‘Reactions to Caster Semenya prove we still define womanhood as weakness’, by Amy Middleton was also published in Sydney Morning Herald in August 2016. All articles were published around the same time due to the influence of the Olympics and have had years of story development to form an opinion since she first competed and sparked controversy in the 2008 Olympics. All three articles depict Semenya in a positive way but portray her in this way through different argumentative styles and using different techniques.
In the first article, ‘Caster Semenya is the one at a disadvantage’, by Sisonke Mismang, the central claim in this article is that ‘Caster Semenya is the athlete that suffers from a disadvantage due to her country being under-resourced’. Mismang argues that instead of Semenya having a physical advantage with her testosterone levels, other athletes that come from wealthier countries are put at an advantage with the use of nutritional, psychological and biomechanical performance enhancement available to developed countries. Mismang’s central argument is an evaluative argument is explicitly written in the title, with supporting claims throughout the article. These include:
“The irony of athletes from Great Britain, which spent £275m on preparations for the Rio games, raising fundamental questions about fairness in a race against an athlete from a country that spent less than £1.9m has somehow been lost.”
“The British athletes’ selective outrage over Semenya’s victory ignores the unfairness of their own situation. By cherry picking one form of advantage while being unprepared to recognise the myriad ways in which they themselves are privileged, athletes such as Sharp have chosen to portray themselves as victims – despite all the benefits of birth they have enjoyed.”
These are supporting claims to the article’s central argument. The first quote uses factual evidence to support the claim that is integral to supporting the central argument of the article that Semenya is disadvantaged to other athletes from developed countries due to more resources. These second claim is opinionated and justifies the central argument through appeals to emotion because they are claiming that the disadvantage for semenya is being ignored and they are only focusing on the physical disadvantage that they suffer.
This article portrays Semenya as the victim of this global controversy that has surrounded her life and her performance in the media where critics have argued that she does not deserve her medals. Quotations of Semenya have also been used to portray her in a positive way, giving her strong characteristic attributes.
“Semenya has been the object of a long and terrifyingly international campaign that has included the disclosure of private medical information and ongoing hounding by the media. She has refused to talk about the condition, saying only that “God made me the way I am and I accept myself”.”
Mismang’s use of quotes here portray Semenya as a strong woman, emphasizing her central claim that Semenya is the one with the disadvantage. This quote by Smenya used in the article expresses that Semenya as a good and fair person that just wants to compete in the Olympics. It also expresses her religion and emphasizes her portrayal of a positive figure. The evaluation and portrayal of Semenya’s character in this article is done by two analytical approaches. Mismang explicitly conveys evaluations of Semnya’s character through opinion, and also expresses these evaluations indirectly through implications and quotes. The quotes used throughout the article emphasize the victimization of Semenya. In the beginning of the article, quotes are used to express how Olympic athletes from developed countries feel that they are at a disadvantage to Semenya due to her physical ability.
“Paula Radcliffe explained why Sharp had been so upset. “However hard she goes away and trains, however hard Jenny Meadows goes and trains, they are never going to be able to compete with that level of strength and recovery that those levels of elevated testosterone brings,” she said.”
The article then shifts focus to the victimization of Semenya, as opposed to athletes from developed countries.
“It is calmly accepted that athletes from large, rich countries enjoy benefits not available to those from poorer, smaller countries, and so will always dominate sporting competitions such as the Olympics”.
The use of the world calmly, implies Mismang’s opinion that it is unfair that it is commonly accepted for athletes in developed countries to reap the benefits of resources that under developed countries cannot afford. This is an explicitly conveyed evaluation by Mismang. This article’s portrayal of Semenya is subjective and expresses Mismang’s opinion of Semenya and portrays her as the victim. They angle taken on the controversy of Semenya was focused on the unfair distribution of resources among developed and undeveloped countries for athletes in the Olympics. The evaluative position of the article – that Semenya is the victim and is disadvantaged is not treated as a ‘given’ and accepted opinion held by the readers. The article addresses the common misconception that Semenya is in fact viewed as having an unfair advantage due to her physical testosterone levels. Mismang argues that instead, the other athletes put Semenya at a disadvantage. This is a new angle and has not been commonly explored by journalists. Although journalists have a tendency to victimize Semenya, as Mismang has, this is a rare article that points the blame of disadvantage to the other athletes and hence treats this opinion as a new idea and not a given. This opinion and angle is portrayed throughout the article and factual and emotional claims are used to persuade the reader of this evaluation.
In the second article, ‘South African Caster Semenya prepares for controversy ahead of 800m at Rio Olympics’, by Andrew Webster, Semenya is portrayed as a victim of the controversy that the media and the athletic industry has created and subjected her to. This article is persuasive in its evaluative use of quotes that present Semenya as a victim of this global campaign against her running, and the main purpose of this article is to portray Semenya as a person. Webster makes the assumption that the readers believe that Semenya has an unfair advatange on the track and uses explicit opinions and implications through quotes to express his opinion and argue his central claim that – Semenya is person and does not deserve the unfair treatment she has been given. The article begins by portraying Semenya in a positive way, with the opening sentence being a quote from Semenya.
“I am not a fake. I am natural. I am just being Caster. I don’t want to be someone I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be someone people want me to be. I just want to be me. I was born like this. I don’t want any changes.”
I just want to be me.”
This quote is used to portray Semenya as human. It depicts Semenya as a fair human being that is happy with her body and this persuades the audience to understand that she was born with her condition and it is not her fault. The quote is then followed by an image of Semenya after finishing second in the London 2012 Olympics. She is depicted holding her flag and standing proud. Webster uses this initial quote and image to strip the reader of their previous opinions of Semenya and to portray her with characteristic attributes of being a fair athlete and a strong woman.
Webster continues to implement his own evaluative opinions in the article to persuade the reader that Semenya doesn’t deserve the unfair treatment.
“And with one remark, that should kill the debate when it comes to Caster Semenya even if it will not.”
This article is subjective and contains Webster’s opinions throughout the article about Semenya and her situation. The main portrayal of Semenya in this article is that she is a victim. This is expressed through facts, quotes and evaluations made by Webster.
“The appalling part of this remark is that the IAAF already knew Semenya was not a man, exposing her to a series of humiliating “gender verification tests” in South Africa and Germany by an endocrinologist, a gynaecologist and psychologist.”
The use of the words ‘appalling’ and ‘humiliating’ emphasizes Webster’s victimization of Semenya and his opinion that she has been treated unfairly. This adds to his portrayal of Semenya being a human with feelings and is used to persuade the reader.
“We need to remember these are human beings,” Coe said. “This is a sensitive subject, they are athletes, they are daughters, they are sisters and we need to be very clear about this. We will treat this sensitively. We need to go back to CAS and we have the right people looking at this.”
Webster also uses quotes to emphasize his point and add further to his positive portrayal of her.
“Here is a female who doesn’t walk inside in the normal boundaries of femininity, who has masculine appearances and traits, but has been cast as some sort of cheat as a result of simply being who she is.”
Here, Webster uses evaluative opinion and is used to persuade to share his opinion of Semenya. Her victimization is emphasized here by his comment “has been cast as some sort of cheat as a result of simply being who she is”. This depicts Webster’s view of Semenya as being first and foremost a human being with feelings and appeals to the reader’s emotions.
“Caster needed help and she was approached by people she shouldn’t have trusted,” he said. “Someone sold an article with Caster to You magazine where they dolled her up in a dress. You never see Caster in a dress. It was so awkward.”
This quote depicts how Semenya’s performance was not affected by her hormone suppressing drugs, but instead her personal life. This is also used to persuade the reader and appeal to their emotion. This also sheds light on a different angle toward Semenya’s character, as most articles blame her performance during that time on the testosterone hormone suppressing drugs that she was given, as opposed to issues within her personal life that no one ever considered.
In the third article, ‘Reactions to Caster Semenya prove we still define womanhood as weakness’, by Amy Middleton, Semenya is portrayed as victim from her gender controversy, but also as an inspirational figure that can help the common held sexist views on females and their relations with sports. This is a different angle from most articles that just focus on Semenya’s condition. This article is subjective with evaluative opinions used through both analytical approaches of explicit opinions by Middleton and implications through the use of quotes. Semenya is portrayed in a positive way in this article.
“Individuals like Semenya help pave the way for those who are gender non-conforming, those with diverse gender identities, diverse bodies and diverse experiences of self.”
Here, Middleton portrays Semenya with positive attributes to her character, by expressing that she is an influential figure for women with diverse gender identities.
“The majority of reporting on Semenya has been intrusive at best, and violent at worst. The reality is that physiological details of Semenya’s body and person are not crucial to this discussion. Caster Semenya is a woman. Full-stop. No need to touch on this again.”
This quote acknowledges past coverage on Semenya as being critical and judgmental of her condition. The use of the words ‘intrusive’ and violent’ emphasize the unfair treatment that she has experienced and emphasizes her victimization, further persuading the readers. Middleton’s dismissal of any questions regarding Semenya’s body and gender identity emphasizes her opinion and persuasion of gender equality and highlight her assumptions about her reader’s opinions – that they are critical of Semenya’s condition.
“But even after it found insufficient evidence in 2015 that naturally high testosterone levels give female athletes an advantage, Semenya is still being subjected to invasive interrogation around her body, her history and her identity.”
This article is subjective because Middleton’s opinions and commentary heavily influences her writing, however, these points are backed up by factual claims about the regulations regarding Semenya and her testosterone suppressing drugs, and her performances in the Olympics. Middleton phrases Semenya’s treatment as ‘being subjected to invasive interrogation around her body, her history and her identity’. The term ‘subjected’ portrays Semenya as a victim and emphasizes the point of her fair treatment and appeals to the readers’ emotions. The term interrogation further emphasizes this point.
“Semenya, on the other hand, was temporarily banned from her sport, has had her performance and identity hijacked by the media, and been forced into years of social and medical scrutiny. A statement from Semenya in 2010 confirmed this: “I have been subjected to unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being.”
Middleton points out the media’s unfair attention that Semenya has been subjected to, with the phrase emphasizing that her identity was ‘hijacked’ by the media. This emphasizes the unfair treatment on Semenya and appeals to the readers’ emotions to persuade them from their assumed opinion that Semenya has an unfair advantage, and that in fact her condition does not justify her unfair mistreatment. Middleton also links this to gender equality, making the argument that as mens’ athlete performances are not questioned, neither should Semenya’s.
All three articles took different angles towards the controversy of Semenya’s gender politics displayed in the media. There has been a shift in the portrayal of Semenya’s depiction throughout media over the past few years. In 2008 after her first Olympics, there was a wave of criticism that was evident in articles all over the world, with the common held opinion that Semenya held an unfair advantage and did not deserve her medals. Since then, Semenya has experienced social scrutiny and physical interrogation towards her body and privacy. Media opinions have since changed, with Semenya receiving a victimization in her portrayal in the media. All three articles used in this analysis were subjective and employed similar writing styles to appeal to readers’ emotions and persuade the readers into shifting from their assumed traditional view of critiquing Semenya’s condition, to thinking that Semenya cannot be blamed and should not be punished for her condition and perhaps Semenya is the one at a disadvantage. All articles, however, portray Semenya in a positive way with fair and innocent characteristic attributes and this represents the media’s shift in portrayal of her as a whole.
‘Caster Semenya is the one at a disadvantage’, by Sisonke Mismang
Published in The Guardian in August 2016
‘South African Caster Semenya prepares for controversy ahead of 800m at Rio Olympics’, by Andrew Webster
Published in The Sydney Morning Herald in August 2016
‘Reactions to Caster Semenya prove we still define womanhood as weakness’, by Amy Middleton
Published in Sydney Morning Herald in August 2016.