Bring me the head of Richard Shears

The Daily Mail knows no shame. I was innocently scanning their website, looking for light hearted misogyny and celebrity gossip when this story on Caster Semenaya caught my eye.

The story of the “sex test” Olympic athlete has been in the media a lot in the past few weeks, and I’m not going to pretend that there isn’t a fair amount of public interest in this story, but it takes some bottle to do what The Mail has.

The headline is fairly unambiguous. Gender-row runner Caster Semenya ‘is a hermaphrodite with no womb or ovaries.’ That’s pretty conclusive that she’s “failed” the sex test.

Of course then you notice the old tabloid trick of putting the important information in ‘ ‘ marks so they can plausibly deny reporting it as fact.

That is fairly standard practice now, it wouldn’t shock many and most are wise to this trick. However this later paragraph really stood out, halfway down the page from that headline:

[The Sydney Daily Telegraph] added that Semenya had internal testes – male sexual organs which produce testosterone and which in turn produce muscle bulk, body hair and a deep voice.

Semenya, said the paper, is so far unaware of the tests identifying her as a hermaphrodite.

Without consulting this woman – and I will call her a woman until I’m told otherwise by her – the Daily Mail have seen fit to report the confidential reports of a medical enquiry.

Not only will this report determine her future as an athlete, it may determine her future as a woman. It is treated as flippantly as slagging off Natalie Cassidy or bad mouthing the Roma.

Of course in Richard Shears‘ eyes these aren’t equivalent at all. Stories on gypsies and celebrities get the advertisers interested, they really pull in the punters. Female athletes don’t attract the numbers The Mail needs. However, sneering at an hermaphrodite does the job just perfectly.