By: Taylor Richmond, Student

In 2016, Castor Semenya won two gold medals at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, yet when
the Tokyo Olympics came around in 2021, she was banned from competition. According
to new rules put in place by the IAAF, the world governing body for the sport of track
and field, Semenya is not a woman and thus cannot compete in the women’s races. To
this day, she fights against the IAAF’s ruling, and Lux, a company focused on bath and
beauty products for women, supports Semenya in her fight. To do so, they created a video
titled #IStandWithCastor (watch it here). Lux’s #IStandWithCastor advertisement
challenges the gender/sex binary by promoting Castor’s message and showing how a
woman can be masculine while still being a woman. However, as a whole, the ad
perpetuates the gender/sex binary, reconstructing Castor’s body in the ad to look
stereotypically feminine, while never challenging the existence of the gender/sex binary
all together.

But how did the IAAF decide that Semenya is not a woman? Throughout the years, they
have executed gender testing in many different forms. In the past, the tests were crude
and demeaning, forcing women to strip down in front of a panel of doctors. Later, they
tested for chromosomes. So, two X chromosomes would reveal a woman, while the
existence of both an X and Y chromosome would be found in men. However,
chromosome testing was messier than anticipated. For example, Kleinfelter Syndrome is
the presence of one Y chromosome with more than one X chromosome. In her book
‘Introduction to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies,’ Miliann Kang asked, “Does the
presence of more than one X mean that the XXY person is female? Does the presence of
a Y mean that the XXY person is male? These individuals are neither clearly
chromosomally male or female.”

Because chromosomes would not do, the IAAF’s focus is now on testosterone. They set a
limit of ten nanomoles per liter to compete in the women’s events. Any higher and the
athlete would either have to take hormone suppressing drugs, undergo surgery, or
compete as a man. Semenya was banned from women’s races because she has
hyperandrogenism; a big word that simply means her body produces an amount of natural
testosterone higher than the limit. So, she could take the drugs but she doesn’t, because
Semenya does not want to let others have a say in what she does to her body.
The main message of the Lux video is revealed as a quote from Castor Semenya herself,
“I am a woman and I am fast.” This not only highlights Semenya’s womanhood, which
both Semenya and Lux are fighting to be acknowledged, but also her strength and speed,
traits stereotypically linked to masculinity. This is reinforced by the exaggerated art style
of the video’s animation which gives Semenya more pronounced muscles. It is also
reinforced later in the video when it shows three different women in quick succession.
They all look different from one another but hold their heads up in pride. As we see them,
the narrator says, “Lux believes that women should not be judged for how they look. That
no woman should ever be stripped of being a woman.” John M. Sloop explains in his
article “‘This is Not Natural:’ Caster Semenya’s Gender Threats,” how society has linked
gender to “specific signifiers, including the body, movement, desires, clothing, and
hobbies” (read more here). This means that society categorizes people on one side of the
gender/sex binary or the other based on these outward traits. Yet, this main theme of the
Lux advertisement fights against the idea that certain traits are fixed to women and
certain traits are fixed to men, thus challenging the gender/sex binary.

It claims that outward characteristics do not define a person’s inner consciousness. For
instance, a woman like Semenya can have masculine traits but still be a woman.
This idea continues to challenge the gender/sex binary by revealing how masculinity is
not something you are born with, but is defined by your actions. In doing so, the same
can be said for femininity. The idea of female masculinity is explained by Kang, “female
masculinity [describes] the ways female-assigned people may accomplish
masculinity…through drag-king performances, butch identity, or trans identity.
Separating masculinity from male-assigned bodies illustrates how performative it is, such
that masculinity is accomplished in interactions and not ordained by nature.” Just because
a man acts masculine does not make them a man, and a woman acting masculine proves
this to be true. So, if a man does not need to act masculine to be a man, a woman must
not need to act feminine to be a woman. Those stuck in a binary way of thinking would
believe this not to be the case. So, Lux calling Semenya a woman, and fighting for her
womanhood, while highlighting some of her masculine features, challenges the
gender/sex binary.

However, the exaggerated art style of the Lux advertisement does not only highlight
Semenya’s masculine features, it allows the creators to reconstruct her body, and in doing
so perpetuates the gender/sex binary. The way Semenya’s body is presented in the video
is particularly problematic. Semenya is drawn with a more pronounced chest, longer legs,
and a thinner waist (Lux, 1:02). She is also wearing a two-piece uniform that reveals her
midriff, something she rarely wears. A simple Google image search will show you that
she usually wears a one-piece uniform connected from the shoulders down to the lower
thigh, or a two-piece with a much longer, less revealing, shirt. However, they choose to
animate her in a uniform more stereotypically feminine than what she usually wears, and
it is hard not to read into that decision.

As Stuart Hall said, in his article, “The Spectacle of the ‘Other’,” “We can’t help reading
images of this kind as ‘saying something’, not just about the people or the occasion, but
about their ‘otherness’, their ‘difference’… Difference signifies. It ‘speaks’” (read more here).
In this case, the addition of these feminine features highlights her ‘difference’ from
men and marks her as a woman. Just as claiming a masculine woman is still a woman,
adding stereotypically feminine characteristics to a person, where they usually do not exist,
implies that these features are needed to be a woman. This perpetuates the gender/sex binary.

At this point, it is important to remember that this video was not only made to fight for
Semenya’s womanhood, and her right to race as she is, but also to promote the Lux
brand. As a Lux advertisement, questions arise about what hegemonic ideology is being
spread by the video. As James Lull explained in his piece on hegemony, “Owners and
managers of media industries can produce and reproduce the content, inflections, and
tones of ideas favorable to them…thereby guaranteeing that their points of view are
constantly and attractively cast into the public arena” (read more here). Perhaps the video
was only made to promote their company in certain areas of the world, specifically South
Africa, Semenya’s home country. The release of the video seemed very strategically not
wide-spread, yet front-and-center for any part of the company’s South African internet
content. Also, perhaps Semenya was drawn in a way the animators felt would more easily
connect with the woman viewers, thus promoting their woman focused products.

This brings us to the biggest downfall of the #IStandWithCastor video: its inability to
question the existence of the gender/sex binary all together. It is important to point out
that Semenya identifies as a woman and so she is a woman. It could be understandable then
that Lux focuses on how Semenya is a woman because she is not a man. However, they
fail to point out that not being a man does not automatically make a person a woman. As
explained by Kang, “‘Intersex,’ like ‘female’ and ‘male,’ is a socially constructed
category that humans have created to label bodies that they view as different from those
they would classify as distinctly ‘female’ or ‘male.’” Intersex is a category that starts to
reveal the fluidity of sex. That not only are the traits of gender social constructs, but the
categorization of the biological features of sex are also social constructs. Touching on
this in the Lux video would have helped their argument against the IAAF, as explained in
the Radiolab podcast “Gonads: Dotee” (listen to it here).

“You have this number, ten nanomoles per liter which is supposedly the high end of
testosterone for women, but if you actually look at the data there’s crazy variability. Like,
you will see women with levels that were like, less than one, and levels that were above
thirty… Thirty is considered high for men…there’s totally overlap… Some women go
high and some men go low. And you’ve got, you know, men with low testosterone who
are world class champions and you’ve got women with high testosterone that never win”
(Radiolab, 26:50-27:42). In other words, there is an overlapping amount of testosterone which

both men and women share, which means this amount of testosterone is not clearly male or clearly
female; it is intersex. As Sloop’s quote from Alice Dreger claims, “Sex is so messy that
in the end, these doctors are not going to be able to run a test that will answer the
question…they are going to have to decide which of the dozens of characteristics of sex
matter to them” (read more here). This means
that sex is a mismatch of many different characteristics, and picking out a single
characteristic –such as chromosomes or testosterone – is flawed. Understanding this, reveals
gender and sex to be more of a scale then something that only has two sides. This not only
challenges the gender/sex binary, it redefines it. Yet the Lux ad does not utilize this argument.
It lives within the gender/sex binary, where people can only be men or women, and goes against
one of their own messages because of it.

When society is defined by a binary, those who do not fit make the rest uncomfortable.
Hall said it well, “what really disturbs cultural order is when things turn up in the wrong
category; or when things fail to fit any category… What unsettles culture is ‘matter out of
place’ – the breaking of our unwritten rules and codes.” So, people are uneasy when
things do not fit in a category, is that really a big deal? For somewhere around 2,000 birth
a year, it is. According to Kang, “Many individuals born with genitalia not easily
classified as ‘male’ or ‘female’ are subject to genital surgeries during infancy, childhood,
and/or adulthood which aim to change this visible ambiguity… In each instance,
surgeons literally construct and reconstruct individuals’ bodies to fit into the dominant,
binary sex/gender system.” When things do not fit, people make them fit. Just like how
the IAAF wants Semenya to change her body for them, Lux reconstructs Semenya’s body
in their advertisement to promote their idea of a woman, and in the process become
hypocrites. The words said in the ad promote how outward traits should not define a
person, that women can look differently than expected, and that women can be
masculine. Drawing Semenya to fit a stereotypical presentation of a woman goes against
all of these messages.

I believe Lux’s #IStandWithCastor advertisement is a good attempt at a company
promoting a good cause that eventually falls short. The video focuses on Semenya’s
situation and does not directly promote their products. In fact, it only directly promotes the signing
of a petition to support Semenya. They could have done a lot less or been a lot more
vague about their support. In fact, by directly fighting for Semenya to be seen as a
woman, Lux does challenge the gender/sex binary. However, the reconstruction of
Semenya’s body, the possible hegemonic intentions, and the failure to challenge the
existence of the gender/sex binary all together really holds the video back from achieving
its goal. In the end, the video as a whole perpetuates the gender/sex binary more than it
challenges it.