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Janet Jackson: Advocating For Equality And Reminding Us Why She's An Icon

Culture

It's almost 9 PM on a cold fall night in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The energy is palpable as the crowd patiently waits to be reunited with their sister. 90s R&B, classic Michael Jackson, and select hits by Bruno Mars pulsate through Boardwalk Hall's sound system as the audience gyrates to the music with anticipation.


Photo Courtesy of The Fader

Then it happens. A one-minute video montage snatches everyone's attention. Racism, white supremacy, xenophobia, and domestic violence are all highlighted. The names of black men who've lost their lives due to police brutality flash across the screen. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Philando Castille. Oscar Grant. The list goes on. This is our pertinent reminder. Although we're guaranteed a good time, there are serious matters that will be addressed.

The uniform is all black. The message is urgent. The icon is Janet Jackson. Cane in hand, she elegantly erupts onto the stage wearing a black leather trench coat and elbow length black leather gloves to match. Superhero-like, she is our leader for the next two hours. The leader of the Rhythm Nation.

Instead of jumping into “Burn It Up," the Missy assisted dance track off of her critically acclaimed latest album, Unbreakable, Janet starts the show with “The Knowledge" followed by “State Of The World," Both are socially conscious tracks off of her Rhythm Nation 1814 album. Despite these songs being almost three decades old, the issues that a then twenty-three year old Janet Jackson sought out to address are just as prevalent in 2017 as they were then.

To watch the youngest Jackson command the stage as she performs hit after hit is breathtaking. She hasn't lost a step. Alongside her troupe of dancers, who are young enough to be her children, she sings live while performing some of the most famous choreography in pop music history. All of this doesn't come easy though. Despite Jackson being one of the most well-known music artists of all time, she continues to put the work in. She began rehearsing for the State of the World tour in July, only six months after giving birth to her first child. To whip her famous body back into shape she enlisted the help of former sprinter and bodybuilder, Paulette Sybliss, who helped her lose fifty pounds. According to Sybliss, as reported in the Atlantic City Weekly, Jackson followed a strict weight-training program and increased her protein intake, while balancing her diet with carbohydrates and healthy fats to keep her energized.

Photo Courtesy of PEOPLE

But she's not doing too much. Nothing about the State of the World Tour is overstated or tries too hard. The production is not as grand as on previous tours, and the costume changes are minimal, but it all works. Jackson is at a point in her career where she doesn't need all of the theatrics.

Her herd of adoring fans love her without the extras, and she knows it. This tour and Jackson's ascend back into the spotlight is about much more than extravagant costumes and perfectly timed pyro explosions. Similar to the way that she's used her career to advocate for equal rights and the LGBTQ community (she was recently honored with the 2017 Music Icon Award at the OUT100 Gala), Jackson is using the State of the World Tour to send a very clear message – she is not okay with our current state of affairs, and her robust catalog of music will once again be used to create dialog and raise awareness about these issues.

When she performs the emotional anti-domestic violence song “What About," or the female empowerment anthems, “Nasty" and “What Have You Done For Me Lately" the crowd sings along to every word. Women testify and rejoice. This is why Jackson has stood the test of time. The fact that she is no longer the ab-baring chanteuse that she once was doesn't matter. Jackson floats across the stage, fully clothed, just as confident as she's ever been. Her million dollar smile leads the way, followed by an opulent auburn colored high ponytail that bounces to her beat.

As the show winds down you can't help but think about how special and empowering the whole thing really is. The State of the World tour is the culmination of a career that has aged gracefully. With fifty-one years under her belt and a newborn baby boy waiting backstage for her, Ms. Jackson can still outperform your favorite performer, while simultaneously using her voice for good. Now that's Control.

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.