I laced up my electric blue New Balance sneakers, smoothed out my lime green pantsuit, and peered into the mirror at my reflection. I’ll admit it: I grimaced. This outfit was not my finest look.
It was October 22nd, the morning of National Pantsuit Day, an event that myself and three friends had diligently worked on every hour of the previous 20 days. But now I was in an itchy, ill-fitting, borrowed pantsuit. It was raining. I felt a creeping, all-encompassing anxiety. Was this going to work? Was this a terrible idea?
I blame it all on that damn feminism.
As best as I can describe it, I was raised as an “indoor feminist.” It wasn't a childhood of marches or protests; but there was never any doubt that women were definitively the equals of their male counterparts, no matter the field or laboratory. It was an incredible privilege that not until I left for college did I begin to grasp that this was not the accepted norm.
That’s not to say that I’d never encountered gender bias or discrimination – far from it. But I'd thought that creepy catcalls, unwanted advances, lecherous older men and misogynist authority figures were all aberrations, people operating completely outside of acceptable society.
Quickly, I realized how insulated I'd been. As a woman and independent business owner in New York City, I'm repeatedly reminded of all the ways in which females are not seen as equal to their male counterparts.
National Pantsuit Day Celebration. Photo Credit: Ben Sidoti
This has never been more obvious and unavoidable than in this election, with the all-consuming, pestilence of hatred and intolerance that to me comprises Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Suddenly, the need for more action, more progress, more visible, safeguarded equality in legislation and in our government, felt urgent.
Which is when Sami called.
My good friend Sami lived down the block from me in Greenpoint, and asked if I'd help her with communications for the event she had created, National Pantsuit Day. I said yes and quickly joined the rest of the "team," my friends and fellow creatives, Mike Jacobson and Kate Dearing, to make this event a reality, all within three weeks.
National Pantsuit Day Celebration. Photo Credit: David Williams
We were motivated and united by our exhaustion of the negativity, cynicism, and apathy we’d witnessed the past two years. We were tired of listening to continual tirades, smirking asides and "dog whistles" that insisted equality of all American citizens was just a fabrication by the liberal media. With the creation of National Pantsuit Day, we decided to try to counter this, to flip the narrative on its head.
NPD was designed to recognize the progress we’ve made as a country, and the incredible work Hillary Clinton has accomplished to further the equal status of women and minorities. And, honestly, to add some much needed levity and fun to the conversation.
What resulted was more massive in scale and momentous in impact than we could’ve dared to envision. National Pantsuit Day was held on October 22nd – a drizzly, cold mess of a day – and began downtown at Foley Square. With the help of a generous brass band at the helm, 200 New Yorkers marched and screamed and sang as they walked from downtown Manhattan, across the Brooklyn Bridge, to Hillary Clinton’s HQ (where we earned some hi-fives from staff and ambassador Michelle Kwan), to a celebratory party at Hill Country. (Pun not intended but appreciated.)
Our loud, brash parade wasn't confined to New York City’s borders. Spurred by a similar urgency, seven other organizers volunteered in Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, to put on their own simultaneous events under the National Pantsuit Day umbrella.
The attendees were all ages and colors and professions and backgrounds. There were families with small children, millennial-aged men (in women's pantsuits, thank you), older couples, and even two dogs in pantsuits. The most commonly heard sentiment was that the day was "refreshing," and "joyful" -- clearly, we'd all been hungering for something positive to celebrate. We'd all had our fill of hatred. Every person who attended or shared their images on social media or emailed or wrote about our project, felt like a resounding rebuke to the incessant ignorance of Trump’s campaign.
And incredibly, the movement continued – and actually grew more quickly – after the event's close. We began collaborating with our (previously unknown to us) sister site, Pantsuit Nation, which was founded by Libby Chamberlain in Maine. She's created and meticulously nourished a private Facebook group of over a million members, all of whom were equally hungry to share their stories of inequality, progress and hope.
During our march we were outgoing and friendly to everyone we met, brightly-colored, ridiculously dressed, and impossible to ignore. We unabashedly took up as much space as we could, and no matter how dorky my pantsuit, it felt incredible. Even more incredible? The fact that we, lime green pantsuit included, got the attention of our female presidential nominee herself and incredibly, were included in her final campaign video.
Though it's unclear what the future for this movement holds, it's been a thrilling experience to have tapped into this thriving community of enthusiastic humans of different backgrounds and beliefs. And so for the first time I'm confident that no matter what happens on November 8th, we will find a way to continue marching forward.
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.