I have lived in Burbank, CA for almost 13 years. I'll admit, it wasn't my first choice when I decided to move from Orange County to the L.A. area. I imagined myself in West Hollywood, Los Feliz, anywhere but true Suburbia, but good schools beckoned for my youngest daughter and I found myself on a tree lined street in a traditional California bungalow.
I slowly fell in love with my new town. Great vintage stores, super cool restaurants, and fantastic neighbors. I was involved with my daughter's school events and concerts and certainly felt like I was part of the community but didn't become deeply entrenched, until today.
The 2016 election was extremely important to me. I voted for Hillary Clinton for several reasons, yes – because she was a woman and I believe we were long past due for a female perspective on life in our country. But also, because I felt she was completely qualified and ready to tackle this all-important position as leader of the free world. I was confident and excited.
I sent in a write-in ballot because I would be on vacation in Israel the day of the election. I wasn't worried, I figured I'd be celebrating with friends when Hillary won. Sadly, there was no celebrating, only shock and utter silence. As we somberly and quietly attended our scheduled tours the next day, numerous people would come up to us and ask, “Are you American, have you heard, what do you think…?" It was overwhelming and incredible at the same time.
"If you think I was a Nasty Woman Before, Buckle Up Buttercup"
Once home a week later, and still in shock, I knew I had to do something but didn't know what. I felt paralyzed and completely powerless. When the Women's March was announced there was no question I'd be there, I couldn't wait. Outfitted in my “If you think I was a Nasty Woman Before, Buckle Up Buttercup" tee, I joined a few friends to march with 700k+ other men and women in downtown Los Angeles. It was an experience I'll never forget, we were together, and were on fire. I felt a kinship with women I would have never met, had it not been for the march. I had hope that as a movement we could make a difference.
I trudged along and looked forward to marching again and getting some of that united spirit back.
Over this past year, I must admit, I've lost a lot of that hope. That sadness I felt so far away from my country on November 9, 2016 had returned. I trudged along and looked forward to marching again and getting some of that united spirit back. I had planned to go to downtown L.A. again and then discovered a march was planned for Burbank, my little town that I've grown to love so much, was marching. I was elated!
I arrived early so I could meet the founder of this year's march, Joanna Peresie. When I asked her why she rallied everyone to march this year, she said, very simply, and very powerfully, “I did it for my daughter, Ella."
Joanna was quick to ask that I mention the three women who started last year's march in Burbank, Ashley Gogerty, Rhiannon Clark, and Sylvia Hendershot.
I listened to Joanna speak to the crowd about why she was here and why she took charge this year. Listened as her voice cracked but stood proud and strong. This is a humble woman, a loving mother, and I am honored to have met her today.
I also had the pleasure of meeting our state Senator, Anthony Portantino. He was dressed in a pink shirt and attending with his lovely daughter, Bella. He told me about his wife and both daughters, about his dedication to public service, and his belief in this march; “…it was too important not to be here." When he spoke to the crowd, he opened with “Are you listening downtown Los Angeles, because it's rockin' in Burbank!" The crowd roared! He then told us all that “this was a moment in history, meet the person next to you, say hello, share the sisterhood of this moment…" AND WE DID! It was a powerful experience! As he marched with us, I was filled with civic pride to walk alongside someone I had actually voted for. I thought to myself, 'my super power is voting!'
One of our John Burroughs High School teachers who teaches science, Jill Tobin, spoke and delighted the crowd. Once again, I swelled with pride as she told the kids in the crowd “YOUR VOICE MATTERS, YOU MATTER!" This fantastic past Burbank Teacher of the Year AND LA County Teacher of the Year award-winner is working with our future leaders! Aren't they lucky?!
Even though I knew the answer, I asked about our congressman, Adam Schiff. He was working tirelessly last night trying to stop the shut down of our government. Joanna shared that his office did call her yesterday and our hard-working congressman had wished he could be here. I absolutely believe that. One of the many things I've learned since last year's march is how hard Congressman Schiff works for his district, his people, our people. Community is deep in this man's soul, of that I am sure.
Our Vice-Mayor, Emily Gabel-Luddy spoke, and Burbank City Attorney, Amy Albano who also marched in DTLA last year, really got the crowd inspired! I was positively filled with hope as I stood and listened. More so than last year because these people work for my town every day. “Local" isn't just a buzz word for them, they live it. And I'm so glad they do. As I walked with men, women, children, families, and friends, we chatted, we remarked on so many clever signs, and for two hours on a very chilly Saturday morning we literally came together. We stood together, we chanted together, and we marched together. THIS is community. This is why we march, this is hope.
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.