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Whistle-Blowing In An Age Of ‘Full Disclosure’

News

The term whistle-blower, especially in the last decade, comes rife with negative connotations and feelings of chaos. It’s only in the past year that we’ve seen some sympathy towards Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, and NSA ‘rat,’ Edward Snowden, yet there remains a stigma attached, as the expression most definitely still equates to being a snitch.


The most recent horn tooter of note is Patricia Williams, a time share saleswoman who was just awarded $20 million after years of torment at the behest of former employers and wayward salesmen Wyndham Vacation Ownership.

Williams is the latest in a long string of workers who divulged nefarious working practices within their companies to the world and has — at least for a few years — suffered the considerable consequences of doing so. While Snowden resides in Russia avoiding the glare of the American government, Ms. Williams was pushed to the very margins of her society at home after ‘snitching’ on her firm. Her co-workers and former friends turned on her both in court and in her private life, and she was veritably living in poverty until the court finally granted her damages in the case.

These unpleasant side effects beg the question:
Is it really worth all the fuss?

Back in 2002 FBI agent Coleen Rowley came under very serious internal and external criticism for coming out against the agency’s inaction pre 9/11 when they had credible intelligence about one of the hijackers but didn’t pursue it. Rowley’s brave decision to call out her supervisors and top-level intelligence executives jeopardized her position within the agency until her allegations were proven and she was ultimately praised for her honesty and pursuit of the truth. Like Williams, she believed she would lose her job on account of the reveal. Unlike Williams, her investigation led to policy change and an in-depth analysis of counter-terrorism methods in the FBI which she would go on to help conduct and improve agency standards.

Another major corporate belly was pierced in 2003 when Cheryl Eckard came out against pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline, where she was employed. After uncovering a series of medicinal miscalculations at one of their pill-producing plants in South America, she decided to speak up. She released her findings only to find herself, like Williams, out of a job and out in the cold.

After a long fought and invariably difficult court case, Eckard was awarded the significant sum of $96 million in damages and GSK were fined $750 million for its mismanagement of the Cidra plant. Pharmaceutical practices have been monitored more closely and consistently since the court’s findings procedure has tightened at the discretion of the FDA.

All whistle-blowing stories cannot, however, be expected to end in a fairy-tale-esque manner and such is the case of Karen Silkwood, who died mysteriously trying to expose malpractice within the oil industry, now 42 years ago. Meryl Streep famously played her character in a movie portrayal of Karen’s story and while the case was never officially solved, one can assume with a degree of authority that Karen’s devotion to exposing her bosses was the cause of her untimely death. Going up against major corporations is a dangerous and massively risky move.

Pharmaceuticals, oil, and intelligence sectors have decidedly shady pasts when it comes to how they deal with those people opposed to their practices. Indeed the most famous example of this is Edward Snowden, who awaits his uncertain fate in Russia, which is no doubt complicated by the incoming president's friendly relationship with Mr. Putin.

Only today was there a call from 15 intelligence experts to Obama asking again for Snowden’s presidential pardon before he leaves the oval office. Were this to come, Snowden’s return to the U.S would become a landmark in whistleblowing history and would indeed finally dash the stigma and snitch connotations attached to the word.

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.