Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
I first learned of Simelane's death while reading a Guardian story about the wave of violent sexual assaults on black lesbians in South Africa. The particular combination of the gruesome violence of the attack on Simelane, her visibility as an international player, and her visibility as a lesbian feminist activist has drawn some attention to state and media indifference to this particular version of hate crime. That said, the media attention to her murder has been slight, compared to that which we would see were a national team player from nearly any men's team subjected to a hate crime of similar violence. (Let us remember, too - that this is in South Africa - home of the next World Cup. For some information about the case see blacklooks.net, this interesting blog article on mhabi.com about left media and reporting of this crime, and this article from Out in Africa. I would appreciate any information about Simelane that readers might be willing to share.)
Reading the Guardian's story about what has been called "corrective rape" (I can't get behind that term), I was not entirely shocked to discover that one of the women interviewed in the story was also a football player - attacked on her way home from training.
This story is a gruesome reminder of the complex place of women's football in the world, and is perhaps worth bearing in mind as the WPS season gets underway.
Women's football is hugely controversial in many - most? - parts of the world. People's reaction to the idea of women playing this sport can be surprisingly violent and hateful. Football is also, in many - most? - places, a means by which women rebel against restrictive ideas about gender. This is very serious business, and the activists who create leagues, who attempt to change the system place themselves on the front lines of a war.
Simelane's murder is heartbreaking on so many levels. Personally, knowing next to nothing about who she was and what she was like, I have found myself confronted by the wild idealism of my fantasies about butch women athletes - I tend image them as sisters who have escaped from the misery of femininity. I get positively starry-eyed when I watch tomboys play - throwing their bodies in the air with not a care about how hard the ground is. I could hardly watch the interviews in the Guardian's video. I know butch lesbians are subjected to aggressive policing of gender, and that butchness is no protector against sexism - but I guess some part of me wants to believe in the pitch as a space apart from all that.
But of course it's not. The pitch sits on a field, in a neighborhood, in a town, in a county.... It is surrounded.
Lest we shrug these attacks off as an "African" problem (the Guardian story pretty much does this), let us remember that violence against gay, lesbian, and transgendered people is all too common in a wide range of settings. We need only remember Matthew Shepherd or Brandon Teena to put Eudy Simelane's death in perspective for US readers.
To bring this serious note to a close - something about this story got me thinking about the tremendous importance of play - of the places where we play, and feel safe enough to cross the borders and boundaries that have been drawn around our bodies. The singling out of a woman for "corrective rape" as she is on her way home from training - this is violence against the idea embodied by the person. I suppose that's part of what a hate crime is.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Rape and Killed for being a Lesbian: South Africa Ignores 'Corrective' Attacks
She was killed last year, her murderers have just been sentenced. Note that one of the women interviewed in this story was assaulted on her way home from football practice. She speaks about her attack in the accompanying video.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
I've never played forward at the end of a match like this. Wow. There was minimal pressure to score. Nevertheless I did manage a good shot that caught the top of the post and bounced back to a teammate who sent it wide. I ran a lot and worked hard, but I was a hundred times more relaxed than I am on the back line. No matter how far ahead we are, on the back line I never enjoy the lead. The lead is ours to blow. It is so stressful. I never knew how much I felt the full weight of that burden until it was lifted by the captain's request to put this left back forward.
The degree to which I feel that stress is the biggest obstacle to playing my best in league matches. Like many, my best game is reserved for those settings where there are no stakes - when we play for the love of it and for no other reason. For me, that's Wednesday nights in a rag-tag scrimmage that starts around 9:00pm. If I could play that game every night, I'd play until my legs fell off. (As it is, we play once a week until the lights go off.)
Ironically, the greatest professional players - the ones who play for the highest stakes - seem able to tap into the joy and a certain fearlessness whatever the setting.
And so defender Lilian Turham knocked in the only two goals of his storied career playing for France in a 1998 World Cup semifinal against Croatia, sending the first one in when France was down one-nil. This man must feel the adrenalin but not the nerves.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Let me start with the bit not related to sexism: With one brand styling all of the WPS teams, we have little as fans to grab onto. We have nothing like the particularity of Newcastle or Milan's stripes. Not the bold red of Man U, or the weird electric blue-green of Barça. The uniforms are bland. They are all cut from the same cloth. The same pattern. The colors even have the same tone - as if opposing teams are supposed to match. They are totally generic and uninspired.
And why ask Christian Siriano to design these? [note: they didn't - see comments 8 & 9] Did he create a single outfit on Project Runway that made you think he'd know exactly how to design clothes for an athlete? As fierce as he is, he was uninterested and downright bitchy about being asked to think about bodies larger than size 2. I love his clothes - don't get me wrong. But these uniforms do not look like the product of a mind inspired by the challenge of designing a kit.
Maybe this is why when Marta showed up for a teeny second at the end of today's Ellen episode she wasn't wearing her kit. She was wearing a team training jacket and jeans. And she looked fierce.
If I had to pick a Project Runway alum to design my kit, it'd definitely be a woman - and one whose designs showed an interest in the non-model body. How about Kara Saun, who managed to make a postal service uniform (pictured right) look both hot and functional.
Now - on to the sexism:
What is the redhead in the boring orange cocktail dress on the left doing here? WTF.
Why does the above video open with the players getting their hair done? Again: WTF.
I cringe at the fact that Puma treated the premier of a kit like a fashion show - making the athletes parade down a turf-lined runway. (Check out Greg Lalas's eye-witness report on the event.) As I've pointed out on this blog (Back Talk: Does Sex Really Sell Women's Sports), the (homophobic) "girling" up of women's sports has been proven by marketing studies to drive fans away - people find it condescending if not plain offensive and profoundly alienating.
Nearly every aspect of this unveiling is atrocious - right down to the press release with its "let's find as many ways that we can to remind ourselves that these are women" vocabulary - like using the word "feminine" twice in the same paragraph. (Ever seen the words "manly" or "masculine" used to promote uniforms for a men's team? Of course not.) Why not just write: "We promise: these uniforms won't make you look gay." Because that is clearly what PUMA, and the WPS means.
I can't believe I need to say this, but: I do not want to wear a Marta jersey because I think it is going to make me attractive to men. (Do guys wear Messi or Kaka on their back because they think it's going to appeal to women?) And, guess what else - I like the fact that maybe I look boyish when I'm in my gear. And I'm only interested in other people who think that's hot.
This brings us to the controversial skort, pictured right. Don't Leslie Osborne and Christina DiMartino look thrilled to be photographed in their skorts? (We've been reassured that no one will actually have to play soccer in them.) At first look, the skort (noticeably shorter than the shorts) seems to be part of Puma's attempt to girl up/straighten up the look of the WPS.
Apparently the folks behind this bit of marketing genius didn't get the following memo: Skorts are totally, hopelessly, Navradeliciously LPGAishly gay!
And Christian knows it! Siriano scores one for the team!