Sunday, March 29, 2009

At the Start of the WPS Season, Some Thoughts on Eudy Simelane's Murder

My football brain has not been preoccupied with the start of the US women's professional league, but with the story of the rape and murder of a former South African national women's team player, Eudy Simelane.

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, this interesting blog article on 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.


  1. Hey, a very well written and argued post.

    All the best - Kameraad Mhambi.

  2. So glad to know you read this - reading your article on this was very helpful.

    Do you know anything about Simelane? Like what organizations she might have worked for?

    And, are you wearing a HACKNEY shirt in your photo? That's great!


  3. No, not really. But if you want more info about her Out is a good place to start

    Yes, that is a Hackney t-shirt. :)


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