ACFC: Not Even a Women’s Football Club?

I pulled the above screenshot from Angel City FC’s “our story” page. How could anyone involved in marketing think “we’re not even a women’s football club” is an OK thing to put on the website for a women’s football club?

Reading this sentence, I recalled a year I spent working at a women’s college in Virginia — this place had no women’s studies program and was run by people who had internalized misogyny and racism so very deeply that the students went into revolt — I remember one student taking the mic at a town hall and telling the college president “You are a women’s college that is ashamed of the fact that it is a women’s college.” When I read “not even a women’s football club,” I remembered the hurt in that student’s voice.

I feel really hurt by this language. It contradicts the club’s too-good-to-be-true branding. Supporters like myself also feel it telegraphs the betrayal we are experiencing as we witness the club reproduce the patriarchal privilege which has marginalized women coaches in the game.

Lots of people new to feminist work struggle with the idea of women-centered organizations and structures, and are also challenged by what it means to center a practice in women and to also practice inclusion within these women-centered spaces. You can’t practice inclusion as a feminist if you hold onto white supremacist, homophobic, transphobic ideas about who and what a woman is—so really digging into feminist work always includes a confrontation with the way the term “woman” is defined. That’s HARD work and it is not a given that people in women’s sports have gotten any real training in that. That is just ONE zone of difficulty particular to feminist work in a women’s centered organization. There are others, like: confronting and working through the degree to which traits associated with toxic masculinity are treated in our society as hallmarks of professionalism and authority: women can and do buy into that system. Another: the sense that because your thing is centered in women, it will be valued less by the world at large. You actually have to accept some parts of that because the work you do is a direct challenge to patriarchal systems of value.

So, fans are nervous.

From where I sit, it looks like some of the people running ACFC are suffering from gendered forms of confusion and ambivalence — how else to understand the mixed signal combo of “not even a women’s football club” and the ultra femme crest and salmon pink ACFC has chosen for itself?

Good god ACFC please strip every layer of apology for the fact that the club is a women’s club from your discourse. And remember that you do not need to feminize the visual iconography of the club to remind people that the club is a women’s club. As the USWNT has shown us again and again and again and again and again and again and again: a great women’s team appeals to sports fans. Women are sports fans. So are other people! And it is really, really fun to experience an alignment between one’s love for the sport and one’s commitment to women. I will never ever forget the feeling that came over me in the stands at the World Cup final, when I understood that the USWNT fan section was changing “equal pay.” NEVER. I have never in my life felt so in love with the game as in that moment. The politics of women’s sports is really dense and intense: it is always best to run towards the white hot fire of that intensity than away from it.

I am guessing that ACFC folks were going for Barça’s “mes que un club” vibe, but good god I WILL WORK FOR YOU FULL TIME if you need an English professor to tell you how to communicate that spirit without treating the women of women’s football as a problem that must be transcended! I will come down there and give you all an intro to women’s studies course! I’m ready to retire from the University of California and make it my job to save you from yourselves because I love this sport and want very much to love my home team.

You cannot market women’s sports as a cause. You have to actually get the cause, and then build your brand around that. Horse. Then cart.


Note: Almost immediately after I posted this, some readers expressed anger on twitter about the lack of a non-binary framework in my writing here. Most people who read me here (and on twitter) have been reading my work for years and I’ve earned their trust (this blog normally sees only a handful of visitors a day). But of course people who are just seeing this have zero reason to trust me on anything.

When I say that in feminist work in women’s centered spaces the category woman should be engaged critically, this is what I mean: it should not be weaponized as we see in trans-phobic legislative violence we are seeing conducted in the name of protecting women’s sports. Women’s sports itself structurally embodies the problem of not only the gender binary, but of an apparatus that enforces radical gender segregation. This leaves no space for non-binary athletes. BUT, and this is a big one: athletes have a really interesting history of defying binarized structures and making space for non-binary athletes. People play across this line all the time and there is a rich practice of making this space within women’s sports. That’s the version of the game I most love.

I apologize to readers who experienced the above as harmfully oblivious to the violence of the gender binary and all of its enforcing structures.

One person criticizing me said that they’d read the ACFC statement as expressing non-binary possibilities. I champion that optimism and would be ecstatic to learn that this is the club’s aim. Perhaps I should apologize to all readers here for my cynicism!

Carolee Schneemann, Kitch (figure skater)

Artist’s postcard (photo from auction). See also Ice Skating Naked.

Khaled Jarrar: Concrete

Marcin Dudek: The Lure of the Arena

The Lure of the Arena, 2019 — a bit of football art, to recall the thing I know many of us can’t wait to get back to. Sitting in the stands together. Art historian and fantastic thinker of sports-art Przemyslaw Strozek wrote to me about Marcin Dudek a few years ago. Dudek tends to work with the situation of the fan/spectator, and has done some really provocative work exploring the relationship between sports, art and violence. Click on that first link for a slide show & text about Lure. I love this artist’s work, and find myself turning to it on a day when I’m planning to see some of the guys I used to play with.

The Joy of Ashlyn Harris

 

Within a sexist setting, women’s joy is valuable only as an image that serves men’s pleasure. Within queer and feminist settings that pleasure circulates, echoes, accumulates. It is shared out, given away, taken back, stored, recycled, amplified, converted into thought and energy or just left to be what it is. It is never just one thing. It is selfish and generous, sharp and blurry, spontaneous and planned.

The cultural minimization of the value of women’s joy has a big impact on the development of women’s sports. It is hard to start a women’s team when the women in your community are taking care of their families in addition to holding down jobs. Those women will need to argue (with themselves as well as their husbands, children, parents) for the importance of their game over the importance of care-taking. That is very, very difficult to do. For a 40-something year old woman, there is no argument for her game beyond its importance to her pleasure.

The trolls running the country would have you think that progressive spaces look like tortured graduate seminars in which everyone is trying to prove how smart and “correct” they are. And while, sure, some spaces are a lot like that, really and truly inclusively queer feminist communities can generate an energy much closer to the vibe of this USWNT or, reaching back to a moment earlier this year, the vibe created by UCLA’s gymnastics squad — as represented by Katelyn Ohashi.

Women’s sports and women athletes — like the Williams sisters — increase the sense of the possible and expand our sense of how joy, desire and power can express themselves.

Yesterday, when she called for more love and less hate, Megan Rapinoe spoke from that place of joy. Do not let anyone tell you that that “more love” is a limp political sentiment — whoever is telling you that has clearly never felt the full force of a 72-hour champagne-fueled chaotic gay energy wave, never mind figured out how to harness it!

Alors

 

Once the last match was finished, as the winners celebrated and the losers put their arms around each other, the stadium thrummed with the grinding beat of Stromae’s 2009 hit, “Alors on danse.”

As fantastic as that song is; it is a VERY strange thing to play at the end of a World Cup final.

The gist of these lyrics: it’s all pointless. We are misery itself and dance to forget. It’s all a grind; we just get deeper and deeper dans la merde. On danse because what’s the use.  It’s an anthem for alienation and depression. Go team!

Composition

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THENJIWE NIKI NKOSI, ROUTINE, 2019 Oil on canvas. 35 7/8 x 39 3/8 x 1 7/8 in. Series: Gymnasium

I am very interested in how artists engage, represent and work with the structural and formal dimensions of a sport.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi’s Gymnasium series does just this. As is typical for Nkosi’s work, the canvas is clean, tight. It feels composed but also like a space meant for bodies and movement and, here, judgement.

So pleased to have happened on a tweet from art critic Rianna Jade Parker, in which she shared an image from this series.

The View from Montpellier

From start to finish, from the stands, the Canada-Cameroon game had an “anything can happen” feeling to it. Cameroon were interesting to watch. A controlled chaos; tornadoes tearing up the game to, in essence, free the ball from any sense of team intention. This was, of course, the problem as once the ball was theirs, they got smothered.

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Both Cameroon and Canada played heavy, physical defense. Canada seemed to struggle with the ball — some strange touches, passes too heavy and too light. I couldn’t tell if that was nerves, the pressure the Lionesses were providing, or the slick surface. But they got the job done. Overall, for me, the match was a lot of fun to watch.

Mosson isn’t huge; so even though the crowd was a meh-10,000, the atmosphere was great. Everyone was in good spirits, even though it rained, got very cold and windy. Many of us left our seats to watch from covered bits; but we all stayed till the bitter end because, again, it felt from start to finish like Cameroon might punch through Canada’s back line. But they didn’t.

The last time I was at Stade de la Mosson, it was to see Zidane play for France, against Côte d’Ivoire, just after he’d announced his return to the international game. SO, that was a while ago. It’s an Aunty of a stadium.  To my eye, the stadium’s design invokes a late 1970s/1980s sense of the future. Metal, cement. The color orange. The sort of vision of the future that has always felt dated.

The stadium is much in the local news; if I understand things correctly, MHSC (Montpellier Hérault Sport Club) is pushing, with city leaders, for a new stadium. La Mosson was constructed in the 70s and essentially rebuilt for ’98; it has gotten some renovations since but not a proper, complete overhaul. A couple years ago, plans for a comprehensive revision of the stadium were abandoned in favor of building a new sports complex on the other side of the city.

The stadium is very much attached to the life of the neighborhood; this is the source of local ambivalence about moving MHSC from Mosson. The stadium is often at the center of conversations about the city’s efforts to “rehabilitate” this grossly underserved neighborhood — La Paillade.  La Paillade, historically, has been a home for recent immigrants, refugees, and the working-poor. According to a recent article describing police efforts to “take back” the neighborhood, La Paillade “is home to 21,600 people, 46% of whom are under the age of 25, 75% do not have a high school diploma, and 57% live below the poverty line.”

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The neighborhood is basically “the projects” of Montpellier, featuring regularly in local crime reports and in national discourse about dangerous neighborhood. It is characterized by tall residential tower blocks (some of which are right next to the stadium). These are being emptied, destroyed and rebuilt. The  beginning of the neighborhood’s rehabilitation/development was signaled by the installation of good tram service and its renaming in official lingo as “Mosson” — the latter makes clear the material and symbolic entanglement of the stadium to the project of improving the quality of life for people living near it. At various points, it looked like la Mosson was slated for destruction but now it seems it’s to stay — to what purpose is unclear, beyond a sense that it would continue to “provide employment for local people who need it“.

Over the past two decades Montpellier itself has seen an enormous amount of building, and gentrification. No part of the city is untouched. The story of this stadium is clearly bound up with the speculative energies that swirl all that.

This month, the city’s mayor was supposed to lay a symbolic first stone on the site of the new stadium. That event was cancelled: they’ve had to relocate the whole project because that site did not pass feasability/community impact tests. The original intention, it seems, was to locate the stadium near the new TGV station on the city’s periphery. Sounds…ok? Until you learn that this station is itself a big scandal: only 8 kilometers from the city center, this new station has no direct train/metro service to the city center! So, not only can you not get to/from the center of Montpellier easily, you also can’t connect with regional trains. An October news article describes the station as deserted.  In any case, the original site chosen to replace La Mosson was near this station and really much harder to get to on public transport. One would describe that part of the city’s periphery as a switchpoint for people who are coming from one place and going to another, but not going to Montpellier. It’s the sort of place where you put, oh, an Ikea. It’s next to the airport.

supporters-1Speaking of IKEA: the powers will now try to locate the stadium at L’Odysseum. A few miles from the original proposed sites, this place is as close to an American-style big box shopping and large venue complex as you’ve find in France. It is where you’ll find the area’s IKEA. It is, at least, well-serviced by the tram. It’s better than the dead train station idea.

In any case, the debate here rages on. The region’s center-left Green party launched a petition to keep MHSC’s stadium its original neighborhood. Local papers feature discussions on the subject. Conversations about La Mosson, furthermore, are often shaped by ideas about La Paillade.  The head of MHSC says, that one way or another, the club won’t stay in the old stadium. 

SO, one should see the petition to save La Mosson as more than a neighorhood’s nostalgic attachment to its team. It is a defense of a sense of value and quality of life centered on cultivating connections between people living and working at the margins of the 21st economy. It strikes me as a rightfully critical take on the public-private, nontransparent financing deals that are pushing these big development projects forward with nary a concern for the people who will be most impacted by them. 

I’m still trying to figure this story out. The general gist: Welcome to France!

 

Crowd Out

A friend texted me just before the start of the Champions League Final — someone gave him last minute tickets to a performance of David Lang’s Crowd Out, did I want to go? I ran out the door.

“Crowd Out” was inspired by the stadium noise at a football match; it involves dozens (hundreds?) of performers located throughout the crowd. 1000 people participated in the performance above; it was hard to get a sense of their numbers in Disney Hall. Sitting amongst them gave you a sense of being not just surrounded by but absorbed in a social body voicing its own aural script — the sum of so very many parts. The experience at Walt Disney Hall was thrilling — the concert hall’s seating is very close to stadium-seating in its layout. You are encircled by a crowd-chorus. The lyrics cycle through expressions of loneliness. The composition manages to achieve the sense of a stadium crowd — it has rhythms very much like that of a football match. It only runs the length of a half, however — I was back home in time for the second half of the final. That second half wasn’t nearly as thrilling as this performance. Honestly, this is one of the strongest sports-related performances I’ve ever, ever seen.

The video above is from its premier in Birmingham — experiencing this in a public space like that would be astonishingly beautiful and moving.

You Got to Run

 

I am very happy to share this 2017 collaboration between Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tanya Tagaq honoring champion musher George Attla. File under music that makes you feel forward motion — a kind of unrelenting forward motion. Inspiring.

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