by Aimee Porter (Petite Furie QCRG #26)
When you think of little girls do you still imagine sugar and spice and everything nice? Do you imagine Barbie dolls and dreams of wedding days and baby names? Do you imagine fashionistas with pointy shoes, little purses, well stocked kitchens and an innate aversion to dirt, mud, and sweat?
What about striped knee socks, short pleated skirts, a fitted girly tee, a helmet, and a mouthguard? Does that throw you off? Not if you are a roller girl. More than 15,000 women in this country already are.
Roller derby started in the 1920s with skating marathons. The best parts were when skaters bumped into each other, taking each other down. The premise of roller derby exacerbates just that. It is a race, offense, defense, strategy, it is both physically demanding and exhilarating.
The allure of roller derby is rapidly expanding. Even Hollywood has taken notice with a movie called Whip It in the works and multiple video games being created. At matches fans pile into local roller rinks to see something reminiscent of the 70s. However, this game is not fixed; it is not like “wrestling”. It is not theatrical, it is real and the hits are real. These women pour their hearts into this game. These athletes train in 3-4 intense practices each week. Skating skills assessments must be passed and rules tests must be passed. Many players work out on top of these practices. They make many changes to their lives in order to take their game to the next level. To them, roller derby is more than just a little hobby.
Thousands of DIY leagues are springing up all over the country. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (or WFTDA) governs much of these leagues. They provide guidelines to skaters and leagues that make the game today a legitimate, consistent sport. These leagues are skater owned and skater operated. Players volunteer their time, bodies, and money, all for the love of the sport. They buy their own equipment, uniforms, and skates. They are the treasurers, marketers, committee heads, the bout production, and the entertainment.
In many articles and online blogs written about roller derby, I have witnessed a lot of stigmas coming back on these women. Among the many stereotypes against derby girls are “the sport is fake”, “the games are fixed”, “all the girls are lesbians”, “all the girls are fat, ugly man-haters”, “all the girls are tattooed freaks”, “all the girls are trying to be boys”, and other such nonsense.
Well, I am a roller girl and I am none of those things. I train hard to own my skates. I work hard to have agility and endurance. I even have a personal trainer. I am not afraid to fall; I have had many bruises, a severely sprained ankle, and more to show for it. I have a job; a career, actually. I have a dog and turtles and lizards. I pay my own bills and clean my apartment and cook dinners. I like to bake; I make a mean pumpkin pie from real pumpkins. I am madly in love with a smart, good-looking boy and no, there are no kinky dominant/submissive issues there. I have one tattoo that has nothing to do with roller derby and I am not ugly, thanks. I am actually quite fit and attractive, if you must know. And, I love roller derby.
Aside from pure ignorance, these stereotypes spark a great deal of debate. We roller girls are indeed many things. We are teachers, corporate zombies, artists, hairdressers, lawyers, writers, computer geeks, social workers, bankers, mothers, sisters, and daughters. Some of us prefer the ladies. Some of us are regular vanilla chicks. Some of us are married. Some of us have tattoos. Some of us even model… so you can throw that ugly comment right out the window!
Any league of 80+ women is bound to have a lot of variety. You can find that in a grocery store, on a college campus, even at the mall. What unites us all is a passion for a largely misunderstood sport known for its violence and speed. Roller derby is the only all female full contact sport.
I suppose some men and even other women would have a problem with any woman breaking out from a traditional gender role. Since when was it cool for a girl to have stinky, sweaty wrist guards? Since when were bruises badges of honor for women? Since when was it a matter of pride to launch someone into the third row?
Is the ultimate legitimacy of roller derby as a sport questioned because women are perpetrating the offense of breaking the mold from traditional masculine/feminine roles? We have been spoon fed stereotypes for generations. Boys were encouraged to climb trees, ride mountain bikes, play hockey, and dig in mud. Boys are supposed to play sports. It is more socially accepted for boys to take risks and be bolder, all with a “boys will be boys” shrug. Girls aren’t supposed to take chances or risks, especially physically. Girls were always told to “be careful”, “watch out”, “don’t do that”, “be afraid of the dark”, be a cheerleader on the sidelines, encouraging the men. The gender intolerance happens on both sides of the coin as well. How many “effeminate” males are persecuted, harassed, or picked on?
There have been many occasions, especially in modern history, when women have been able to overcome certain gender limitations. Think of Rosie the Riveter, Women’s Suffrage, and the rise of women’s role in the workplace and their fight for salary equality. We can be doctors, lawyers, executives, professors, police officers, and soldiers and do it as well, if not better, than men. So why can’t we play a sport and do that well?
Come to a bout and see what these women are all about. Expect to see some fast skating and some hard hits. Expect it to be real. Expect it to hurt. Expect to see one of the most exciting games you have ever seen. Roller derby: played by women with a little attitude and a lot of guts.
from the February Issue of Auxiliary Magazine