Roller Derby: The Ultimate Feminist Sport?

I’m an athletic woman, yet it still took me two months to pass the minimum skills test just to be able to scrimmage as an active skater for the Chattanooga Roller Girls (CRG). So it’s pretty insulting when some man on a local radio show referred professional roller derby skaters as “trash on wheels.” I guess the hours I spend skating laps, doing pushups (“real” pushups, I’ll have you know), building up my agility, and jumping over a foot in the air while on skates apparently takes as little skill as flashing my tits or mud wrestling in a bikini.

Roller derby is a women’s-only sport that involves full contact hits to legal target areas. Because every body type is “useful” in the game, you do not have to look like figure skater Miki Ando to be a badass at roller derby. If you’re fat, you can hit hard; if you’re lanky, your long legs can block an opponent; if you’re skinny and short, you’re simply a rocket on wheels.

As a feminist, I love the sport because it is “for women, by women.” Roller derby isn’t a sport coached by fat, old white guys, nor is there a hierarchy that places men in the management positions overlooking us XX-chromosome skaters who apparently have been “made” into athletes by their male superiors. CRG manager, LightsOut Lucy (Morgen Rose) describe the true impact of roller derby on an individual woman:

“Roller Derby allows women to appreciate and understand their bodies as strong and amazing, forcing them to un-learn years of negative connotations with before-considered imperfections.”

Hence, the tattoos, shredded pantyhose, wild clothing, and
sailor-mouths. In addition to its upholding of sisterhood and a
positive body image, the sport, being nonprofit and DIY in its origins,
requires that all skaters participate in charity work.

Men love the sport. Of course, most of you are thinking,
“Well, duh! Women in sexy clothes beating the crap out of each other!
Why wouldn’t they love it?” For some men, that assumption is a perfect
fit, yet what about the men who spend chunks of their lives allying
themselves with the skaters and the sport? Referees and scorekeepers
are typically males. Not only do they have to be able to skate as well
as the derby women, they have to know all 35 pages of the detailed and
often complicated rules enforced by the Women’s Flat Track Derby
Association (WFTDA). These men have a profound respect for roller derby
and the women involved.

There are few sports that promote the idea that women can
and will progress beyond their so-called physical limitations and become
women who do not question their abilities or worry about their
femininity (i.e. if they happen to be stronger than their boyfriends).
Naturally, a sport that is run by women and that promotes a strong
physique is the brunt of snide remarks and stereotypical impositions.
I’ve heard them all–from “hookers with skates” to “men only like roller
derby because of the tits and ass.” Fuckers.

Again, beauty, sexiness, and purity collide. We cannot
seem to escape it. Does anyone care that Danica Patrick is a NASCAR
driver? No, she’s hot. Lindsey Vonn is an amazing skier, but who would
notice her if it weren’t for her perky, beautiful face, blonde hair,
and the fact that she is white? And of course, everyone slammed Venus
Williams for wearing nude-colored underwear. No whistles at least, but a
lot of nasty comments instead. Which one is the lesser of the two

Roller derby crumples these standards for women athletes
(notice how I cannot just say athletes lest you think I am speaking of
males) into a wad of misogynistic grandiloquence. Roller derby includes
an array of women with varying backgrounds–moms, farmers, accountants,
students, bartenders, hairstylists, nurses, computer programmers,
artists, women from broken homes, women from an aristocracy, women from
abusive households. Unfortunately, I cannot brag about its racial
diversity. Most participants are white women, although in recent years,
women of other ethnicities have gradually joined the fun.

Though popular in the underground throughout the U.S.,
roller derby is a controversial sport, which is why it is only
acknowledged in pop culture as some theatrical, booty-slapping cat fight
rather than a game renowned for its fast, vigorous pace, hardcore
women, and mad skills.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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