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Thoughts on Roller Derby and Feminism

I'm tired of reading people's articles/blogs claiming that roller derby is anti-feminist or that roller girls are undermining feminist ideals.

Case in point. It's actually positive overall, but it also questions the feminism of roller derby, because of the outfits mostly. It claims that roller derby is only popular BECAUSE it's played by women, and says that the objectification going on is similar to that of jello wrestling.

I would say, Yes, roller derby gets a lot of attention because it's all women, but not in the way she's insinuating. She is making it sound like roller derby turns women into some sort of cheap novelty (hot chicks on skates beating each other up), and that's why people go see it. I would argue the opposite - if derby girls are any sort of "novelty," it's the fact that they are diverse women of all races, ages, sizes, shapes, stations in life, etc. playing a tough, aggressive sport with skill, AND looking sexy while they do it (and there's nothing wrong with that), AND nothing about it has anything to do with what men desire or want, whatsoever.

This doesn't mean that we're "hating on" men. It's just that this is something that we do for ourselves. Men's sports exist without any reference to women's wishes whatsoever. No one accuses baseball players of wearing tight pants just to please women. Even in professional wrestling, which is sports entertainment, no one accuses all those guys of showing off their ripply muscles and wearing spandex for WOMEN. And this is because for... well, FOREVER... men have been the dominant gender, so they've never had to cater to anyone. Everything has always revolved around men or their agendas.

Well, not roller derby. This one belongs to us, fellas :) No boys allowed in the treehouse. (Unless you're a ref or NSO. In which case, you're girl-friendly.)

Yes, there is something novel about roller derby: the total unabashed power and self-confidence that radiates from these women like sunshine - we are strong AND we are sexy, and WE are in charge here. (Literally - derby leagues are skater-owned, skater-operated. Women build the leagues from the ground up and women govern them.) If that is a novelty, an anomaly, then that reflects badly not on roller derby, but on society itself. If it's unusual or weird to see women who are so empowered, then that means there's something wrong with this world. If it's too hard to see women who are so empowered without judging them or criticizing them or being suspicious of them, then there is something wrong with this world.

Now... individual roller derby girls may or may not call themselves feminists. Feminism is a word that means many different things to many different people. But regardless of our definitions, I think we all feel the same sense of joy and power and personal fulfillment every time we set foot on the track. Roller derby girls are not weak. You can't help but build muscle in this sport. You can't help but focus your mind and learn to think fast. And you can't help but learn to trust in yourself and your body and your ability to succeed. And you also can't help but learn to trust and love the other women that you skate with - it's literally your job to help each other and to protect each other, and that more often than not extends into real life too.

In a world where there are women who compete viciously for the attention of men; in a world where girls are told to restrain themselves and "act like a lady" instead of being free to be loud or opinionated or exuberant; and in a world where women are made to feel like freaks if they don't want to (or can't) find a husband and become a babymaking machine...

... it sure is nice to have a sport like roller derby.

As a little footnote, I would like to say that shorty shorts and fishnets actually ARE practical clothing in roller derby. The shorts allow freedom of movement for your legs - figure skaters, gymnasts, and swimmers need full range of mobility of their legs as well, and their uniform bottoms are not unlike ours. Also, you get really sweaty and hot when you skate. (You think derby is all sexy fun? Then you've never experienced pad stink.) Some girls can skate in full-length pants, but I can't. Too much thick material will make me overheat. On the other hand, bare legs are impractical because of all the falling and sliding across the floor - rink rash, anyone? Tights or over-the-knee socks are great, but again, for heat reasons, you don't want them to be thick. So, lots of girls like fishnets or thin tights. Not all leagues wear costumes, opting instead for athletic-style jerseys in breathable mesh.

I may not be a full-fledged derby girl yet, but I'm definitely a believer. I'm a fan for life.


  1. Well said, Thu! I'm going to point the Sick Town ladies to this post. Not only do I agree with you completely, but you also expressed it all brilliantly.


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