Here is a song to listen to while you read this :
Roller derby, a women’s sport. When women play it’s called roller derby, and when men play its called mens roller derby. I have yet to find any other sport primarily featuring women. Does this make roller derby a feminist sport? To me it does. The sport of roller derby promotes and fosters social and political agency, as well as physical and mental strength. To have agency in your own life, and the strength to carry yourself through are two important milestones for women to achieve equality to men. And what is feminisms main goal? Equality.
In the USA, roller derby as a sport and equality for women surfaced at around the same time, during the 1920’s. Coincidence? Almost a century later, we still find international inequality socially, politically, economically between men and women, making it still relevant for there to be a space for women to develop their fabulous feminist selves.
How does roller derby promote and foster agency? There is a centralized organization in the USA, called the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, founded in 2005, by women who wanted to develop roller derby as a sport. Their mission statement is:
WFTDA promotes and fosters the sport of women’s flat track roller derby by facilitating the development of athletic ability, sportswomanship, and goodwill among member leagues. The governing philosophy of the WFTDA is “by the skaters, for the skaters.” Female skaters are primary owners, managers, and/or operators of each member league and of the association. Operational tasks include setting standards for rules, seasons, and safety, and determining guidelines for the national and international athletic competitions of member leagues. All WFTDA member leagues have a voice in the decision-making process, and agree to comply with the governing body’s policies. (http://wftda.com/wftda)
WHY WFTDA POSTER:
This means that everything about the sport is voluntarily organized by the players. From renting the spaces to skate in, to organizing bouts, and training new players, buying jerseys, designing posters for events, finding sponsorship… ALL of it is done by the league members. This is how each individual can develop their abilities to make things happen. Fostering agency is about taking ownership of your own destiny, its about learning that YOU can make things happen around you, and YOU are capable of thinking, creating, essentially orchestrating the entire plan.
Roller Derby is also a sport, and physical fitness as well as mental strength are emphasized. I’m getting beefy and I like it! I have felt my own body get stronger in more ways than I imagined possible, and my confidence level has climbed.
What does roller derby mean to me? Let me tell you about when I went to school for my second year of electrical. I worked very hard, got 82% over-all marks in the ten week program, and felt that I had learned alot. After writing my final exam, I waited around for the teacher to mark it and was relieved beyond belief that I had passed. He took a minute to then take me aside, and said to me:
‘…. Me and the other teachers were talking about you, and we feel that you know what you are doing, but that you just don’t have confidence in yourself.’
These words echoed around in my brain a while. Still do. He was right. I was proud of my achievements in working in a male dominated field, proving everyday to myself and to the men I work with that yes women are capable of doing mens jobs. Yet I still found myself full of self doubt. Equality is not necisarily something that can be given to you, it is also something that is felt within.
While I was in my second year of school, I discovered the local roller derby league. Originally planning to just watch a practice, I was driving some friends who were players to their practice. one of the players, Malice, happened to have the same size feet as me, extra gear, and extra skates for me to borrow. So I wound up trying to skate that day. An absolute bambie on skates. Terrified to fall. But watching the players drift around with ease and learning that bending my knees gave me a sturdier stance gave me the confidence to try again soon.
Also a big milestone was learning to fall, learning it wasn’t so bad, and that you just get right back up again and keep going. This is an analogy for life. Until this point in my 30 years of life, every time I fell in a sport, be it punk rock curling, skateboarding, dance classes, etc, I was very aware of the shame in falling, then being pointed and laughed at. Falling in roller derby, people say to you, nice fall. As in, you did good, you tried something new and bailed but good for you for challenging yourself. Be proud of yourself, everyone else is proud of you too. Yes people point and laugh at you as well, but its usually in solidarity. Because thats what the sport is all about.
Im certain that continuing with roller derby has helped me develop more confidence in my physical self, and in my own abilities. The serotonin from the exercise alone has drastically improved my lifestyle and has replaced alcohol as a mood enhancer. Not a mandate of roller derby, but more of a personal choice in choosing empowerment, I have chosen to cut loose the hold substances had on me, in favour of making choices that actually make me feel good in the short and long term. I was showing up to derby practice with a hot toddy when everyone else had water and gatorade. I was escaping working class drudgery with weekend and evening drinking binges. The me/substance partnership was holding me back and had to go, and I don’t think anyone misses this part of me at all.
Please don’t misinterpret what im trying to say. This is not a men vs. women discussion. Its a discussion about people taking ownership of something that empowers themselves. Feminist struggles have existed and are currently happening all over the world, heres a wikipedia article about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_suffrage#United_States
Also interesting is the fact that roller derby leagues and teams are popping up all over the world, check out the list on this website! http://www.derbyroster.com/ I’ve recently become friends on facebook with teams inEgypt, China, Israel, and Brazil! SO NEAT.
Roller derby and feminism. Im telling you they’re holding hands and rolling around the world together.