Roller derby breaks the mold in that it is one of the few (if not the only) full-contact sport that is dominated by women.
Roller derby provides women the chance to be aggressive, physical, and competitive; it gives women a chance to transgress and defy traditional notions of femininity. It confronts the idea that women are fragile and that they should stay out of more aggressive sports.
The narrative that women are often told is that they are “too delicate” to be playing contact sports. Women who participate in roller derby have the opportunity to portray themselves as badass, tough warriors who dominate their opponents through the physicality of their sport as well as the derby names they take on.
A quick Google search of roller derby names will give you suggestions like “Dollface Smasher” and “Blood Drawer.” All of the suggestions tend to have the implication that this is someone who shows no mercy and who has the ability to inflict real damage on their opponents.
This is someone who has the confidence to beat you up if they wanted to.
Many consider their derby name to represent a sort of alter-ego for themselves, a side of themselves not acceptable in most spaces in modern society.
While it may not be considered acceptable, the derby names women choose are representative of how they want to be viewed by others. As Veronica Ferreira, in “I Am Roller Derby’: A Case Study of Layered Impression Management” explains, “...skaters often speak of the freedom to be who they ‘really’ are in roller derby, to be the kind of women they want to be.” The pressure to act a certain way in public and perform gender the way we are expected to can be extremely difficult to escape.
What is acceptable to express in a roller derby space may not be acceptable to express in a professional space, etc. For example, if you work in a customer service position, you are expected to be friendly, helpful, and upbeat. Women who find themselves in these positions often have to portray these traits whether or not that is the image they want to put out into the world. Women who wouldn’t put up with being insulted on the roller derby track may have to put up with it in order to keep a job.
For a lot of the women who participate, roller derby has had a very positive impact on them. In her book, Punch!: Why Women Participate in Violent Sports, Jennifer Lawler explains,
“The risk, the physical danger of a contact sport, reveals and builds inner strength and courage, two elements that can profoundly empower women.”
Some women start contact sports as a way to meet people or just to get fit, but then find themselves becoming stronger not only physically, but emotionally as well.
The emotional strength women feel after joining derby can come in many different forms. For some women, it’s learning that size isn’t that important or more significantly, that women of all shapes and sizes have value. To be successful in derby, as in many contact sports, you have to learn to pick up skills. Skills can be acquired by anyone, regardless of size or shape.
Different body types support derby teams in different ways. All are needed to create a strong team.
For other women, that emotional strength comes from finding a community of like-minded women. Still others find that emotional strength because of the fact that derby allows them to be who they want to, to portray themselves in a way that feels genuine, without fear of judgement.
As we’ve said before, there is still a long way to go before we get to a place where men and women exist as equals in the world. It isn’t perfect, but the world of roller derby is one way that women are able to claim traits that would normally be considered masculine.
It is so important that we allow women to feel strong and powerful, whether that is through playing a contact sport or wearing badass workout clothes, and we are so excited by what this sport has to offer.
Derby on women!