(1) Why do women (some...I do not pretend to make this a blanket statement commentary on the state of women in sports) still feel they need to don an alternate identity in order to express strength? (2) Why is it necessary for women to provide entertainment of a somewhat sexist nature in order to gain attention as an athlete?Yet, I remained convinced that the Tim Burton-inspired makeup was subversive, and cheered derby player KillBox's assertion that "I do not think that we as skaters/feminist/flying purple monkeys need to justify the way we dress." What a great sport for feminists, I thought.
PBo and I have discussed this on any number of occasions. Often the discussion starts anew upon viewing women playing either softball or basketball in full make-up. Is that necessary in order to (1) get men to watch or (2) establish one's self as a heterosexual athlete?
Derby 2: Atlanta' Roller Derby League has moved in-town, and now takes place at the Midtown Shriner lodge. I'll admit, I was anxious to see inside the new venue, which struck me as bizarre. Yet, as I walked up to take a seat by the track, I felt disoriented. Where were all the lesbian couples who felt free to, well, act like couples? Where were all the hipsters? I sat down and asked the guy next to me who was winning the first bout. If he meant to give an answer, I'll never know, because just then the drunken polo-shirt wearing 40-something guys in front of us started yelling "Whoah! Little girl took a big hit! Suck it up, baby! You gotta just take it, darlin'! It was gross. They continued with their catcalls, "Bend over lower, you'll go faster" being their favorite, throughout the bout. Yes, I mocked these sexist pigs within their hearing, but to tell the truth - they seemed to be in the majority. Roller Derby was their space now, a space to ogle, not my space to appreciate some serious skating.
The crowd wasn't the only thing that had changed. Instead of highly individualized outfits that ranged from the purely athletic to goth-chic, all the Atlanta players had team uniforms - uniforms that somewhat resembled 'sexy nurse' outfits. The promotional materials had changed too, and not for the better. The constant announcements and handouts explaining the rules were gone, so my newcomer friend had little understanding of how the sport actually worked. To my eyes, it seemed like Roller Derby in Atlanta had given up any aspiration to be taken seriously, and had embraced a roll of side-show spectacle. Not the athletes, mind you - they seem as dedicated as ever - the promoters and the organizers. The people, in short, in charge of ticket sales.
So, this brings up new questions for me about women in sports, and women in general. I am well aware that we can't always control how we are perceived by others. The best we can do is try to present a version of ourselves that we like and hope it is accepted and interpreted in the way we intended. Yet, the second derby made me ask - how responsible are we for trying to manage our images? Should we ever modify our dress or style if we realize that the look we've chosen is being misinterpreted, or are other people's misconceptions their own problems?
UPDATE: Oddly enough, we just got a comment on Maus's Roller Derby post from a player named Bitches Bruze which addresses some of these questions. Here is a bit of what Bitches Bruze says:
As is often the case, the problem with most of these questions is they make false assumptions...The rest of what Bitches Bruze has to say is just as though-provoking, and can be read here - comment 18.
I wear makeup in derby like war paint. I sure as heck do not wear it to "get men to watch". Blech. Why would I care the gender of who watched? I don't care your gender or age - so long as you buy a ticket and fill a seat. AND, know what, I'd play derby if the seats were empty. Maybe this set of questions suffers from the assumption that derby skaters look the way they do for the audience. Please keep feeling that way if you'll keep buying our tickets. Orientation has NOTHING to do with athletics....
...what roller derby does that confounds people is it refuses to fit in a box. It feeds on mixing serious with fun - sexy with hard work - muscles with fishnets - music with sport. Why is the rest of the world so set on segregating these things? The assumption that we do it for any other reason than it feels good, fun, and right is silly.
Have you seen a Super Bowl lately? Does anyone ever question whether football is "entertainment" or "sport"? I'd argue that's more aligned with entertainment than derby is - but we live in a world that "buys" THAT as sport and roller derby as spectacle. Yet you yourself realized by the second whistle derby is some serious shit - with a lot less padding and a lot more speed than American football. We aren't running on our feet - we're ON SKATES!!
(first picture via pba online, last via Atlanta Roller Girls)