Let me say this from the outset, I’m no writer, so don’t
expect this to be the most beautifully constructed piece of work you've ever
read (#grammerfail, or something like that, right?). What I am though is a
skater, a female skater, a pretty bummed out female skater.
Like many women involved in roller derby, one of the primary
things that attracted me to playing was the strong feminist roots it held. It
encouraged women to be strong, to be aggressive, to get dirty, and to redefine
what being ‘feminine’ is. It also gave women of all shapes, colour, sexuality et al. a place and a community where
they could feel accepted, where they would not be judged, and where they could
play their heart out and be supported by their league mates and the wider derby
community. Notice the use of past tense there.
It’s with a heavy heart, and significant disappointment and
anger, that following the arrival of men's roller derby, I've noticed a
significant number of, particularly higher level, bootcamps becoming increasingly
co-ed. I do not want to play with men. Nothing against the boys, but I was one
of those many women who came to and stuck with the sport because of its feminist
roots. I was one of those many women that felt empowered, had my confidence
lifted, realised the huge extent of my capabilities, and worked my arse off to
be the best derby player I could be. This is such a hugely important experience
for women that is shamefully so rarely felt in a typical woman’s life that it
is a great tragedy to lose it.
We are creating a scenario where women who want to learn at
an advanced level are given the option of play co-ed or don’t play at all, or
almost worse, the patronising ‘play at a lower level you precious fragile thing’.
Most of the feedback I’ve heard surrounding this is of the ‘if you’re not tough
enough to play with the boys, then derby’s not for you’ nature – not only is
this enormously disheartening (remember when derby catered for all women? Are
you seriously suggesting that the boys are tougher than the women?), this
misses the point entirely – I know I could take a hit from a man, and I could
give it back with equal gusto, that isn't the point here. The point is that we
are taking away from women that sacred place where they felt complete freedom
and support which we worked so hard to build. And, we don’t even appear to be compromising
and giving other options – it appears to be that bootcamps are heading towards
co-ed or nowt. Yeah, I’m sure we could learn from the men's game and style of
play, but our game is its own game, a different style, and I think we can
continue to progress derby in our way, in our style, without automatically
assuming that the men must have something to teach us. Further to that, even if
we did learn some pretty cool stuff, at what cost? I am not prepared to
sacrifice our community just so we can learn some interesting tactic/hit/play
that we probably would have figured out ourselves anyway.
One of the things that continues to appeal to audiences and
derby folk alike is that derby is not a mainstream sport; it does not play by
the rules of mainstream sports. There is ‘roller derby’ and ‘men's roller derby’,
an entirely unique entity in the sports world, and I think that is hugely
important to the sport and something that needs to be fiercely defended. The more and more we allow men's
roller derby to infiltrate roller derby, the less and less appeal there is
going to be for a significant amount of women; more women feeling intimidated
or not welcomed, like they will be judged for how they act or look; we are
taking something away from them that the derby community worked so hard to
create and are doing a huge disservice to women in the process. Essentially, we are creating an environment
where women that signed up to play a women's sport, in a women's environment are
getting more and more pushed out of their community. I want to keep skating,
and I want to keep get better, but I will not sacrifice what makes derby derby.
Tell me your thoughts in the comments.