I've been so engrossed in derby for so long that sometimes I forget that some people don't get it.
I was very excited to hear today's Morning Edition on NPR, which featured Alex "Axles of Evil" Cohen and Jennifer "Kasey Bomber" Barbee discussing their new book Down and Derby: An Insider's Guide to Roller Derby (Roller Review coming soon!). I'm just about as big of an NPR fan as I am a derby fan; seriously, I carry my skates in my NPR tote bag.
While I'm sure that it would have been a driveway moment, I didn't get to hear it until I got to my computer. This has its up sides and down sides. On the one hand, I'm less likely to run my car into a ditch if I get excited when they talk about my derby idols. On the other hand, I just can't help looking at the comments by the, like, TWO people in the U.S. who still don't get roller derby.* Case in point, the insightful and eloquent James Wescott graces us with this gem: "Trashy inked up women acting like animals on methamphetamine, no thanks!"
Where to even start with that?! Trashy? Inked-up? Animals? Methamphetamine?! It's a veritable Waldorf salad of low-hanging fruit. Someone else on the thread goes on to wank about how they just don't get it, is the point "[t]o be the last one standing? To have the most knock downs? To have the biggest tatoo?" Ho ho! A funny guy! It gets better: he wonders, how are people supposed to think it's not just about girls hitting each other if girls, well, hit each other?! And the tattoos! They're "not exactly the mark of femininity."
I'm going to just throw my hands up and hope that this is an inter-generational miscommunication (although certainly not with our grandparents' generation, which propelled tattooed, rainbow-haired badasses like Ann Calvello to derby superstardom). But I really feel that what is at the bottom of this is what Ann at Feministing referred to as the "transgressive beauty of strength." Some time I'll post a little more at length about feminism and its love/hate relationship with roller derby, but for now it will suffice to say that when I read straight up ignorant comments like the ones above, all I see is "why aren't these girls playing badminton like nice ladies? Tattoos are for dudes in bike gangs, and hitting is for boys. Maybe you could do figure skating?"
I guess when it comes down to it, women in sports still have a long way to come. Whether it's lesbian baiting in women's soccer, ghettoization of moms in the WNBA, or cheerleading being ruled not a sport, there always seems to be an edge of us girls having to bear the burden of proving that what we're doing is legit. Even with the most phony-ass sports, like scripted wrestling with characters and storylines, there doesn't seem to be any question that the players are "real" athletes.
The sometimes seedy history of roller derby has probably set us at a little disadvantage, but I find myself firmly in the camp camp: I don't think it compromises the legitimacy of the sport to have names, tats, costumes, or team themes. I love the idea of a sport that takes us as we come and has a place for every type. I love the idea of a sport that allows women to do things we're typically discouraged from doing, and encourages strong personalities. If all people can see are inked up animals on meth, they're obviously not looking!
*Okay, that's not true. Two of my best friends admitted to me in a drunken moment that he had wanted to go, but she didn't let him because she thought it was something lecherous. I nearly died, and then forced them to go to the next bout. When we got home, they suggested we buy season tickets. Now THAT's more like it!