Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tripping and Whipping: The Derby Double Standard

Good 9.

Bad 9.

I am assertive.

I am a bitch.

I am a woman who doesn't like to take other people's unnecessary shit.

I am also a woman who has a soft little, meowing calico kitten as a heart.

One of my favorite topics is the derby double standard. We're supposed to be fierce. We're supposed to be rockstars. We're supposed to be kicking ass and standing up for ourselves. We're supposed to roar around the track, be strong on our skates, and feisty with our attitudes.

Oh, but we're also supposed to be friendly. We're supposed to be sweet. We're supposed to be womanly. We're supposed to support other teams, make gift bags for our rivals, and congratulate a team who won because of a bad reffing decision.

Most of the time, I don't have a problem with this. I think many girls understand the balance between ferociousness and kindness. Many girls understand that what happens on the track, stays on the track. I, for one, LOVE gift bags. I love making them special for other teams, and I love getting them, especially if they are thoughtful. Even though I am awkward, I love meeting girls from other teams who either have things in common with me, or who are just plain nice. These are the heartfelt moments of derby that make it a contact sport with an added side of sisterhood.

But then there's the other side. The dirty side. Putting aside the nasty Mobile brawl I had last season, last night at practice presented a particular challenge for me. We had a visiting skater, and from the minute she started talking, I was offended. (By the way, these are my thoughts and perhaps not the thoughts of my team.) She was bossy, played a style of derby that I would consider dirty as hell, and she thought she knew everything. Each time we'd finish a drill, she would immediately start telling people what they should have done, where they went wrong, blah bloo blah. The last straw came when she told me that I was calling off the jam incorrectly.

Wrong move.

I really, really wanted my head to explode all over the rink, leaving little springs and screws all over that track. I wanted to yell. I wanted to throw fists. I wanted to tell her that she was a bossy biatch who didn't know half as much about derby as she thought she did. Instead, I replied (very condescendingly) I don't need your help, sweetie. I've been playing for two and a half years. Oh, and I had also kicked ass in the jam she was referring to.

I admit, there are some things I need help with, but calling off that particular jam wasn't one of them. I dig constructive criticism from people whom I respect and from people who are better skaters than I. This, however, was not one of those situations.

I'm sure this girl meant no harm. I'm sure that she wanted to help. However, if I were visiting another derby team, I would keep my mouthguard glued in place and try to learn whatever I could.

Of course, after my comment, she had it out for me. She wanted to throw her elbows all over my face and hit me as hard as she could. I expected this. I hit back, I fell, I got up, and practice continued as normal. I think it was safe to say, however, that this girl definitely did not have warm, fuzzy feelings for me anymore. I'm sure that a lot of derby girls don't have warm, fuzzy feelings for me and a plethora of other derby girls out there.

However, if one is willing and has the time to get to know me, one will find that I'm generous, sweet, and sympathetic to a fault. I'm not a bad person. I spend my days encouraging students, loving animals, and thinking about my friends. I cried for three days after a student had a miscarriage in the middle of my class. I want to adopt every stray cat that catches my eye. I want to connect with people through my writing. I believe that most derby girls, even the one I called sweetie, have a similar (literal) sweet side, no matter how wild they seem on the track.

But last night, goddammit, I was proud of myself. I could have thrown those fists. I could have screamed. Although I was condescending, it could have been a hell of a lot worse. Blicker might have had to toss me over his shoulder and escort me out of that rink. I stood up for myself, and righteously so.

Yet the thing that bothers me the most is that I still don't know how to deal with this derby double standard. I don't know how to assert myself without making enemies far and wide.

When I was a little girl, I was so timid that the phrase cat got your tongue? became a common response to my silence. But, throughout the past ten years or so, I've become much more assertive. I don't let people push me around.

I think I surprise people because I have the "girl next door" look: why would such a petite, smiley, educated young woman have the balls to shut someone down, and so harshly? For some reason, it is not acceptable in society and (sometimes) roller derby for the girl next door to express herself in a such a spunky way.

And I think that's bullshit.


  1. I'm not going to write a blog anymore; you can just write exactly how I feel, but more poetically.

    100% the same on this.

  2. I'm glad you stood up for yourself. Lord knows that it is rare when another person will do that FOR you. I'm also glad that you're embracing those different pieces of your personality. You know, I think that the problem I have (I don't know if this is something you're noticing in yourself or not) is that for all the times I claim not to give a shit what other people think of me...the truth is that I do care on some level. When they act shocked to hear my potty mouth or hear me stand up for myself, then I feel even angrier than ever before...and worried if I managed to harm their impression of me in some horrible way.

    Ultimately, I think it's normal. But I wonder what we do to negotiate these things...and then how we fix them.