Do it for Her
When I was five or six, my aunt Alice took me to a local women’s soccer match. I was too young to understand most of what was going on. Still, it was fun to watch the teams flick in patterns around the field, and I cheered when Alice cheered.
After the game ended, we went out to the turf so I could get my program autographed. The first player I approached was tall and dirt-streaked, with a stringy brown ponytail. She made me kneel down and placed the program on my back while she signed it. I can exactly remember the toothbrush-bristle prickle of grass beneath my knees, the noise of paper flattening onto my windbreaker, the pressure of the pen against my shoulder blades. She asked me my name, and I told her. She thanked me for coming to the game.
Alice gave me Barbie doll called Soccer Kira later that year. Kira had jointed limbs that allowed her to kick and throw her tiny soccer ball, “just like Mia Hamm,” as the box proclaimed. She wore a loose-fitting uniform and cleats. I liked Kira because she could stand all on her own—even though her wide, flat feet couldn’t fit into the standard plastic Barbie shoes.
Soccer was considered a women’s sport in my family. While I was aware of men’s soccer as a child, it was with the same vague disinterest that I was aware of Congress and mortgages.
Growing up, the only male athlete I knew by name was Michael Jordan. My mother talked to me about Venus and Serena Williams, Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Misty Hyman, and Dara Torres with a reverence she otherwise reserved for her favorite environmentalists. She tuned into Wimbledon and the Olympics on our crackly television so we could watch them compete.
I joined roller derby for a bunch of reasons: loneliness, restlessness, an itch to challenge my body, obsession with the gameplay that I witnessed at bouts. Although most of these reasons have to do with my personal growth and priorities, I joined because of other people too. I wanted to have interesting roller derby stories for my friends and family. It was something I thought about a lot—how roller derby would bring me closer to my peers.
I did not think about the kids. The girls. But there they were, at all of our bouts: wide-eyed and fluffy-haired, accompanied by parents who beamed at us over their heads. It’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of critical self-evaluation during a bout and forget that a sizable chunk of the audience doesn’t notice whether you nail the hit you were going for, or if you fake out the opposing blockers during your jam. They are amazed that you exist at all.
A couple months back, I helped run a booth for ACRD at a city comic convention. We set up my laptop to play footage from our last bout on my laptop in the hope that it would catch people’s attention. It worked, most notably on two young sisters dressed as Rey and Jyn of Star Wars fame. They stopped to watch and asked us many questions: “Why do you skate so close together? Is it hard to score points? How old do you have to be to play?”
Consider: we were in a building packed with bright, flashy things everywhere you looked. Toys. Stormtrooper parades. Lightsaber demos. Someone walking around in a giant T. rex costume. But for long minutes, these girls were glued to the B-level roller derby bout on my twelve-inch laptop screen.
Often, in movies and on television, women who exert their power through violence are not allowed to coexist. They’re relegated to being the weirdos in a predominantly male social group: think Princess Leia, Xena, Tasha Yar, Brienne of Tarth. It’s rare that we get to see a bunch of women being loud and aggressive and working together. Roller derby makes that happen.
This is not to argue that “people who aren’t men being cool and strong” is our reason for existence. Nor is it a claim that roller derby should be viewed as a perfect example of representation in sports. (It has a long, long way to go before it can claim that status.) But it is one of the few full-contact team sports available for women to play, and it provides the world with a glimmer of what non-male folks can physically accomplish when they function as a unit.
I’m not really into superhero movies. But when Wonder Woman came out last summer, I dragged my friends to the local theater to watch it. I was tired and stressed out and I wanted to watch a lady goddess defeat the forces of evil.
There’s one scene at the beginning of the movie when the camera pans across the training grounds on Themiscyra and we see, through the eyes of the young Diana, dozens of women riding horses and swinging weapons. It made me cry. Part of why it made me cry was an awareness of how little the the scene had to do to inspire such a strong emotional response within me. It was just a bunch of women being loud and aggressive and working together, without a dude swooping in to claim all the attention. (Until Steve Trevor swoops in a few minutes later and claims all the attention.)
Sometimes that scene comes to me when I walk into our practice space. It’s a dusty, dimly lit space, and we’re not quite Amazon warriors, but it reminds me more of Themiscyra than anything else I’ve seen in a movie that isn’t Whip It.
In the end, I needed it all to get here. I needed famous woman athletes and Kira the sensibly clad Barbie and movie heroines and that soccer player who, eighteen years ago, was the most interesting person I could possibly imagine. There’s no way I could have pictured myself playing roller derby otherwise—not in this nerdy, spindly body.
Kids should be able to feel powerful. I’m thankful that ACRD helps give them that chance.
Article by Violent Mauldelaire