This past weekend, the Race City Rebels played the Naptown Roller Girls in a battle for hometown bragging rights. It was an awesome bout, how could it not be? The number 9 ranked team in the Men’s Roller Derby Association (MRDA) skating against the number 12 team in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association(WFTDA)? Awesome! Some of the reactions I heard after the fact? Less than awesome.
A Bit of Backstory
Most of you who have been following Pure Geekery for a little while already know most of this about me. I am a retired skater for the Circle City Derby Girls. Upon my retirement, I started helping out with my husband’s team, the Race City Rebels. Over time, I came to be on their PR team (so part of me is frustrated with myself for giving this issue more attention).
I’m also the “wear your heart on your sleeve type.” I get emotional. I tend to take things too personal. So when I saw some of these horrible things said, I saw red. I saw people personally attacking my husband and my friends. Which of course I’m sure they didn’t intend.
With That Said…
I was drawn to derby because of the cute outfits, tough chick image, and funky names. I fell I love with it because of the DIY mentality. The comradery. The speed. The way some skaters seem to dance on their skates. The way there’s a place for all of us.
I learned of men’s derby at practice. See, pretty much as soon as I got out of the new skater workshop (an eight week training camp Circle City hosts twice a year). I was skating with boys. Getting tips from boys. Getting hit by boys. Racing boys around the track. So naturally, I started attending men’s derby bouts to support my friends. And I loved it.
The more I learned about derby the more fun I found men’s derby. I mean, here was my sport played in a whole different way. Because of the physical difference, men just skate differently than women. They stand more upright because they have a higher center of gravity. Shoulder hits are more common because they tend to have greater upper body strength. They come up with different strategies because of their different skating style. But for all the differences, the things I love stay the same.
I’m of a group that has always shared a track with men.
So when there’s a coed derby bout and I see the outrage, I get upset. I get upset at the disrespect shown to both teams. I get upset for the male skaters, because they’re painted as villains. I get upset for the female skaters, because the outrage implies they aren’t able to be trusted with choosing their opponents. That they need protection from the boys. None of which is true. In this particular case, I get upset as PR because what was billed as a bout starring two top ranked teams in the world, gets reduced to boys vs girls.
Part of me understands why people get outraged. It is strange to see men playing an aggressive, full contact sport with women. But to me derby is an example of how this works. Across the WFTDA, and leagues individually, there are so many different shapes and sizes of skaters. It’s one place where bigger isn’t always better.
The co-ed outrage tends to bring up the argument “Do men belong in derby?” Of course they do. Men have always been involved in derby. They’ve been fans, refs, coaches, announcers, and NSOs. We shouldn’t be surprised that some of them want to bout. Heck, both teams that played Saturday have played in scrimmages and mash-up bouts prior to Saturday’s bout. And we should support them as much as they’ve supported us. After all, there’s room for all of us in derby.
And if you don’t agree, I encourage you to go to a bout hosted by your local men’s derby team. See what men’s derby all about. And if you happen to be in Indy, come out to a Rebel’s bout in the spring. We’ll have a beer. You’ll find me cheering in the suicide seats.
(By the way the guys don’t actually wear tights, well except the Carolina Wrecking Balls.)
Update: Some of you are saying you feel like you’re “missing” part of the story because I don’t say what was said. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. It was things like you can probably imagine. It’s more the attitude that is addressed in the post.