By: Kim Mason/Sunday School Slammer
Becoming a roller girl has been a transformative experience – and one that not everyone understands. Maybe it’s because so many people remember the roller derby of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. It was campy and planned and more about sex and drama and less about sport and competition. Lots of people refer to it as a girly version of today’s pro wrestling. Yet the other thing that I run into seems to be rooted in an aversion to women being involved in a full contact sport.
When I first started telling people that I had joined the Hard Knox Roller Girls [HKRG] I got comments like, “I didn’t know you were “that” kind of girl.” What kind of girl is “that” exactly? One who is strong and athletic? One who values being on a team? I was also told by one friend that she would not bring her children to HKRG bouts because they were “too violent”. Yet this same friend thought nothing of taking her children to ice hockey games where fistfights happen on a regular basis and the only response is a penalty. In roller derby, a fistfight will get you expelled! So I could only think that what these people were really uncertain about was seeing women as competitive and unafraid of physical confrontation.
So here goes: I am a competitive person. Whew! It feels good to get that out. My entire life, expressing a desire to win or do better than someone else has been met with anger, derision, and even ostracizing. I have been taught to win by “being nice”, to not show my disappointment when I lose, and to not be “too aggressive” in the workplace. I am sure there are many of you who can relate to being asked to hide some basic part of who you are.
The joy of roller derby is that I no longer have to pretend I am not that person! I can be competitive. I can express myself physically and be unafraid of getting hurt. And unlike so many women’s sports (gymnastics that requires women to starve themselves? Figure skating where women are judged on “presentation”?), I don’t have to fit into someone else’s definition of feminine or pretty in order to do it. Though we do still wear make-up – ours is war paint 😉
What is it like to let that side of myself out? It’s like being whole. It’s acknowledging who I am as a complete person. Do I see it affecting other parts of my life? Absolutely. I will admit to a lower tolerance for BS and a better ability to stand up for myself. On the rink you have to meet your opponents full on, take a hit, and get back up again. Knowing that I can do that each week on the track means I can do it off the track as well. And as my body changes, my relationship to it is changing. I am less concerned about weight and shape in order to be attractive and more concerned with strength and skill. I am proud of who I am and I am proud of my teammates. Our fans show their pride in us by coming to each bout and cheering us on. Win or lose, they show up in their green and black, with their vuvzelas [LOUD South African plastic horn] and face paint, reminding us to never give up and reminding us that we skate for more than just ourselves.
For a long time roller derby has been classified as entertainment. I am glad to say that in the past year or so, as roller derby takes on a higher profile, that image is changing. I am also glad that roller derby is a sport that is organized and run by women. It’s hard to participate in an amateur sport where we pay for everything, but the upside is that it remains in the hands of women. We, the athletes, control our image, how our money gets spent, and who coaches us. We are Amazons on the track: the strong, the competitive, the Hard Knox Roller Girls. Fight! Fight! Fight!
Sunday School Slammer photo by: Justin Fee
Kim Mason’s photo by: Karen Krogh
© Kim Mason, 2013