Feb 162011

You can learn a lot about Derby Girls by looking at the pageviews for LDG.

Know what derby is NOT? It is NOT the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants...

Sometime Monday morning, TrAC/DC’s post about the Dark Side of Derby received so many hits that our servers went down and we had to call our Trusty Web Advisor (aka my Derby Widow) to get things up and running again.  In the entire history of the blog, no other post has received that level of attention.  The only one that even begins to come close (but not THAT close) is my first post on the blog – a post detailing the ways that derby really and truly may have been the thing that saved my life.

What this tells us, sociologically, is that derbies view their sport simultaneously as a force of creation and destruction.  It builds us up even as it tears us down.  It supports us, even as it sucks us dry.  It’s the good, the bad, and the in between.

And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that.  Derby isn’t perfect?  So what?  Neither am I.  That’s why derby feels like home to me – because I’m fucking sick of perfection.

As TrAC says in her post, we derbies are fiercely protective of our sport.  I’m no exception to that rule, and when I first started playing nothing brought out the defensive side of me more than the mean-spirited jokes about how derby was just a giant cat-fight, a place for women to take out their exclusively feminine aggression on each other.  ”It’s not LIKE THAT!” I kept wanting to scream.  ”We’re friends!  We’re good to each other!  We help each other out!”  As an ardent feminist, I couldn’t stand watching people use my sport as fodder for their misogynist mythology.  The argument that female sports are breeding grounds for “lady drama” is one of the primary weapons in the arsenal of those who suggest that girls are Strictly Emotional Creatures who couldn’t use logic to save their lives.  I didn’t want any part of that argument.  Derby wasn’t about fitting the script – it was about busting negative stereotypes.  It was about being a DIFFERENT kind of woman.

I believed that in order to prove we were worthwhile, we also had to prove that we were perfect.  I was asking derby to participate in the same fucked-up script I’d been acting out my entire life – the script that tells you you have to put on a nice outfit for company, that tells you that your kids and your lover and your parents and your dog and your fish are all more important than you are, and that it’s your job to keep them happy.  I wanted my team to be all things to me at all times: family and lover, friend and mentor.  I wanted them to redeem me, to prove that a woman really could be everything – and that she could look hot in her jersey while doing it.

But the thing is, we aren’t perfect.  And the people who expect us to be are just assholes.  We fight sometimes.  We backstab and nitpick.  We form cliques and break confidences.  We mess up. But I hope — with every ounce of my scarred and fragile derby heart, I hope  that we don’t turn away from each other in those moments.  I hope that we don’t give up.  Because the moment we give up on each other is the moment we give in to the worst of the myths about women.  If we overthrow our derbies because they don’t fulfill our ideals, we’re setting them up for failure.  Expecting women to be perfect – to be everything and never fall short – is not a feminist act.  (For those of you unconcerned with the feminism, I’ll put it a different way: it is not a productive act.)  In fact, it’s actively harmful.  Because no one can fulfill your dreams for you.  And if you ask them to, your disappointment is inevitable.

When I say I love my team no matter the mistakes they make, I am committing a feminist act.  I am throwing dirt in the faces of anyone who ever implied that women are only worthwhile if they’re perfect, polite, and quiet – if they always get along.  I am saying that I love and care for the women in my life as they are, not as I hope for them to be.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be better.  At its core, derby is about ALWAYS striving to be better.  But in the meantime, we also have to learn to live with the Dark Side of Derby – maybe even to embrace it, and to recognize that when we give other women the space to be imperfect, we’re really just giving them the space to be themselves — and hoping we get the same space in return.

I love you all.  And no matter how my relationship with derby ends, it won’t be perfect – and for that, I am eternally grateful.


  19 Responses to “The Dark Side of Derby Pt II: This Feminist Darkness”

  1. *applause*

  2. i will admit that i choked up. from one feminist to another: thank you.

  3. this is really beautiful, vill. and totally on point. the whole “why can’t she be better/faster/skinnier/stronger/more everything?” line of thinking is why a lot of derbies aren’t “the kind of girls who have a lot of girlfriends” until derby, so why are we reproducing the mean girl mentality in our sacred space? because it’s easier than not doing it. but derby isn’t about taking the easy way out. finding the tenuous balance between challenging our team mates and supporting them is hard, but maybe one of the most worthwhile things that any of us will ever do.

  4. i didnt feel choked up til i read estrogeena was feeling choked up which made think why am i feeling choked up(?) and then, in true lady form, i pinned it on PMS. may my antiquated reasoning not kill the momentum of your post, vill. nicely put.

    anyway, i have only ever had girl friends. from my lady-laden family to my all-girl education, my social world has sort of always excluded dudes. so its new for me to hear that this environment is new for some people. i thought all folks (male-female) got along in this fashion. my point is, i suppose, that i love hearing from other places, people who can show me the (at times) ridiculousness of my social world and remind me that girls have a “special” dynamic. navigating these relationships can be taxing, but when genuinely approached and negotiated, super rewarding. i dont know. i guess i just like girls ;)

  5. This is a thing of beauty. I am concerned with the feminism, as you put it.

    Last night, practice was rough at our house. Lots of blow-ups, elbows to faces, tension I could feel in my belly. And for a moment I found myself thinking “god fucking dammit why can’t so-and-so stop being such a diva, and why can’t our pack work together, we’re all on the same fucking team!”

    On the drive home, I came to the same place – derby is not about some sort of peaceful sisterhood where we all braid each other’s hair and live in our utopia of a woman’s separate way of knowing. It’s about us getting to be who we are, even if that is abrasive, or discouraged, or whatever. It’s about working with and through the differences, not about sameness. The fact that there is a dark side to derby just means that we get to be whole, many-sided personalities. It’s a pain in the ass sometimes, but like a lot of derby pain, it’s ultimately a good thing.

  6. Well said, lady (or is it un-feminist of me to refer to you in that sort of term of endearment?). :)

    As a “noob” to the derby world, I really love reading the honesty in your posts — especially on those days when I feel too over-committed/left out/defeated/tired… etc.

  7. Nice discussion.

  8. <3 Thank you. <3

  9. I loved both these posts. It’s so spot-on, it’s scary! I am pretty new to derby at less than 6 months in. I am the eldest skater and person (>40 yrs) on the team so, I feel left out to begin with. My music, my lifestyle, my career choice and my one tattoo definitely make me uncool. Using the word “uncool” make me uncool! Some people buy a sports car or have an extramarital affair, but joining derby has been the manifestation of my mid-life crisis. I skated every weekend as a teenager and discovered I had not lost that talent. I am actually a damn good skater, just not so good at derby. While I love the camaderie and the empowerment derby affords us, it is also painful. It brings back memories of my school days, where I was picked last for kickball because I was the shortest kid in my class.

    Thanks for unapologetically explaining this complex group of athletes. It has helped me to understand them and not to take it all so seriously.

  10. It is oft read because it is true for everyone, across the board. We all think we’re unique little snowflakes, unlike any other in the universe. Women have the same problems everywhere. Derby teams have the same problems everywhere.
    Women are their own worst enemies- ever comparing themselves, always wanting to fall in love, always convinced they can change what’s wrong. Always waiting for someone to bring it to you. You must find it in yourself. Next time you find yourself braying for the blood of your leaguemates, demanding policy to knitpick their level of involvement- the next time you disregard someone for not being you- read this. Again and again.
    It’s a hit.

  11. I really appreciate these incredibly authentic and honest posts. I had very similar issues while playing a couple of years back. I think from an evolutionary standpoint, women are programmed to compete with each other. Self awareness and honest assessments are the first steps toward evolving oneself as a person, evolving your team/league, and the sport itself.
    I was feeling guilty and alienated in my views and it gives me a warm feeling that others share both my grief and joy. With this attitude, I think derby is on the right path!

  12. This blog post and the one before it make perfect sense. thank you for getting these points out into the web ether xx

  13. Thank y’all so much for the comments! I’m glad what we’re writing about is striking a cord with so many people.

    @Rock: It’s always interesting for me to hear the perspective from your world because honestly, if I’d had a choice, I think I would’ve picked to live in a more feminine world than the one I had. Unlike a lot of derbies, I’ve always had mainly female friends. I trust women in a way that I will likely NEVER trust men (with limited exceptions). That’s why maintaining these female spaces is so important to me – because they DIDN’T occur naturally in my life; I’ve had to go around creating/finding them for myself.

    @Wannabe: I love your line about women’s “special way of knowing.” LOL! And I totally agree – real life is always about the differences. And I think we get tricked when, as girls, we’re taught that fighting or arguing amongst ourselves is somehow wrong or bitchy. To me it just seems like a natural part of being in a group – ANY group – and of working through the differences rather than conforming to a monolithic identity.

    @Jenuine Malice: If you were on our team, you’d have company! We range really widely in age, and I can promise you that some of our older players are also some of our most valuable. To follow up what Wannabe says, I think that the main strength of derby, as a sport, is its inclusiveness. We benefit from the ideas and experiences and strengths of a wide range of players in a way no other sport does. Even if you don’t always feel like the most athletic player on the team, I guarantee you that the other girls are benefitting from your presence in ways you may not even realize.

    @Marquee: Well said. I feel like I should have the line about berating someone for not being me taped to my mirror.

    @Barrett: Agreed – I think pretty much EVERYONE is programmed to compete on some level. And if it’s not in our genes then it’s definitely in our socialization. Girls are taught to expect other girls to hate them or fight with them. And I think the only real answer is the one you give – to use that competitive spirit to help us become better as teams and players. We can turn the negative around and use it to our advantage every time.

    @Germaine: Awesome name! When I was naming myself I came THIS CLOSE to choosing “Gloria Spine-em” or “Bell Right-Hooks,” but in the end my poetic side won over my hardcore feminist side.

  14. Thank you. This is exactly what I needed to read right right now.

  15. Thank you so much for posting this! I have been thru up and downs with derby over the last 5+ years but never as down as Ive recently felt. It helps with the burden when there are others that feel the same way.

  16. With a deep sigh of contentment I write “THANK YOU!”

    Not only is this accurate and articulate, but it should be part of all “So You Want to Join Derby?” pamphlets and recruitment handbooks.

  17. I agree with your post, but while imperfection is totally ok, abuse is not; and some derbies are abusive, manipulative and cruel. To take a stand and make a new way might be seen as giving up, but when you have been trying and fighting and striving for resolution and you keep getting screamed at EVERY time, sometimes you need to call it what it is: a fucked up relationship that is only dragging you down. Tolerating a toxic environment to “get along” is exactly what women have been conditioned to do for years, and it takes great courage to walk away at the risk of being called weak, selfish and anti-feminist. Sometimes sisterhood is sinister.

  18. As was stated previously, the behavior exhibited by derbies at practice and bouts would never be tolerated at everyone’s REAL job, so why should it be tolerated amongst friends? Everyone gets frustrated sometimes, but we are all grown so there is no reason to have a damn temper tantrum. Screaming and yelling at me is not going to teach me anything and is certainly not going to motivate me. Maybe that works for some, but I find it to be unconstructive. It’s also a really good way to run off new skaters. I love my teammates like nobody else, but sometimes I really don’t like them much. I love derby like nothing else, but sometimes I don’t like it very much. I can’t really expect them or derby to change, I can only change how I respond. It would be nice if everyone could do the same.

  19. This is the 2nd time I’ve read this post but the 1st for reading comments. Thank you all for contributing! I agree with all that has been posted, but feel a blood-bond with Poppy [Post #17], as I feel we are at about the same place with Derby. I was enchanted with it at the beginning, but the mean girls in charge kept getting meaner — yelling and swearing at the team during practices IS extremely unproductive. Abuse and manipulation are not OK…not even for the sake of Derby. I mean, isn’t that why some of us have left spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends? Because of the constant abuse and manipulation? Maybe I’m just not looking at derby in the right way — maybe it’s because for me, Derby didn’t “save my soul” — martial arts did.

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