On Saturday night, the feminausts went to the Roller Derby! Never having been before, we were a bit unsure of what to expect. BUT, kitted out with our “media passes” and shamncy looking audio recorder we set forth, ready to be professional, intelligent and most of all, feminaust.
Our fixer/handler/contact Mon-U-Mental, met us by the track, showed us where we could stake our our spot, on the suicide line, and introduced us to our first interviewee (well, kinda introduced us as I already knew her). PollyTickle (skater name), is a PhD student, studying Roller Derby. We also met Bianca and Crunch Lady Doris.
Roller Derby emerged in the early 20th century from endurance roller skating races but it quickly evolved into a team based, point scoring game. In the 50s, 60s and 70s the sport was mostly a sort of sports entertainment with choreography and a high level of theatricality, however in the modern incarnation the sport is paramount with the costumes and skater names but none of the staged action. These days the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association are commonly considered to be at the top of the game with 117 full member leagues and nearly 60 apprentice leagues, including the Victorian Roller Derby League which is made up of the three local teams, the Toxic Avengers, the Dead Ringer Rosies and the Dolls Au-Go-Go. The feminausts were mostly drawn to the idea of interviewing skaters because of the obvious athleticism, it’s predominant female focus and the punk and third wave feminist aesthetic. Meeting the skaters gave us a really diverse view of why women are drawn to the sport and what keeps them coming back.
The game is hard, fast and intense. Teams of 5 “blockers” and one “jammer” try to both assist their jammer (the points scorer) and impede the opposing teams jammer from getting through the pack of blockers and scoring points. Jammers must pass the pack once before they can start scoring on their second pass. The result for spectators is some spectacular skating, bone crushing falls and nifty blocks and let me tell you, it’s a spectator sport worth giving a go. Sitting on the sidelines with the skaters passing a mere few feet away was awe inspiring, thrilling and terrifying all at the same time and with the Dolls, our feminaust adopted team, winning by one point as their jammer, one of our feminaust adopted skaters Polly, sat in the penalty box was a heart stopping experience!
Interviewing Polly, Bianca and Doris before the game, we got a really interesting insight into the world of derby, where debates and discussions continue around the sexualisation of the players, the female domination of the sport, the role of theatrics and show-womanship and the encouragement of young and mature players into the sport. Bianca was clearly against the costumes and names. Convincingly she said;
I don’t want to have to pretend to be someone else to be hardcore
But just as convincingly, Doris was enthusiastic about derby as an opportunity for her to take on a different persona and play to a caricature of herself which she couldn’t do in her normal life. Polly certainly summed it up well saying that in the end, derby invites and envelops all who enter the community and you bring to it and get out of it what you want. And WHAT a community. The skaters were manning the doors, taking tickets, selling merchandise and clearly, liaising with the venue, concession stalls, media, players, refs and commentators. It was obvious that the people involved in this sport are in it for the love and the bruises.
So what did the feminausts think? We’re HOOKED! The atmosphere, meeting the skaters, getting a feel for the sport, we’re totally and utterly converted. Sadly, neither of us will be in Australia for the very exciting up and coming bout between Victoria and Texas! It’s being held on the 23rd of July at the Melbourne Showgrounds and tickets are available through Moshtix from the 2nd of July. If you’re planning on going, please let us know as we’d love to have a reporter on the ground to let us know what happens.