Sunday, April 18, 2010

Roller Derby, Feminism, and the American Girl

The nice part about having a large and diverse circle of friends is that occasionally they will invite you to activities that you wouldn't necessarily choose for yourself, but provide new experiences. To wit: a couple of the ladies at church and a coworker of mine are all members of the Dixie Derby Girls, an all-volunteer women's roller derby league that plays (performs?) at the von Braun Center here in Huntsville.

Having never actually seen a roller derby, and given the offer of a free ticket, I couldn't resist. Much to my surprise, there were rules--it wasn't just unbridled mayhem as a group of hostile ladies raced around a short track. Mind you, the teams do sport tough names (the "Ragin' Rockets" while the individual players sport snarky handles like "FemiFist" (my coworker), "Snidely Bitchslap," and "Nookie Monster," and quite a few of them sport tattoos of the permanent or temporary variety.

One thing the Wikipedia article about roller derby mentions is that this roller blading movement incorporates aspects of "third-wave feminism," which is more or less the Generation X reaction against the Boomers' version. Aspects of this include: a willingness for girls to be aggressive and tough but also pretty or "girly" (the Dixie Derby Girls all sported pink of one color or another on their uniforms). Another thing that one notices is that the ladies participating conform to no particular physical "type" or ideal--they range from tall to short, waif-like to zaftig, with the bigger girls often having the largest fan base, going by the shirts I saw among girls in the stands. All to the good--and a note to guys not to mess with some of these folks (we shouldn't be hitting girls anyway, but that's just me). All to the good.

The crowd was mostly women and girls, as I expected, though there were some boys about. The male spectators were often there with girlfiends or wives who were fans or out on the floor derbying. Most of the cheering was from the women. There seems to be some sort of unspoken rule about that. There were also, however, packs of guys down on the floor, closest to the track, who were cheering on the mayhem (such as it was) raucously, enjoying the spectacle of women in their 20s and 30s bumping each other onto their kiesters on roller skates. Entertaining, if you're into that sort of thing. I am not, but I'm glad it's enjoyable for the participants.

The halftime entertainment, however, disturbed me. A trio of girls' cheerleading troupes, ranging in age from about 8 to 14, got up and did routines that, quite frankly, horrified me. We can start with the outfits themselves: too much makeup, bikini tops or other midriff-baring outfits, fishnet stockings, microskirts, et cetera. You get the idea: too much. Gone are the sweaters from my era (a scant 20-25 years ago now). Then there were the routines. If you've ever seen the movie The Replacements, you might recall that in that story a professional football league goes on strike, leaving the owners to bring in replacement players...and cheerleaders. One team hires a group of ladies who are in fact exotic dancers--strippers. Take a look at one of those routines and you'll have a vague idea of some of the moves being executed by these girls. Not the blatantly naughty stuff, but the body movements--gyrating, but/breast-shaking, etc. And the coaches, parents, and peers cheer them on, screaming with joy and delight. I thought to myself, "Am I the only one embarrassed by all this?"

It's not like I believe girls or women are some sacred, delicate flowers (I was there, after all, to watch them knock each other over on roller skates), but really now: who is it that thinks this sexualization of 8 to 14-year-old girls is a good idea? The outfits and routines these girls were made to display made me think of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which is primarily a show about catching child molesters and child pornographers. I didn't dare take a photograph, partially because I found the display distasteful and partially because I didn't want to be pegged as some sort of lone-wolf 40-year-old pervert. I focused on my iPhone, checked my messages, watched the crowd, then gave up and left the hall until halftime was over. Offensive.

So on the one hand, I totally dig the ethic of the Dixie Derby Girls and their can-do, punchy attitude toward womanhood. On the other hand, those same Derby Girls ought to be having some serious discussions with the coaches and parents of the actual little girls performing at their halftime show. That would be a public service and act of hero(ine)ism I could fully support.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's a much more visceral tale than the thing I was trying to explain via email about current "feminists" and benefactors of my era's feminism really veering wildly off the cart path onto the tart path.

Dea of the House Phillips said...

reminds me of a line from Grease:

"Elvis, Elvis, keep that pelvis far from me!"-Rizzo

I cannot abide how little girls are taught to objectify their bodies these days. It's morally repulsive and that's saying something when I say it...considering my loosely formed morals.