Tag Archives: media

Roller Derby coverage is a feminist issue (but not like you might think)

Media coverage of Roller Derby, most of the time, sucks.

In one way, it is interesting, because you see the complex sexual politics of society writ large in terms of phrase, choices of focus, and what is omitted. Mostly, though, it just winds up being annoying. Even when coverage is trying hard, it usually fails hard too.

Pretty much the only coverage of Derby I can stand to read is that written by players, or that comes from within the community.

There, the writing is sport-focused, the theatre is handled with the sense of fun and irreverence and fierceness it embodies, personality is part and parcel and not drooled over, it just…is. There, it is extremely rare to see ugly misogyny and weird falling-over-self attempts at inverting stereotypes that just terminates in the enforcing of other ones.

This is because people in the Roller Derby community have their heads screwed on about their sport; for a start, they get that it is AN ACTUAL SERIOUS SPORT, and they’re living the respect it is due. No, members of the Derby community are not always politically correct and there’s work to do, but the deep sense of celebration of as-many-as-possible is there, and their feminism is a lived one that doesn’t have time to scratch itself because it is too busy empowering women on the ground. Yes, that’s a cliche some outside of the community are sick of hearing. And yet, it is still true.

This week has brought an exciting time for the international Derby community, with the first ever World Cup being played in Toronto. Team Australia is there, in all of it’s scary bruised and bruising glory. Sydney, Newcastle, Canberra, Adelaide, Victoria and Brisbane all have players representing them, and I am quietly squeeing my pants because my derby wifey Susy Pow (TOP5) is there, kicking ass and taking names.

So far, we’re doing extremely well, having moved through to the semi finals by this morning putting the boot into the admirable Swedish side. Next we face off with the US team. Nerve-wracking, but delicious, and so well deserved. Australia is a nation of polished, deeply skilled skaters.

But what of the coverage of this event, or Derby in general? This, and one other example I’ll be talking about, brings to light the following recurring issues when people outside of Derby, write about Derby.

1. Skaters are conceptually sexualised in ways that are not their choice, or necessarily reflect their play or personality. Further, any expression of sexuality is usually appropriated through the lens of male-gaze bullshit, rather than an autonomous, self driven thing that has pretty much *nothing* to do with dudes thinking they are hot. Just like the Starfire kerfuffle with DC comics, Derby girls regularly have their images and personas hijacked by leery media unsure how to frame them – and resorting to wank-bank terminology and phrasing. I’ve observed how actively Derby grrls hate this and how self-conscious and grossed-out (then, righteously angry) it makes them.

A great example of this is a pretty gross blog article on Total Pro Sports that cropped up this week and was widely flamed on social networking sites by people in the derby family. A slide-show of “sexy roller girls”, it contained both images of porn models in derby gear and pictures of non-consenting skaters whose images had been used to create an unabashed page for dudes and their tissue time. It was, in a word, fucked. And pretty much anyone who has anything to do with derby that I know, was disgusted by the bizarro appropriation of derby identity.

The article has been taken down now, I believe (at least, I can’t find it). But remaining on the site are patronising and offensive bullshit like “Spank That Ass”, an ‘article’ that has gems like the following –

“Roller derby may be just as fake as WWE Wrestling. However, when it is the women who are front and center in the action, it seems to be just as entertaining. Whether it is two females showing off some rather incredible flexibility, or just another spanking session, these babes and their skimpy tight uniforms are enough to spark interest in just about any heterosexual male.”

I mean, just…goddamn.

2. The flipside to this, of course, is the de-sexualisation of the sport by others. You know, when everything in the article is falling over itself to basically say “look, I know they’re in hotpants, but they’re not sluts”. Derby girls don’t consent to have themselves purified, either, and I think the effort to clamour actively away from the theatrical, glamorous and babein’ elements of the sport (which are fairly enmeshed) is actually the other side of the Madonna/Whore complex media seem to have when they write about Roller Derby. And don’t even get me started on second wave feminists and how they write about players. I mean oh my god, if you wear fishnets, you must be supporting patriarchy, right? Wrong.

A good example of this is in an article by The Guardian entitled “The Roller Derby World Cup: not your average bid for world domination”. It made me distinctly uncomfortable (and I couldn’t place why, until I wrote this post.)

The article is mostly good, but then I grew uneasy reading “This world of pseudonyms, quarterback stripes and hotpants can seem at odds with a serious sporting endeavour, but it all adds to the unique experience of watching and taking part in roller derby, and is in no small part responsible for its success and appeal.”

Why do we need to say that? Why can’t we just…cover the sport? The article has a clear anxiety about the ‘seriousness’ of derby, and if you troll internet forums and actually ignore the tenet ‘don’t read the comments’, you can find gems that reflect this anxiety in a more boiled down way. “Why do all derby girls dress like sluts?” and so on.



One of the things I enjoy most in this world is seeing shit like this get shut down, though. Here’s a nice example, from an exchange between a derby girl on Reddit and some foolish person.

Fool: Check it out, dude! It’s a fun time, cute girls in fishnets (drool), and after about two rounds you will really get into it if you’re a sports type.

Derby girl: Fuck off.


In the end, all of this amounts to one thing for me: Derby is doing something right.

That people often don’t know how the hell to cover this sport means that people are uncomfortable. They stumble and stammer because they don’t know what the hell this is or how to handle it. Roller Derby is a sport that operates entirely outside of the box (except perhaps, the penalty box) and inverts, subverts, queers and fucks with every notion of woman-hood. Most skaters don’t think about it on that level and probably think this level of analysis is navel-gazing wankery (because you could be skating, man). And you know….exactly! That’s what I mean.

Derby, a sport run by the skaters and for the skaters, and most of those people being women-identified, is a clearly, boldly demarcated clearing circle with absolute boundaries. That boundary is thus – this is ours and we own ourselves and we love each other.

That, I think, is the terrifying challenge that Derby lays down. Derby Grrls are gender outlaws on skates (or off, for the vollies and NSOs and jeerleaders), doing feminism, and busting out fierce, self-possessed sexy (or not), athleticism, dork-antics, self care and care for others, skill sharing, taking hits, fundraising and fighting. Imperfect and varied, it is a full, coarse, punch-in-the-gut experience of what it is to be human in league with other humans.

Perhaps it is that – the uncompromising proud humanity of the skaters – that scares people most of all.

The Heart Police: proposed law in USA to punish miscarriage survivors.

The memory wall at SIDS AND KIDS, Hunter region.

Few things, in my experience, hurt quite as badly as losing a much hoped-for child.

Can you imagine it? Buying their clothes, reading pregnancy books, putting up their cot and making lists of names. A happy cow, eating all the grass and getting lovely and fat with the wanted babe.

Then imagine their senseless death. And it all coming to nothing but wrenching pain and handfuls of painkillers as your body delivers you a dead baby or what hospitals tactlessly label “products of birth”. Sometimes whole, sometimes in bits, sometimes through a dilation and curettage (d&c) or through taking misoprostyl – a drug that speeds up contractions.

You drink a lot of fucking tea. And you learn not to look down each time you go to the toilet. And you cling onto your mother like she is all you know. And you numb, and you cry, and you numb. And it takes you years to get over it. Yeah, if you’re thinking the “you” there is “me”, you’d be spot on.

Nothing about this experience could get worse, right? This is humanity – we have a knack for making things even more unbearable for each other.

A proposed bill by US legislator Bobby Franklin – a State Representative from Georgia who seeks to bring law-making back to it’s ‘biblical roots’ – will, if passed, reach into the delicacy of an already terrible experience and twist.

The bill can be found and read here, at the Georgia General Assembly. In short, it exists so as to provide that prenatal murder shall be unlawful in all events” but more specifically, to establish spontaneous abortion (both a medical term and one favoured by the frothing-at-mouth conservative Right) as a site of investigation and suspicion.

Women who suffer a miscarriage will be able to be investigated to establish the cause of their baby or foetus’ death; a foetal death certificate must be filed; and if a cause of death can’t be ascertained from the woman herself, their loved ones may be interviewed. If a cause can be found, charges can be filed.

Yes. Miscarriage, now murder.

The bill gets off to a bad start anyway, by putting forth as it’s basis the belief that any death of a foetus where great effort is not made to preserve the life of the foetus is tantamount to the murder of a foetus (and presenting this as a known and agreed upon fact by all, and most especially supported by – you guessed it  – the big guy upstairs).

Obviously, abortion is out. But somehow, by this strange, internally self-reassuring logic, miscarriage falls under the gaze of the inquisitor.

Now, I don’t wish to draw us and them lines, here. I am not anti-abortion – I am most assuredly pro-choice all the way. But I feel I must clarify something about the language used by this bill – that of spontaneous abortion.

While yes, your body is aborting the child you are carrying, a miscarriage does not feel like an abortion of any kind. Not for a woman that knows about and desires the continued life of her baby, which may not be the case with all miscarriages, certainly. I have spoken with other women who feel this way. To them, calling the death of their little one an abortion seems to indicate a sense of choice, or agency, when this is far from the case.

It seems incongruous to many that thinking, ‘rational’ women get so ‘upset’ by losing their children – many observers feel confused, not even considering them children at all. I have had someone ask me how I could possibly be so invested – since there’s no way in hell I believed that life begins at conception…right?

Also, I have encountered the cold truth that miscarriage survivors who get ‘upset’ by their losses (especially the earlier ones) are seen by some as traitors to the pro-choice movement. This is surely by those who have forgotten that ‘choice’ includes ‘using my bodily autonomy to believe different things than you’. I personally have mixed feelings about the origins of conception, but regardless of what I may rationally have believed before I conceived, my pregnancy was wanted and the loss of it was devastating.

When handling language around pregnancy loss, you should remember this. Do it sensitively.

An abortion is a decision taken by the person with the body from whom the foetus is being removed. A decision I support the right to. But it is, and should be, made distinct from the involuntary process of a miscarriage. They are qualitatively different experiences, and should be handled as such. Not better, not worse – just different, with respect to the people in each camp.

There are those that mourn abortions, too. There are those that don’t. Reproductive processes and rights are a tricky business but we’re all equal in being owed respect, from our governments and each other. Everyone deserves a voice if they want it.

What this bill proposes though, is to walk up to a wounded woman, pick up her severed arms and beat her about the head with the bloody stumps. Surely you’re not in enough pain! Surely you’re not grieving enough!

This will allow Christian law makers to tell women they have killed their babies, that yes, indeed, it is entirely likely that it is their fault. All the therapeutic literature available to survivors of miscarriage strives to achieve the opposite. Women searching for answers are usually told to ignore that hot spa they had at 4 weeks before they knew they were pregnant; ignore that joint you smoked with your partner on the front porch – there’s no way it killed your baby and you know that? That doesn’t matter now. What matters is crying and burying and healing.

This horrifying bill would undo that message. Now our bodies would become toxic killing machines, our early-natal choices recalled and recorded at a time when we are psychically injured and less able for the daily fray of putting up with patriarchal oppression.

I drank five glasses of wine on Christmas day, before I knew I was pregnant. I spent six months after my August died feeling like hell for it – no matter the logic, I blamed myself. I had killed her, and nothing but time rinsed the dye of that one lingering stain from my mind. I don’t think I believe it any more, but under a bill like this I’d be encouraged to give my guilt as a testimony.

What kind of world is it, where a man can write words into law to punish a grieving woman?

Oh yes. This one.

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