A Pox on the Patriarchy
It’s a blustery July evening. It’s not raining, but the skies look purposeful. They know something’s up.
And it is.
I’m in the car with Sarah, who is driving me to the open session of the Lincolnshire Bombers, her local roller derby team. I’m being allowed into the inner sanctum. To a world where names like Hannihilation and Kathital Punishment, Catfight Candy and Kelly Kaos are order of the day. I’m excited – and nervous.
We pull up to an unprepossessing big building – just like any other leisure centre in the UK. I look around, and see some other women, like Sarah, trailing a little suitcase behind them as they walk towards it. And I know what they’ve got in those suitcases – like Sarah’s little black number, they contain their alter-egos. They contain the armour that transforms them into those puntastic, warrior names that abound in roller derby culture.
We enter into the large sports hall where the training session is to take place, and I am introduced to Lil Cherry Kick’her and Twisted Innocence, who are leading the session today. Sarah tells them about my ‘Chicks Doing Shit’ column and they agree to let me watch the session. Not only this, but they take me into the centre of the hall, to stand by them as they instruct their charges.
Madness, I think – we’ll be killed! Why can’t I stick to the edges like the wallflower I am?
But here I display my ignorance about roller derby – it’s a sport unlike all the rest. Contrary to most people’s assumptions (and Lil and Twisted assured me that I was not alone in assuming this – maybe they were just being nice), Roller derby doesn’t involve hitting a ball from one end of a pitch to another. It doesn’t go up and down, it goes round and round. And it is, in the true sense of the word, a contact sport – in that the aim of one side is to prevent, using their body, the other side from getting past them. And vice versa. No balls allowed. (Well, men are increasingly interested in starting up their own teams – but who can resist a great pun?)
So Lil and Twisted get their crew into order and have them rolling round the hall doing drills. Watching them makes me dizzy, but I don’t want to look away – it’s addictive to watch. The arcs they create are graceful in a way I hadn’t anticipated – not associating it with the hard-core reputation of roller derby. And as they weave in and out of each other, they resemble a flock of birds – intuitive, agile and elegant.
In the moments where they’re not demonstrating moves and skating over to help skaters out, Lil and Twisted tell me about the evolution of roller derby. The flat-track version evolved in 2001, and the HQ of the sport is the WFTDA, in America. The UKRDA is the British chapter – and the Lincolnshire Bombers have been active in the development of the Association – and in achieving the recognition of roller derby as a sport in its own right. The sport is now even being considered for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics. They are up against sports such as baseball, squash and karate – and some are concerned that the recent displays of anti-female decisions made by the IOC don’t bode well for roller derby’s chances.
But if the decision were to go against them, you could see that just being grist to the mill of these women. The game is powerfully female – and femininely powerful. Roller derby women don’t go A to B, they present A[rse] to V[agina]. And when ‘whipping’, a move which involves propelling a team-member from behind you to in front of you, fists are resolutely clenched. When I mention this to Sarah as an example of the kind of female strength exhibited by the sport, she soberly points out that it’s actually a tactic – I think she’s not impressed by any hint that roller-derby is not a sport first and foremost. But I still think it’s a great a metaphor for the roller derby attitude of empowerment.
And they take the empowerment thing seriously. It’s on their website: ‘The Lincolnshire Bombers…are dedicated to creating a positive change in the lives of our skaters and wider community, by providing opportunities for women and men at all times.” And it’s this, along with their general no-nonsense attitude (the Bombers’ website baldly states that ‘You will get hurt’), that makes them such great examples of Chicks Doing Shit.
It’s clear from the way the Bombers recruit and train their members. When members turn up to their first session, they will each find their own ‘buddy’, an experienced team member, who has come along to support them. Lil is captain of the Bombshell Bruisers and Twisted plays for the Damebusters; they have a busy training and bout schedule of their own. And yet here they are training up their ‘Cherry Bombs’ – the women who haven’t yet popped their cherries – that is, passed their skills, without which they can’t graduate onto their new names.
And on the subject of names, it will seem strange that, in an article littered with the bout-names of her fellow bombers, I referred throughout this article to ‘Sarah’. Well, she was Sarah when the article began. She hadn’t passed her skills.
But in the session I was allowed to watch, Lil and Twisted put her through her paces – making sure that she had done all the drills she needed to get the final ticks on her sheet. It’s another example of the kind of generous mentality that made this session such a pleasure to watch.
Since it was an open session, the ability levels varied – but there was a sense of communion that was incredibly inspiring to watch – and made me determined to join my own roller derby team in London. Roller derby doesn’t just pay lip-service to the idea of women in it together – it is abundantly clear that they roll the roll too.
And what of Sarah?
Reader, Roxy Bruise It passed. Lil announced her graduation at the end of the session to general applause. So Congratulations to Roxy. And long may she, and all the Lincolnshire Bombers, remain the quintessential Chicks Doing Shit.