fighting sexism

Illustration by Billy Alexander from

Well, not exactly.

It seems that many of the women of Roller Derby don’t like the idea of men skating the game.

Why in the world would men want to invade women’s territory?

Well, if you think Roller Derby started with its revival in the early part of the century, then I can understand your feelings.  However, Roller Derby was created in 1935 as a game for men and women (or if you prefer, women and men).

I guess when something disappears for 30 or so years, you get a different perspective.  But the two sexes had always been the ying and yang of the skating sport.  You didn’t mention Wes Aronson without Kitty Nehl, Mary Youpelle without Russ Massro, Bert Wall and Bobbie Mateer, Gerry Murray and Gene Gammon, Ken Monte and Toughie, Red Smart and Joyce Beasely, Charlie O’Connell and Joan Weston, and a number of male skaters and Ann Calvello, and on and on.

The game was designed to be the perfect American game:  equality between the sexes.  Men and women skating exactly the same rules, and the spectators loved it.

The Derby women today have a huge advantage because they caught the idea first, developed their own leagues, and have reached a very high level of skating.  The men have a lot of catching up to do, but they will.

Will they skate against each other?  I don’t think it would be a good idea;  each will have achieved his or hers own identity.  And I foresee when an evening of Roller Derby might consist of  a two-half men’s match and the same for the women’s teams.  Separate scores, separate leagues, separate standings.

No other sport does it……what a huge spectator attraction.  Just you wait and see.

31 comments on “fighting sexism

  1. I LOVE skating with the boys, actually. In fact, I skate with my beloved Co-Ed Cripplers in three challenge bouts this weekend at Wild West Showdown. In addition to that I am announcing several of the Men’s Derby bouts that are scheduled for Friday. I am SO very excited, and honored, be able to do that. I think it’s wonderful that the boys are “finally” getting to play too.

    Co-ed Derby is my favorite way to play. Nothing makes me happier than a boy who thinks he can hit like a girl. 🙂

    Love & Derby,
    Val Capone

    • Co-ed is my favorite too! I’ll be coaching PMRD friday night and Co-ed Cripplers! see you there! Skatie Kat

      • Co-ed scrimmages are some of the best memories I have of skating derby, and the most fun I ever had skating! I will never stop telling people the story of the first time I blocked against Quadzilla in a jam, and how he tried to knock me down and couldn’t. The bruise on my ankle has healed, but the memory lasts forever 🙂

  2. A night of derby when you have men’s and women’s bouts? That’s exactly the case with the St. Louis GateKeepers’ first season this year (starting March 26). Each men’s bout will have a women’s bout of some sort beforehand. Some of the women’s bouts are themed mixers but some of them are serious WFTDA sanctioned games, B-team or regional visitor bouts, etc. ARRG has also had men’s bouts as openers for their travel team in the past year, and in general I think you will see a lot more of this teaming up as men’s derby grows and covers more cities – sometimes with the women’s leagues hosting and sometimes with the men’s. Just as you said, two separate leagues, games, and outcomes, and bringing two slightly different audiences together as well. You don’t have to foresee it, you can hop on a plane and I’d be glad to buy you a ticket to see it for yourself!

    While there is some resistance, I think it is a lot less than a lot of people make it out to be. The fear of resistance almost seems greater than any actual ill effects. In fact, there are even casual mixed co-ed games and scrimmages that happen in St. Louis and other cities, and that is even getting a little more organized. Don’t worry yourself with limits – in a lot of cases the girls and the boys are quite happily beating each other around the track with no adverse effects.

  3. For me, it’s not a question of not wanting men to skate derby. I LOVE watching men’s derby. I love to take my son to watch it. My husband hopes to create a league at some point. The part that I don’t love about it the part where this conversation even takes place. For years and years, no one ever asked where women were in the world of sports. Or if women were involved it was in a token, ‘less than’ kind of way. We finally revive a sport that’s ours and when reporters finally pay attention, it’s to ask “where are the men?” Really? We’re doing something interesting and all you can think about is why men don’t do this? btw- I have never uttered the term “merby” with the least bit of insult intended. Get over it. I don’t know of derby women who would take issue with something like that directed at us.

  4. This whole “men in derby” debate is just a huge waste of energy in my opinion.

    I can’t help but to think of a little boy sitting in his back yard someplace while the girls in the yard on the left have built an amazing tree house all on their own. The little boy looks at the fun they are having and wants to play in there too, but most of the little girls don’t want him to. These girls empowered themselves to build this tree house, did an amazing job building it all on their own in a world where such accomplishments by girls are rare, and if they want to play in it by themselves more power to them.

    Now, we could feel bad for the little boy, but understand this before you do.

    In the yards to the right are tree houses, all of them built by both girls and boys, and they welcome all who want to come and play. These tree houses are certainly not as big as the girls-only one, nor do they get as much attention throughout the neighborhood. But they are sturdy little tree houses, and the more girls and boys that play in them the bigger and better they get every day.

    The little boy doesn’t need to have the girls let him into the tree house on the left to play. There are tree houses on the right already with girls and boys who want to play together. If the girls who built their own tree house in spite of all odds want to continue to play in it alone, then that’s what they should be allowed to do without anyone else thinking they should or need to include the boy.

    If the boy want to play in a tree house, all he needs to do is get over not being allowed in the girls-only one, look to his right, and walk into one of the yards that openly accepts him right now.

    • To paraphrase:

      Gender-based discrimination is okay because there are other organizations that don’t discriminate, or there are other organizations that don’t discriminate that individual.


      • But if they want to go to Home Depot to get nails and wood, the boy will have to drive them there! Haw Haw Haw!

  5. when i started skating, it was with men. we’ve practiced together (including scrimmaging) for five years now (although i’m currently taking time off to focus on school). i love skating with/against men, and i love the men i’ve skated with…/against. i’ve always been an outspoken proponent of men’s derby, and i am also very much an outspoken feminist.

    what it comes down to for me is that putting a man on the floor with a great block isn’t very different from putting a woman on the floor. and when i am floored by one of our dudes, i appreciate the play just as much as i would a great play by a woman. to me, playing an aggressive physical sport against men IS feminism.

    i can and do understand wanting a space for women only, and i don’t begrudge the inclination or the action. but i say do what works for you, your league, and your area. don’t begrudge others the chance to skate, however they might, with/against whomever they might.

    it’s a rich sport, and i think that living an example of anti-sexism like women skating with/against men makes it that much richer.

    but i honestly do understand not seeing it that way.

    also – i want to note that the people who started my league – pioneer valley roller derby in western massachusetts’s bazooka joe and pink panzer – began the league with the ideal of inclusion foremost in their mission statement. they’ve lived this ideal beautifully for five years now. i’m very proud of them, and of PVRD.

  6. Anyone that comes up with an excuse as to why both genders can’t play the same sport no matter what sport you’re talking about is sexist. Plain and simple.

    To all those that say “we built this on our own” don’t forget all the refs, coaches, NSOs and all the other volunteers that are of the opposite sex as the players in your leagues.

    True equality in the world includes the world of sports which includes roller derby.

    To all those opposed to either gender playing any particular sport please stop because it’s huge step backwards for equality

  7. Growing up, “girl sports” like ballet and gymnastics were available to me, but I gravitated towards baseball, football–any sport that enabled me to hang out with my big brothers.

    My brothers and the neighborhood boys let me play with them when there was no place for me to play high-contact and aggressive sports as a girl. They tackled me just the same and made me strive to try harder–this furthered my athletic development at an early age. I learned from them and also showed them that I was capable of being “just as good as the boys.” Being afforded this opportunity as a young girl impacted the outcome of my entire life by encouraging me to play high contact sports. It also taught me that I was different than the boys, but that I also possessed my own unique strengths.

    I love the idea that the boys in my neighborhood “paid it forward” for the men establishing derby leagues. Our grassroots women’s leagues can be the ones allowing men to scrimmage alongside us now until they gain enough momentum. And, though men’s leagues will form up, who says that they need to be an entirely separate entity from their sister leagues? (Bob D. proves that co-ed initiatives are getting organized…awesome!)

    Derby culture does not seem to stagnate in the patriarchal superstructure that exists in the mainstream, professional sports world.

  8. I wonder if this is about “letting men” play or the resistance many have to men playing a game that was created as a co-ed sport, latest revival notwithstanding. The hostility of some women is a bit puzzling. By the same token, Frustrated has a viable point about this wave that was created by women. They built the tree houses and should enjoy their tree houses. I am not sure though that Jerry’s point is about men trying to get into the tree houses, because I don’t think there are a slew of many waiting or trying to get into the ladies’ leagues and teams. I think the concern from Jerry is why are so many women who object to the very idea of men building tree houses, as if its an insult to them? That is puzzling,

    I think where some of the men are going completely wrong is attempting to replicate the culture as well as the game. I think its one of the things that is hindering its own growth and one of the things that some ladies may be taking offense to. The growth is not nearly the same and its main base comes from people already connected to the ladies world.

    I think Jerry also has a very valid point with the idea that the ladies are “derby” and the men are some variant offshoot. As I said, I don’t think men help themselves by replicating the cultural aspects, but the fact men played it does not turn it into a mutant strain of the game. “Dangler” and “merby” would be like calling women’s basketball, “boobskaball” or something.

    More men should be doing more of an effort to bring the game to men. That may very well involve NOT focusing on getting paid attendance at venues. If its about love of the game, then you don’t need to do it in front a large audience. You play for the love of the game. If the ladies are still getting the majority of the attention, it matters not. Play the game and let the rest take care of itself.

    I believe, and have been told, that some women feel that if men come in more, that the ladies will start getting bypassed in terms of attention. Hogwash. Yes, the fastest women will not be as fast as the fastest men (thhough will be faster than most men) nor will the hardest hitting woman be as hard hitting as the hardest hitting man. But that will not matter. The great thing about the sport when it was created was that it was supposed to see men and women as equals. Today, even if you saw a team of top flight mens squads, the womens squads would never look out of place. The worst case scenario for the ladies would be the mens game being seen as equal to the womens, not the womens game as being a weaker alternative. As worse case scenarios go, that is not exactly a bad thing: being the yardstick and having other rise to your level.

    Womens basketball may often look different than the way men play, but roller derby looks pretty much the same no matter the genitalia. Its looked about the same for 75 years (with obvious variations) so I don’t think those who feel threatened should be feeling that way. I was at the Western Regionals and saw so much great work being done that I would gladly go to the next one. THAT is the standard that has to be lived up to for me.

    I think the long term growth of roller derby involves, just that GROWTH. and keeping it to one gender will eventually hit a mass peak (though what that peak will be is anybody’s guess). Where as encouraging more PEOPLE playing it is better. That is of course, unless one’s objective is to keep it just to one gender. And if that is the case, then it does not matter.

  9. I find men’s only derby teams boring to watch compared to women. True story. I don’t find watching any other mens sport worth my while, either. It bores me. Yeah, there’s strategy in football, but I just…don’t…care to watch dudes pummel each other like that.

    I find it infinitely more interesting to watch real coed derby teams; men and women on the same team playing each other. That’s where the combination of strength, power, smarts, and strategy really come into play. You want to see equality in a game? That’s where it’s at. Anything else where it’s men-only sports-wise bores me to tears.

    • This is why I love OSDA because Roller Derby is completely co-ed. Now that the men’s numbers have increased, there are more “Old-School” style games with alternating women and men’s periods. I am not a fan of the co-ed game with men skating against women. That is just my opinion – to each his/her own.

      Since I am a fan of Derby since 1967, it has always been co-ed for me. I wouldn’t be satisfied with just one gender Derby. It wouldn’t work for me. I also prefer banked track over flat-track Derby.

      So, for me, the next logical step is to bring back professional banked track Derby in a totally legit sport. Which is something we are working on at OSDAPRO.

  10. First let’s talk about sexism.

    Sexism is not just one sex thinking that they are better than the other sex, it is about one sex having power and privilege over another sex. In our culture, Men have institutionalized power and privilege over women. Women cannot therefore weild sexism against men, because there is no institutionalized power for them to wield against men. There are no cultural sanctions that women can create or hold against men in order to oppress them, or keep them from doing whatever they want to do.

    Now let’s talk about derby…

    The vision of roller derby as Jerry put forth was that it was an equal sport, and both men and women could play the game. Which in essence, form, and function, it is an equally accessible sport. However, the new revival of roller derby occurs in an era, or cultural context where institutuionalized sexism gives more power and privilege to men’s sports, and specifically, hyper-masculinized sports. This is easily seen by watching sports on TV… Even though there are women’s basketball teams, rugby teams, softball teams, even football teams who compete at the same level as men, it is only the men who get primetime coverage, promotion, and profit. The sports that women play are not as valued by our society, not as invested in by society, and you don’t see female athletes getting the same size paycheck as male athletes. It is in this cultural context that we can begin to understand why the women who are a part of this revival are hesitant to have men play roller derby. The fear is that once men’s leagues become more popular, society will begin to value them more than Women’s leagues, and once again, all the hard work that has been put into promoting Women’s derby will be for nothing as the men end up with primetime coverage, promotion and investment.

    The interesting thing about derby, however is that even though it is an aggressive contact sport, the fact that we are skating, for whatever reason, makes it less masculine than typical “men’s” sports. So while I can agree that in our current culture, the rise of men’s derby could somehow eventually overshadow Women’s derby, I also think that men’s derby would never get the same attention as say football, baseball, or hockey.

    Similarly, most of the men that are involved in derby are big supporters of Women’s derby, either by participating as refs, coaches, NSO’s or other support staff/volunteers. I think that if the time comes when corporate sponsors want to invest in derby, the men who play would be more than willing to share the wealth and spotlight with the women.

    At least I would hope so.

    Resident Feminist Scholar, Diversity Educator, and Badass Rollergirl,
    Sk8 Crime
    Cincinnati Rollergirls

    • Wow, I wasn’t sure where you were going, but I think you have a great take on it. I wish all the good things would happen today, but they will take time. I just hope that I am around to see your vision happen. By the way, you are one of the few leagues whose home games are in a venue we used consistently.

    • I could not even attempt to say this any better. This is exactly what was on my mind.

      I would be horrified to see women’s derby fall to being the opening act, or the halftime show of dangle derby. But that’s what happens in most women’s sports. A cute sideline before the “real sport”.

      • then are you for a coed game, a combined score game or none at all? I love the women’s game and think it can stand on its own at anytime. There is nothing “cute” about it.

    • Sexism is not just one sex thinking that they are better than the other sex, it is about one sex having power and privilege over another sex. In our culture, Men have institutionalized power and privilege over women. Women cannot therefore weild sexism against men, because there is no institutionalized power for them to wield against men. There are no cultural sanctions that women can create or hold against men in order to oppress them, or keep them from doing whatever they want to do.

      Using this definition of sexism, it would seem then that you can make the argument that within modern roller derby culture, where women certainly have the power and privilege, sexism against men is possible.

      And if not outright sexism, I think we can all point to examples of gender based slights in the derby community towards men.

      Similarly, most of the men that are involved in derby are big supporters of Women’s derby, either by participating as refs, coaches, NSO’s or other support staff/volunteers. I think that if the time comes when corporate sponsors want to invest in derby, the men who play would be more than willing to share the wealth and spotlight with the women.

      Agreed. I think that one of the things that has really lead to the success of modern roller derby is the collective mind set to do things that advance the sport for all skaters, and not just a particular league. A fantastic and blatant example is the creation of the WFTDA by the skaters, not owners or investors.

      This is why I think we should stay away from divisive terms like ‘dangle derby’. It only serves to divide a group of people from the community. Roller derby has already redefined the typical sports model. (Again, the skaters running the governing org for example) I think that the opportunity exists within roller derby to continue to re-shape our ideas about sports, and women and men’s participation in them. I totally understand the worry that we (women) might lose something great if the men’s game were to grow more popular. But I don’t think the answer to this worry is in divisiveness (and I know that you were certainly not saying it was.) I think if we work to strengthen the community as a whole, then as you say, ‘when the times comes when corporate sponsors want to invest’ the entire community, male and female will share the wealth. And we wont need to rely on one gender or the other to do all the sharing.

      Kat Vecchio

  11. I just do not see women’s derby ever becoming an opening act or half time show men’s roller derby. Primarily because its already accepted or “the norm”. While other people were surprised to hear about this thing called “roller derby” and women playing it, it was hardly a surprise to me, since I’d grown up on them playing it. I also don’t think or see anyone trying to make it any differently. It goes against the spirit of the game, which admittedly I mean in reference to the past, not the grrl power wave.

    As far as mens derby never getting the same attention as football, basketball, baseball and hockey, well the evidence shows that to be true because no one really touches the Big 4 (excluding the individual sports, like boxing and MMA). Heck there are only what? 30 teams? Most of them eastern seaboard? Not much of a rival.

    As to Tara’s point, i remember when this whole flat track thing was starting and the skating was , to be frank, crap. so was the blocking, It was only with more people playing, more people getting intense, more people pushing each other to another level that it got better. Thats the only way a mens game is too.

    As for womens derby being less “masculine” than typical “men’s” sports, that is an interesting take. I never really thought of it as masculine. I think the history of “boutfits” and the derby names makes it less “masculine” but thats in presentation. The game itself just “is”. Neither masculine or feminine. I accept that because i know the games history my perspective may be unique, but I think if it comes across as less masculine its because there is not much of a political or societal point trying to be made with some sports and this one ALWAYS mentions that aspect.

    Now, in the same vein as Tara (which I suppose is more about personal taste and preference than anything else), I find women’s soccer boring. I find US soccer boring. I find EPL soccer riveting. I find womens softball at the NCAA level to be one of the most intense tournaments in sports. Love it. What makes it less “masculine” (need a better word for this some how), is the incessant bench chatter that guys left behind years ago. But the games themselves? incredible.

    Does that mean that I like every women’s sport? No. women play hockey too, but I don’t care to watch it. Women play football too, but I don’t care to watch it (kudos to the Lingerie football league for improving the infield product, but I don’t see the athletic point of those skimpy uniforms and that marketing). Women’s basketball, depending upon the teams and if its a major tourney, I’ll watch.

    If i had a daughter who wanted to play soccer or hockey or football, would i encourage her to try it? absolutely. Because getting involved in sports, in my book is one of the best things anyone can do. Does not mean that I would become a fan of the womens version of that stuff. So part of the question is, are we talking about media attention and attention or participation?

    And on a side note, (which I may already be far off on), I think the biggest mistake the NBA made with the WNBA was calling it the WNBA. Calling it the NBA-Women’s Division would have elevated more.

  12. People: We are reinventing the sport of roller derby in every way, every day. There is no reason we have to let what happened in the past or what’s happening in other sports right now dictate or threaten what we’re doing today. You want to play derby only with women? Only with men? On a co-ed team against another co-ed team? Do it. Find a space to practice and play, find some teammates, find some opponents, promote and advertise the hell out of it, and do it. No one’s stopping you. Do you want to see only women play? Only men? Or are co-ed games more your thing? Take your pick—the options just keep growing. Ultimately, the market will determine which model or models succeed. I truly do not believe that women’s derby, which has proven itself to be a successful model in city after city, has anything to worry about. As EDAlaw said, it’s already accepted as the norm. How cool is that? Let’s give ourselves some credit and have some confidence that we can sustain what we’ve built: An amazing new sport that’s attracted thousands of fans all over the world and scores of young girls lining up to play. It is not in danger of going away or becoming the opening act or halftime show. I am sure of it.

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  14. I like playing the old school style, alternating periods of men and women scoring points for the same team, it creates a brother/sisterhood with your teammates that is really awesome. I hear what treehouse person was saying. Were always looking for new men to join our co-ed league 🙂

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  16. Derby girls are being stupid and more worried about their ego than the game.

    This sport is known and notorious for pop and fizzling out. Trying to spin this as a womens only sport will doom it once more, mark my words.

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