The Derby Dish: Diary of a “fresh meat” Derby Dame / Episode 2

By: Emily Shelton

Derby Dame Emily Shelton

Small Girl in a Big World

“Sold out of your size” has been the common refrain from stores all around Toronto, from Hogtown, the Junction Skateshop, and even Cardinal Skate Co., the new mecca for derby in Toronto.  Fresh meat season in Toronto seems to be at a peak, with dozens of new skaters joining the different leagues and silently battling it out for the last smalls (and extra smalls) in stock.  Roller derby has definitely taken skate shops by storm; even the bleary eyed burnouts behind the skate shop counters have noticed that “there’s like…a ton of girls doing this now.” Roller derby is back…and it’s big.

Being a small girl in a big world can have its downfalls.  I actually catch air when taking a hit; giving a hit barely moves the other girl and sometimes results in me falling down….kinda like running head first into a brick wall.  But being small does have its benefits as well.  You can be quicker and more agile; able to find the small spaces between players and weave your way through the opposition without even needing to physically clear a path.  Being new, I still have to figure out how I am going to work with my assets and carve out a strategy that plays up my strengths.  But one thing is for certain…in the words of Flo Rida I need to get low.

Since the weather is getting nicer, I have invested in getting a new pair of Roadrider Outdoor Wheels in a fashionable “zombie-campy” green.  Skating outside has been awesome, especially since there is a sweet, sweet park in my ‘hood that has a full-on paved track.  Sure, my teammate “Kill Face” and I get chirped at by the occasional basketball players but it is a great place to practice.  And cheap too, which is a major plus!

Practice is especially key with a fresh meat bout (game), “the Baby Doll Brawl,” hosted by the GTA Rollergirls (GTAR) is just around the corner…..on June 12 at the Ted Reeve Arena.  Not sure if I will be able to go because I still have to take my minimum skills test, but it’s a good way for new players to be introduced to the game without really getting smoked by some hardened derby hellion.  Cheers to GTAR for the idea!

Derby: a feminist sport?

My team, the Rollergettes, is named after the Suffragettes; our team colours, purple, green and white were taken from the original Women’s Social and Political Union.  Our team and the philosophy of the league, “The Right to Roll” links us with the historical roots of the struggle for women’s empowerment.

Derby, in Toronto at least, is a women’s only sport with a strong DIY ethic.  It is very inclusive; all women are welcome, no matter their shape, size, or previous athletic ability.  Women who are above average weight, who may not have been encouraged to take part in traditional athletics, can take part here without judgment.  Derby outfits are often bright, gaudy colours that call attention to and even accentuate fuller hips, butts , and other areas that Cosmo Magazine would consider “trouble spots.” (shout out to Sir Miz-A-Lot!)   It is an atmosphere that celebrates real women, and therefore allows players to feel comfortable wearing flamboyant “look at me!” costumes despite their size.

The most significant feminist aspect of the sport is that women are encouraged to be aggressive… which goes against a lifetime of gendered socialization.  As women, defeating someone else physically is normally frowned upon; hardly ladylike and overall unsavory behavior.  Players have to resist the temptation to say “I’m sorry” after delivering a big hit and taking someone out.   “There’s no sorry in derby!” is shouted at anyone who makes the rookie mistake of apologizing for nailing someone else to the floor (the scolding sometimes even comes from the person laid out on the ground herself).  Derby gives women the chance to ditch the everyday expectations of femininity at the door; the flat track is a matrix of blurred gender norms. You can see this in many of the derby names: Attila the Honey, Balls Out Betty, Little Mary Switchblade, Goldie LockNLoad… and too many more awesome derby names to list that show a blending of girly sweetness and masculine violence.  Yet it’s worth mentioning that unlike some of the other hyper-masculine douchey floor hockey teams I have played on, our derby team is not necessarily about winning (although make no mistake that we do want to win, and we will destroy everything in our path to do so) ; it’s more about getting out there and doing it.

Men in a Girl’s World

All of the players are women of course, but we do have some involvement of men in our league.  In my observation from the Rollergettes, men play secondary roles by participating as referees, skating instructors, gear fixers, etc.  So far as I have observed, in derby, as in many women’s movements, men are allies but are not encouraged to take leadership roles.

Regardless of their lesser roles, none of the men are considered our “b*tch”…. but being part of our team is a privilege that they are expected to work for.

Wadeaminute is a ref for the Rollergettes.  As a retired pro-BMXer, PhD, self-identified feminist, and all around cool dude, I asked him about his thoughts on men in derby.  Firstly, Wade made it clear that he can only speak for himself and not on the behalf of other men, thereby gently reminding me of how unfair it is to ask someone to speak on behalf of, or single-handedly represent, their gender.  Sha-zam!

Wade likes the fact that roller derby is a female-only sport, and thinks it would be cool if women were running the whole show.  However he sees that men can play a supportive role.  “I am not trying to lead anything; I am facilitating, supporting and participating,” he told me.  Right now many of the refs, announcers, and some coaches are men, but he believes that the natural evolution of the sport will lead to these roles being filled by women too.  In his view, particular types of athleticism and sporting practices are often not encouraged in women’s lives.  As a result, fewer women have experience in both these sorts of coordination and the associated strategic coaching that many more men might have been exposed to.  Of course it’s not that women are not capable; it’s a matter of being gendered and socialized differently.

Wade further commented on the “male gaze.”   He acknowledges that some men are interested in derby in so far as they think they will get to ogle hot chicks in fishnets on roller skates; therefore he is extra conscious of being respectful.  He says, “when the women are stretching, I am conscious of not watching, and turn my gaze away.  I do not want to embody or represent a predatory male presence or anything that would make the venue less of a safe, women-kicking-ass-positive space.”


Obviously, derby is rad.  It is an empowering sport with a place for all women, big or small, and our allies.


6 thoughts on “The Derby Dish: Diary of a “fresh meat” Derby Dame / Episode 2

  1. This is a fantastic sport to be part for a woman, not only is it female only but also embraces the kind of things that girls are socialized to do: skate, be graceful, play dress-up etc., thus making it a truly feminine sport.

  2. To be honest I didn’t know a lot about derby before reading this. Can’t wait to check out a match soon!

    Great piece.

  3. Being small does have it’s advantages in derby for sure. I’m one of our smallest players, I have to wear gaskets to make my knee pads fit properly. The junior sized knee pads fit, but the problem is they don’t offer enough protection because the plastic caps are so small (I swear by the giant 187s and they don’t affect my skating). I might go flying when I take a hit, but there is also less of me to hit. The downside, I’m average height but a lot of derby girls are tall so I’m frequently hit in the face…the upside to that is it’s an automatic major 😉

  4. I have seen you jam Ms. 5 x 5 and you rock. Ahhh not in the face! First bout is on Saturday, we’ll see what happens…

  5. Gracefulness, ok, but dress up and skating ? Lol, ok. Maybe more like 5 year old femininity, not it in general.

    I think part of the idea is that one need not look androgynous or male to be considered tough an athletic. Femininity does not preclude one from having these qualities.

    A lot of people join derby leagues because they don’t like having to conform to things that girls are socialized to do…the aggressiveness and general asskicking.

    Anyway, I’ve seen Wadeaminute’s name before and he sounds awesome. Hopefully there’s more of his kind in derby. =)

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