Saturday, November 8, 2014

This Is Why I Love Roller Derby

I've just finished watching the WFTDA Championship final and I'm buzzing. Buzzing with that excited "HOLY CRAP THAT WAS AWESOME" buzz. I'm shaking. Actually, literary, shaking. What a game!!!

Since I've inadvertently ended up with a bit of a roller derby following, and I'm excited and there's no chance of sleep (Where's the after party?!?!?), I thought this might be an opportune time to talk about what I love about Roller Derby.

I often find myself in the situation where people are saying things like "Girls in fishnets on roller skates. What's not to like?!?".  I find myself a little uncomfortable. That's not it. That's not what I love about it. It's part of it, I'll give you that, but it's for quite different reasons.

Here it is. If I were to put it into one word, it'd be "empowering". I love roller derby because it's empowering. I've seen people see what I see in them. They've started to realise just how awesome they are.

Why do I love that so much? In this world full of rape culture, it's.... comforting? Exciting. It's exciting to see something proactive happening. I recognise that things like woman's refuge is very positive. But it'd be much more positive if people felt empowered before the fact rather waiting to pick up the pieces. If they saw their own worth and said "You know what? I'm better than this!". That's it. That's what I love SOOOO much about roller derby

Yes, for the most part, the people are cool. And sure, I have my problems with individual leagues. And I think there's a lot of dumb stuff going on.

For example, there was a bout, earlier in the year, that I travelled to see. It was the first game of a league. The bout was okay... I was annoyed by the celebrity prancing around distracting from the bout. But the after party was much worse. When someone asked my opinion, I hesitated, and that resulted in an amazing amount of rudeness. There was the "You'll never enjoy it as much as I do because I play it and you ... you're nothing" attitude (If you want fans, that attitude SUCKS). Followed up with a solid "I don't know about what you write on the subject so obviously it doesn't matter" attitude. And a woman who claimed I stole her drink (or was it 2? It turned into 2 on Facebook. It's a long'ish story involving how I tend to have this whole "I want you to enjoy yourself" thing that I get when drunk and so, quite often, when drunk, clear empties and wipe down surfaces).

And then there's the conflict I have with the whole "roller derby won't be seen as a real sport if we're having fun" thing. Part of empowerment is being able to explore what you might be like and then discovering that it's the real you. i.e. Nevyn discovering what he's like outside of the family expectations and mockery by being able to use the name "Nevyn" to separate himself from those expectations... It's quite a personal matter to me. Being able to take on a different name, and a persona, and discovering that you can be confident... That's just awesome! So if that persona involves fishnets and a ripped shirt... Cool. That's your alter-ego. Go with it. Explore it. Learn to be a more confident you! In which case, I tend to avoid the leagues with a dress code. It seems to me to be anti-feminism to be dictating what a person should or shouldn't wear.

Oh and the pure dumb-arsery. Here's something that I'm sure there'll be a few comments on. "For the players, by the players". It's a phrase used to describe leagues. And it's stupid. They'll say that and then talk about how they're unable to get "bums on seats" and how it's unfair that people aren't interested. Don't EVER use that phrase. It implies a closed system.

I came across this thing with bar bands. I LOVE live music. I will happily listen to a band play songs I don't particularly like because I like the atmosphere. There are certain bands, at my local, that I will avoid at the pub (actually, I don't go to the pub much at all these days) when they're playing. It's not because I don't like what they're doing, but because they bring with them their own fans. Those fans aren't what I went to the pub for... The problem is that they don't get or understand the culture of a particular pub. Whereas, with some bands, their fans (friends and family) are actually quite big numbers, in which case, booking that band will bring in profits.

Apply that to roller derby. Who are the fans? What's their exposure to roller derby? If they'd never heard of roller derby, and didn't know anyone who did it, how would you hear about it? And once they were in, and you've been to an after party or two, and asked their questions, what response would they get? Those bums on seats? They're being told "You don't play it so you don't understand strategic play" or "it's for the players. It's not really meant for you". That's why people don't come back. They're not allowed to be fans. In kiwi culture, you have couch coaches yelling at the television screen during a rugby match. In roller derby you have people offering up an opinion and being shut down.

And there's an interesting cynicism. Which is weird. With Tangleball, I tend to be the person saying "nah... that's dumb. That'll never work". In roller derby everyone seems to be saying that and I'm sitting there going "But... it's a completely unnecessary  hierarchy. If you flattened things out (Get rid of the Administration Committee, keep the 2 positions that mean something but have them as part of the Management Board. Change the wording around notification for society meetings so that more than 2 members had to be notified of meetings, make anyone on the management board not the secretary or treasurer general members). Transparency a problem? Remove the hierarchy.... Don't have faith in others? Spread the 'power' out.

And despite all of these problems... I love the sport. Okay, given a previous post, it might not be all that clear. In fact, it's the post that probably got me a roller derby audience. The truth is, I care about the community. In fact, I will do what I can to help the community. I'm fairly confident I have done so even though it may not look like it... but I have. And I'm happy with my efforts. And it may not be for the reasons that the derby community imagine it's for.. but for me, empowerment. It's all down to empowerment. There's nothing quite as cool as a bunch of people being themselves.

Hell... even I feel empowered by roller derby... and I don't even play.