“Roller Derby” brings to mind images of elbows to the face, staged fights, butch lesbians and angry tattooed feminists. In 2001, modern flat track roller derby grew out of the Riot Grrrl punk rock movement in Autin, Texas. Instead of accepting traditional gender roles, the Riot Grrrl movement redefined femininity and rebelled against the male dominated music world.
Modern roller derby, an amateur, full contact sport on quad roller skates, represented various women’s issues such as roles in society, identity, and community. The want, or need, for a female centered sport made roller derby a way to empower women, break gender roles in sports, and eliminate the bias against women in sport.
Modern roller derby is not a female version of a men’s sport; rather, it is a sport developed by women, for women. Men’s roller derby teams exist, but they came about after the women’s teams.
Watch: “The Basics of Flat Track Roller Derby” (WFTDA)
The governing philosophy of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), established in 2004, is “by the skaters, for the skaters.” Female skaters are primary owners, managers, and/or operators of each member league and of the association. “Women set the rules [and] establish the boundaries of participation.” WFTDA’s structure puts women skaters in a unique position to govern their own sport.
“In order to qualify for full WFTDA membership, at least 51% of the league owners must be skaters, unless the league is a nonprofit, and skaters must comprise at least 67% of the league management.” Breaking the gender ideology to redefine the woman athlete and her abilities has been an integral part of the growth of roller derby.
Modern roller derby embraces the use of derby names for skaters, referees, non-skating officials, and jeerleaders. These names enable women to create or embrace an alter identity that reflects some interest or characteristic a person possesses or wants to possess. Derby names tend to sound tough or sexy, bringing to mind an image that departs from traditional gender norms of what is considered appropriately ‘feminine.’
RollerCon takes places yearly in Las Vegas. One of the highlights is the “Derby Wedding” which formalizes the “Derby Wife” relationship between two people who find themselves to be best friends because of their love for roller derby. This concept of the “Derby Wife” shows the camaraderie between women who would not otherwise form a friendship if it were not for modern roller derby.
Margot Atwell, Derby Life: A Crash Course in the Incredible Sport of Roller Derby (2015)
Melissa, Joulwan, Roller Girl: Totally True Tales from the Track (2007)
Catherine Mabe, Roller Derby: The History and All-Girl Revival of the Greatest Sport on Wheels (2007)