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Post Magazine: Women on Wheels

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Lauren Wilcox
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, October 8, 2007; 12:00 PM

The resurgence of women's roller derby has made its way to theWashington area with the founding of the DC Rollergirls league. As Lauren Wilcox reports in this week's issue of Washington Post Magazine, some seethe skaters' mix of physical aggression and flaunted sexiness as a proudexpression of in-your-face feminism. Watch the video.

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Lauren Wilcox is a freelance writer who lives in Jersey City, N.J. She can be reached at laurenwilcox@hotmail.com.


Blacksburg, VA: Great article! I loved it and forwarded it on to everyone I know. As a member of the Star City Rollergirls (Roanoke) since February, I've come to love the sport AND the women on my team.

However - and I can only speak from my own experience - it seems many leagues go unrecognized. Would it be possible for you to mention a few of the local teams?

In Virginia alone there are currently five flat-track leagues but not all are WFTDA members: Dominion Derby Girls (Norfolk), River City Rollergirls and Richmond Derby Demons (Richmond), New River Valley Rollergirls (Christiansburg), Star City Rollergirls (Roanoke). Our team is always looking for new women to join us and a 'shout-out' would be great!


'Ivy B. Leaguer'

Lauren Wilcox: Thanks for writing in, Ivy. I agree with you, that because this is essentially a grassroots movement, the leagues don't always get the recognition they deserve. I'm happy to share the names of the northern Va. leagues. Wikipedia has a fairly extensive list of the current amateur roller derby leagues worldwide, though I don't know if it's complete. A little hunting on the internet should turn up whatever leagues are in your area, and bouts are cheap and a whole lot of fun. Thanks again for your comments.


Durham, NC: I thoroughly enjoyed the article and was impressed to learn that the skaters were not just "bruiser broads" but educated multi-talented women finding a way to satisfy their athletic cravings. It is regrettable but understandable that they have to go incognito to skate on the team, not letting their bosses know, etc. Thanks for the fascinating window on their world. And thanks also to the skaters who told you their stories. C.

Lauren Wilcox: Thanks, Durham. The skaters I met were all interesting and well-rounded women who worked really hard at what they did, and did it entirely because they loved it--quite impressive.


Ashtabula Ohio: Is their skating really dangerous? do they really fight? I find it very interesting to watch the videos. My daughter Myia Welsh is a skater for Scare Force One. I hope to get to the game on October 20th. Strange most of my friends go shopping with their daughters and I go to watch roller derby! I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Could you possibly send me a copy ofthe Sunday magazine article.

Lauren Wilcox: Thanks for writing in. I met your daughter--she's a great skater! I would say that skating derby has the same risks as any speedy contact sport. The DC league doesn't allow fighting, although some leagues do. But these girls are looking to beat each other fair and square, by outskating and outblocking each other. I hope you can make it to the Oct. 20th bout--it should be a great one! If you want extra copies of the article, I would suggest contacting the offices of the paper directly, and they should be able to put you in touch with the right folks. Thanks again for your comments.


Washington, DC: Hi Lauren,

I loved your story! Were you surprised by how rough the

women are? Do you think that the sport has been a

productive tension release for them?

Lauren Wilcox: Thanks so much for writing in. Glad you liked it. I played sports in high school and college, so I can't say I was surprised by the toughness of these women, or that they were any "rougher" than other female athletes I've known, though I was repeatedly impressed by their resolve and drive. I'm relatively athletic and consider myself of average bravery, and yet I could not bring myself to try derby.

I did have some of the skaters tell me that derby was a great outlet for them, that they felt much more at peace in their non-derby lives, having "worked things out" on the track. Thanks again for your comments.


Suburban Maryland: Hi Lauren. This is Madeleine Allfight. Thanks so much for such a well-written and (surprisingly) thorough article! I felt like I was re-living the last year of my life. I always wished I could let other people have a glimpse of the madness (struggles, challenges and glories, included) as I've experienced it, and you've allowed that to happen. Thanks again!

Lauren Wilcox: Hi Maddie--thanks for writing in. Well, I'm glad you liked it. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone and getting inside that way of life for a while. Best of luck with everything!


New York, NY: I enjoyed your article, especially all of the girls creative nicknames. Were there any other good names that you could share with us that didn't make it into the article?

Lauren Wilcox: Ah. Let's see, there was Lydia Coffin, from the DC Demoncats, Speedy Gonbraless, from the Cherry Blossom Bombshells, and Lois Slain and Inconvenient Ruth from the Secretaries of Hate. Thanks for writing in, New York.


New York, NY: How much influence do the new skaters today draw from the older legends of the sport - from the 50's, 60's and 70's?

Lauren Wilcox: Great question, NYC. I think derby has kind of a retro allure for many of the skaters today. And it's worth remembering that even back in the day, the women who skated derby were independent-minded and tough, and unafraid to flout what in those days were the much more entrenched conventions of "appropriate" female behavior. I interviewed one woman who skated derby back in the 50s, who had to sneak out to bouts so that her husband wouldn't find out where she was going. So in some ways, there is a legacy there that the women today have picked up. Thanks for writing in.


Frederick, MD: Great article! Was nice, as DayGloDivine said in the comments, to cover it "both on an off the track".

My wife skates in a new league, the Mason-Dixon Roller Vixens, that is establishing itself in the tri-state area surrounding Hagerstown, MD. (http://www.myspace.com/hagerstownrollergirl or http://www.hcorerollerderby.com/)

This experience (I help out a much as I can and it's now a family activity for us) is my introdution to roller derby.

This article gives a nice sample of what they will be facing in the near future.

I went to see the recent "Raucous Caucous" bout between Scare Force One and the DC Demoncats. Helena was my favorite. I think that if I saw her coming towards me on the track I would pee myself and run away. I still get dizzy thinking of that move Harley pulls during her intro. Was that even real? Not only great sport but an explosion of creativity and show.

I've long been a big fan of women's soccer and consider it one of the best sports there is. I think roller derby comes a close second to soccer. It's an awesome sport, although sometimes it does move too fast for my feeble mind.

Lauren Wilcox: Thanks for writing in! Yes, I loved how the women were really transformed on the track--both tough and graceful. It definitely took me a while before I could parse out everything that was happening on the track! It's terrific that your family is involved--I met many husbands and kids who were the support crew for their "derby girls"--a really great community. Thanks again for your comments.


Baltimore, MD: Hi, Lauren, this is DayGlo. Just wanted to thank you for the article, which is one of the most well-written and balanced ones I've seen about roller derby; most focus on sensationalism and, of course, fishnets. Also wanted to direct anyone looking for a list of roller derby leagues to derbyroster.com, which is more comprehensive than the incomplete and often outdated Wikipedia list. One thing to note is that not all of the leagues listed are currently bouting; some are in the very beginning stages of organization.

Lauren Wilcox: Hi DayGlo--thanks very much for checking in, and for those comments.

Dayglo is one of the referees for the DC league, and her suggestion for a current list of teams is much better than mine. Thanks again, DayGlo.


Takoma Park, MD: Lauren, thank you for the hard work and research you put into this article. Hopefully with more media attention we can convince the general public that modern women's roller derby is not all about entertainment and it is NOT choreographed or staged. In DC, only one bout per month is open to the public, but these gals work out or skate and practice four to seven times a week in the DC area as well as traveling to learn from other leagues' practices and regional and national conferences. Over the past year and a half, they have shown an incredible amount of dedication to this sport.

-Kender aka Zoya Destroyya, former DCRG

Lauren Wilcox: Thanks for writing in, Zoya. It's definitely real--I can vouch for that, and much more exciting in person than I was able to capture in the piece. Thanks again.


Expression of WHAT?: Ms. Wilcox, I was astounded by the statement in this chat's intro: "some see the skaters' mix of physical aggression and flaunted sexiness as a proud expression of in-your-face feminism."

Bullying, violence, and vulgarity are not hallmarks of feminism. Equal pay for equal work, equal opportunity, a fair bite at the apple, and a rejection of crippling prejudice, is a fair definition of feminism.

Aggression is part of human nature and both women and men feel it. However, it is not a part of feminism - a term which has been vilely misused, primarily by right-wing Republicans and now by a group of belligerent women who call themselves "athletes." If they like to hit people, it is fitting that they hit each other instead of searching for victims outside their little circle.

However, it is cited in the article that at least two of the women enjoy sexually assaulting and bullying other people. One woman stands outside a nightclub and puts her hands on other people's bodies; if this gross liberty is resented, the other steps forward to threaten the victims. This is admirable to you, is it? I notice that you wrote about it in a light-hearted tone. Would you take this tone if you were groped and then threatened by strangers?

Lauren Wilcox: Thanks very much for your comments. I wish I had the skaters here so they could add to this conversation. This is definitely an issue that touches a nerve with some people. I've spent most of the chat thinking about how to talk about the issues you raise, and I don't know that I'll be able to do it justice here in the time we have left. If you'd like to write me at laurenwilcox@hotmail.com, I'd be happy to continue the conversation there. Thanks for writing in.


Lauren Wilcox: So it looks like that's all we have time for--many thanks to all who wrote in, and I apologize to those we didn't have time to respond to. It's gratifying that you give these stories such a close read. I can be reached with other comments at the email address above. Many thanks again to all!


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