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Roller Derby Made Me Like Girls (But Not in the Way You Are Thinking)

Words By Blockodile Dundee

Although it will soon become very clear, I should preface this by saying that it is not a “coming out” story - this is the story of how roller derby taught me to be friends with girls.

I read somewhere a few years ago an off-hand remark by Bonnie D. Stroir about how most of us [derby players] were friends with more guys than girls in our pre-derby lives. I don’t remember the context, but I do remember being dubious of where she had found her data. Nevertheless, it piqued my curiosity learninh that my experience was a more common one than I realised.

I wasn’t exactly a tomboy growing up (although you probably couldn’t say the same of me these days) but my entire childhood was spent surrounded by boys - I had two brothers, and the only cousins I regularly saw were dudes. As I got older, I continued to make friends with boys effortlessly, while kind of struggling to befriend girls. I didn’t get girls. They talked about stuff I didn’t identify with. They were quite vocal when they didn’t like what I wore or said or did. They were really intimidating, and they made me feel bad about myself. Girls were mean. Ms Norbury’s monologue at the end of Mean Girls resonated with me probably more than it should have. I felt like she was speaking to me; I knew first hand exactly what she was talking about.

As author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her TEDx talk, girls are taught (whether explicitly, or by the way society shapes us) that we’re in competition with one another, usually for the attention of men (or high school boys, as the case may be). When I was younger, girls modified their behaviour and said things they thought boys wanted them say. They would cut each other down and go out of their way to cause trouble for one another, and I just wasn’t emotionally equipped to deal with that kind of thing. You didn’t get that when you were friends with boys - what you saw was what you got. I suppose this is an idea I’ve clung to throughout my life, and as such it just never occurred to me that it was unusual to have lots of Platonic male friends.

Here are some fast facts about me: I am 100% pro-women. I am for gender equality. I’m planning on writing my PhD dissertation on female heroes in literature. I think that cats do, in fact, need feminism, for all of the reasons I’ve mentioned above.

But five years ago, I could count on one hand the number of girls I was friends with.

Then I started playing roller derby.  I met academics with whom I nerded out about philosophy and literature. I met crafters with whom I crocheted and traded patterns. I met girls who didn’t censor themselves. I met girls so hilarious I struggled to breathe whenever we were together. I met girls who didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought. I met girls who stood up for themselves and for the rest of us. I met girls who wanted to see me succeed.

Roller derby was this social space I’d never experienced before - we were allowed to do what we wanted, say what we wanted, and dress how we wanted, without fear of retribution and without worrying about what girls should say or do. For the first time in my life, girls weren’t fighting one another; they weren’t trying to cut each other down. Instead, they held one anothers’ hands and built each other up.

I understand that there are exceptions; roller derby certainly isn’t free of the Mean Girl behaviour we grew up with in high school - I’d be delusional if I said it was. But those behaviours are not by any means part of the dominant discourse in derby, and they’re certainly not tolerated or encouraged by the majority of us. I also understand that not everyone had the same experiences with girls or with boys when they were growing up, but it seems there were at least a good few of us. I think the issue was simply that I didn’t know where to look to find the girls I needed in my life.

So, for the one thousandth time: thank you, roller derby, for making everything better.

Thank you Richard Tompsett for the use of this photo.

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