My Facebook feed has been chock-a-block recently with folk getting excited about the Auld Reekie Roller Girls – Edinburgh’s flat track roller derby team. I am thrilled to have a guest post about ARRG from Mairi Campbell-Jack, a poet who lives in Edinburgh with her daughter and tweets as @lumpinthethroat. I’m also super chuffed to have been given permission by the excellent Edinburgh photographer Dan Phillips to use the accompanying shots. You can find Dan on Twitter as @dan_photo, but more importantly you can check out his website here and Flickr stream here.
While on SlutWalk Edinburgh a few months ago I got a chance to start talking to another radical lefty Mum (where else does one meet her peers?) and we both started discussing our daughters and their understanding of femininity. This was something on my mind following a conversation I’d had with my daughter at a bus stop a few weeks ago.
Daughter: Mummy, why are you not beautiful today?
Me: What makes you think I’m not beautiful?
Daughter: Yesterday you wore a skirt.
As I discussed on a previous post on Barbie, I am reasonably relaxed now about letting my daughter choose her own toys and clothes, but her preoccupation with whether clothing make someone “beautiful” does tend to worry. Fellow radical lefty Mum pointed me in the direction of Roller Derby, as a great example of alternative feminities. I happened to know someone on the Edinburgh writing circuit who played and so I booked tickets to the Auld Reekie Roller Girls festival match.
I must say I was a bit sceptical as I am one of those people who have grown-up utterly hating sport. I hate everything about it, from how incredibly boring it is to the constant unremitting whine that comes from the television whenever it is on. The last time I was taken to see live sport it was an ice-hockey game, and I have no shame to say I found it so tedious that I read through the last third.
I watched Roller Derby and came away a complete convert. It’s violent (secretly I’m disappointed there wasn’t a fight), fast, fun and the women in it are really enjoying playing the sport but also using it as a way to play with their own image and express their sexuality. I wouldn’t really describe it as feminine. Feminine as a word in our culture often carries with it overtones of passivity, and Roller Derby is much more grown up than that, while maintaining a sense of playfulness I have never witnessed in other sports. While one of the often valid criticisms of many sub-cultures is the sameness of dress and make-up choice of those within it, some of whom often claim to appear to be seeking individuality, I don’t feel that can be fairly levelled at Roller Derby.
If you look at the team dress and make-up, which appears to stem directly from the Riot Grrrl tradition, then the conclusion you would come to would be that it is a very homogenous alternative – but you know, being a team they do have to wear a uniform. However, if you bother to turn around and look at the crowd you will see a very different story. The crowd is predominantly female, but there are also a lot of men in there. There are people with strange hair, tattoos and piercings. At the same time there were people of every age range, children as young as six months, families, groups of friends, people who even looked like social workers or the sort of people who buy vegan shoes and some who looked decidedly mainstream – honestly, it was like some of them weren’t even trying to be cool.
How did it affect my daughter? Well her behaviour that day wasn’t her best, she didn’t like the noise, was bored and desperate to get my attention as we had been apart for a week. She did say she wanted to go again. I went straight out and bought the t-shirt and put it on as soon as I got home.