An Open Letter to All My Derby Brothers  

An Open Letter to All My Derby Brothers    Katrina Swirko at the 2014 WFTDA playoffs in Sacramento. Photo by Danforth Johnson (https://www.flickr.com/photos/93780063@N08)

To all my brothers in quads,

I’ve read all the blogs. I’ve scrolled through the comments. I thought it would have all petered out by now, but still the occasional post pops up on some corner of the web about how men shouldn’t be allowed to play roller derby because they don’t deserve it.

 I’m sorry, guys: I wish these women would stop misusing feminism and hurry up and drop out of this sport which is quickly outgrowing them.

But you know that vile and inexplicable thing you feel whenever you read those comments? That sense of powerlessness and indignation that just makes your ass leak? It’s called rage. You may be experiencing this for the first time as a man, particularly if you are a white man.

This expectation of instant acceptance in all of life’s ventures is what we feminists mean when we refer to ‘male privilege.’ You take it for granted, maybe even deny its existence, until you lose it.

Welcome to sexism! Feels lousy, doesn’t it?

Mass Maelstrom vs Denton County at MRDA Champs. Photo by Danny Ngan.

Mass Maelstrom vs Denton County at MRDA Champs. Photo by Danny Ngan.

You have a right to be outraged. No one deserves to be denied his or her humanity because of who they are.

Now imagine experiencing that same prejudice in every aspect of your life: your job, your education, your sexuality, your health, or your general safety. Because that’s what it’s like to be a woman, and it goes far beyond one singular recreational sport.Mrda

I don’t mean to denigrate your truly valid experience of discrimination. My point is this: I know how you feel. I feel it almost every day. For that reason, I will always stand up for equality. Male, female, cis, trans, gay, hetero, queer, black, or white — roller derby is for everyone, and it’s important that we keep it that way.

This is an exciting time; we’re inventing a new sport! The MRDA will continue to grow because it is full of visionary athletes, as is the WFTDA, and now that the two organizations are planning to join forces, it will be unstoppable.

So take a deep breath. It’s going to be ok.

wftda_148x212You know how I know? Because when I was 10, a friend’s dad told me girls can’t play hockey. Because in high school, the underfunded girls cross country team had to trade jerseys between meets while the (all male) football team flourished.

Because in college, I was one of the only women in the ultimate Frisbee club and some nights I’d spend the entire game just running around pointlessly because none of the boys would pass to me.

Because last season, a prominent local newspaper published a column about my former league in which the (male) author critiqued our uniforms and our bodies, even mocking a skater’s breasts before declaring that roller derby was not a real sport. When the league complained, the paper offered to send us a framed copy of the article.

All these things–and so many, many more– have happened to me and other female players, and yet here we are. We’re still competing because we love it. And so do you. And that’s why you’ll keep playing. Flat track roller derby will continue to thrive because it is run by those who know obstacles, those who know what it means to persevere.

As a female player, I’m happy to be on your side and stand up for your right to be involved in this game. But now that you know that feeling, that burning rage those women ignite deep inside your heart every time they say you aren’t welcome, I hope it inspires you to stand up for gender equality in all parts of life.

On the street, at work — women experience violence and discrimination everywhere and it’s so subtly ingrained in our culture that we sometimes perpetuate it ourselves.

Your Mom vs Pugent Sound at MRDA Champs.. Photo by Danny Ngan.

Your Mom vs Pugent Sound at MRDA Champs.. Photo by Danny Ngan.

For many of us, derby is the first time we’ve felt safe and accepted. And yes, some of us are reluctant to turn it all over to ‘The Man.’ So definitely don’t expect us to do that. Instead, what we should do is work symbiotically to bring this sport into a new era. It will involve some trust and open-mindedness on our side, as well as perspective and understanding on yours.

The truth is, we need each other. Together, we have the power to overcome the haters.

For example, there’s Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967. It was so controversial that one of the race coordinators tried to forcibly remove her from the marathon.

You can read her amazing story here.

It’s not fair to be singled out for your gender. That mindset must be stopped. We know, guys. And we’re here with you.

 Check out the original posting on Swirko’s website.

 

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