Tomorrow I’m giving an interview on media’s effect on roller derby.
It seems the interviewer wants to know about the media’s portrayal of derby and how it affects the sport, etc etc. Ughhhhhhh.
It’s a hard situation, because basically my answer is, “it’s complicated.” And no journalist or researcher likes that answer. It’s not clean and tied up with a bow. To organize my thoughts pre-interview, I wrote it out:
The way the media portrays the sport is a direct reflection of how society views ambitious women: scary(?), laughable and highly sexualized.
Skaters work their assess off to create nonprofit organizations — not as a job, but on the side — and also to become athletes. Yet countless news articles and TV shows condescendingly report on the sport like a quirky little side show.
You probably saw my long list of “by day, by night” leads on news articles. (“By day Heather is a serious reporter, by night she puts on eight wheels and hits bitches!”) Those — from different papers of different sizes from different places by journalists of both genders — show how society thinks it’s ridiculous for a woman to both have a good job and play roller derby. Connotation: playing roller derby is not serious. It’s silly. (And hot?) Don’t you have babies to take care of?
Then there are the reality shows that put women who’ve never skated before (and probably never wanted to) on skates and say, “this is roller derby,” as Em Dash recently wrote about.
Blah blah blah.
It’s equally our fault.
Many leagues market themselves (bouts, fundraisers) as a hard-hitting, fast-skating, sexualized spectacle. Otherwise, they might not sell tickets. It’s how we lure people into the sport. THEN they see athleticism, teamwork and everything it takes to run a bout.
It’s frustrating that a women’s sport has to market itself that way to get an audience and then to hope the audience learns who the sport actually is.
I got a lot of response to that post about the $50 million derby story. The comments that weren’t from skaters/refs included a dissenting minority with the totally valid point of — “but you guys wear fishnets and have your bums hanging out of your metallic panties!”
People don’t walk into their workplaces dressed like that. Or soccer games for that matter. Because they want to be taken seriously. They instead dress like workers. Or soccer players. We are in a sport where people don’t dress like athletes. There is the struggle of how a lot of us see ourselves (serious athletes who eat for their workouts, think for their workouts, plan their practices and goals, committee members building 501c3s …) and how we present ourselves. And until we resolve that, it can’t totally be the media or fans or anyone else’s fault for thinking of derby as side-show-like or super sexualized. It’s hard to see the thousands of hours of nonprofit work, the training, the athleticism behind fishnets and gold glitter shorts*.
So, like I said (“Ughhhhhhh”) — it’s complicated.
*I feel obligated to buffer and say, “your feelings are valid. Wear glitter shorts and be an athlete. Get it girl. Just don’t expect fans and the media to take you seriously at first. And journalists only ever get an ‘at first.'”