There’s a scene from “Gnarly in Pink”, Kristelle Laroche and Ben Mullinkosson’s short documentary about the Pink Helmet Posse, where a tiny blond girl in a pink tutu attempts to plant her deck, but loses her balance and falls. We hear her sobbing and crying out in pain as she rolls over and picks herself up. The camera follows her as she runs to an adult, standing at the other end of the pool, just watching. He didn’t come running when she fell and he doesn’t even say anything ’til she gets to him.
This little, seemingly innocuous detail makes a huge difference when it comes to teaching young girls to just get back up if they fall: there is no other way to learn not only how to help yourself or what your body is capable of enduring. You will just have to get back up.
I’m really breaking my own heart (and bank account) right now because when I get back to Manila, I’ll have to wait another year to train with the league, and it will be god knows how long before I can qualify to teach something that is completely absent in all of Southeast Asia (save for a short-lived league in Kuala Lumpur).
I’m still having trouble understanding why derby only exists in some parts of the world, but I guess it’s pretty obvious that in a place where femininity is represented in the mainstream by tight vaginas, pouffy gowns, and tiny arms, there would be no place for an image of a girl in a helmet and hot pants, going at 25 miles per hour, with the goal of getting ahead of the pack and knocking over anyone standing in the way. There is no place either for a sporting event that does not make room for men or associate skill or talent with performing “like a boy”.
So back to this thing about breaking my heart: it just has to be in the place where I grew up that we are inundated with pictures of women, but this other image is completely absent. Side note: I spent four years teaching in an institution that perpetuated this kind of image and ran along this thread of biological essentialism. Of course I have issues that came to this*.
I’ll admit I was one of those people who saw derby as a subculture rather than a sport, and it meant joining the league and buying additional insurance to understand the issues and difficulties that come with getting it recognized as a legitimate sporting event. I’m 28, and for my whole life, I have never taken anything athletic seriously. On the bright side, this made the decision to join ACRD an easy one. I didn’t think that I was “sportsing”, initially I approached it as ethnographic research that would keep me occupied while I hung out with my sister for the first time in two years.
I was an idiot to think my body wouldn’t be paying the price, and this is also one of derby’s biggest issues: even with thousands of women joining leagues, and simultaneously training, drafting, and competing with each other, all that energy and time spent still runs the risk of getting dismissed as a silly little girls’ hobby rather than something that irreversibly alters the way we move, the way we are built, and the way we relate to each other. A lot of this is because of derby’s resistance to abandoning feminine archetypes in favor of the typical, masculine imagery associated with anything athletic. It refuses to give up the pageantry, the booty-shaking, and the make-up, but there’s so much more to it that you only learn firsthand. You learn that living in your skin, actually showing your skin’s been lived in, means risking injury, and that doing so doesn’t make you “like a boy”, you’re just another kind of girl.
With every practice, I better understand why this is not only beautiful, but necessary – something that was communicated so well in “Gnarly in Pink”. It makes space where women compete based not on the usuals, rather it rewards speed and strength and sportsmanship. It also shows that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wearing a tutu**, whether in the rink or on the half pipe. By all means, show how there are other ways to rock a tutu.
*Other weird details include studying fashion in college, teaching fashion to college students, and accompanying my lawyer dad to the preliminary screenings for Binibining Pilipinas (tr. Miss Philippines) where he made sure everyone was of legal age and a Filipino citizen. There were other messed-up guidelines about having scars or stretch marks, but they didn’t need lawyers to sniff that kind of bullshit out.
**…or heels, or make-up, or any other indicators of so-called female frivolity that stand in the way of being taken seriously on terms you never had the chance to set.