Roller Grrrls

They're tough, fast and back on track

The spectators looked confused, unsure of what exactly was happening, but it all made sense when a pissed-off Slaughter rolled up to a smiling Crasher and dragged her to the ground. The women rolled around in a flurry of fishnet and body blows, and the crowd went freakin' wild.

"This is better than foxy boxing," yelled out one spectator.

After ten months of practices, meetings and fund-raisers, Houston Roller Derby had finally arrived. The women regrouped for the next jam, and Red floored a Bettie near the back of the pack. "That size will get you every time," says Patsy Crime, who had her own troubles staying upright when the Burlesque Brawlers squared off in the next round against the Psych Ward Sirens. "I'm pretty quick-footed," she says, "but when someone catches me, forget it."

Click here to enlarge.
Daniel Kramer
Rollergirls + bikini car wash = marketing genius.
Gabriel Suarez
Rollergirls + bikini car wash = marketing genius.

Perhaps none of the women had progressed more than the Prosecutor, who, with the metal rod still in her leg, barely left the rink that night, skating for both the Betties and the Brawlers. She busted ass all the way to the last jam, although Mistilla "the Killa" bested her in the finale.

Both bouts ended up being blowouts, with one team taking the lead and rolling with it -- a far cry from the preplanned last-minute victories of derbies past. But that doesn't mean camp wasn't queen: Each team had set up a Day of the Dead altar on the sidelines, complete with tributes to fallen gangsters and soldiers, and on-rink disputes were settled by a dominatrix duo, the Miss Fortune Madames. When Mistilla got in a fight with Becky Booty, a large die was rolled and it was determined -- Lord knows how -- that whoever won a knee-slide race would get the point. Both skaters sprinted and hit the floor: Booty in a regular slide, Mistilla with her butt in the air, panties showing. The Killa won, hands down.

For many skaters, being a rollergirl means more than circling around a track and kicking ass in a skimpy outfit. It also means serious drinking. A large group of skaters and their fans went to the Mezzanine Lounge after the bout, taking over the bar, unaware how intimidating their tats and 'tudes can be. When Red arrived, they greeted her with hugs and drunken cheers.

"I was totally badass," she says. "It's the biggest accomplishment since my ice-skating years."

Ask Red how she feels about her ex now, and she'll tell you she's over the whole damn thing. "When you have your world torn down," she says, "it really can be built back up when you have all these girls screaming your name." Now she's taking things slow, casually dating here and there, but devoting most of her energies to derby and friends.

"All these women have really blossomed into themselves," she says. "They didn't know who they really were. They were married, ready to have kids. But when they started roller derby, they realized they wanted more…and now they're telling their husbands, 'I'm sorry, but you're going to have to put the kids to bed tonight, because I've been doing it for the past five years.' "

Says Patsy Crime, "I can't even tell you how many of the girls who came to Houston Roller Derby didn't think squat about themselves, didn't think about opening up their mouths."

The sight of women rolling around in short skirts and fishnets might not immediately bring to mind thoughts of empowerment, but Alison Piepmeier, director of women's and gender studies at the College of Charleston and co-editor of Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century, sees traces of third-wave feminism all over derby.

"Any kind of women's sport, I see as a positive thing, because it's showing us women's bodies not just on display as sex objects, but women's bodies doing something, women being powerful," she says.

Third-wave feminism, as you might have guessed, didn't come from nowhere. The first-wavers were the suffragists, women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who campaigned for the abolition of slavery before fighting for their own rights. The second-wavers were the bra-burners of the '60s and '70s, activists such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, who made great strides but typically remained focused on the needs of middle-class white women. And the third wave, according to Piepmeier, is what's happening right now, when women "have come to consciousness in an era when a lot of feminist ideas were already kind of in place."

Piepmeier sees the campy, performative side of derby, like the sexy outfits and the spankings, as particularly third-wave. "They're playing with this cultural material that has been, in the past, used to keep women in their place or has been used to perpetuate a lower status for women," she says. " 'We're going to take the sexy nurse icon, but rather than having that be something that's keeping us objectified, we're using it. We're going to have fun with it. It's going to be something we're in control of.' "

Derby also brings together women who hate the cattiness typical in many female relationships. "Are we going to prove to Houston that we're a bunch of dumb bitches who can't fucking get along?" asks Crime. "Or are we going to show them we are 60 broads who are not going to let a bunch of petty bullshit get in the way?"

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