Women's Roller Derby Team Skates for Respect

The sport of roller derby is taking on a unique identity among a group of women recently profiled in the The Washington Post Magazine. Two players in the evolving women's roller derby league discuss misconceptions regarding women in aggressive sports, their involvement in the "force" and their competitive alter egos.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

This week we're going to have a number of conversations about women, sex and power. For example, we're going to talk to a woman some consider notorious for naming the names of her celebrity bed partners. We'll hear why she thinks her decision to tell all is a form of empowerment.

Today, though, we're going to start with a conversation about women and sports. Not just any sport, a fast-moving, hard-hitting contact sport that for some reason has always been more popular when played by women than men.

We're talking about roller derby, the mix of no-holds-barred contact and can't-be-feminine touches is winning new fans. We've heard about it courtesy of our friends at the Washington Post Sunday magazine, which featured a profile of Scare Force One DC Rollergirls.

And joining me to talk about all this is Rachele Huelsman, she's a roller derby skater in Boston, and Angela Wall, captain of the Scare Force One DC Rollergirls team.

Ladies, welcome.

Ms. ANGELA WALL (Captain, Scare Force One DC Rollergirls): Hello.

Ms. RACHELE HUELSMAN (Roller Derby Skater): Hello.

MARTIN: Angela, Miss Wall, that is not how you're known to your teammates, correct?

Ms. WALL: No. They know me as Condoleezza Slice...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WALL: ...Slice resort.

MARTIN: How did you get that name?

Ms. WALL: It was a really big deal for me when I was picking a name to be on the DC Rollergirls, to be a powerful woman in D.C. A lot of the names have some sort of wordplay to them, you know, some sort of violence or some kind of connotation outside of just a strict name. So this was kind of fun for me and just wanted to be, you know, kind of a powerful woman in D.C.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, Rachele, what's your roller derby nickname?

Ms. HUELSMAN: My derby name is Harley Quinn.

MARTIN: Okay. And how did you pick that?

Ms. HUELSMAN: Harley Quinn is actually a character from the Batman comic strip. She was The Joker's sidekick, and I ended up picking her because I was impressed. She was the only comic book hero-villain that didn't have a superpower and was just awesome all by herself.

MARTIN: Now, I understand that the sport started in the '30s, kind of went away in the '70s, and recently had a comeback.

So Rachele, I wanted to ask you first. How did you hear about it and what attracted you to the sport?

Ms. HUELSMAN: One of my friends had actually read about the D.C. Rollergirl tryouts in the Washington City paper, and I had a bit of a skating background when I was younger, and she had dared me to try out. And initially, I was kind of hesitant. And then I went down and checked it out, and I was totally impressed and blown away by the women there and decided to try out.

MARTIN: Angela, Slice, Madam Secretary, the game I've - you know, I've seen - I think we've all kind of seen it, but I don't think I understand it. So what's the goal? How is it played? Briefly, if you would.

Ms. WALL: There's a couple of main goals. You want to get your jammer through and prevent the other jammer from getting through. I think each team has a little bit of a different tweak on that, but you have to be absolutely cognizant of everything that's going on. You have to be extremely aware.

MARTIN: And you have to be extremely tough and willing to get hit, knocked down.

And you all seem to lead these double lives. Angela, you manage an animal hospital.

Ms. WALL: I do - an all cat hospital in Alexandria.

MARTIN: An all cat hospital. In fact, you're wearing your scrubs now. And Rachele, you're the director of Development for the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Ms. HUELSMAN: Yes.

MARTIN: And it just strikes me that empathy is part of your job during the day - both of you. And so, how do you switch gears into this kind of mean girl, knock-anybody-down-who's-in-my-way kind of thing?

Ms. HUELSMAN: I think a lot us need that outlet, you know? We do lead these regular, normal lives, and we need that outlet for letting out, you know, everything that we've been holding inside. And so we love it.

MARTIN: But what do you love? You like knocking people down?

Ms. WALL: Well, yeah, of course.

Ms. HUELSMAN: I think when you first come out, that's the first thing you want to do, is you want to knock people down. You want to be excited about knocking people down. But as you get into it and learn more about the sport, it's more about being able to take a hit and stand on your skates. And that's, I think, even more empowering.

MARTIN: Why? You know, a lot of people will argue that that's one of the great things about being a woman, is that you don't have to get hit, or at least you shouldn't have to get hit. That's kind of the whole point, is not getting hit.

Ms. HUELSMAN: I think some people, you know, find a stress relief in yoga - things like that. They're more calming. And some people kind of need a more maybe violent and maybe just contact sport.

MARTIN: Is there something important about that for women, do you think, Angela?

Ms. WALL: I think absolutely. I think that we're generally kind of trained, if you will, to be a little bit more meek, and if we have power to kind of go about it in a strategic way and not come out and show it and be, you know, this terror to deal with. I think that it's nice because you can come out and do that on the track.

And these girls are all so, you know, come from different backgrounds and so powerful in their own sense that, you know, we leave it on the track. We can all go out afterwards and everybody has to go back to work Monday morning. None of us get paid to do this. So you have to be able to, you know, to beat each other up but to a point that, you know, nobody wants to really hurt anyone.

Ms. HUELSMAN: Sure. And I think it's really important to express that while we do like hitting each other and being able to take a hit, we do all have a mutual respect and understanding that, you know, we're doing it not to necessarily hurt one another, but to play the game. And we do it for the love of the game and the strategy to it.

MARTIN: Talk to me about the issue whole issue of the game, the campy uniforms, the fishnet stockings, the funny names. I noticed that some of the ladies are quite glam while they're knocking each other around. Is there something about the contrast between the traditionally masculine and the traditionally feminine that's part of the fun, or is that taking on that feminine thing sort of an in-joke just to say, you know, we hit people but we still wear lipstick? Angela?

Ms. WALL: I think that it's kind of a combination of both. I think you have to come out with the attitude that, you know, you are a tough girl and that you're here to do business, but it is tongue in cheek. It is kind of campy. You know, you wear the short skirts and the fishnets, and you know, usually most of these places that you're playing offers, you know, some sort of alcoholic beverage. And it's such a wide variety of people that come. I have, you know, everyone from cousins that are four and five years old to my, you know, 87-year-old grandmother who comes. And everybody has a good time.

MARTIN: But I do want to ask about the - some of the language that I read in the article - and I don't know if you guys think that this is an accurate representation - but it seemed like the whole - the B-word seemed very much in evidence, at least.

Ms. WALL: I think a lot of that is...

Ms. HUELSMAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: And I just want to ask, you know...

Ms. HUELSMAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...how is that empowering to use a word that has traditionally been used to degrade women?

Ms. WALL: I think that we kind of use that between each other in the same sort of way that a lot of people in a certain group use that between each other, where it's not necessarily acceptable for someone else to use it towards one of us. But us using it with each other is a little bit different connotation. We also...

Ms. HUELSMAN: Absolutely.

Ms. WALL: This is, you know, this is language that's been taken from gameday, you know, from we have our game faces on. And you know, I was one of the people that kind of shied away from having the microphone on me while I played because I knew that it wasn't going to be something that I wanted my parents to listen to. So you know, a lot of us are, you know, have, you know, respectable jobs and don't talk like that, you know, in our normal daily life. But when you're out on the track and you're kind of in the moment, I think that...

MARTIN: I think it's also important to note that you smoked the other team.

Ms. WALL: Right. We are undefeated.

Ms. HUELSMAN: We are having a wonderful season.

Ms. WALL: Yes.

Ms. HUELSMAN: We are undefeated going into our championships on October 20th.

MARTIN: All right. Well, good luck to you. Angela Wall, Condoleeza Slice, is captain of the Scare Force One D.C. Rollergirls team. She was kind enough to join us here in the studio. We were also joined by Rachele Huelsman, she's a skater in Boston, and she joined us from Boston, Massachusetts; Harley Quinn. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Ms. WALL: Thank you.

Ms. HUELSMAN: Thank you.

MARTIN: And good luck. Not that you need it. I'm scared of you.

If you want to read the article about Scare Force One in its entirety, you can find a link to it on our Web site. It's in this week's Washington Post Sunday magazine in a piece called "Fight Club." It's by writer Lauren Wilcox.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Web Resources

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.