Roller Derby is not binary

 

If this blog has a theme it is that the world isn’t binary, however much we may wish it to be, everything is more nuanced and requires healthy balances. Roller Derby, by it’s nature can help with this.

I experienced Roller Derby for the first time last weekend. I have been living in a new city recently, so I was keen to explore new things and what was going on in this city.

Immediately upon entering the hall, people were incredibly friendly and welcoming, taking up their time to explain what was going on.

I had no prior knowledge of Roller Derby and a whole day for this sport to reveal itself to me. At first it did simply look like some people pushing each other around a track, yet by the end of the day I had a reasonable knowledge of the rules, could follow what was going on and some appreciation of the array of tactics deployed in the game.

As a spectator it is strange to watch as there is kind of two encounters happening simultaneously, with these two encounters interacting with each other. Basically, each team has a jammer and four blockers. The aim of the game is for the jammer to pass the blockers of the opposing team to score points as they go around the track. ~So the two encounters as the jammer of team A trying to progress in the same area of the track of the jammer of team B. So, whilst there are two fascinating games going on, of the jammer against the blockers, there is also the interactions in the space as the blockers can also assist their own jammer make progress by creating space and pushing the opposing blockers out of the way. There is quite simply an awful lot of strategy going on in real time.

As a team sport, with spectators there is also atmosphere. I don’t think I have ever experienced such a friendly inclusive atmosphere at a sporting occasion. I want to go again, and even learn to skate myself. What the experience did do was really resolve my issues with watching women play sport.

I believe that many heterosexual men have this issue with female sport, yet women do not seem to have the same issue in the same way. The issue is the distraction of being sexually attracted to the participants. However I know many women who go to watch men play sport and quite happy to incorporte their sexual atttraction to the players into their appreciation and enjoyment of the spectacle. I think this presents a really interesting difference in how different genders deal with what I shall call attraction to the unobtainable.

What I mean by ‘attraction to the unobtainable’ is that film stars and famous musicians etc, are separated socially from their audience. You may fall in love with a beautiful talented actress whilst watching a film, (as I also did at the weekend with Alia Bhatt whilst watching the excellent new Shah Rukh Khan film, Dear Zindagi) but you realise that your chances of even meeting the object of your affections are practically zero.

This attraction to the unobtainable is in stark contrast to our social lives, where we meet and interact with people we are attracted to, where there is at least, for a while, the possibility of forming a real relationship with those people.

This is interesting as how we deal with these two very different types of attraction is in itself different. The way we behave is different, how we think about a film star is different to someone in ‘real life’ we talk and interact with.

The essential difference is privacy, we can allow our imaginations to run riot in private. Crudely, we can let tongues hang out and stare longingly at the person on the screen without consequence, in a way we would never do in real life.

The difficulty with watching women in sport is that it falls into the grey area between the two. We can watch an attractive athlete and for a moment be distracted by their beauty, just like ‘attraction to the unobtainable’, and then after the game we may end up talking to that person socially. I think that many men just find this very confusing, it’s neither one or the other, many men, myself included, find this grey area difficult to deal with. It ‘s perhaps like Roller Derby itself, where there are two encounters happening simultaneously and we can mentally switch from watching one jammers encounter to the other. Generally men I believe are poorer at rapidly mentally switching, but it is a very useful skill.

Roller Derby presents this problem as it is still a small, but growing sport. So, there isn’t the opportunity of being lost in the crowd as you can at say say when watching the mens national rugby or football team. Yet, the game itself is absorbing so you do zone out of interacting socially with the people immediately around you to appreciating the sport and the tactical battles going on, yet there are moments when you just notice how attractive some of the participants are, just like watching an attractive actor in a film.

So, perhaps men don’t like watching women play sport because we kind of like to separate watching a game from being attracted to people. It’s not that anyone isn’t capable of mental switching, it’s just that men are not used to it. However men have learnt how to let their feelings for an attractive actress to flow without detracting from being absorbed by the plot of the film and really films are produced to ease the transition between these two aspects, sport doesn’t. As mens sport continues to dominate the main stream media, we don’t get enough practice of this mental switching in the arena of sport. It’s also how we expect the leading lady in a film to be attractive and it is part of how films work, but we don’t expect a sportsperson to be attractive, though some will be, but they may not be the winner. An example is the tennis player Anna Kournikova, who many men were attracted to, but she was never one of the best tennis players n the world. The difference is that to achieve fame as an actress you have to be attractive and be an amazing actor (sadly often being attractive is enough to carve out a lucrative career and very rare is the unattractive but amazingly talented actress) , whereas in sport you have to be good at the sport to be at the top and how attractive you are does not have any influence on it.

Roller Derby is that rare thing, a female dominated team sport, where not only is there the usual mental switching of watching the gender you are attrqacted tio playing nad beign absorbed in the intesity of the game itself, but also the switching between the two encounters of the jammers, which then also interact with other. Watching Roller Derby is as mentally exhausting to watch as it seems to be physically exhausting to play, but I can understand why the game appeals to a male audience! What I learnt was to be ease with watching women playing sport in real life.

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