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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The Olympic Games, #TeamGB and women on the telly

The Olympic Games is on in Rio, they are a wonderful televisual feast of sport. I thought I would document some of the reasons I like them.

TeamGB

Having a Great Britain [and Northern Ireland, so really it’s team UK?] team in itself is odd. For almost every sport, there are separate teams for the nations of Wales, Scotland and England. So the Olympics is even more different to sport as usual for people of the British Isles. Some people don’t like this, one reason is because it can mean the highest ranked sports people in a country may miss out on an Olympic spot as the British Olympic committee only funds so many athletes for each sport and this creates frictions between the sporting bodies, even though I think it’s generally done reasonably fairly. For example in one of the Judo classes, there was a real battle between a Welsh lady and and an English lady for the spot and by a narrow point margin the Welsh lady got the opportunity. A second reason is that there is an intense sporting rivalry between the nations of the UK, so team GB, in say the Rugby 7s, is made up of players from all UK nations, but often mainly drawn from the English team. This was really really odd, because the rugby rivalry is so intense, it just seems wrong to put this aside for the Olympics, I did but there has to be representation from all countries for this to work, which doesn’t necessarily produce the best team.   The team is usually the English team with the odd Scot or Welsh person, who will not be used to playing together and may be used to playing in a different style. The Rugby 7s was particularly odd this time, making it’s debut as an Olympic event.

Generally, I don’t like major, well covered sports being at the Olympics, as they get enough coverage and exposure in the media anyway. the Rugby 7s was hugely enjoyable, The ladies final was a hugely high standard and hugely dramatic and in the gentlemans final, my support for Team GB actually only lasted about 2 minutes, as Fiji were just immense and sometimes you just have to stop and applaud such a display of skill.

However for other sports, it’s simply nice to be able to come together to support fellow British and Irish athletes, to forget for two weeks the politics and rivalries within the UK, to enjoy the sport. Major sports like Golf and Football, I don’t approve of Olympic inclusion, because, they are well supported anyway and I regard the Olympics as a vehicle for the promotion of sports that struggle to become a regular part of mass entertainment.

The sheer niceness of it being Team GB, rather than Team Wales, presents three levels of support. Nonetheless, in each competition, I end up supporting someone. I support Welsh athletes first and foremost then the rest of Team GB, but also competitors from all over the world. I just like the sense of the world coming together to appreciate top level sporting competition and the sense that as supporters we are also part of the team, freed from national affiliation, you can enjoy the sport without nationalistic fervour pulling the heartstrings. I don’t know if this is the same for people from other countries that don’t compete under the banner of a union state. Really it’s simply good to see the Union Jack being waved for a positive unifying reason for a change.

The Sport

It’s great to see sports you have interest in, that you wish were higher up the media agenda some involvement in and the top athletes getting world-wide exposure. It is also super to see other sports getting the exposure too, even if I can’t move beyond finding Dressage rather silly. The Olympics is really good for these sports, encouraging new participation and inspiring people with what dedicated humans can achieve.

There is something special about the broadcasting element of having experts in a sport on the telly explaining what is going on to a largely ignorant public. You can watch sports you take zero interest in for four years. what broadcasters do if is give some back story to the events and the individual competitors, so even if you don’t know the sport, you can get involved in witnessing the emotional journeys.

Women

Generally, I am so pleased that both gentlemen and ladies compete  with equal billing for a change. Womens sport generally plays second fiddle to the men, but there is no real justification for this. Yes, elite men can run faster, jump higher pull harder, throw things further and lift heavier things, but that isn’t really very interesting. There is just as much skill, tactics and drama in sports of both genders and fortunately the broadcasters largely respect this, if only for the Olympics, if only it would happen all the time. It is sad that sometimes, some male broadcasters don’t reveal that they haven’t quite got the equality idea.

Being a heterosexual chap, I actually, much prefer the womens events at the Olympics. So, really, whatever gender you are attracted to you can get behind athletes you are attracted to. The female preference, primarily simple because there are so many really pretty women and I just like athletic competitive women, but also that women suffer a lot less from this ‘don’t show your emotions’ nonsense, that is drilled into us men as children, so as a spectacle, the women show much more how they feel about their performances. Yes, I want the attractive women to do well and feel with them, but it doesn’t stop me appreciating the skill demonstrated.

I know I do find generally seem to find different women attractive to most men. It’s so refreshing for all sorts of women to gain exposure for showing off their skills in the same way as the men. Though it does make me feel frustration that in many other fields it is only ladies who are perceived as attractive by the masses who seem to get to be in the media. We still live in a world where talented television presenters disappear after they reach a certain age, which doesn’t happen to male presenters. Really I just like the message getting out there that you don’t have to be thin, have huge breasts to get exposure.

Sporting Sexism

In other news, we have had a fantastic month of sport. Part of me would like to wax lyrically over the wondrous performance of the Welsh football team, reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and providing great joy for us Welsh footie fans, both on the field and the sense of unity it provided for the nation as a counter-balance to all the divisive brexit stuff.

However I’m going to talk more mainly about tennis as the Wimbledon tennis tournament finished at the weekend. I love watching sport for many reasons: It is an inspiration to improve my own fitness levels and an inspiration in the dedication to perform at the professional level, the strategies and interplay of tactics provide interest too and an appreciation of the sheer skill of the athletes. These aspects are often trumped by the emotional engagement where the viewer supports one side or the other. This is where tribal loyalties come into play.

Whilst I am a fan of several football teams, there is something different about national teams, because you didn’t choose the team, you were raised with it. Normally when I have watched any football match I can’t help but root for one team over the other, this is a widespread phenomena. During international football tournaments I usually have to pick a team/ country to support. This decision process is interesting as it is the culmination of the weightings of many factors, such as: Are they underdogs, have I visited that country, do I have friends from that country. Even without any guiding factors, during a match I end up picking a team to support. This picking a side phenomena, happens in every sport I watch. However when i am attached to a particular team, I am more engaged emotionally, the highs are a lot higher and the lows much much lower.

So, to tennis, I am not a massive tennis fan, I generally prefer team sports. Tennis does have an easily observable tactical interplay, coupled with the mind games of the swings and roundabouts of confidence of the players. I believe the most popular form of tennis is the Men’s Singles, but for me I find the mixed doubles much more fascinating. More fascinating because it is now a team sport and that makes things much more interesting and the team dynamic becomes interesting in itself, they smile more and seem to enjoy playing. It also tends to be a bit slower, it’s not just about whacking the ball as hard as possible and this gives watchers more time to consider the battles playing out.

This brings me to sex. I have written a little about the trials and tribulations of being a heterosexual male. There is another phenomena that I don’t seem to have much choice about and that is finding sportswomen attractive. So, and I think this applies to most people, that we end up supporting athletes we find the most attractive, perhaps especially when they are wearing skimpy clothing and running about a lot. Sometimes I think this is awful. Awful because there tends to be a general consensus agreement about whom is attractive, I’m a little off normal, but there isn’t a huge amount of variance. So attractive sportspeople gain more support than those less attractive and this is unfair. It is unfair because someone could be a brilliant exciting player, but they don’t garner support because the other person is more attractive. Generally I don’t think there is anything at all wrong in being attracted to people, it’s natural, but it can be an issue if you decide to act on this attraction.

What I mean by acting on this attraction isn’t as sinister as it might sound. The act is often a male commentator making remarks about a sportswoman that are not related to their sporting ability, such as ‘how lovely they are’, you do hear this from time to time. I was watching the Mixed Doubles final from Wimbledon and found myself thinking that Heather Watson is impossibly lovely and beautiful, however if I was a sports commentator I would not mention this. I don’t know how much other people find this, but watching that match I went through appreciating the sporting spectacle, the drama as I would for any other sporting event, but underneath this is a part of the appeal are the continuing thoughts of how attractive she is as a woman. It’s like sport can become kind of like soft pornography.

I am a huge advocate of equality. I love watching rugby, I have female friends who play rugby. However I can’t bring myself to go along to the games and support them, because of the sexual aspect, I imagine that I would feel like a pervert watching women rolling around in the mud. I have been told not to worry about it, but at the back of my mind I’m wondering if my motivation for going to support and appreciate the game is affected by a desire to appreciate their bodies.

Everyday when out and about I see attractive women wearing attractive clothing and it is nice, but it isn’t the reason I go out and about. I’m just wondering what it is about sport that is different. It also applies to films, sometimes I am motivated to watch films with actors I enjoy, whether male or female, yet there is that little bit of extra motivation if I regard the female actress as attractive. There are very attractive female actors out there, who don’t act very well, so I am not motivated to watch their films, yet it is possible to ignore their acting ability sometimes. Really I wouldn’t have enjoyed watching this tennis match so much if it wasn’t an enjoyable well played game. At the end of the day, no matter how attractive someone is if they are not good at what they are doing, the appeal of watching them diminishes. It seems that the motivation of watching a game is decided by a weighing up of many factors, sexual attraction being only one. The best things to watch are when the sportspeople are both good at what they do, entertaining and very attractive!

Curing Masculinism

You do occasional here about so called ‘masculinism’ these days as a ‘response’ to feminism, from people who don’t appear to understand feminism in the slightest. As a male myself, collectively men seem so far behind women in getting over trying to be something expected of us by our birth gender role. Both men and women are swamped by images of how what our gender should dress like, behave, enjoy etc. and if you don’t quite fit within this definition or at least play along with it, tough, you’re an outcast. Not only is this limiting and destructive, it is so boring and limiting. For example the idea that I grew up with that ‘Boys don’t cry’, beautifully parodied by my favourite band ‘The Cure’. It took me years before I regained the ability to cry when I was upset. How is it great and ‘manly’ to not feel sad about sad things because we are ‘tough’ that we are don’t want to be affected by anything or have to actually deal with it. So many men, never get over this restriction.

Children very quickly pick up these gender stereotypes and very quickly conform to them. There is evidence to suggest that this conformity is the child demonstrating that they have understood. Society does indeed seem to encourage the development of ‘masculine’ traits for boys and ‘feminine’ ones for girls. However in Western culture particularly we have started to question these gender roles. Really, back in ‘cavemen’ times [or should it be cavepeople? oh wait they didn’t actually live in caves (sic)] it helped society together than the generally larger stronger sex went out hunting. However in an increasingly urban world, there is no need to encourage hunting skills, so why does society have this tendency to stick with these traditions?

Then there is a form of sexism that some men have of expecting women to behave in a ‘feminine’ way, which I don’t get at all. The logic seems to be well I have chosen to conform to a definition of masculinity, so I expect everyone else to conform this way too, even the other gender.Or is it more than this, there is this idea to teach people to conform as the idea as doing this will make your life easier, you will fit in and not stand out. However, it seems that these days success is achieved by the people who do stand out, who do take a different direction.

Often other men ask me “But don’t you like women wearing pretty dresses?” because what I find attractive in women, doesn’t fit the algorithm for how it seems most mean assess or a woman’s attractiveness.

Well I do like women wearing pretty dresses, wearing make up and having done something with their hair, but, only if I have seen them wearing normal clothes first. I like to see the change, the difference. Because most of the time the most attractive thing to me a lady can wear is jeans and a woolly jumper.

As a biologist I have spent some time working in jungles. Working in a jungle is hot and damp and in order to protect the ecosystem we don’t wash clothes in ‘modern’ detergents and th eonly way of gettign them dry is for them to get very smoky drying by a fire. So our clothes are always stained, and holey (from brushing past spiky plants regularly). This did not prevent me from finding some of my female companions attractive. When the project was over and everyone returns to a city, there is often a final social get together in a restaurant before everyone goes home. There is an opportunity to wash properly, wear clean clothes and often the women put on make-up. For me these are special times, to be able to see women I’ve been working for for several weeks in a completely new light. They are not more attractive than they were before, it’s just nice to see them having done something with their appearance. However I gather from other men that they suddenly notice how attractive these women are, I don’t get this at all.

I visited Germany last year. In a sense it was wonderful as the women in Germany dress normally (dress down?) most of the time and usually only have a few dresses for dressing up once in a while. I did indeed think that this was a place I would like to live, a society where my preferences were less different. Having said that a guy shoulder charged me for wearing a floral shirt, anyway German men dress appallingly, stripes everywhere) However some people complain that such Northern European women are somehow ‘less feminine’. They are just as feminine as women anywhere else, what perhaps they mean is that such women do not conform to some traditional view of femininity as in other places.

There are some obvious avenues to explore to explain this. Firstly Northern Europe is densely populated and industrialised a long time ago, so there is a bigger gap to a world where hunting was possible, the culture has had time to develop in new post-industrial ways. Secondly there is language. I’m been learning Welsh recently. Welsh like many other Indo-European languages assigns nouns a gender, masculine and feminine. So the language itself encourages speakers to view things in a gendered way. It is interesting that each language assigns these slightly differently, but there is a broadish conformity with traditional ideas of gender. However, in the Germanic languages of English and I believe the Scandinavian languages, this focus on gender has been lost or is rapidly disappearing. For example we now use ‘they’ for a person of unknown gender, or when the gender is not important (even in Welsh nowadays), whereas in Spanish, such a ‘they’ is masculine, unless the group only consists of females (‘ninos’ (male or mixed group of children) and ‘ninas’ (female only group of children).

How gender is dealt with is hugely complicated. We still live in a world where there are gender expectations. If for whatever reason you don’t fit the traditional roles, you have to find a way to deal with the stereotyping. Personally I have got myself into difficulties with women  who have misinterpreted my attention as seeking a relationship with them. I don’t know whether it is always a mistake to let women know that you find them attractive and then quickly ascertain that they are not interested in exploring a relationship with myself or not. However I often find that some women continue to believe I am seeking a relationship when continuing a non-sexual relationship. It is difficult, because I now see how much negative attention women get from men that is pursuing a relationship. It’s kind of like I had to come to terms with being different and to not be concerned that I was being treated in a seemingly strange way.

I think my conclusion that a traditional model of what masculinity and femininity is not wrong, or something that needs to be cured or got over, however not thinking about it at all can have negative consequences. If you happen to fit in, that is a wonderful gift, yet it is still worth understanding how much of that is really you, how much you are happy to conform and find out where you are different. What I would suggest though is that we do all need to discover who we are for ourselves and not blindly adopt roles. Even if you are an outsider, to function socially you require an understanding of the way the majority behave; which is perhaps why children learn gender roles at a young age. Essentially what I am saying that understanding is good and that we need to understand ourselves better and also find what grounds us, what roots us to ourselves and our communities, to realise that everyone else may be on such a journey too.  We should not criticise others for their choices in how they ground themselves, but we should be wary when others try and pressure people to behave to conform.

 

 

Fashion Attraction Preferences

Often, I have been asked ‘What kind of women are you attracted to?’ I never used to be able to give an answer. When people offer lists of ‘attractive’ women, I tend to agree with some of the selections,but don’t find the others attractive, The women I have had relationships with and those women I find attractive,  didn’t seem to fit into any general category, there are always exceptions. My basic belief is that it is individuals that are attractive, I imagine that there are a wide number of spectra of traits that i have preferences for, however that any individual person can transcend what may appear a huge incompatibility based on any individual spectra. Really, i make an effort not to judge people based on their appearance, although I do to some extent when ‘checking someone out’ to see how attractive I find them.

Nonetheless, I have found online quizzes that I found interesting, in that it enabled me to actually define the kind of women I generally find attractive, based on a number of attributes, both physical and personality traits. It’s called the ‘Beautiful faces test’ and the ‘Your kind of girl test’ on the dating website, http://www.OKCupid.com. Basically, three pictures of the same famous woman are shown, each picture features more or less of a particular trait and you choose which you find most attractive. For example, in one picture the nose is prominent, the second less so and the third where the nose appears less prominent. Your attraction based preference is indicative of whether you have a preference for prominent noses or smaller noses.

One of the most interesting preferences was for dress, again selected by showing the same woman wearing three different styles of clothing. In this case it’s wasn’t a simple spectra, rather it was based on a favoured style and least favoured style How people dress is a product of many forces, but ideally, I feel people should dress to reflect their own personality. Nonetheless dressing a particular way does have an influence on the sort of people you attract. It seems my preference is for women who wear ‘artsy’ cloths, women who strive for individual looks that they find by mixing and matching from vintage shops and charity shops, and  would agree that this is a reflection of what I like to see women wear. Whereas my least favourite style was stylish/smart/fashionable. What is perhaps interesting, is that the very clothing style that is advertised most heavily is the fashionable style. This is possibly a reflection of that this style is where the fashion industry makes the most money from, and partly that this style is generally more widely popular amongst women.

These tests are heavily based on physical attributes, though it would be interesting to consider personality traits, which dress is indicative of. For example, preferences for quiet activities, group activities, athleticism.

The other issue is dating sites themselves. Generally the only preferences they ask about are about physique or ethnic background. It seems discriminatory, focusing on attributes when they are lots of other , arguable more interesting and indicative of personality, preferences people can have.

Anyway, for the record, using the limited spectra offered by these two tests, this is the kind of woman i am generally attracted to:

I am slightly towards the cute end of the sexy- cuteness spectra, the middle of the dark – light spectra, I do have a strong preference for Artsy over stylish. I like big eyes, prominent noses and small mouths.

Actually, I don’t really think this is the sort of answer people are seeking when they ask me what kind of women i am attracted to.