Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Whip It, whip it good!

I am one of those girls who had to give up hitting people for Lent (the only Lenten promise I actually ever kept, I think) and who always gets "too competitive" and hurts someone when I play basically any contact sport. For a long time as a kid, I actually wanted to be a boy, so my way of being in the world would be validated, instead of tolerated (at best) or squelched and stuffed into a cotillion dress (at worst). I think I may have to get into roller derby...

All this is coming to mind because I just treated myself to a mid-week movie with my best girlfriend from way back. We saw Whip It--I haven't enjoyed a movie so much in a long time. It's hysterical and heartfelt and it may be the best/only gynocentric action movie I've ever seen! You have to love Drew Barrymore for making an ass-kickin' mainstream movie with feminist themes.

Overt feminism only goes so far, even these days. At one point in the film, the protagonist's disgruntled BFF snarkily calls the women who rock the wheels "she-males," giving voice to what we can only assume is the general public's opinion of women who play rough (at sports, or in the board room). That comment got me to thinking--why do we still associate aggression with men only? Not that aggression is a virtue unto itself and not that I don't want "feminine" virtues to finally have equal footing with the more macho traits, but physicality, competitiveness and the ability to take hard knocks are valuable traits in my mind. And, I know many, many women who embody them as completely as they embody feminine virtues like caring, compassion, and connection. It sucks that women who embody those "roller girl" attributes are still derisively considered "masculine."

However, it seems that the roller derby world is all about playing with these gender roles, expectations and stereotypes. The outfits in the movie are uber "feminine" with lots of T & A, and the women get all dolled up for the games. This display of femininity makes the physical violence and speed of the sport that much more shocking. And part of what's great about the roller derby subculture is it's love of puns, many of which warp traditional/idealized women. So, I guess in the end, the message is that women can be rugby players on wheels and sex kittens at the same time. Is this progress?

Let me know what you decide. In the meantime, I'm going to dig out my old skates.

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