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Third-wave agenda: women's flat-track roller derby.

This study examines how women's flat-track roller derby transcends traditional feminist models of sport and reflects contradictory third-wave feminist ideologies. The authors propose a third-wave feminist model of sport that reflects a mix of contradictory third-wave social justice and (post)feminist ideologies, such as individualistic dynamics of gendered and sexual expression, gender maneuvering, inclusiveness, concern for social justice, commercialization, spectacle, and stealth feminism. Using a qualitative content analysis of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association league web sites, the authors apply the model to investigate how and to what extent the new derby reflects their model. This analysis yields four interrelated themes: (I) stealth feminism through alternative sport, (2) social justice and inclusiveness, (3) rebelling and reflecting identity performances, and (4) violent action chicks. The study concludes by exploring implications of the third-wave model of sport and women's flat-track roller derby for the transformation of sport and the empowerment of women.

Viewers probably recall the televised display that was roller derby in the 1960s and 1970s. Almost 30 years after roller derby waned from popular culture, women-only leagues began cropping up across the nation, leading to the establishment of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) in 2005. The WFTDA, which is player owned and operated, oversees city leagues, which individually register as an official business (LLC, non-profit, sole ownership, or corporate) and sponsor intra-league bouts. As of 2010, there are 105 WFTDA member leagues and 46 apprentice leagues in the U.S. and Canada with continued expansion. Roller derby bouts (i.e., competitions) reflect a mix of athletics and carnivalesque performance, although players insist that the bouts are real and the action unscripted (Cohen, 2008; Finley, 2010; Joulwan, 2007). A main feature of the new leagues is that they are owned and operated by women for women, which makes the new roller derby a rare phenomenon. In other words, "Women's flat track roller derby is not a women's version of a traditional men's sport" (Finley, p. 367). By this simple definition, then, roller derby is a feminist sport. However, as Finley noted in her ethnographic study, most skaters shy away from the term "feminism," because they claim it carries connotations of angry man-haters victimized by patriarchy. The new derby thus reflects policies and practices in line with feminism, while avoiding the f-word itself. This contradiction, and others that will be discussed, reflect complex third-wave feminist ideologies and are therefore appropriate for this analysis.

We use a qualitative content analysis of WFTDA league web sites to explore how women's flat-track derby transcends traditional feminist models of sport. To achieve this goal, common themes of third-wave feminism and existing feminist sport models are identified, and these are synthesized into a proposed third-wave feminist model of sport. In short, this study analyzes specific ways in which publicized self-portrayals of roller derby reflect (or do not reflect) the characteristics of such a model, and explores implications for the transformation of sport and the empowerment of women through what Heywood and Dworkin (2003) refer to as "stealth feminism" through sport.

The Third Wave

Although some scholars contest the existence of a distinct third wave of feminism, the term has undeniably caught on with both academic and popular imaginations. A growing body of work testifies to an unresolved and open dialogue regarding what third-wave feminism is, and who third-wave feminists are. This section will briefly consider varying accounts in order to identify common themes, which serve to analyze current representations of women's flat-track roller derby.

According to several authors, third-wave feminism emerged in response to the second wave's purported lack of inclusiveness; its white, middle-class bias; its rigid rules of how to be a feminist; its tendency to characterize women as victims of an evil patriarchy; and its anti-sex formulation of all heterosexual sex as rape (Baumgardner & Richards, 2000; Henry, 2004; Hernandez & Rehman, 2002; Heywood & Drake, 1997; Labaton & Martin, 2004; Peoples, 2008; Snyder, 2008; Walker, 2004). Despite some differences, key themes of third-wave feminism emerge repeatedly: (a) fluidity and freedom of gender and sexual expression, usually combined with overt sexuality, sexual pleasure, desire, and agency; (b) all-encompassing inclusiveness regardless of gender, sex, appearance, ability, ethnicity, race, sexual preference, etc.; (c) concern with multiple social justice issues and connecting local to global; and (d) individual expression through the sharing of personal narratives, highlighting contradictory and ambiguous experience. Some versions of third-wave feminism emphasize one or more of these themes over others. Therefore, although contested, we use the term "third-wave" to refer to what we see as two main strands of current feminist ideology: social justice feminism and (post)feminism. These are meant as ideal types that may not exist so neatly in either the literature or lived experience. It is recognized that it may be of questionable benefit to try and categorize the perspectives of people who resist categorization. Nevertheless, they are used as heuristic devices to provide a coherent basis upon which to conduct the data analysis.

Social justice feminism refers to political ideologies of inclusiveness, multiculturalism, global awareness, economic justice, and intersectionality, often centered on gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, and sexuality (Hernandez & Rehman, 2002; Heywood & Drake, 1997; Walker, 2004). Social justice has a broad connotation of linking multiple issues of peace and justice for everyone (Zimmerman, McDermott, & Gould, 2009). Walker said that the third wave "will be multiracial, multicultural, and multi-issue. It will consist of people of varying abilities and sexual preferences. It will include men" (p. xvi). Feminists of this trope are most likely to publicly identify as feminists, acknowledge close ties to second-wave feminist ideology, and criticize others (such as postfeminists) for being atheoretical or apolitical (see Snyder, 2008).

(Post)feminism is another contested term used to encompass postmodern and poststructuralist feminism and the kind of postfeminism that views second-wave feminism as passe, too restrictive, objectionable, or irrelevant to many of today's women (Henry, 2004). Genz (2006) argued that postfeminism results from the diffusion of second-wave feminist ideas into mainstream culture, combined with individualism and consumerism, and a reluctance to identify as feminist. However, it is also recognized that many individuals do identify as feminist, and espouse a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to political and personal feminist expression that tends to center around the fluidity and power of female gender and sexuality (Gonick, 2006).

Thus, this study defines (post)feminism as part of a third-wave shift in the ideologies, identities, and tactics often employed by younger feminists--but different from social justice feminism in its individualist and often consumerist approach. The term "post" is in parenthesis because it is a form of feminism, even though many practitioners decry the label, avoid political statements, and, in some cases, define (overt) feminism as reverse sexism (Schippers, 2002). For example, in her research on women in the alternative hard rock scene, several of Schippers' interviewees claimed that making a special case for women is "sexism" and expressed that people are either (sexist) "assholes" or (non-sexist) "cool people" rather than men or women (p. 161). Nevertheless, alternative hard rockers are displaying individualist (post)feminism in both their face-to-face interactions and by virtue of cultural gender maneuvering, which is intentional group manipulation of dominant definitions of masculinity and femininity. In short, feminist resistance becomes an individual matter done in micro-interactions, or a group decision to mock traditional gender stereotypes, rather than a focus on criticizing or changing structural disparities between women and men (Finley, 2010).

Although social justice feminism also emphasizes sexual agency, (post)feminism tends to center itself on this theme. As Henry (2004) summarized, "Sexuality has become the central means by which third-wave feminists have asserted generational differences" (p. 14). For example, Baumgardner and Richards (2000) argued that many powerful women in our culture who publicly display their body (e.g., Brandi Chastain) are not exploited because they are in control of their own sexual power. Attwood (2007) extended the analogy of this dynamic in her exploration of slut personas embodied by popular cultural icons (e.g., Courtney Love, Lady Gaga). Historically, many people had associated "slut" and similar epithets with low-class, bawdy, female sexuality; and some find it "powerful" to purposefully portray themselves as "white trash" girls (p. 239). They see this persona as better than expressing a second-wave victim identity. Thus, the body becomes a space to advertise and express one's identity and sometimes one's politics; the body becomes a human billboard. This discussion of the performance and sexuality aspects of (post)feminism is emphasized for two reasons: (1) it reflects an overt characteristic of roller derby, as previous literature (Cohen, 2008; Finley, 2010) and the current analysis depict, and (2) it forefronts the role of social-class markers in performance of gender and sexuality, which third-wave discussants often overlook but emerge in self-portrayals of roller girls.

Third-wave Feminism and Sport

Numerous scholars have addressed questions of how women's increasing presence in sport challenges the traditional masculinist model of aggressive, competitive, consumerist sport. Feminism can transform sport and its participants through the application of principles, such as inclusiveness, cooperation and non-competitiveness, challenging traditional gendered social arrangements, empowering women on and off the field, and providing a space of resistance to hegemonic ideas of gender and sexuality (Birrell & Richter, 1994; Birrell & Theberge, 1994; Broad, 2001; Lenskyj, 1994). On the other hand, female athletes also face the specter of commercial appropriation of sexualized images, expectations of heteronormativity, fiscal and media marginalization, and reincorporation into the masculinist model of sport (Creedon, Cramer, & Granitz, 1994; Griffin, 1998; Krane, 2001; Young & White, 1995). A third-wave feminist model of sport, then, is useful to understand these inherent challenges and contradictions.

So, what would a third-wave feminist model of sport look like? Although there is no singular definition of such a model in the literature, some likely characteristics can be extrapolated from existing discussions of sport based on multiple, often contradictory narratives of third-wave feminism. First, due to the ubiquity of women's presence in sport, scholarly discussions now focus on what women's continued presence means to social constructions of sport and gender. Recent participation of women in sport both transforms and reinforces binary gender norms and/or masculinist models of sport (e.g., Heywood & Dworkin, 2003). Despite a new female aesthetic of toned muscularity and prowess on the sporting field, many sportswomen still feel bound by limits on acceptable muscle size, strength, and societal expectations of heteronormative femininity (Choi, 2000; Dworkin, 2001). Yet, Heywood and Dworkin described female athletes as heroic figures who embody characteristics of "action chicks." These are transgressive images of women who are "more muscular and aggressive than in the past" and who combine traditionally masculine traits of aggression and physical strength with traditionally feminine ones of caring and tenderness (Inness, 2004, p. 5). Additionally, action chicks are no longer lone heroes--rather, they bond in friendship and solidarity with other women and defend each other from patriarchal or abusive men (Ross, 2004). The characteristics of action chicks fit with a third-wave model of sport and are an integral part of derby discourse (Finley, 2010).

Second, a third-wave feminist model of sport envelops more than just sporting accomplishments; instead, sport becomes a performance of embodied gender, sexuality, race, and (hetero)sexual attractiveness (e.g., Krane, 2001). In other words, a female athlete's physical appearance, identity, and behavior on and off the field matter; she cannot afford to ignore the truism that both individual and collective commercial success in women's sport are steeped in expectations of heterosexual femininity and attractiveness, as well as athletic prowess. Marginalized, noncommercial, or recreational-level alternative sports such as rugby, feminist softball, and lesbian soccer remain relatively rare spaces where women can actively resist hegemonic expectations of gender and sexuality, and unabashedly celebrate such rebellion (Birrell & Richter, 1994; Broad, 2001; Caudwell, 2006).

Third, the new model still prides itself on inclusion, meaning that women and girls of all shapes, sizes, sexualities, ethnicities, ages, and ability levels should be able to participate. However, mainstream media portrayals of female athletes tend to create the illusion that sport is a level playing field--that anyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexuality, has an equal chance of success (Heywood & Dworkin, 2003). This dynamic ignores existing structural inequalities that affect many sportswomen's life chances and opportunities to fully participate. Corporate sponsors and media pundits often exclude women who lack some ephemeral "heterosexy" quality (Griffin, 1998; Krane, 2001; Lenskyj, 1994; Thorpe, 2006). Similarly, many sport researchers ignore or gloss over sportswomen of color and their experiences despite decades of calls for inclusion. In short, the world of women's sport is just as full of "ambiguity and contradiction" (Young & White, 1995, p. 47) as third-wave feminism itself.

Fourth, similar to many postfeminists, female athletes tend to eschew the "f-word" (feminist), although they often support social justice causes, including feminist ones (Heywood & Dworkin, 2003; Krane, 2001; Messner, 2002; Young & White, 1995). Still, the attitude that "working out is all the activism we need" privileges individual success and ignores the multitude of structural and cultural inequalities that women still face in a globalized world (Heywood & Dworkin, p. 36). Although many criticize the promoters of mainstream women's sport for pandering to consumerism (e.g., Creedon et al., 1994), Heywood and Dworkin argued that "sport is the stealth feminism of the third wave" (p. 25). Likewise, through individual gender maneuvering, derby girls "negotiate actively the meaning and rules of gender to redefine the hegemonic relationship between masculinity and femininity in the normative structure of a specific context" (Finley, 2010, p. 362). Thus, despite avoidance of the label, women in sport do stealth feminism, or at the very least their individual efforts to overcome obstacles and succeed contribute to the overall betterment of women athletes and to shifting norms of femininity.

Finally, a third-wave model of sport encompasses ghettoization, "Just Do It," and social justice models that reinforce or have the potential to transform the center of sport (Messner, 2002). The ghettoization model reflects the marginalization of women's sports, including the lack of media coverage and institutional resources. The Just Do It model includes ideologies of individualism and of increasing mainstream commercialization of women's sport and female athletes. The social justice model, comparable to feminist models of sport, emphasizes inclusion, activism, and cultural awareness. Messner further posited that the increase in alternative, non-mainstream sports, assisted in their rise to popularity by an expansion of media outlets, have great potential to challenge and change existing definitions of sport. However, it is also possible that such sports will be ghettoized or subsumed into the Just Do It dynamic. As Crawford (2004) argued, in order to maintain an audience, alternative sports "have become increasingly spectacular in their presentation of sporting events ... [and] will frequently employ forms of spectacle, such as cheerleaders, pyrotechnics, laser lights, music and videos" (p. 77).

In sum, a third-wave feminist model of sport is characterized as reflecting a mix of contradictory third-wave social justice and (post)feminist ideologies, including individualistic dynamics of gendered and sexual expression, gender maneuvering, inclusiveness, concern for social justice, commercialization, spectacle, and stealth feminism. This study explores the model's paradoxical transgressive, transformative, and reinforcing possibilities for structural gender relations through an analysis of women's flat-track roller derby.


We conducted a qualitative content analysis of eight WFTDA league web sites to explore how derby transcends traditional feminist models of sport and reflects a sport model of third-wave feminism. To accomplish this goal, we identified and synthesized common themes of third-wave feminism with those associated with third-wave feminist sport (as described previously), and applied the resultant model to roller derby's self-portrayals through promotional league web sites. We chose a qualitative content analysis of web sites to inform us of the "ideological mind-sets, themes, topics, symbols, and similar phenomena, while grounding such examinations to the data" (Berg, 2004, p. 269). New media, including the Internet, represent a paradigm shift in the ways that fans interact with sport (Boyle & Haynes, 2002), and organizations such as the WFTDA put considerable resources into their online promotions. Furthermore, as Kozinets (2010) observed, cyberspace is a virtual place where people increasingly participate in public culture. Thus, social scientists are often drawn to the Internet because of its rich potential for qualitative analysis (Denzin, 2004).

Procedures and Data Analysis

Because we had limited previous knowledge about roller derby, we used the inductive approach of moving from the specific to the general (Berg, 2004). In addition, we followed Elo and Kynga's (2007) multi-step procedure to analyze the data, which uses open coding (Corbin & Strauss, 2008) and focuses on a preparation phase and an organization phase.

Preparation Phase. During the preparation phase (Elo & Kynga, 2007), we selected the sampling unit. Our criteria of selection for the sampling units included the web sites (i.e., written text, photos, and graphics) of the top two ranked WFTDA leagues in each of the four regions in the United States, as of August, 2009 (see Appendix A). These eight leagues contained 37 total teams, with approximately 12 players per team. We collected data from August, 2009 through June, 2010, and analyzed them at the league, team, and individual player levels in order to understand if and how the WFTDA represents or constructs a third-wave feminist model of sport. Data collection at the league level included a homepage featuring league news, announcements, photos, or videos, with sub-pages covering topics such as a mission statement, league history, frequently asked questions, how to get involved, events, scrapbooks, sponsorship information, charity work, and media coverage or press kits. Each team in a league has its own sub-page. At this level, data collection included a fictional team "story" or a brief nonfictional summary of the team and its accomplishments. Each team has its own theme, which is typically represented by their uniforms. Uniforms (not costumes) vary and most teams encourage individuals to accessorize or adapt their uniforms as they sec fit. From the team pages, users can click on the derby names of individual players and find information about their derby identities, which are commonly personal, fictional narratives or stories (Cohen, 2008). Occasionally, players provide nonfictional biographical information, or a mix of fictional and biographical elements. There is no information regarding who actually writes these narratives, and most are written in third person. Photos generally accompany the narratives, and are typically colorful, flamboyant, or flippant. It is assumed that all derby names are fictional, as opposed to government names (Cohen, 2008).

Also during the preparation phase, we used manifest and latent content-analysis strategies because we were interested in roller derby's portrayal of deeper meanings through the medium of the Internet. Using manifest strategies, we described the present and observable components of the web sites (Berg, 2004; Graneheim & Lundman, 2003). For example, manifest strategies allowed us to extract skaters' fictional derby names, observe aspects of their physical appearance, and view images of their uniforms. We used latent analysis strategies to interpret implicit meanings in the various discourses, graphics, and photos on the web sites. Thus, the USC of latent strategies allowed us to attach connotation to fictional names, text, and imagery.

Organizing Phase. We began this phase by familiarizing ourselves with the data. The two lead researchers divided the leagues between themselves, with one focusing on leagues in the East and West regions and the other focusing on leagues in the North Central and South Central regions. Each spent a significant amount of time immersing ourselves in the web sites, media coverage, and other first-hand accounts, becoming familiar with the leagues, teams, and players. Additionally, the second author attended several bouts and observed derby in action. At this time, each researcher individually engaged in the open coding process of identifying emergent themes (Berg, 2004; Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Elo & Kynga, 2007).

After familiarizing themselves with the web sites, the lead researchers met to create a coding spreadsheet based on the initial open coding process (Elo & Kynga, 2007). The coding spreadsheet was a manifest content-analysis strategy to organize the more obvious components of the web sites. The spreadsheet was a starting point, but flexibility allowed us to incorporate changes during data collection. For instance, while searching for examples of overt feminism or diversity, we realized that the web texts make few direct references to either, so we accounted for this by including indirect indicators such as the individual skaters' fictional narratives. The spreadsheet encompassed coding at the league, team, and individual levels. At the league level, we extracted data based on organizational structure, mission statement, charity work, how to become a roller girl, and sponsorship. At the team level, we recorded descriptions of team diversity, uniform theme, fictional story of team, and recognition of former players. Finally, at the individual player level, we coded data based on fictional names, real and fictional bios, and the interplay of identities.

Each researcher, then, returned to the league web sites and coded data into the spreadsheet. We also compiled field notes, which we used as one of the latent content-analysis strategies. Next, we met to discuss our preliminary findings and place the categories into higher order groups or themes (Elo & Kynga, 2007). This process included comparing and contrasting data in order to fully understand the phenomena of roller derby as a third-wave feminist model of sport. Eventually, after several meetings, discussions, and reexamination of our own and each other's data and coding, we synthesized numerous emergent themes into four analytical discourses: (1) stealth feminism though alternative sport, (2) social justice and inclusiveness, (3) rebelling and reflecting identity performances, and (4) violent action chicks.

Trustworthiness. That the research extracts quality or credible findings is of utmost importance to qualitative analysis. As Corbin and Strauss (2008) state, "Findings are trustworthy and believable in that they reflect participants', researchers', and readers' experiences with a phenomenon but at the same time the explanation is only one of many possible 'plausible' interpretations" (p. 302). Trustworthiness includes credibility, confirmability, and transferability (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). To establish credibility, the co-researchers spent a prolonged amount of time immersed in the data (Lincoln & Guba). Also, we discussed and compared our interpretations throughout the data analysis in order to establish agreement in the coding of the data and to understand their multiple meanings (Graneheim & Lundman, 2003). Confirmability ensures that the actual data shapes researchers' interpretations (Lincoln & Guba). We carefully and reflexively documented the process of data analysis and interpretation, and kept detailed field and methodological notes. Finally, transferability means that others can apply the findings and conclusions to different situations. Therefore, we contextualize the thick, rich descriptions both in the results and the discussion (Corbin & Strauss; Graneheim & Lundman; Lincoln & Guba).

Internet Research Ethics

We made a reflexive decision to use actual league, team, and individual derby names in our analysis, which are pseudonyms each skater creates to represent her derby identity. Recognizing that the ethics of online research remain debatable and unresolved (Eynon, Fry, & Schroeder, 2008), we agree that "Internet research ought not be singled out for special treatment as compared to other types of research" (Jones, 2004 p. 181). In other words, web sites developed specifically for unrestricted public consumption, such as the ones we draw from, are analogous to observing interaction in publicly open spaces. Further, we chose not to "cloak" (Kozinets, 2010, p. 154) league, team, and skater names for several reasons, namely (a) skater names provide both manifest and latent content regarding race, ethnicity, social class, sexuality, and gender; (b) we used only WFTDA non-blogging, open-access web sites for analysis, where content is intended for public consumption; (c) it would serve little purpose to hide identities because our data are accessible via search engines; (d) it is difficult to link fictional derby identities to real-life government names (Cohen, 2008) and therefore, we believe our research does not increase chances of determined readers finding links to real-life identities. Additionally, we acknowledge that web designers did not post the information on the sites so that researchers could exploit the information (Hall, Frederick, & Johns, 2004). Thus, in our analysis, we avoid drawing conclusions about the personalities or characteristics of individuals based on web portrayals; rather, we make generalizations about derby girls as a whole, as the league sites publicly portray them.

Results and Discussion

In many ways, women's flat-track roller derby does reflect attributes of a third-wave model of sport, although there are some differences, or twists. The data reflect the contradictions of third-wave feminism and women's sport, and we attempt to illustrate the complexities of this dynamic in our analysis. Based on the earlier identification of four components of a third-wave model of sport, we organize our analysis into four interrelated discourses: (1) stealth feminism though alternative sport, (2) social justice and inclusiveness, (3) rebelling and reflecting identity performances, and (4) violent action chicks. We recognize that these themes and patterns are not discrete and overlap in praxis, yet they are valuable as heuristic devices to make sense of the data.

Stealth Feminism through Alternative Sport

League-level mission statements and other derby texts tend to emphasize non-hierarchal democracy (DIY philosophy), collective empowerment, and sisterhood, while simultaneously appealing to fans and sponsors as a highly competitive, alternative sport that entertains and benefits the local community. Despite these emphases, only one league in the data set actually uses the term feminist in its self-description, and that is the founding flat-track roller derby league, the Texas Rollergirls 2010). Far down on the web site's FAQ page, it states:
 Are we third-wave feminists? Sure. Are we going to beat you over the
 head with it? Nope! We're too busy training and competing and living
 our lives ... We tip our helmets to the women who came before us: the
 old school skaters who first showed us how it could be done, and the
 women of the Second Wave who fought for Title IX so that little girls
 everywhere grow up knowing they can run track, compete on the swim
 team, play a team sport, or start a roller derby revolution.

This statement, or disclaimer, reflects both a nod to feminists of yore and a retreat from the f-word itself. However, it also espouses women's empowerment, a theme that league web sites evince. For example, the Philly Roller Girls' mission statement claims, "We promote physical and mental strength and the energy, intensity, and independent spirit of women." Furthermore, the data reflect contradictory third-wave sport ideology by emphasizing sisterhood and female bonding, combined with a traditionally masculinist espousal of toughness and competitiveness, albeit with a feminine twist. Perhaps the Bay Area Derby Girls (2010) say it best:
 The fights are real. We're good friends at practice, respectful,
 supportive and helpful. But once the whistle blows, it's a different
 story. While we're all level-headed, professional, and friendly girls
 off the track.., when we're skating, we can be tough, competitive
 bitches. We blame it on the adrenaline.

Melicious, who is Joulwan's (2007) derby persona, says that there is a "shared prebout ritual" among the women consisting of affection, compliments, and lots of encouragement, because they are "all each other's biggest fans and the gushing is a necessary precursor to the ass kicking that comes later" (p. 69). After the bouts, all is supposedly forgiven among competitors: "It is a sport where you knock 'em down, skate over 'em, then come back and pick 'em up, hug 'em, and buy 'em a drink at the afterparty" (LaFontaine, 2008, P. 14). In the more traditional, masculine model of sport, players are not expected to be friendly, especially with competitors or opposing team members. In contrast, our data clearly express the spirit of cooperation among teammates and competitors. For example, the BAD girls use language of collective empowerment, pointing out that they are "aided by a national sisterhood of like-minded and dedicated women" (Bay Area Derby Girls, 2010) This is a reference to the WFTDA, which the Texas Rollergirls (2010) founded on a democratic DIY philosophy that all leagues and teams are expected to follow (Joulwan). Their mission statement is one of many that reflect this:
 We ensure that skaters are represented in management and at all
 levels of governing. Our organization coined the statement "By the
 skaters, for the skaters" in 2003, and we continue to skate or die by
 that mantra ... We value the contributions of each of our members, on
 and off the track. We share a mutual respect for each other, along
 with a commitment to excellence, innovation, and integrity in all we
 do and say.

Statements such as this devalue corporate, hierarchal, profit-driven aspects of a masculinist model of sport and emphasize roller derby as an "alternative." Derby is not for personal financial gain, as the Bay Area Derby Girls state, "no one makes a dime" of profit. This aligns with Messner's (2002) discussion of the recent rise of alternative and extreme sports that have the potential to disturb the ideological center of the traditional masculinist sporting model. Indeed, the theme is further illustrated by league self-descriptions and mission statements such as this one: "We are hard working athletes dedicated to presenting an alternative sports experience that is both cutting-edge and socially responsible" (Philly Roller Girls, 2010.

In sum, although themes of women's empowerment, sisterhood, and alternative-sport DIY philosophy are fairly common in league and team descriptions, promotional materials, and individual accounts, actual mentions of the word feminist are almost nonexistent. Avoidance of the f-word may be a purposeful strategy based on promoters' and players' desire not to alienate segments of their targeted audience and to attract diverse fans, commercial sponsorship, and positive media attention, which is similar to strategics used by some third-wave feminists to attract a larger pool of adherents (Peoples, 2008; Walker, 2004). According to Heywood and Dworkin (2003), this praxis is in line with most sportswomen today: "Through their work on women's sport issues, every day feminists are advancing their causes in a kind of stealth feminism that draws attention to key feminist issues and goals without provoking the knee-jerk social stigmas attached to the word feminist" (p. 51, emphasis theirs).

We think there are two logical reasons for derby leagues to avoid negative connotations of overt feminism and concern themselves with commercialism, sponsorship, and media promotion. First, without such things, they risk losing their fan base and Financial support for overhead costs. In other words, they risk ghettoization of their beloved sport (Messner, 2002). Unfortunately, ghettoization is a real possibility, because sport fans and the media marginalize or ignore women's sports they consider too masculine, not sexy enough, or not competitive enough (Creedon et al., 1994; Krane, 2001). According to a recent WFTDA (2010) survey, the average roller derby fan is between 25 and 54 years old, identifies as heterosexual, earns a middle-class income, and has a college degree. Advertisers consider these characteristics a coveted demographic, which the WFTDA acknowledges in their appeal to commercial sponsors. Thus, attracting fans and sponsors is the lifeblood of derby, and promoters carefully avoid alienating them. The second and interrelated reason is discussed next.

Social Justice and Inclusiveness

Another logical impetus to embrace a certain level of commercialism is that the typical derby agenda includes raising money for a wide variety of community organizations and causes, which again requires financial support from fans and sponsors. Web sites explicitly state that fundraising to support certain causes is an essential part of the overall mission of derby. Indeed, many leagues in the WFTDA are 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. For instance, since 2007, the Windy City Rollers (2010) claim to have raised about $28k for their chosen social justice organizations. Though we use the term social justice to describe this pattern, roller derby leagues use softer terms, such as contributing to "worthy social causes," doing "community outreach" or "charity work," being "socially responsible," supporting "grassroots organizations," or "giving back to the community," which again may be a strategy to avoid connotations of the more radical strains of feminism (or leftist liberalism). The term "justice," like the word feminist, fails to appear in the data.

Despite avoidance of potentially controversial terminology, we assert that the theme of third-wave feminist social justice is clearly present in praxis. Although leagues fundraise for a variety of organizations, many of them can be considered to be feminist or queer in their focus, such as Women in Transition, AIDS Fund, Delaware County Women Against Rape, Bikers Against Child Abuse, Girls Rock Philly, San Francisco Pride, Lower East Side Girls Club, Abused Women Coalition, Planned Parenthood, Chicago Pride, and the Child Abuse Treatment Center. Messner (2002), in his discussion of women's sports, referred to this sort of activity as part of the social justice model, which, he said, has the greatest potential to transform traditional, masculinist models of profiteering and glory-driven sport (pp. 152-156. However, he also recognized that real-world sporting practices often overlap in contradictory ways, such as derby's combination of a seemingly radical feminist social justice emphasis with elements of the more traditional Just-Do-It model that foregrounds individual accomplishment and commercial success. In short, we consider the contradictory ambiguity of espousing what can be viewed as feminist ideologies and activities, while carefully avoiding the feminist label, to be rather robust indicators of third-wave stealth feminism in women's sports (Heywood & Dworkin, 2003).

A related theme identifies in the data is derby's practice of inclusiveness. In a third-wave feminist sport model, inclusiveness means that everyone--regardless of individual characteristics such as ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, size, or ability level--can join and benefit from participation. Roller derby's promotional philosophy and praxis reflect this, although with some limitations and contradictions. For example, roller girls portray themselves as part of a "sisterhood" that is encouraging before bouts (e.g., complimenting one another), aggressive on the track in no-holds-barred competitiveness, then supportive afterward with a sense of camaraderie and community (e.g., hug and buy each other drinks) where absolutely everyone is included (Bowlin, 2005; Joulwan, 2007; LaFontaine, 2008). However, this picture of feminist utopia espoused in promotional materials may be an exaggeration of the facts. According to Cohen (2008), derby's much-touted inclusiveness is not always backed by praxis. Similarly, Finley (2010) pointed out that "girlie girls"--women who practice hegemonic femininity--are not especially welcome in derby circles; also, they tend to wash out quickly because they cannot handle the physical or emotional aggression (p. 378). Therefore, sisterhood and inclusiveness are not necessarily ubiquitous in the new derby. Nevertheless, they come closer than most sports. Although most leagues are women-only and highly competitive, some offer junior leagues for kids, less competitive recreational teams, and boot camps where anyone can learn derby skating skills. Non-competitors may participate in other derby roles, such as coach, announcer, referee, "jeerleader," videographer, and statistician. In WFTDA leagues, men are welcome in supporting roles, provided they do not try and wrest control or ownership from the women. Indeed, men comprise 60 percent of league volunteers (WFTDA, 2010). As for the skaters themselves, most (63%) are between 25 and 34 years of age, although 28 percent are 35 or older. Most are married or partnered, about a third have minor children living with them, and the vast majority have at least some college education with many attaining advanced degrees. Most identify as straight, but a significant proportion (24%) identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or other. The survey results correspond fairly well with our observations through content analysis, although they do not provide data on race or ethnicity.

In general, web site text and images portray a wide variety of body shapes and sizes, ages, individual gender expressions, and, to some extent, racial and ethnic backgrounds among skaters. Diversity of body size and shape varies among teams. However, derby's general trend is to embrace all sizes and shapes, as long as the requisite athletic ability is present. For example:
 Girls of all builds can be good at roller derby. Smaller girls often
 make good jammers: they are fast, easy to whip around the rink ... Big
 girls make excellent blockers because they are hard to push around
 and are more effective at pushing others. (Philly Roller Girls, 2010)

Or, as the Texas Roller Girls (2010) put it, "Come on, girls. You know we say it all the time: Size doesn't matter." These sentiments are usually backed by praxis, as derby images attest. In addition, derby imagery portrays quite a variety of ages, statuses, and gender identities by including older women, young women, mothers, pregnant women, butch women, heterosexy women, androgynous women, and femme-inine women, which is a term Caudwell (2006) used to denote "out" lesbian sportswomen who "do" femininities that they intend as subversive rather than conforming to heteronormativity (p. 147).

While a definite majority of players appear Caucasian-American or white, there are quite a few skaters of color and/or of another ethnicity. While we find it problematic to attempt an accurate numerical measure of derby's racial/ethnic diversity, we infer its scope from our interpretations of images, narratives, and skater names. For example, a Wall Street Traitors (2010) team members' bio states: "While she may look like a white girl, Lucille 'Boom Boom' Ballistic is actually half Spanish ... She is super-proud of her heritage (two of her tattoos are Bolivian-themed)."

While leagues openly discuss or portray diversity in age, race/ethnicity, femininities, and body size, displays of sexual preference and transgender identities are either missing or expressed more subtly, leaving interpretation up to the viewer. First, because leagues are women-only, the viewer is encouraged to assume that all players are biological females, so transmen and transwomen must be uninterested, invisible, or unwelcome. Skater narratives rarely mention sexual preference explicitly, although they are full of indirect (mainly heterosexual) allusions. Aside from one direct reference to lesbianism (an openly-lesbian skater couple), league sites lack discussion about sexualities and sexual preference. Journalistic accounts of derby occasionally mention lesbians, although only in passing and portraying lesbianism as unproblematic or insignificant. For example, Ivanna S. Pankin of the Texas Roller Girls stated:
 We include all women. Not just the white ones or the rich
 ones ... we enthusiastically accept professionals, homemakers,
 punk chicks, every ethnicity, religious or not group. ... Vegans
 play with bacon-lovers. Lesbians bout against housewives. (Quoted
 in Joulwan, 2007, p. 214)

This apolitical but friendly inclusiveness mirrors the tendency of women's sport promoters to be cognizant of the fact that mainstream sporting audiences, media outlets, and sponsors may still be put off by the overt or politicized presence of lesbians and other non-conformists (Krane, 2001). Therefore, although one of every four skaters identifies as lesbian, bisexual, or other (WFTDA, 2010), and several players publicly identify as lesbian, league narratives treat sexual preference as a personal rather than political orientation. Such a strategy minimizes or attempts to divorce lesbianism from its association with political feminism (Finley, 2010). In other words, this pattern reflects third-wave sportswomen's distrust of feminist politics; sexual non-conformists are welcome in derby as long as they remain fairly unobtrusive in public settings. In our view, this finding reflects sport's overarching concern with mainstream commercialism more than it does third-wave feminist ideologies.

Derby's fictionalized portrayal of social class also fails to closely match available empirical evidence. While we did not expect to (and did not) find overt discussions about socio-economic status, we noted an interesting duality in how league promoters tacitly represent the social background of the skaters. On the one hand, some (presumably fictional) derby identities feature stereotypical lower- and working-class femininities (Attwood, 2007). On the other, (presumably nonfictional) autobiographical narratives and the WFTDA (2010) survey results clearly show that most participants can afford at least a middle-class lifestyle. The Gotham Girls Roller Derby (GGRD) site was especially helpful in exemplifying this because their skaters provide seemingly nonfictional bios in which they mention occupation, education, and sporting backgrounds. Many are graduate students or degreed professionals in diverse fields. As the league sums it up:
 Gotham Girls ages range from early 20s to late 40s, and the
 occupations are just as diverse. There are several teachers,
 designers, a few lawyers, an astronomer, a pastry cook, a
 private investigator and more. (Gotham Girls Roller Derby,

Furthermore, GGRD participants discuss their sporting background, which generally includes sports typically associated with middle or upper-class lifestyles, such as figure skating, equestrian, golf, rock climbing, gymnastics, sailing, riflery, and water polo (Wilson, 2002). The preponderance of highly educated, middle-class skaters makes sense, because participation requires considerable investment of money and the availability of leisure time (WFTDA, 2010). These factors would make it difficult for those in lower or working classes to participate.

In sum, derby reflects elements of both social justice and inclusiveness, themes that our third-wave feminist sport model highlights. However, we contend that derby portrayals at every level also mirror commercial, individualized aspects of the model. The following section details individual skater identities and explores possible explanations for the aforementioned disjuncture between roller girls' real-life backgrounds and their derby identity performances.

Rebelling and Reflecting Identity Performances

This theme highlights one of the most salient features of the new roller derby--promotion of the individual and individual performances. In the minds of the audience, derby identities establish a personality for each skater. In the world of sports, it is often difficult to distinguish one sport personality from another (Rinehart, 1994). Although "Alice" is easily forgotten, fans will likely remember her derby identity, Malice with Chains.

One of third-wave feminism's key principles is individual expression through the sharing of narratives (Snyder, 2008). Roller derby makes individual expression apparent by encouraging skaters to form a derby identity, consisting of a unique derby name, an individualized biographical narrative, and individually tailored uniforms for competition. However, because derby identities are so "all-encompassing you cannot separate the individual from that identity," roller girls perform a mixture of real-life and fictionalized aspects of self (Cohen, 2008, p. 28). We argue that by merging the real and the fictional, skaters use their power and agency to reproduce yet rebel against hegemonic views of gender, race, ethnicity, and social class.

Race and Ethnicity. This section focuses on the empowering aspects of racial and ethnic identity within the derby identity. Some roller girls use their derby identity to reflect famous people or icons from their own racial group. For example, from the Gotham Girls All Stars team, Beyonslay reflects the popular and successful entertainer Beyonce. Additional examples are Diva de los Muertos from the Dreadnought Dorothies; Nina Knockout from the Broad Street Butchers, who was the first African American woman on the Philly Roller Girls; and belle 'right' hooks from SF ShEvil Dead.

Moreover, many skaters perform and intimately connect their ethnicity to their derby identity. Chica Mala of the Oakland Outlaws will "bust you like a pinata ... skills hotter than picante and, loves to drink Tecate" (Oakland Outlaws, 2010). Juanna Rumble of the Fury characterizes herself as the Freakin' Korican, which is slang for half Korean and half Puerto Rican. Luv U. Longtime of the SF ShEvil Dead is "originally from Vietnam. The move to the Silicon Valley, helped her get in touch with her inner rage" (San Francisco ShEvil Dead, 2010). Thus, instead of ignoring racial and ethnic identities, a number of roller girls embrace their historical and cultural heritage and bond it to their derby identity.

Additionally, some skaters' biographies provide more detail about their ethnicity. We assert that many of these stories intentionally blur the line between reality and fiction. Fans must know some of the content is based in reality, but they cannot know for certain what is real and what is fabricated. For instance, Das-It of the Honky Tonk Heartbreakers shares that she was born in Ethiopia and lived with missionaries because her parents were killed during the Civil War (Honky Tonk Heartbreakers, 2010). In addition, Rice Rocket of the Hotrod Honeys' bio reveals she was the pride of her strict, traditional family, but when she fell in love with race cars, she could wed an old pig farmer or work in a sweatshop (Hotrod Honeys, 2010). We do not know if these narratives reflect Das-It's and Rice Rocket's actual experiences in life or if they purposely fictionalized accounts of incidents that women in Ethiopia and Asia regularly experience. Perhaps roller girls feel free to share their often challenging, potentially uncomfortable stories with the public under a pseudonym and riddle their narratives with uncertainty as to the real experiences of the people behind the identities. Potentially, this practice opens a space for skaters to raise fan awareness of issues such as civil war in Ethiopia or child labor in Asia. As Wilson (2007) asserted, new media technologies foster a closer connection between activism and sport that helps contextualize derby's focus on social justice issues. In short, we argue that roller girls are making sure that no one can ignore their views and perhaps experiences regarding race and ethnicity as women of color. Through their individual actions and derby identities, they are likely bringing attention to racial and ethnic inequalities.

Social Class. As highlighted earlier, narratives of social class in fictional bios and skater names seem somewhat disconnected from the actual social status of most roller girls. Indeed, teams and individuals base their derby identities on the low-class, white-trash, slut icon (Attwood, 2007). For example, the story of the Fury states:
 This bunch of bad girls, who came from broken homes and troubled
 lives, learned to run the streets like Oprah runs the lives of hard
 up suburban housewives. Combined, the rap sheet between the Fury
 reads like a Nabokov novel. Nailed for arson, assault, jaywalking,
 and smuggling ... Never turn your back on your sister ... she may stab
 you. (Fury, 2010)

Similarly, Devil Kitty from the Detroit Pistoffs says she experienced a life of abuse and hits her friends for fun (Detroit Pistoffs, 2010). Shank, from the Hotrod Honeys, discusses growing up in Juvy Center 3 after drinking, smoking, and stealing a car or two (Hotrod Honeys, 2010). Also, there is Ghetto Barbie, #Section 8 of the D-Funk Allstars, who does not provide a biography but her derby name and derby number clearly refer to someone who lives in government-subsidized housing in the inner city and struggles to get by financially.

On the other hand, there are teams and roller girls who use derby to reflect an upper-class lifestyle, which, like the lower-class narratives and identities, may be fictional or a mix of real and invented. For instance, the Hell's Belles were "sent to the finest finishing school to become prim and perfect in every way: full of charm, grace, and beauty. However, they discovered the system was broken and the rules antiquated and stifling" (Hell's Belles, 2010). This story, similar to the Hell Marys' and the Knockouts', suggests an upper-class background: the girls soon realize that the social rules governing upper-class femininity discourage freedom and autonomy. Therefore, they find derby attractive because it plays by different rules. The recently released mainstream movie Whip It (2009) portrays just such a transformation from charm school princess to rough-and-tumble roller girl, which seems to be one of the more popular theme narratives in derby. Thus, even if they possess money or upper-class status, roller girls make it clear in their biographies that they are as tough as street girls. For example, Muff' Mafioso of the Devil's Night Dames shares that "when she is not on her roller skates she's at the country club ... but don't let the pearls fool you" (Devil's Night Dames, 2010).

Gender. Despite considerable variation, typical roller girls evince feminine, countercultural, sexualized personas. As the Gotham Girls describe it, roller derby strives for a "positive, athletic, hip, smart and sexy image" (Gotham Girls Roller Derby, 2010). LaFontaine (2008) asserted, "When you think of roller girls you probably think of tattoos, dyed hair, and attitude" (p. 14). However, media attention, fan base, and commercial sponsorship very often depend on female athletes' ability or willingness to perform both heterosexuality and athleticism (Krane, 2001). Roller girls reproduce this heterosexual femininity via uniforms consisting of short skirts or shorts worn over stockings with a stretched shirt often showing cleavage, and the application of make-up. Wearing skirts, skintight clothes, and make-up mirrors the pressure many female athletes experience to prove their heterosexuality in spite of their athletic successes (Kranc, 2001). Yet, in true third-wave feminist fashion, roller girls reclaim these gender performances and create "caricatures" of femininity (Cohen, 2008). Roller girls are "playing on images of dominatrixes, school girls, anime figures, and pinup models" (Cohen, p. 30). Indeed, web images reveal these icons both at the team level (see Hell Marys or Blackeye Susans for images of sexualized school girls, Hotrod Honeys for pinup models, and Hustlers and The Pistol Whippers for anime figures) and the player level.

Cat's Meow #9, of the D-Funk All Stars in Detroit, expresses a derby identity that is a caricature of femininity. Her biography states, "She is sneaky and sassy. She purrs when she is happy, hisses when she is mad. Cute and lovable one minute, her claws come out the next" (D-Funk All Stars, 2010). Her derby identity reflects traditional notions of femininity by conjuring up images of being sweet, soft, and playful yet ready to strike. Indeed, WFTDA web site imagery sometimes depicts sexualized "cat fights" between two or more girls. VooDoo Doll from the Hotrod Honeys in Texas portrays a sexualized, sluttish femininity. Wearing a black, skin-tight leather bathing suit over fishnet stockings, VooDoo Doll's bio claims she was once part of "art" films including Sexual Chupacabras (Spanish for goat sucker) and now gets her sexualized thrills by working her mojo on the track (Hotrod Honeys, 2010). By being their own sexual agents and portraying extreme versions of heterosexual femininity, roller girls refuse to be sexually exploited. This reflects Baumgardner and Richards' (2000) argument about popular female icons controlling their own sexual power.

Another type of heterosexual, feminine gender performance observed in derby identities is motherhood. In a society that often undervalues motherhood, derby appears to be an arena that embraces pregnancy and children. For example, the biography of After Bertha from the Hell's Belles maintains that she became a force after the birth of her first baby (Hell's Belles, 2010). Polly Puredread of the Oakland Outlaws discusses receiving a "special award in the form of a bun in the oven and consequently didn't play for 2008" (Oakland Outlaws, 2010). The photo of Sassy B. from the Black-Eye Susans shows her hands on her pregnant belly. In this manner, the real life of these skaters is intertwined with their derby identity. They embrace their role of motherhood and, in third-wave fashion, provide contradictory images of strong, competitive, and aggressive pregnant women.

Thus, although we found sufficient examples of heterosexual, feminine gender performance, not all roller girls reinforce hegemonic imagery. Others rebel against these feminine ideals by creating their own type of non-hegemonic or alternative gender performances (e.g., Schippers, 2007). For instance, a number of roller girls sport a countercultural appearance of tattoos, piercings, and bold hair colors, among other affects (Finley, 2010). Riot Nrrrd of the Devil's Night Dames is "part riot grrrl and part uber-nerd" and Inky Gash #tat2 of the Devil's Night Dames has multiple piercings on her face and tattoos up and down her arms (Devil's Night Dames, 2010). Other roller girls perform what some read as genderqueer (Shorwell & Sangrey, 2009). For instance, the derby name Enigma, of the Black Eye Susans, suggests there is something about her, perhaps her gender, which others cannot easily explain or describe. Similarly, Brooklyn Bombshells' OMG WTF's (i.e., "Oh My God, What the Fuck?") choice of skater name may reflect how people respond to her in real life. In her individual photos, she stands with her tattooed arms over her chest with her short hair shaved on the sides with a longer middle streak combed forward in a Mohawk-like cut. In the team photo, OMG WTF seems to sport men's red underwear, which, combined with her overall presentation, makes it likely that some audiences would read her as transgender in addition to simply not feminine.

Regardless of how skaters perform gender, we argue that all roller girls rebel against hegemonic femininity in some manner. Similar to rugby, lesbian soccer, and feminist softball leagues (Birrell & Richter, 1994; Broad, 2001; Caudwell, 2006), roller derby is a space where women can actively resist feminine ideals by displaying what Halberstam (1998) termed "female masculinity." Roller girls whose identities display female masculinity ostensibly allow themselves to be self-assured, show ego, have little fear of being exploited, possess a physical prowess associated with masculinity, and value both the feminine and masculine parts of the self: And, because derby identities tend to bleed over into real life (Cohen, 2008), elements of female masculinity (e.g., power and self-assuredness) transfer into other arenas of life where roller girls continue to challenge notions of a hegemonic gender binary.

Violent Action Chicks

Joulwan (2007) described the new derby as "a dazzling carnival on wheels. ... The spectacle drives fans into a hormone-and-beer induced frenzy" (p. ix). The new derby challenges hegemonic notions of both femininity and masculinity by mocking or altering them as part of the entertainment package: "Using humor and parody, derby takes gender maneuvering to a public performative level. It is part of the show" (Finley, 2010, p. 376). In derby, a type of gender maneuvering, using threats of or actual violence, is part of the performance. To be female but masculine is to be powerful and competitive without apologizing, and violence can be part of the dynamic (Halberstam, 1998; Heywood & Dworkin, 2003). The contact sport of roller derby allows women to act out such aspects of female masculinity. Inness (2004) used the term "action chicks" to describe cultural female icons who can be tough, strong, and aggressive, who do not need men to save them, and who do not accept their place as women in society. Roller girls evince these qualities and, moreover, reveal how tough and violent they can be via their derby identities as well as their actions in the rink.

Derby discourse is laden with imagery of toughness and violence. As action chicks, derby girls stand up for themselves, even if it means engaging in fierce and vicious deeds. For example, Pussy Velour of the Hustlers reports "laying down the smack and taking out jive turkeys with her swift and powerful kung-fu blows" (Hustlers, 2010). Raggedy Animal of the All-Stars shares that "she couldn't kill a cockroach, but she'd like to punch you in the face" (Gotham Girls Roller Derby, 2010). Lady Kiss Off from the Oakland Outlaws' weapon of choice is her teeth, and she is not too shy to use them (Oakland Outlaws, 2010).

Furthermore, action chicks use aggressiveness and violence to overcome patriarchal and abusive men (Ross, 2004). A number of derby identities show women using violence against men who rejected or hurt them. In her fictional bio, Carnage Wilson of the Fury claims that after her father, Brian Wilson, shunned her, she skated across the USA killing anyone in her path in retaliation (Fury, 2010). Muffy Mafioso of the Devil's Night Dames reveals that "the last man that broke her heart is wearing cement shoes at the bottom of the Detroit River" (Devil's Night Dames, 2010). Coco Motion of the SF ShEvil Dead warns, "Get in her way, and she'll show you exactly what she thinks of all scab-picking chauvinist men, even if you're not one" (San Francisco ShEvil Dead, 2010). Such narratives reflect Schippers' (2002) description of a subculture where sexist men are "assholes" and deserve what they get. Furthermore, like the alternative hard rock women in Schippers' study, roller girls refer to sexist, hurtful men as faulty or dysfunctional individuals, rather than placing men's violence against women in a systemic patriarchal gendered framework.

As personifications of action chicks, roller girls portray a female masculinity exhibiting stories of bloodshed, brutality, and payback for the misdeeds of others. Although the violence and violent imagery seem counter to a third-wave feminist model of sport, it does emphasize spectacle, individualism, and contradiction. The violent attitudes and carnage inherent in many derby identities adds to the spectacle of the sport, and the illustrations and stories of violence create a memorable event for the entertainment of the audience.

Indeed, derby displays of violence evince a number of contradictions, which reflect core ideologies of third-wave feminism. First, we argue that it is the performance aspect of derby that allows women to be tough and violent without serious life consequences. For example, Inness (2004) suggested that the freedom of tough women can only occur within a prescribed set of boundaries. Therefore, because it is the derby identities engaging in the contact and aggression and not real women per se, roller girls have the freedom to display these behaviors. Second, the use of the terms "roller girt' or "derby girt' provides contrast to masculine badges of toughness. For example, to call a grown woman a girl is to belittle her and her accomplishments. Thus, some may interpret the term roller girl as undermining otherwise masculine displays of toughness and aggressive physicality. Conversely, third-wave feminists argue that the term girl just as likely evokes notions of female empowerment (Gonick, 2006). Thus, the term roller girl may be a conscious repudiation of the stereotype that girls cannot be tough.


By utilizing a qualitative content analysis of the web sites of select WFTDA leagues, we proposed a third-wave model of sport in order to examine how derby reflects or does not reflect this model. Compiling themes from third-wave feminism and existing feminist models of sport, we argue that a third-wave model of sport reflects a mix of contradictory third-wave social justice and (post)ferninist ideologies, including individualistic dynamics of gendered and sexual expression, gender maneuvering, inclusiveness, concern for social justice, commercialization, spectacle, and stealth feminism. Taken together, this third-wave model of sport has the potential to both transform and reinforce existing hegemonic gender relations. Our data, via four interrelated and themed discourses--(1) stealth feminism though alternative sport, (2) social justice and inclusiveness, (3) rebelling and reflecting identity performances, and (4) violent action chicks--suggest that women's flat-track derby not only exhibits all of the characteristics of a third-wave model of sport, but also helps shape it. Like third-wave feminism, the threads woven throughout derby are contradiction, contrast, paradox, and an aversion to labeling.

The theme of stealth feminism (Heywood & Dworkin, 2003) through alternative sport highlights ways in which the WFTDA is a feminist organization while eschewing use of the term feminist. However, the themes of social justice and inclusiveness underscore that the WFTDA is concerned with and engages in (often implicitly feminist) social justice efforts through charity work. Active avoidance of the feminist label illustrates that commercialization of the sport is a necessity and is something that the association actively seeks. On the other hand, derby both values and supports diversity, especially expressions of alternative femininities (Schippers, 2002), body types and sizes, and race/ ethnicity. Rebelling and reflecting identity-performance discourses reflect the characteristics of identity, gendered performance, spectacle, and transgressive possibilities. Through their derby identities, roller girls engage in these practices. Finally, the spectacle of derby and additional examples of contradictions emerge in the theme of violent action chicks (Inness, 2004).

As a reflection of a third-wave model of sport, derby is transforming and will continue to transform sport, especially the center of sport (Messner, 2002). Future research should address whether or not derby sustains the social justice and DIY aspects of their sporting praxis amidst growing popularity and commercialization. Other alternative sports, such as skateboarding and snowboarding, lost their DIY ethic through mainstream commercialization (Thorpe, 2006). If derby can maintain its organizational structure and stealth feminist ideologies through the mainstreaming process, it can be a stellar example of third-wave model of sport and how it can alter and likely progress the institution of sport.


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(1.) A portion of this research was funded by a Summer Interdisciplinary Small Grant sponsored by the Graduate College and the Office of Sponsored Programs at the University of Northern Iowa. Many thanks to the editors and anonymous reviewers of WSPAJ.

Ruth A. Chananie-Hill, University of Northern Iowa; Jennifer J. Waldron, University of Nothern Iowa; Natalie K. Umsted, University of Connecticut


Ruth A. Chananie-Hill

Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology University of Northern Iowa Mailcode 0513 Cedar Falls, IA 50614


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Title Annotation:Original Research Article
Author:Chananie-Hill, Ruth A.; Waldron, Jennifer J.; Umsted, Natalie K.
Publication:Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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