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[Pn. 2] They’re Called “Spanks” and They’re Functional: Gender Performance through Clothing Expression in Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby

19 October 2013


This paper discusses gender performance and female agency through an ethnographic study of two Colorado roller derby teams from the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). The WFTDA presents a rarity, being a sport for women and by women. In women’s roller derby, the idea of hegemonic masculinity usually present in sports subsides and socially constructed gender binaries merge, blend, and intersect. The sport presents one particular area of gender merging, which involves players consciously taking clothing expressions typically deemed feminine—“spanks,” which are glittery, sometimes pink, skintight shorts, and fishnet tights—and placing them into a physically aggressive and otherwise masculine arena where tough blocks and getting bruised are a staple. What is put on display in roller derby is not the player’s body, but the relationship between her body and the derby persona she is embodying. The awareness of a character, or a derby identity on display rather than just the player’s body, naturalizes the embodiment of feminine clothing expressions as a concurrent position of both conformity and subversion to traditional notions of femininity. This liminal space acknowledges the transformative occurrence within the roller derby context where the female body becomes a site for empowerment. Players deliberately use representations of traditional femininity and traditional masculinity in order to establish and control their own image and identity, presenting themselves as tough-as-nails athletes, but also as agents of their own sexuality and sex appeal.


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