Hey, journalist, don’t make me hipcheck you
Posted on June 28, 2012
I am a journalist. I am a derby girl. I am both of these things simultaneously. All of the time. By day, by night, at that crepuscular hour that’s neither quite day or night … yep, still a journalist and derby girl. I know, I know, I am blowing your mind here! How could one girl, one woman, embody such complex characteristics as those that comprise a professional journalist AND a roller derby player all at once?! Can you picture me barely restraining myself from hipchecking all my coworkers at an editorial meeting? Calling off the jam so I can go scribble something in my notebook? It’s so confusing! Does. Not. Compute.
If you encountered roller derby through the many hundreds of mainstream media articles that have been written about the modern iteration of the sport in the past decade, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Here is the same sad, tired, old lede (lede = journalism argot for “opening sentence of a story”) in an article about Wasatch Roller Derby published just this month in the Salt Lake Tribune:
“By day, Teryn Mendenhall is a dental hygienist and photography student at the University of Utah. By night, she is Skatey Gaga, captain of the Midnight Terror roller-derby team.”
“We are who we are 100 percent of the time…. I might have a fake name in roller derby, but Bonnie Thunders and Nicole Williams are the same person. Bonnie Thunders is my nickname; it’s not a different person, it’s not an alter ego.”
Amen. We derby girls do not jump into a phone booth after work and emerge wearing Riedells and fishnets, ready to kick ass at practice. Many of the qualities that make us successful in our professional and personal lives are those that make us awesome derby players. And many of the skills we learn and cultivate among our teammates both on and off the track are ones that bolster the other parts of our lives. We are complex, dynamic creatures! We are women. We are human beings. All of the time.
Maybe I should be gratified that journalists want so badly to describe us in the language of superheroes, but it offends me as both a journalist and a derby player. At the phenomenon’s most harmless, I think it’s lazy journalism. At its most nefarious, I think it’s sexist. I suspect that sometimes the writers who resort to these narrative cliches have trouble coming to terms with the idea that women could embody in their everyday lives the characteristics associated with roller derby — aggressiveness, fearlessness, confidence, boldness, brashness, competitiveness, derring-do, a hunger for physical domination. So they perpetuate the idea that these qualities are one side of a coin, things we put on like our helmets and knee pads and stuff back in our gear bags after practice.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, although I think these questions are worth asking. Maybe I should cut those poor feature writers and general assignment reporters with little to no knowledge of the sport a little slack and acknowledge that derby names are a bit of a red herring if you don’t know the culture — they do suggest alter egos to the uninitiated. But Bonnie’s right when she describes them as nicknames. Vivi is merely a name that some of my friends call me, like those who’ve known me since I was a pup might just as easily call me Emmy Lou.
These days, fortunately, there are many knowledgeable writers out there who get past the cliches and put out great, original content on derby regularly. Occasionally even the MSM outlets hit a perfect note. I shouldn’t get my hackles up about a few bad ledes, right? Except I really like good writing. And roller derby. And reading these terrible ledes over and over again makes me want to hipcheck someone.