A Revolution – On Roller Skates! Celebrating the Audacious Women of Roller Derby

Inside Line magazine, Issue 1, September 2011 (cover)
Inside Line magazine, Issue 1, September 2011 (cover)

Women are often told not to take up space.

Sugar, spice, all things nice, we’re told we can’t (or shouldn’t) throw, or run fast, or get sweaty or dirty when we exercise. In 2017, we’re still told that there are some sports that women just can’t (or shouldn’t!) compete in.

But we want to tell you about a group of women who are asking why this should be; women who challenge these prejudices, who are a real and present danger to the all-too-common stereotype that ‘proper girls don’t take up space’. These are women who demonstrate (in bright colours, in loud voice and on roller skates) that women can and do excel in fast, contact sports . . . we want to introduce you to the dangerous, audacious women of Roller Derby!

What has Roller Derby got to do with audacious women? A relatively new sport in the UK, it is full contact, high intensity, played on roller skates, and boasts a strong and proud history of DIY feminist values.

Roller Derby is one of the few sports where trans women and trans non-binary athletes are amongst the most famous players in the world. Played by both men’s and women’s teams, there are also co-ed (mixed gender) teams, making Roller Derby rare among full contact sports. Roller Derby also has an illustrious history of creating safe spaces for bisexual, gay and/or queer skaters – love in all its forms is regularly celebrated within Roller Derby culture!

“I was very sceptical when my friend dragged me to the Roller Derby intake session. They had been insisting for ages that I would enjoy it, but I wasn’t so sure. I hated sports at school, and the thought of exercising in front of others was terrifying. I was so unfit! I hadn’t played sports in YEARS and I had never worn a pair of roller skates in my life.”

A Roller Derby Participant

The equal, diverse and inclusive Roller Derby ethos also extends to body image, rejecting stereotypes about female bodies, and reclaiming sport as a way for girls and women to get fit, have fun and come together in a spirit of challenge and transgression against prescriptive, damaging social ideals about body size and shape:

“Now I can’t imagine my life without Roller Derby. I have made so many friends, and overcome some big challenges. I am stronger and fitter than I’ve ever been, and the best part is that I feel great. Roller Derby is a sport where all body shapes and sizes are celebrated. Some of the best skaters in the world are women of size, and they are just as fit, strong and fierce as their peers.”

A Roller Derby Participant

Roller Derby dates to at least as early as the 1920s in the USA, and its popularity has grown considerably here in the UK more recently. A dip in popularity was met with a hearty Texan revival in the early 2000s, and it was in 2006 that Roller Derby came to the UK. London Rollergirls, Birmingham Blitz Dames, London Rockin’ Rollers and our very own Glasgow Rollergirls (now known as Glasgow Roller Derby) were the first of many UK teams. Today there are over 90 Roller Derby leagues in the UK, and Scotland continues to be well and truly in on the act – Elgin Roller Derby, just outside Inverness, is just one of the more recent additions to the hall of fame!

Bel Pye – GWL volunteer and Roller Derby woman!

Want to find out more? If you don’t know your jammers from your blockers and can’t wait to learn about the audacious, dangerous women of Roller Derby, Glasgow Women’s Library, in partnership with the Audacious Women Festival, is inviting you to a week-long exhibition of fascinating ephemera, costumes, posters and artwork, a chance to explore the UK’s first permanent archive for the all-female, full-contact sport of Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby based at GWL. The archive, originally developed from a project by artist Ellie Harrison with an exhibition curated by members of Glasgow Roller Derby and Auld Reekie Roller Girls, records and celebrates the stories and achievements of the women who Roller Derby.

The Revolution on Roller Skates exhibition is at Meadowbank Stadium, London Road, Edinburgh from Tuesday 21st February until Tuesday 28th February. If you’d like to book a FREE space at the launch event on Tuesday 21st February 6pm-7.30pm, email rebecca.jones@womenslibrary.org.uk.

This exhibition is a partnership between Glasgow Women’s Library and the Audacious Women Festival.



Rebecca Jones
Bel Pye


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