Girls to the front! (of the pack)

It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I truly appreciated how hard the lives of adolescents are. I started nannying for a family with two young girls under the assumption that it was just going to be another high school job, but four years later and I can’t imagine my life without them. Watching girls grow up from childhood to adolescence made me remember a lot about myself as a pre-teen that I probably would have rather forgotten. I’ve helped the oldest with any personal problem she’s brought to me or I’ve noticed and today she’s a wonderful, intelligent high school student. But that’s not to say her problems are fewer compared to just a few years ago in middle school, they’re just different. If you don’t remember being a young girl, or you never were one to begin with, then you couldn’t possibly know how hard it can be at times. Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible for someone to forget those years spent growing up. Of course I can’t speak on behalf of young boys and their maturing process, but I know how hard it is personally to grow up a girl in this culture. The lives of girls are very different depending on where they’re from and what their family is like, but none are easy or without hurt. At every turn there’s a reason to doubt yourself and find a flaw in the way you act, look, and speak. We live in a culture that makes it hard for young girls to exist.

Roller derby is the first thing in my life that’s given back to me emotionally, physically, and mentally. It’s the first thing I’ve done that’s given me a sense of pride and drive to be better. When I first started, a lot about how I thought of myself changed and I didn’t have that positivity until I was twenty. But sometimes I think about what my life would have been like had I been given the chance to join roller derby at fourteen. What would the lives of the girls I nannied be like if they decided to give it a try? Girls, in my high school at least, were discouraged from trying to join nearly any sport that involved physical contact. We weren’t allowed to join the wrestling team, the only time we played football was when the gym teachers separated us from the boys and taught us a watered-down version of the game, and we couldn’t go to the weight room and train with the guys without all eyes on us. There was nothing growing up that encouraged girls to be strong or strive to be stronger than those around her and there weren’t a whole lot of satisfying sports options for girls who didn’t want to join the dance or volleyball team.

Roller derby encourages strength, drive and a whole lot more in girls and women and it gives us a sense of pride. It’s a source of self-confidence and it’s a club of great ladies you probably have a ton in common with. For young girls, this kind of opportunity could be life-changing. Junior derby is important, especially, because it tells young girls to be loud and strong; it gives them a positive outlet for when life really f***ing sucks. It’s a sport made by women, for women; it’s a safe space. Junior derby can’t stand alone, though. The connection between junior and adult roller derby is crucial and The Outfit’s decision to be big sister to The Riots, a Chicago junior league, is monumental. As older and hopefully more mature women it should be our responsibility to make sure these young girls who love derby are having a positive experience. We should want them to skate next to us years from now and eventually fill our skates. We need to encourage these girls, so like ourselves, to keep fighting and skating for their league, their friends, and themselves. Recently we’ve taken this league relationship a step further and paired women from The Outfit up with girls from The Riots as a sort of big/little sister relationship and I think this is definitely a step forward in the right direction towards being good role models to the future skaters of derby.