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Published on April 25th, 2013 | by Elektra Q. Tion

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Bad Behavior and Mean Girls in Roller Derby

Oooh…it’s derby’s little secret. No matter how much we tout sisterhood and strong women athletes, it’s the horrible, nasty, embarrassing little character flaw in modern derby. I’m not going to make a broad sweeping statement that every league out there has had issues with mean girls and crappy behavior, but if you’re honest with yourself and your leaguemates, you know that you’ve faced this issue before. Actually, depending who it was in your league, it’s possible nobody FACED this problem, they just kind of hoped it would resolve itself because they didn’t want to rock the boat.

Personally, I think mean girls fester in derby leagues because people still treat derby like it’s a family, as opposed to a sport and a business. Everyone has a family member that is just barely tolerated; you might only see your creepy uncle Joey at Thanksgiving, so nobody wants to actually do something about his behavior, but a league is different.

The more roller derby is accepted in popular culture, the more people are watching. The roller derby community is growing, but so many of us know each other, and we’re sharing that knowledge more and more each day. If you have someone representing your league who is a jerk, they’ve colored your entire league with that same brush. People think you’re a jerk by association! You have a skater who is an ass every time she steps on the track, then you’re all asses. You have a skater who punches someone on the track? You’ve all committed that very offense. It’s really hard to undo the damage of one a-hole; your league could have Mother Theresa skating for you, but people will associate you with the most idiotic skater you have.

Bad behavior in public is one thing, but what if your league is harboring a “Mean Girl” who is making life miserable for several skaters? Come on Q, mean girls in adult life? Are you serious? After I posted about this topic on Facebook, I had over 30 private messages in the first two hours, talking about “This horrible skater in our league that just manipulates everyone and everything.” It made me sad to read the messages, but I was not shocked at all; it seems like derby is a perfect place for mean girls to hide. Mean girls come in many flavors, but most of them share the same characteristics, which make them recognisable. Read this list of defining traits and see if you might have a mean girl in your league.

heatherswtf_wide.jpgOriginal image found here.

1. Mean girls make themselves irreplaceable to the league. I like to think of a mean girl as an invading cancer, and she will fill all of the empty spaces in your league. Is there a job or responsibility nobody wants? She’ll do it, especially is it’s a behind the scenes kind of job. Pretty soon your league won’t be able to function without her. Don’t let that happen! Make sure everyone in your league is doing a job; spread the responsibility and power.

2. Mean girls bully, but indirectly. Mean girls are good at manipulating people, and you can rarely pin down something definite that they’ve done. Everything is done obliquely, and you can’t define how she’s bullying, but you know it’s happening. Snide comments, indirect insults, passive aggressive behaviors should not be tolerated by your league. Leadership in your league should confront this behavior immediately; look the mean girl in the eye when you do.

3. Mean girls are control freaks. To be fair, a lot of skaters are control freaks; alpha personalities tend to seek out control, but a mean girl takes it farther than most. Her control freak tendencies are focused on making her feel comfortable in her setting, and roller derby might be the only place where she can assert her control. Daily life, her job, and her family might be beyond her ability to control, so she’s trying as hard as she can in roller derby to feel comfortable. This is why it’s so important to spread that power and responsibility throughout the league.

4. Mean girls make people feel important by being friendly to them. Mean girls tend to “befriend” newer skaters immediately, or people who seem to be weaker than they are, either in personality or as a skater. They build a network of subordinate personalities to help push their agendas. Often these agendas are pushed outside of the league, such as in a social session. Make sure league decisions and agendas are as transparent as possible; all policy decisions should be public and voted on by the entire league.

5. Mean girls instinctively find weaknesses. There are some people who can sum up your worst fear about yourself in one sentence. That’s the mean girl’s super power. Sometimes they can make the most casual insult cut you to the bone. If you let this hurt you, then you’re falling into her trap.

6. Mean girls say “We” or “Us” when it’s just her expressing her opinion. This is a classic female bully tactic. It makes the bully sound like she has several other people agreeing with her on her opinions or ideas, even when nobody else has weighed in on the topic. The best thing you can do in this situation is question who the “we” is. If she can’t or won’t tell you, then she’s probably using that statement as a manipulation.

7. Mean girls are charismatic. There is nothing worse, than a mean girl that is likable. That’s really the strength of her power.

8. Mean girls never think they’re mean. To be fair, mean girls are often insecure with many aspects of their lives, and are trying to exert control over one portion of it. Unfortunately, they don’t necessarily care about who they’re hurting while they do this; when you deal with a mean girl, remember that she never sees herself as a villain, and is going to play the victim to others if you try to expose her as one.

Ah, but what if that skater is the best skater you have? There’s the rub. People seem to put up with all kinds of crappy behavior from skaters with skills. Isn’t that the American way? Actually, most professional sports are cracking down on the outbursts of bad behavior, and I think it’s time for roller derby to do the same. If you have strong personalities in your league, and I know you do, you might have some issues that need to be addressed. Ask yourself some of these questions about your league, and depending on the answers, you might have a serious issue that you need to discuss with your league.

1. Is it ok for a talented skater to bully a lesser talented skater in your league?

2. Do you have a way of correcting a player’s behavior, but it is never used?

3. Is your board empowered to enforce the rules?

4. Does your board enforce the rules for everyone? Are there special cases in your league due to them being a great player or a scary mean girl?

5. Do you let your vets haze your new skaters?

6. Is there a pecking order in your league? Are certain people allowed to act badly and not be corrected?

7. Are some skaters more important than others?

8. Are skaters afraid to express their opinions about bullying or favoritism in your league?

9. Is there a perceived favoritism in your league?

10. Does leadership make excuses for the behavior of certain skaters, such as “Oh, she’s just having a bad day.”?

My father said that it was important to guard your reputation, because it was so easy to tarnish it. Of course, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about derby at the time, but I agree with his point. It’s everyone’s job to protect the reputation of your league.

If you have a serious question about bullying or bad behavior, you can contact these friendly folks at Blockers Not Bullies. They also have a Facebook page.

Article republished with permission. For more work by the talented Elektra Q Tion, visit her blog.

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  • FlyingF

    Um, I think I know who you are talking about. Was hard to witness. I saw some people jumping on that bully bandwagon. Whatever reasons that her team kicked her out, in the manner they did was so wrong. It was mean, hurtful and she was treated like a sacrificial lamb to appease the political agendas in the community. Standing by and doing nothing enables others. Call it like you see it and don’t let people get away with this behavior. Thing is a lot of times, the people perpetrating the abuse are the people in power, they do it because they know they can get away with it. Smearing that girls reputation in the way it was done was pretty horrid. Being rejected like that and dumped by all her friends must have been really painful. I wonder if she’s okay? I’ve seen people kill themselves over less bullying that’s for sure. Most people want an easy life, so they don’t bother standing up for others, but it’s hard to live with regret. I’d hate to think that I was, by inaction, responsible indirectly for someone’s suffering or death. Something to think about people.

    • hardhitter

      I think all of us that stood by are accountable to some degree. worst thing is, if we are talking about the same person, i have heard through the usually inaccurate grapeveine that she has been very ill and could have really used some support. i hope you can be braver than me and get in touch with her to voice your regrets, but i know i am not strong enough to cope with the inevitable bullying and loudmouthing that i will incur for myself. i even walked past her the other day and she smiled at me. i don’t know how she could even bear to look at me in truth, i know i hurried past feeling extremely ashamed.

      • FlyingF

        The girl I was talking about was called Bee Sting. She founded the Blitz Dames and was bullied out of roller derby. Sad to think that this treatment is was more common as the story seems so similar!

      • reality check

        Talking to yourself again? Isn’t it always ironic how the biggest bully and manipulator likes to pretend she was maligned by everyone else. What a cliche.

        • hardhitter

          Case in point. BBD yet again displaying an incredible inability to accept responsibility for attrocious actions. Thankfully the city is big enough for more than one team, and this type of behaviour is not condoned by all of them.

  • disqus_SPj0Ts2l2g

    Nope. I Fee If You Are Going To Write An Opinion, Be Brave Enough To Sign it. Q

  • gamechanger

    what if the mean girl is part of leadership?

    • slutwithagut

      Then you really only have a couple of choices: stay and try to work around or with this person, or try to affect change but at the risk of creating a huge rift in your league. This is especially difficult if there are no other leagues near you and no other opportunities to play derby but where you are. This article certainly resonated with me, as I can’t see confronting this person would ever solve anything.

  • purenrg

    This article could be written about any sport or any club or any workplace where a lot of women work closely together! Even weightwatchers and their ‘mean girls!’.
    ‘Mean girls’ can sometimes be labeled as such for voicing their views! I’m usually fairly quiet on such issues but I feel I should mention something from another point of view…
    ‘Mean girls’ as I see them (and I’ll run with the label for now) are usually or the ‘Do-ers’. They organise, take on big jobs, keep things running smoothly. But they usually ruffle feathers with other people in the groups. The fact they are ‘girls’ and not ‘girl’ (plural vs singlular) means they work well with other people! And sometimes the birds (feather reference from before 😉 ) don’t like being told what to do.
    Everyone has the chance to contribute to their leagues and needs to find their place and make it work for them. I contribute where I can and voice my opinions when I feel it’s warranted. But I’m also happy to compromise yet I know some people really stuggle with the thought!
    I think these ‘mean girls’ need some more recognition for getting stuff done (for good or for bad) at least they’re doing something as opposed to just bitching about it… (If you take offence then I’m not talking about you…. I’m talking about someone else :) )
    I’m a fence sitter unless I want something heard…. I’ve now spoken and will take my place back on the fence 😀 have a fab derby day!

  • Tarryn Mcdermott

    1. It’s not a dirty little secret.
    2. It’s hilarious that whenever anyone posts a well written article about this amazingly rife problem that drives women away from derby in leagues all the same people come out trying to prove its not real.
    “It happens in every sport.” Still a real thing.
    “I know a lot of big words and psychobabble like “tripartite structure of the mind” that makes me an expert on what “being mean” is” Still real.
    2. “They are just competitive.” No, fresh meat shaming, fat shaming and attitude shaming in roller derby is NOT competitive.
    It’s nasty, bitchy, small mindedness aimed at high school school girl thinking of “I don’t like you here, this is how *I* get rid of you.”
    3. In 3 months I met 120 teams on 3 continents. They ALL had the same derby dramas from the same personalities: The fire starter.

  • Finite Skate Machine

    A complaint -IS- an offer of a solution or help. It takes a great deal of courage to complain; it is even more courageous in a hostile environment. Any skater who believes that they have more rights than another because they are a ‘better’ skater is creating a hostile environment in your league. Leagues that believe they are only made up of their most skilled skaters are shitting where they eat. There is no professional sport where the support system is also made up of the most experienced and talented players. As your league grows, many, many inexperienced skaters will come in and while they are on their journey to becoming your next top tier, will want to exchange the other things they can offer for training. If you deny them that opportunity, your league will eventually begin to suffer as a whole. Even the best skaters can’t and won’t skate forever; bodies break down and people get hurt. The attitude you are expressing towards complaints only enables this whole downward spiral.

  • MisterButterworth

    Life is a struggle every day for everyone. This describes every family and every workplace and every group of people who are stuck with each other for a time. You can not exterminate people for having traits. The proscriptions outlined herein are as passive-aggressive as the aggression opposed. Pain in life is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

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