Whip It–more than a “Lesbian Fantasy, Disguised.”

Reasons “Whip It” is a fantastic movie:Whip-It-Poster

  1. It shows a believable coming of age story of a girl who goes from being lost to having a backbone
  2. It features a strong cast of women and is very women-centric in production–for goodness sakes, it was directed by Drew Barrymore!
  3. It features one of the best underground sports–ROLLER DERBY–which is defined by its strong women.
  4. It shows one of the healthiest relationships I’ve seen in a movie, ever. “Healthy” defined as “Not Obsessive.

Imagine my disappointment when I find one of my favorite pop-culture websites–After Ellen–happily embracing it as nothing more than what Jeremy Clymen of Psychology Today calls a “Lesbian Fantasy, Disguised.”

Where do I even begin with such an inherently flawed idea? Let’s start at the beginning. Clymen writes:

“This film purports to be the story of a small town adolescent who rebels and finds her genuine identity as roller derby star athlete. But I think this film is also a secret communication to closeted lesbians living in hostile places in which the closet is the only safe place to be. Let’s back up before we get into conspiracy theories. “Whip It” is directed by a female (Barrymore), its protagonist is female (Page), and the story is about a girl who becomes a woman in a female dominated world. There isn’t a serious male character to be seen.”

Really? The reason you’re seeing a lesbian undercurrent is because OMG! the film is directed by a female? The protaganist is female? The setting is dominated by women? All of these equate “Lesbian” for you? Really?

He almost has a point with the lack of serious male character–almost. A quick look at the film and you’ll see most of the guy characters as lacking a lot of those “masculine” qualities. But a further look at “Whip It” as a film type, and you’ll see a lot of women characters who are on equal footing. Have you seen Drew Barrymore’s character? Don’t tell me you take her seriously. And also, it’s funny how easily he puts off the male characters. Razor (played by Andrew Wilson), the coach of the Hurl Scouts, starts off as your average surf dude who doesn’t seem all that impressive, but he ended up as one of my favorite characters. He was smart. He knew how to design plays so the Hurl Scouts could go from the bottom of the barrel to a top notch roller derby team. Way to go Clymen, way to pass superficial judgement. Let’s not forget the hot indie rocker Oliver (played by Landon Pigg). If you’re looking for a serious male character, he is one of the few. His role was honest and not just played for comic relief.

Next point of interest that Clymen makes:

” A couple points here:  A. “Whip It” is about roller blading, which this movie defines as a group of half-drunk women, in tight athletic gear and rollerblades muscling each other for inside positioning, as a few key teammates weave in and out of the pack. Those that have finesse are chased by those that have strength, somewhat akin to the cat and mouse pursuit of a top and bottom sexual power dynamic (there’s a reason the standard sexual position is missionary). In short, this game is a metaphor for sex.

B. The protagonist, Bliss (Page), behaves in the way that a lesbian might behave before she knows she’s a lesbian. We meet her just as she’s playfully dying her hair blue for a beauty pageant. Her inexplicably love for roller derby is incited by the image of three women pushing each other on rollerblades. She dumps her boyfriend with suspicious ease and celerity. She’s an adolescent who likes to be different, is experimental and puts a boyfriend second to roller derby.”

Point A of Clymen’s theory has absolutely no basis. Clearly he’s unfamiliar with Roller Derby except as a fictional sport portrayed by the film.

So, let’s start with point B. Since when does a girl “playfully dying her hair blue” equal “lesbian”? Answer: It doesn’t. A girl’s hair color is simply that: hair color. It is not a signifier of sexual orientation.

Clymen says that Bliss’s love for roller derby is incited by three women pushing each other on roller blades. What Bliss (as played by Ellen Page) saw was women who didn’t fit into the social standard as she knew it–the social standard being pretty women who were pageant winners and socially acceptable in the school highways. What she saw were women who were like herself–who didn’t fit into that social standard–but were happy and didn’t CARE that they didn’t fit into society’s standards. What she saw was nothing more than women being themselves with no fear of repercussion.

When Bliss goes to her first roller derby, she tells one of the Derby women that they were her new heroes. The response: Be your own hero.Page Victorious

This line is the most important line of the film, and as cliche as it might be, it means the world to a girl who is shy, stuck in a place she doesn’t feel she belongs, and is trying to figure out who she really is. This line may seem simple, but it’s not. As a woman who has been softspoken most of my life and am only now learning to really speak up and make my opinion heard, I’m still trying to apply this mantra of “be your own hero” to my own life. The reason this movie is so wonderful and so necessary is that it’s about a girl learning to take her own strength into her own hands. It’s about a girl learning to live by her own means. And it’s about giving that girl the opportunity to.

And god forbid, in Clymen’s world, that a girl find what she wants to do to the point that her passion for that thing exceeds the point of her relationship status. God Forbid a woman fall so in love with something like the roller derby that she can’t hold onto a relationship. GOD FORBID that she should be able to break up with her boyfriend and NOT be traumatized. Clymen says that Bliss’s break-up is done with “suspicious ease”. Did he miss the parts where Bliss fell apart because she was so upset that he would cheat on her and let some other girl wear her favorite T-Shirt? Is he so dense that he doesn’t understand how important the roller derby became to her? Did he miss the fact that being part of the Hurl Scouts provided Bliss with a sense of belonging, a sense of family and a sense of identity? Clearly he did. Or maybe he’s right. Maybe the only reason she was able to break up with Oliver and move on was that she’s actually a lesbian.

COME ON, people. Grow up. And appreciate this film for what it is: an ode to female empowerment. A much needed film giving voices to girls who’ve been silenced by the hierarchy of high school and family expectations. A film that celebrates that women have passions outside of relationships and outside of shopping.

Thank you, Drew Barrymore, for directing this movie. Thank you, Shauna Cross, for originally penning this story. Thank you for showing that women can be strong and vocal individuals. Thank you for thinking outside the box, even though some people are still missing the point.


3 thoughts on “Whip It–more than a “Lesbian Fantasy, Disguised.”

  1. aphroditemine October 14, 2009 / 11:28 pm

    Hi, I really liked your post. However, I also liked the original article posted at afterellen.com (and I rarely like anything posted at that site due to the _____ nature of much of their content).

    I don’t think that Clymen (and the folks at ae) are arguing for the fact that the lesbian reading of the film is the only one there; just that subtext is an important part of the film experience for those who want to see it there.

    I experienced the movie in a much deeper way because I felt it as a dual narrative (both coming out as a Derby Girl but as a metaphor for Coming Out). This is the basis of Queer Film Theory–reading these narratives into films that don’t necessary have them built in, but can benefit from a second reading.

    You do bring out a valuable point: we lose the primary (and powerful) meaning of the film if we turn all of our focus to a lesbian story. And I don’t think that anyone involved is attempting to do so.

  2. aphroditemine October 14, 2009 / 11:29 pm

    *the stereotypical nature of afterellen.com

  3. melanie January 19, 2010 / 7:04 pm

    i just saw this movie the other day and loved it! it was great and reminded me of my experience being a teenager.

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