Reading Drew Barrymore’s Whip It with a feminist lens is a bit tricky. This is story of a small town girl Bliss (Ellen Page) who stood up for herself and dreams. And in the process, upsets her parents, her best friend, and broke her heart. Whip It is problematic, tough is has obvious and apparent feminist tones, Bliss rejecting the whole agenda of being a beauty queen. Instead she secretly slips into Austin and becomes a roller derby superstar. An extremely violent contact sport where only women play and wear along with their roller blade and protection, skimpy uniforms; fishnets and short skirts. Even their teams have names and themes that extremely sexualized; flight attendants, school girls, etc. The game of roller derby is basically a gladiator game, a spectacle of women’s bodies with cheering drunk men as an audience.
Now the narrative’s strong points; this is a female dominated cast, with a female director and writer, when one thinks about it that fact is rare. Second, the genre is a pastiche of a sports movie and comedy, both masculine dominated fields. There is a handful of female sports drama but very few female comedians. In fact the characters in Whip It are not trying to make you laugh. They are woman who are caught up in a harsh world and they make fun of their misery. Women in comedy flicks often play the sex object whose heart will eventually be won by the goofy male protagonist. Not in this one. These are people and we laugh at them because we know about what they are going through; teen agers finding their place in the world, the uptight parent who just wants to take a break, and the reckless best friend who goes a little too far to drive the plot forward. Lastly, the roller derby girls do wear skimpy clothes, but the bodies they show are muscular, middle age, nowhere near conventional ‘sexy’.
Whip It is you usual coming of age cliché, but a little more rough, a little more awesome. It is not the most politically correct or liberating feminist text, but it gets the message across without being dogmatic or utilizing a moment of epiphany. Its brand of empowerment is raw, humorous, and fun. We need more of that.