Yes These Bones Shall Live

Kate Wilhelm
Roller derby is one of the few full-contact sports available to women, and is probably the only full-contact sport played almost exclusively by women. It is a sport that throws any perceived cultural notions of femininity in your face. Yet many Derby Girls are mothers--perhaps the ultimate “feminine” vocation. In this project, photographer Kate Wilhelm uses roller derby to examine how real women contradict and conform to traditional gender codes in performing their identities as women and as mothers.
Cherry Pancakes with Grace, Jillian and NOrefx


I got the idea for this project after my very good friend joined a roller derby league, and I saw her play her first bout. From the very first I was fascinated with the sport--I was intrigued by the gender play at work, the way the women played with ideas of sexiness and aggression while participating in a very physically demanding sport. I immediately wanted to know more about the women behind the derby personas.   

I was especially intrigued to see so many children at the match. Many derby girls are also mothers, and their whole families come out to watch. Typically, when you assume the identity of mother, a host of expectations immediately follows. Mothers are caught between an impossible ideal and a society that profoundly devalues their work. Soft, warm, innately nurturing, no longer sexual, weak, passive, subservient to others' needs, self-sacrificing--in reality, mothers are more complex than any list could suggest. What better way to subvert the stereotypes and prescriptions than to don fishnets and engage in a legitimate, full-contact sport that also plays with performance, sexuality and aggression?

About The Artist 

Kate Wilhelm holds a B.A. from the University of Guelph and was recently named a 2011 Critical Mass Finalist and a 2011 Flash Forward Emerging Photographer. Her work has been exhibited locally and internationally, including Mother/mother-* (New York City) and New Normal (Colorado). The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario’s public gallery, will feature her work in its biennial, three-person emerging artist show in 2012. Her work was also included in The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art, published in 2011. She lives in Guelph, Ontario (Canada). See more of Kate's work at