Sunday, April 29, 2012

54. "Red Nails, Black Skates" by Erica Rand

Rand, Erica. Red Nails, Black Skates: Gender Cash and Pleasure on and off the Ice. Duke University Press, 2012

264 pages

In her study on figure skating, gender, class, race and risk, Erica Rand writes, “Do you know what can happen when you put knives on your feet and hurl yourself around backward into the air to land on the mere tip of just one of those blades? It’s called perilous, baby, and it’s a risk I choose every day” This is an apt way of exemplifying how Rand breaks stereotypes that envelope figure-skating in gender-based constructs. 

These constructs don’t fit into simple or stable categories. As Rand writes, “Nor do apparently simple categories always have simple criteria. What exactly, for instance, is that crazy combination of balletic aristocrat and child-beauty-pageant trampiness that characterizes many figure skating costumes for girls and women?” Rand’s exploration of skating outfits transcends just fashion talk and hits on tough topics like transgender identity and socially reinforced norms within the field of skating.

In Red Nails, Black Skates, Rand explores the intricate and interwoven roles of class, race, and gender among other hot topics such as sexuality, pleasure and risk. She goes beyond the figure skating world to also explore issues of gender and class in women’s hockey and the growing sport of roller derby.  At one point she spends time practicing with the women’s hockey team, noting her discomfort at the masculine uniforms that other hockey players thrived in.

Written in clear and accessible prose, Rand clearly outlines her purpose of the field research she participates in. The stories are exciting and enjoyable to read in themselves and Rand’s accompanying critical analysis sheds light on a corner of gender and sport ripe for further exploration.  

Rand explores her own transformation through skating writing, “It transformed my athletic life, my work life, my social life, and, less directly, my erotic life. It increasingly determined my longrange plans as well as my daily and weekly schedules, which I came to arrange around available ice time and other physical activities…” This personal disclosure helps readers connect with Rand beyond social criticism at a level that is both vulnerable and human. This well-rounded text is a fantastic read for anyone interested in gender and sports.

4 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP


Lynn Benoit said...

I've always loved figure skating with its blend of grace and athletism. As for the costumes- I took that as part of the show, not as a gender issue. Interesting review.

d'Artagnan said...

Thanks for the comment!