Wednesday, June 23, 2010

(Wo)men In Hockey

I am not a feminist nor am I heavily political. I am not an agitator (most of the time) and I am not one to chain myself to anything for my beliefs. I think it’s silly that women got pissed over the “Chrissy Pronger” poster in the newspaper in Chicago because there are bigger and, frankly, more legitimate issues facing women in sports and the sports industry. It’s frivolous to waste time on things like this, especially when it is hilarious because it’s Chris Pronger. However, all women do face the same problem when playing sports: men think we are generally weaker/worse at any given sport, and project the feeling that we don’t belong on their playing field/court/rink.

Hockey, unfortunately, is no different. The gap is closer in games like basketball and soccer where the rules for men and women are the same, but in hockey, where body-checking is eliminated for women (which is ridiculous on it’s own because they wear the exact same padding) it reinforces the notion that women are too weak for the men’s game. This was always in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t really shoved in my face until last week when I went to go play pick-up.
I played AA travel hockey until I was 13. (At the time, I was also on 2 different basketball teams, one travel, and realized I had to choose just one sport for the winter, and I chose basketball). We would play boys teams all the time. Some of the peewee house league coaches thought it would be a good tune-up game, and our coaches wanted to give us all the ice time we could get. The rules would be no body-checking (which is fine because peewees don’t really know how to check anyway) and we would win. All the time. And every single time the team would be absolutely floored that we could actually play hockey. Granted, these were 12 year-old boys so their egos and attitudes were pretty high. However, we always felt great during those games. Those wins meant a lot to us. We knew we had to prove ourselves, and that’s what we did every time we stepped on the ice with them.

As women in sports, we’re used to having to prove ourselves. At this point, I find it comical, like at the pick up game I played last week. When I go to stick and puck, I wear the minimum amount of equipment: helmet, gloves, and skates. I love playing while feeling free of all of my gear, plus my gear doesn’t fit me anymore. I’m usually one of the only people to do this, and once the game gets going I get to gleefully watch boys/men, who are used to being allowed to check, act so uncomfortably whenever they get close to me. It’s like I’m a glass vase they think they’ll break if they touch me. Fine by me; I’m the one zooming passed you with the puck.
I fight on the boards for pucks, fight for position in front of nets, and do everything else they are doing but without pads (I think they are really just jealous ;) ). The only thing about men assuming women can’t play sports is how condescending they can be about it. I can’t tell you how many times I got “Now next time, do this instead…” from men who fell every time they tried to turn to skate backwards. Or the snide “Hey, good job there!” for having extremely basic skills. Some of them will even purposely attack toward me while I’m defending, assuming I’m no match for their “mad skillz.” I really don’t care what people think as long as they keep it to themselves, but as soon as they share it, it becomes my problem.

Yesterday, two female hockey players were announced as members of the 2010 Hockey Hall of Fame class: America national team veteran Cammi Granato (one of my personal heroes) and Canadian Angela James. If they were men, their accomplishments would have put each of them in the Hall in their first eligible year. The Hall opened a new subcategory for women, making it
easier for them to be voted in. There are now three women in the Hockey Hall of Fame (Helene Elliot was voted in as a journalist covering hockey in 2005). And what was the big story yesterday? How certain men were left off the list. God forbid they wait a year before Eric Lindros gets in for his record of concussions and skating with his head down. James is the owner of eight scoring titles and six MVP awards in the Central Ontario Women’s League. Granato captained the U.S. Women’s team to Gold in Nagano.

On a day that should be celebrated as a great advancement for women in hockey, all we are hearing about is the men who were left out. Women were left out for nearly a century, and now women’s ice hockey is in jeopardy of being removed from the Winter Olympics. A better solution is to raise the number of inductees so they can account for women, builders, and media members in addition to the male players. I really don’t mean that the other men considered didn’t deserve it, but women in this sport have paid their dues. And then some.

Yesterday was a perfect example of where hockey culture is in terms of women. They opened their Hall of Fame up to women before any other major professional sport, but the news was dominated by talk of the men. It should have been a shining moment for women in sports and for hockey itself. Instead, it turned into merely another format for men to complain about women in sports and how they stole space in hockey’s shrine. It is progress, but as always, there is a long way to go until I can play pick-up without being targeted for my pony-tail.

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