Professional magazine, “The Hockey News” recently published an online article that certainly sounded promising: Hockey’s troubling relationship with women. Because hockey does have a very problematic relationship with gender issues, and it’s good that a news outlet is finally sitting down to seriously discuss the issues, right?
Only the author, Ryan Kennedy, proceeded to “mansplain” gender issues in an article disgustingly problematic which could be summarized thusly: “Hockey is better than football because no one’s been found guilty of raping a woman yet, and anyways all these problems are puck bunny’s faults.”
Way to be a feminist, Ryan.
And here’s the biggest problem. It’s not that men can’t be feminists, but no one considers sexism in hockey is even a problem unless men are talking about it. The fact that women’s voices on the issues are ignored instead of discussed and listened to is - surprise surprise - part of the sport’s inherent sexist culture. Because these are things that are affecting me, and female fans everywhere for as long as we’ve been fans but no one wants to hear from women about them.
So, hockey fans, if you’re still reading at this point, let’s sit down and hash out a few things about hockey’s actual troubling relationship with women.
Let’s start with what is probably the ugliest part of Kennedy’s article - “hockey’s Steubinville”. Kennedy claims that hockey has not yet become smeared with taint like football due to a Steubenville incident, and yet goes on to site instances where players at different league levels have been charged with sexual assault, acknowledges the Boston University study that exposes a similar top jock attitude, and even goes so far as to bring up the incident of three OHL Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds accused of raping a girl and dares to say we haven’t had a Steubenville incident yet.
Here’s the main issue, and what makes me feel so overwhelmingly disgusted reading The Hockey News’ article. According to Kennedy, what happened to a girl in Ohio is only tragic because the rapists didn’t get away with what they did. And to view the attempted cover-up and the revelation that football and football players are so important there that the rapists recorded and shared what they did and bragged about it believing firmly that they would never have to own up to or face any sort of consequences for their actions as something unique to football is willful ignorance.
And all you have to do is look at what happened in Sault Ste Marie to see that the idea of “it happens there but not here” is utter folly. Because the Soo is a small town, and Kennedy points out that “there are two sides to every story” and “they haven’t been charged with anything yet” but fails to examine his own biased attitude towards the incident and ask why charges are seemingly pending forever in limbo. Kennedy does not consider any sort of cover up, or the idea that the victim had been pressured since day one to drop the charges and keep quiet - something that happens in nearly all rape cases within communities. And do you want to know why? Because hockey is so important. And because she was assaulted and she was raped, but somehow her pain and her recovery are not as important as her rapists’ futures - futures they willingly threw away when they chose to rape someone.
That is fucked up (if you’ll excuse my language). And that is happening in hockey.
I could sit here and give you endless examples of how this whole top jock sexual entitlement attitude is not unique to other sports and that hockey and hockey players are not the morally upstanding young men everyone likes to pretend they are. I could tell you about the hockey player who tried to pressure a friend into having sex and when she said no, he told his teammates he’d “made the kill” anyway, labeling her to them as a slut. I could tell you about how players swap their “kill counts” which has absolutely nothing to do with Call of Duty. Or how about the “Team Hero” game where players seek out and engage girls they deem “ugly” and/or “fat” have a contest to see who can flirt, sext, and screw the ugliest girl. Whoever does is declared the team hero because they “took one for the team”.
To argue that there should be equal opportunity preying, as Kennedy does in his article as if saying “puck bunnies are a-okay so no one can call me sexist” misses the whole point. Because there isn’t “equal opportunity” and there never has been. And speaking about puck bunnies like they’re the only female identity in hockey is ludicrous.
Because “puck bunnies” are not the source of hockey’s objectification of women, they are merely the convoluted justification. For instance, Sauce Hockey is a relatively new aspect of hockey culture that has been gaining momentum in recent years, promoted and made popular by professional athletes such as Paul Bisonnette (who you all know as Biznasty) which proclaims a certain “sauce lifestyle” in which talent is secondary to swagger - a swagger based around machismo, I might add, in which men are made to feel entitled to women and wealth and female attention simply because they are able to throw around slang and have held a hockey stick at some point in their lives.
If you’re getting a little dizzy, it’s because we’ve practically gone full circle here. Suddenly hockey doesn’t seem as far removed from all those other top jock sports, does it?
And we can argue that the majority of men and majority of male fans and/or players are not focused on the sauce life (indeed when it favours and rewards mediocrity instead of talent), and that women such as myself should calm down because we recognize that sauce hockey culture is problematic and stupid.
But while sauce hockey culture is a prime example of the growing entitlement among younger male fans and younger players in the junior leagues, the old guard is not absolved from their issues either. And neither are the fans.
Let’s go back to puck bunnies here for a moment, since apparently that’s the only female identity The Hockey News feels the need to address and speak to.
Puck Bunny is not an identity. It is a label thrown on women by men and by other women as a way to dismiss or belittle their validity as fans. It is a way of ostracizing female fans and shoe horning them into an outsider group. And I am telling you right now that you all have done this to female fans, whether you realize it or not or whether or not you want to admit it. My own father pulls the card on me if I disagree with him on something related to hockey because “how could a girl possibly know anything or have any sort of logical opinion about a sport beyond butts butts butts!”
Every time a guy (or a girl) talks about “real” hockey fans, they are ostracising women from freely engaging with the sport. In order to be taken seriously, women are expected to reject and deny their own femininity as fans. And that is hugely problematic. Hockey rewards masculinity and punishes femininity; you see it every time a girl is made to try and justify her existence as a hockey fan by spouting statistical information no guy is ever required to know, or every time a player is taunted or lambasted with sexist slurs.
As women, we are made to both conform to a specific identity (example: CBC’s “While the Men Watch” commentary) or distance ourselves from other women and proclaim ourselves better than them because we’re “not like all those other puck bunny girls.” We are judged as too feminine and therefore clearly only in the sport to sleep with the players, or expected to be tomboyish and frumpy - either objects of possession or rejection, but always just objects.
And I am sick and tired of it.
I am sick of being judged when I say I like Sidney Crosby while any number of men can be huge fans and no one blinks an eye.
I am tired of being asked, “Who is your favourite Leaf? Don’t say Tyler Bozak” like that’s the only answer a woman could ever give.
I am tired of watching girls fight and compete with each other, putting each other down in order to show their validity as fans.
I am tired of being told I’m not allowed to play because I am a girl - both outright and through lack of outreach programs and leagues and clubs.
I am tired of fans, of media, of teams, of players, of the whole goddamn sport telling me that I don’t count. That I am not a valid fan or an individual worthy of respect.
I am tired of having my soul crushed by hockey’s sexism, and I am even more tired of every single man who doesn’t think it is a problem worth addressing.