“Our game”: What does it mean and who does it include?

Photo from the Society Pages.

It would seem that when the players take the summer off so too do the hockey bloggers.  Well, while everyone else has been glued to the Olympics I have been combing through hockey literature in preparation of grad school applications.  If you can’t watch hockey in the summer, reading about it is a close second. I have been going through Gruneau and Whitson’s book, Artificial Ice: Hockey, Commerce and Cultural Identity, and I would like to share some passages (specifically from Mary-Louise Adams’ chapter – The game of whose lives? Gender, race, and entitlement in Canada’s national game) that have made me reflect on the glorious game of hockey.  Thus, this post is less a commentary or an opinion and more of a sharing piece to give you something to think while pool-side, lying on the beach or heading to the rink (because summer doesn’t change the schedule for Canadians that much). Also, the surrounding Olympic fervour sets a nice background to think about our own national identity. *Apologies for not boxing the passages. WordPress has refused to cooperate so the passages are italicized.*

The men’s hockey victory in Salt Lake City made clear the place of hockey in popular versions of Canadian nationalism.  The victory also made clear the centrality of gender to national mythmaking.  Four days before the nation came to a standstill for the men’s final, members of the Canadian women’s hockey team had won their own gold medal match, also against the Americans.  Although the women’s victory was certainly seen to be sweet, it was celebrated in much the same way as victories in speed skating or skiing. It was not portrayed, as the men’s victory would be, as confirmation of the “hockeyness” of this country or as a boost to national morale. While the women’s win added to Canada’s gold medal tally, the men’s victory propped up the national psyche…

Simply put, so-called national sports afford men – in general, and certain men in particular – an opportunity to represent the nation in a way not open to women.  Sport helps to construct the different versions of citizenship available to men and women. Would national teams generate such frenzied patriotism if national teams had no men?  Could we ever imagine a game played primarily by women as this country’s (or any other’s) national game, as central to its national identity?…

Benedict Anderson says that nations are distinguished from one another by the stories they tell about themselves.  The homogenization of difference and other processes of exclusion are key to this national story-making and to the formation of national identities.  In the drive to construct a cohesive representation of the “imagined community,” not all stories are equal…

THOUGHT:  Let’s extend the “stories” outside of gender.  Who else is not represented by “Canada’s game”? Our aboriginal population, those with disabilities, persons of colour and anyone who isn’t 100% heterosexual is missing from “our game”.  So if it’s not my game like I have been told, whose game is it?  Can it be Canada’s game if it does not include everyone? Logically, not everyone can be included so do we base our “story” on nostalgia? Myth? Majority? Or maybe it’s just the ideal?

And while national stories do change over time, their taken-for-grantedness can make them appear very solid.  As Philip Corrigan writes, “In confirming our sense of what and how we are, [the taken for granted] allows us to forget how we might be different.”…

Anyone who has spent any time around rinks in this country could offer a range of similar examples of gendered practices around hockey.  In a discursive context in which hockey is already given pride of place, where the hockey that really counts is undeniably men’s hockey, everyday rink practices reinforce and represent a sense of male entitlement – even among young boys who are among the primary users of these facilities. Will more women getting out on the ice change this? I don’t think so, not until women’s hockey actually counts, until women can make claims not just on the material aspects of the game but on all its symbolic attachments too…

I thought this was a brilliant statement.  Since a large portion of the scholarship and activism for female participation in sport revolves around numbers, rules, and physiological differences, Adams touches on something that counts for so much more – cultural relevance. Women (among many others) have no part in Canada’s hockey mythology.  I’ve gotten used to not having a change room at the rink. I’ve gotten used to not getting the puck when playing co-ed.  But when you think of it apart from gender equality/equity you realize how large the divide really is. Numbers are easy to fix.  Adding change rooms are easy. Altering a national psyche to include people that were meant to be discriminated against – where do we begin?

I digress, and Adams moves on to write about the significance of shinny in our national identity:

Most discussion of sport and national identity tend to focus on issues related to national teams, Olympic medals, international competition. I certainly can’t say whether this is the case in other countries, but in Canada, “Our Game” means more than this. Not only is it supposed to make us smugly proud of our place – our superiority – in the world, it is supposed to run through our veins.  Hockey is, we are often told, part of who “we” are.  Shinny is supposed to be the source of that connection…

Shawna Richer writes:

On Mother Nature’s rinks, teams of four men were posed to play out the most Canadian of reveries…Arguably the most inherent part of our national landscape, pond hockey is the opportunity to play the game at its purest, most creative form.  Shinny is where the professionals began, where children have the best fun, where grown men feel like boys…This is Canada in a box, right here.

Nostalgia is a powerful means of keeping us from imagining how Canada might be different; it is part of the process of marginalizing women and people of colour, of limiting the stories we can tell about ourselves…it is a process invested with “timelessness, historylessness, and, by extension, racelessness…Shinny fits well into attempts to articulate an overarching, enduring Canadian culture that persists in the face of immigration and changing social relations of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.

Do we really allow Canada to be put in a box as Richer writes? For a country as large and as diverse as our is, how can Canada be represented by one (and any) game of pond hockey?  If our image of shinny suddenly changes to include men and women of all ages, races, and abilities would that be Canada in a box? I might argue that BECAUSE our country is as large and diverse as it is, we force hockey to be the one thing that ties us together.  Surely, the only other common denominator for the majority of us is that we are immigrants, and that’s not nearly as fun to talk about over a beer.

About these ads

About courtneyszto
I am a Vancouver Canucks fan through and through. I have worked in event management, outdoor education, the golf industry, and coached tennis. Currently, I am a PhD student in Communications at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. My research focuses on the Punjabi-Sikh experience with hockey in Canada. Other research interests include: corporate social responsibility, (ethical) consumption, gender, race, sport for development and peace, and media studies. I write for my own blog, The Rabbit Hole, and occasionally contribute to Interrupt Magazine. I also created and manage the social media account @offsideplays that works to expose everyday experiences with discrimination in sport, physical activity and health.

3 Responses to “Our game”: What does it mean and who does it include?

  1. I think there is some validity to the idea that because Canada is so vast and diverse hockey becomes the stand in ‘thing’ that we can all agree upon.

    I think like most things if you view it through supply/demand lens, perhaps things might change. If more women or men demanded (those in and especially out of sport) more equal distribution of participation, access and attention maybe then the powers that be would see the benefit. And not one born simply out equality (which isn’t to say that isn’t important) but rather out of sense of meeting a demand set by the public at large. So until enough people make it an imperative that we see Canadian women’s hockey on TV as a need that must be fulfilled I don’t see that want being met.

    As to the homogeny we witness in the players themselves, I feel that is something bred from birth meaning, that native born children may have a higher likelihood of wanting to play hockey than those children whose parents were not native born. Therefore, there isn’t a similar emphasis to play hockey which may be born out a cultural indifference toward the sport. Plus, there is an economic exclusivity inherent in the sport. It’s ‘effing expensive and it would make sense that some families wouldn’t see playing sports as important when more pressing needs like food and shelter have to be met for the whole of the family.

    No one in my immediate or extended family ever played hockey. I’m sure that a huge part of that had to do with having immigrant parents who had to work full-time jobs and use all of the $$ they made to help establish their families. Out of the whole lot of us, only 2 that I can think of ever played when they were younger and both are 3rd generation born. So while it’s important to discuss the unity and access to sport for all, we needn’t assume that everyone sees or feels that hockey or our participation in it is necessary to feel a part of the unity that it (wrongly or rightly) espouses.

    A huge part of the problem is that the media uses the mantra of hockey as our national sport and part of our identity because it is package-able commodity to sell to the world at large, but one that is born out of privilege. We as a society have bought it into it because as a fairly new country (145 years young) we are still evolving, figuring out our place in history and the world stage. And as a non-descript bunch, hockey has emerged as our unique signature; that which sets us apart. While hockey isn’t perfect because it doesn’t reflect every aspect of society, what does? In every culture on the planet there is always some form of exclusion. Nationalism, by its very definition, is the hugest form of exclusion and ‘in-group mentality’ there is, so why would anyone expect a sport to portray a healthier standard of inclusiveness?

    These concerns are more about privilege and fairness. Not one so much about equality because laws have been drawn up for that, but speak to the larger issue about what we feel is more important in our lives – and frankly the list of what we prioritize in our life is as vast and varied as the people drawing up that list. So how can we expect that hockey should be the perfect vehicle for such an endeavour when hockey itself was never created for such a varied social structure or world view?

    Hockey is a team sport that not everyone can play either because they suck or because they lack the funds or the drive or even the will to play. But most importantly, it is a sport of privilege and affluence (and priority – some families put themselves into financial hardship if the child is exceptionally talented) and if we expect it to truly reflect society at large and be our ‘national’ sport, then we need to address this issue before tackling its gender biased position. If we really expect it to be our sport, then it has to be affordable to all Canadians regardless of economic background, cultural opinion or gender.

    I truly believe that sport can be a huge unifying force for a nation. But once we start to expect more from that sport than we expect from society at large, that sport gets taken to task for society’s ill and that gets us no closer to where we need to be as a society in addressing the larger issues that we face.

  2. melanieingratta says:

    I think there is some validity to the idea that because Canada is so vast and diverse hockey becomes the stand in ‘thing’ that we can all agree upon.

    I think like most things if you view it through supply/demand lens, perhaps things might change. If more women or men demanded (those in and especially out of sport) more equal distribution of participation, access and attention maybe then the powers that be would see the benefit. And not one born simply out equality (which isn’t to say that isn’t important) but rather out of sense of meeting a demand set by the public at large. So until enough people make it an imperative that we see Canadian women’s hockey on TV as a need that must be fulfilled I don’t see that want being met.

    As to the homogeny we witness in the players themselves, I feel that is something bred from birth meaning, that native born children may have a higher likelihood of wanting to play hockey than those children whose parents were not native born. Therefore, there isn’t a similar emphasis to play hockey which may be born out a cultural indifference toward the sport. Plus, there is an economic exclusivity inherent in the sport. It’s ‘effing expensive and it would make sense that some families wouldn’t see playing sports as important when more pressing needs like food and shelter have to be met for the whole of the family.

    No one in my immediate or extended family ever played hockey. I’m sure that a huge part of that had to do with having immigrant parents who had to work full-time jobs and use all of the $$ they made to help establish their families. Out of the whole lot of us, only 2 that I can think of ever played when they were younger and both are 3rd generation born. So while it’s important to discuss the unity and access to sport for all, we needn’t assume that everyone sees or feels that hockey or our participation in it is necessary to feel a part of the unity that it (wrongly or rightly) espouses.

    A huge part of the problem is that the media uses the mantra of hockey as our national sport and part of our identity because it is package-able commodity to sell to the world at large, but one that is born out of privilege. We as a society have bought it into it because as a fairly new country (145 years young) we are still evolving, figuring out our place in history and the world stage. And as a non-descript bunch, hockey has emerged as our unique signature; that which sets us apart. While hockey isn’t perfect because it doesn’t reflect every aspect of society, what does? In every culture on the planet there is always some form of exclusion. Nationalism, by its very definition, is the hugest form of exclusion and ‘in-group mentality’ there is, so why would anyone expect a sport to portray a healthier standard of inclusiveness?

    These concerns are more about privilege and fairness. Not one so much about equality because laws have been drawn up for that, but speak to the larger issue about what we feel is more important in our lives – and frankly the list of what we prioritize in our life is as vast and varied as the people drawing up that list. So how can we expect that hockey should be the perfect vehicle for such an endeavour when hockey itself was never created for such a varied social structure or world view?

    Hockey is a team sport that not everyone can play either because they suck or because they lack the funds or the drive or even the will to play. But most importantly, it is a sport of privilege and affluence (and priority – some families put themselves into financial hardship if the child is exceptionally talented) and if we expect it to truly reflect society at large and be our ‘national’ sport, then we need to address this issue before tackling its gender biased position. If we really expect it to be our sport, then it has to be affordable to all Canadians regardless of economic background, cultural opinion or gender.

    • Thanks for your comment! Sorry you had to post it twice – I have it set up so I have to approve the first comment of a new poster, after which they can comment at will (this is to prevent spam and/or inappropriate or offensive comments).

      You make a lot of great points. Hockey has become a weird cultural activity to hang our Canadian nationalist hats on, because as you point out it’s something Canada is historically the best at and therefore something that sets the country apart from other nations. As such, it is worth both celebrating and also examining critically to make it as accessible as possible to Canadians of all stripes – I agree with you that, although not all Canadians will participate or enjoy watching the sport, it should be an option for them to participate in it. As it stands, hockey is increasingly becoming a sport for rich suburban kids – any player who makes it to junior probably had tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars invested in his career by his parents by that point (team fees, equipment, travel, hockey camps, etc.). It is the minority of Canadian families who can make such an investment in their kids’ sporting careers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s