Roundtables are an occasional feature on Hockey in Society. Roundtables will present brief commentaries from Hockey in Society contributors on pressing or timely issues within hockey and its culture, with the aim of presenting a diverse range of critical viewpoints on the topic under discussion.
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) is hosting its fourth annual Girls’ Hockey Weekend this weekend (which, coincides with the United Nations International Day of the Girl Child), a weekend designed to expose girls and women to *ahem* the greatest game on earth! ( I might be a little biased). The IIHF encourages teams, clubs, and organizations to find a way to draw more girls to the game whether it be through autograph sessions, practice sessions, or off-ice activities. You can check out the official (pink) website here: Girls’ Hockey Weekend. This is the first time that we at Hockey in Society have ever heard of the Girls’ Hockey Weekend, so we thought it would be appropriate to use the opportunity to offer an assessment on the current state of women’s hockey, both in Canada and globally.
There are two recent events that show promising signs for the growth of women’s hockey. First, is Sportsnet’s new agreement with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League to broadcast the league’s playoff games from the Clarkson Cup and “at least one special event to be announced in early October.” This agreement is slated for the next four years and it has also earned the CWHL space on the website (sportsnet.ca) for game scores. The second exciting recent event for women’s hockey is that the Anaheim Ducks invited, US Olympic team member, Hillary Knight to skate in practice. This was the first time that a female non-goalie has ever practiced with an NHL team. However, despite these two newsworthy developments, it is still important to recognize that women’s hockey still has a long way to go. The Sportsnet agreement will show three playoff games. This is certainly better than nothing but it also doesn’t seem like a huge commitment on Sportsnet’s part. Also, this will be the first time that CWHL scores will be shown on the website. FIRST TIME! The fact that a national sportscaster has waited until 2014 to add “professional” women’s hockey scores on the ticker is less than exciting. And, I put the word professional in quotations because the women of the CWHL are unable to support themselves from their hockey careers and are forced to have other jobs. Plus, there this snappy list of “10 reasons why the NHL should commit to women’s pro hockey before expanding the men’s game (again)” floating around the Internet, which further highlights the gap between the men’s and women’s games. Moreover, Anaheim Ducks’ coach, Bruce Boudreau was apparently pleasantly surprised with Knight’s skill at practice because he has never seen a women’s hockey game live and didn’t realize that “they were that good”. I don’t know what is more sad: the fact that he has never felt it worth his time to watch women’s hockey, or that there has probably been few opportunities for him to take in a live game. Either way, I think Boudreau’s experience (as someone who lives the game) is telling.
One last example I will contribute to the discussion here is how Warrior (equipment company) fails to recognize women as either a valuable or viable market demographic and that they have faced zero consequences for their misogynistic stance. Warrior feels that it is unnecessary to serve the female demographic, which from a consumer standpoint isn’t that big a of a deal, but from a social perspective is reflective and reproductive of the lack of value afforded to women’s hockey. Lululemon has faced both social and financial backlash for not valuing any person that the company deems overweight but they essentially continue business as normal because, while consumers don’t appreciate size discrimination, the stigmatization of obesity remains a prevalent ideology. Similarly, I think that many people may think even though Warrior’s stance on female consumers is rude and outdated, it is situated as poor business practice rather than a reproduction of unequal power relations that manifest beyond the store shelves. Unless an NHL player publicly chastises Warrior and drops them as a sponsor, very little will happen. Even then, they might not give a flying #uck. And as long as companies such as Warrior are not forced to change their ways, or collapse entirely, their very existence affirms the notion that women’s hockey is of little value. While it is exciting to see initiatives such as the Girls’ Hockey Weekend and players like Knight skating with the big boys, we still have a long way to go. Should we find it encouraging or discouraging to know that most other women’s sports are in the exact same fight?
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