Outrage, Frustration, Dismay: A Round-up of Hockey Writers’ Reactions to “While the Men Watch”

When the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation announced that it would be launching a new online feature for the Stanley Cup Finals, a feature called While the Men Watch (WTMW) that provides alternative “girl talk” commentary to the Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play, it was met with outrage by many bloggers and media members. The show has been nothing if not controversial, generating huge amounts of discussion before it even debuted during Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils. So what have hockey writers been saying about WTMW?

Before exploring this question, first read the description of the feature from CBC:

Longtime friends Lena (Sutherland) and Jules (Mancuso) host an alternate live online game broadcast offering a distinct female-centred, fun, provocative and entertaining perspective on the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. Available for each game of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, WhileTheMenWatch Hockey Night provides a different view on a traditional game.

Seems straightforward and inoffensive enough, right? Leaving aside the name of the show, you could read the description and view WTMW as a good-hearted attempt to engage and inform novice female fans who may face challenges gaining acceptance in traditionally male-dominated sport fan cultures. However, the description of WTMW from its website (Sutherland and Mancuso launched the online commentary during the Super Bowl and provided commentary for a variety of sporting events) provides a different understanding of the show:

WhileTheMenWatch is a first of its kind, live sports talk-show for women.  An overnight sensation, hailed as Sex in the City meets ESPN. . . . Hosted by real-life girlfriends in New York and Toronto, the female-friendly commentary keeps women entertained. . . .  The lively discussion follows sports from a woman’s point of view including everything from interpreting the rules of the game to coaches in need of a makeover.

Borne out of frustration with their sports-addicted men, Co-Hosts Lena Sutherland and Jules Mancuso created WhileTheMenWatch doing their own version of sports commentary that women actually want to hear.

 This description highlights many of the issues that angered hockey fans, including the assumption that women do not like sports and would rather gossip about the players than watch the game; and the essentialist understanding of the relationship between men and sport fandom. After the jump, you can read a sampling of the many reactions to WTMW.

Cassie McClellan of the Tampa Bay Lightning blog Raw Charge had a tempered reaction, which acknowledged that the CBC and NHL had their heart in the right place in trying to make hockey more accessible for some female fans yet that they did so in completely the wrong fashion:

The problem isn’t that this is going on. In fact, the CBC ought to be applauded for even trying to reach out to women who happen to like sports. The real problem is that they’re going about it the entirely wrong way.

This type of thing can be considered the TV and/or blogging equivalent to the pink, bedazzled hockey jersey. It works for a very few women, but not the majority. It’s a good idea in theory, but a bad idea in execution. . . .

Now, I’m not outraged here. Hockey is trying to reach out; they really are. But they’re not asking what female fans want first, or are even seemingly interested in their feedback. They’re just making their best guess and hope it makes the majority of female fans happy. It’s classic of at least NHL marketing – do something, then throw it at the wall and see if it sticks. Has no one ever heard of focus groups?

Meanwhile, many people expressed dismay that the CBC would reach out to Sutherland and Mancuso, who admit to knowing and caring little about hockey, when there are many intelligent and talented women analyzing about the sport. From Adam Proteau of The Hockey News:

There would be less to loathe about that “tee-hee-look-at-little-old-me-in-a-man’s-world” attitude were it not invested in and promoted by the publicly funded CBC, especially at a time when social media has shown hockey has a sizeable and ever-increasing number of strong female voices who watch the game because they adore it. Instead of holding an online hockey chat with commentators such as Ellen Etchingham and Julie Veilleux or elite female players such as Jennifer Botterill and Sami Jo Small, the national broadcaster has chosen to lend credence to a 1950s-era mentality that viewed men as men and women as whatever men told them they ought to be.

And from the blog PetShark:

That CBC would give these women such a platform on which to preach their reactionary anti-fem message angers me all the more because there are plenty of women writing good, truly unconventional things about being hockey fans.  If they wanted an alternative perspective, there are many to choose from.

Similarly, Harrison Mooney wrote at Puck Daddy:

This is an absurdly poor idea. It’s 2012. The hockey world is full of women who not only watch and understand hockey (Whoa! Just like men!), but do standout work reporting on hockey, from Katies Baker and Strang to Helene Elliott to Cassie Campbell and Andi Petrillo, who work for the same CBC that will be bringing us “While the Men Watch Hockey Night.”

Ellen Etchingham wrote a top notch response to the show on Backhand Shelf. Definitely give the full article a read. With regard to the lack of female voices in hockey media, she wrote:

There is an enormous constituency of hockey-mad females all over Canada, but when the CBC decided to reach out to women, it wasn’t us they thought of. It wasn’t the girls on the rinks and in the sports bars they wanted to talk to, it wasn’t the women who are passionate and obsessive and fanatical about hockey, who spend tremendous money, time, and energy on this game. Nope, it was the other women, the ones who don’t know the game and don’t give a fuck. Those are the women the CBC is interested in. . . .

I’m tired of being quiet and hoping silently that the powers that be see fit to advance more women to the upper echelons of sports commentary. If they’re going to advance proudly ignorant women to the national stage, then hell yes, I am going to complain that they’re not advancing knowledgeable women whose hockey ideas are ten times more deserving of being heard. . . . Women have been covering sports on the local level for many, many years now, women have written their way to prominence on the internet, but somehow they are still almost totally invisible in the national media. As men work their way up the food chain, getting ever bigger and better gigs, women tend stay where they are. It was six years ago when Cassie Campbell first lucked her way into color commentary on the CBC and she’s still the only woman to do color, and even she has trouble getting the opportunity to do it often. . . . I have never seen a woman, other than Ms. Campbell, be presented as an expert voice in televised hockey.

Outlets will say, oh, we can’t find any. We can’t find any knowledgeable hockey women who are up to the exalted standards of our panel discussions. Bullshit. This is a field where the standard for intelligence is Mike Milbury and the standard for articulateness is PJ Stock. There are women who can meet those standards. If you can’t find them, you’re not looking.

Finally, Courtney Szto wrote on this blog:

Forget the fact that these women play to every negative stereotype about women and sports. Forget the fact that they turn to the only man on their set to learn about hockey.  Forget that they clearly are playing dumb in order to meet their mandate.  The problem with While the Men Watch is not Sutherland and Mancuso. The problem is that so little positive attention is directed at women in and around sports that when an opportunity to provide an alternative commentary on the Stanley Cup Playoffs arises said opportunity did NOT go to women who can speak intelligently about the sport; rather, the opportunity went to two women who don’t actually enjoy the game and have to find ways to make the sport more bearable to sit through.  If women received equitable representation on SportsCenter, in the sports pages, and in sports blogs then go ahead, give them their 15 minutes; but we don’t. So those few opportunities to enter the masculine arena of sports, especially when provided by a national institution such as CBC, should go towards creating acceptance for women talking about sports, not reaffirm negative stereotypes.

Some of the most scathing and insightful criticisms were about the gender stereotypes promoted by WTMW. In an excellent guest post on Puck Daddy, Julie Veilleux explored a number of problematic issues about the show, including the following

  • “It’s sexist (duh) and shames women’s bodies”
  • “It’s degrading and dehumanizing”
  • “It’s derogatory towards men too”
  • “It’s heteronormative”

Adam Proteau added:

The issue is the overall tone of the endeavor, which the founders say was “borne out of frustration with (the) sports-addicted” men in their lives. The subtext suggests these women aren’t approaching hockey or any sport with the thirst to understand, enjoy and appreciate it on a more meaningful level. Rather, it’s as if they’re holding their noses and lowering themselves into a toxic goop to improve their relationship with their men, and unabashedly pandering (mandering?) via traditional gender stereotypes.

And back to Ellen Etchingham, who strongly criticized the gender implications of WTMW:

While the Men Watch participates in an astounding collection of stereotypes about women. Women don’t understand sports. Women don’t care about sports. If women watch sports, they only do so because a man pushes it on them. Women are interested in fashion, cleaning, shopping, and men. The show is essentially the traditional four Fs of pink ghetto journalism- food, family, fashion, and furniture- tangentially tied in to hockey. It is Cosmo with a game in the background.

To understand why this show is so dispiriting and depressing for a certain segment of female fans, you have to understand the role that sports play in many of our lives. For all the substantial progress of feminism, the larger culture is still awash in portrayals of women that hew closely to the long-standing stereotypes, that push us to think about ourselves in terms of our attractiveness, our sexual appeal, our fashion sense, our youth, etc. . . . Now, we’re adults and we can handle it, but sometimes, frankly, the cultural stereotypes of heteronormative femininity are a pain in the ass. Sometimes one gets pretty fucking tired of being appreciated, shamed, warned, and appealed to ‘as a woman’.

So when the CBC decides to throw money at a program that believes it’s ‘breaking new ground’ by bringing the most cliched, generic, traditional gender ideologies into sports… that’s not exactly a thrilling idea. Oh goody, finally, a sports program that gives me the opportunity to talk about important issues like getting grass stains out of pants and how to please my man in bed. Thank fucking God, because, as a woman, I really do not have enough opportunities to hear about these topics already. It’s so sadly neglected, the question of which male celebrity you’d want to be your boyfriend, it absolutely is not exactly the same thing that the culture has been throwing at me since I was eight years old.

Daniel Wagner on Backhand Shelf argued that the accusations of sexism are “overblown,” and that the show should be understood as a poorly marketed but genuine attempt to draw a new demographic (both female and male) into hockey fandom:

What CBC is trying to do is attract an audience that doesn’t normally watch Hockey Night in Canada. Regrettably, they have given the impression that said audience is all women. That isn’t the case: their target audience with this partnership is people who don’t like hockey. Really, you have to applaud CBC’s audacity: they are literally trying to get people who don’t like hockey to like hockey. . . .

As insulting as it may seem, the target audience of women who don’t like hockey but whose husbands and boyfriends really, really do is out there and it’s big enough that CBC wants them watching Hockey Night in Canada. The fact is that Lena Sutherland and Jules Mancuso exist. They are girlfriends of rabid sports fans who didn’t care about sports. And there are many, many women (and men) out there like them. . . .

The hardcore female hockey fans that are upset about While the Men Watch are not the show’s demographic. They don’t fit the stereotype that CBC is aiming for with their target audience for the show.

The problem is that wasn’t clear in the first place.

Courtney Szto would certainly disagree with Wagner’s assertions that the show is aimed as getting fans interested in hockey:

Now, I’m not saying that women must demonstrate a certain level of hockey knowledge before they can be accepted into the inner circle, which is generally how it works; but this “show” does not make non-hockey fans into hockey fans.  You don’t learn anything about the game! You learn about which players are “doable” but I really don’t think you need a national platform to do that.  CBC could have used these women to teach non-fans about the great sport of hockey in a non-intimidating playful way; but no, they decided to pander to the cornerstone of marketing – sex.

Clearly WTMW has sparked a lot of controversy and, no doubt to the satisfaction of the CBC, a lot of publicity. I am pleased that so many hockey bloggers and media personnel have not reacted passively to the show, and have taken to the Internet to express their outrage. WTMW may have good intentions, but it is seriously problematic in a wide variety of ways. Clearly, however, many dedicated and knowledgeable hockey fans see through the WTMW facade and have lodged a series of very strong criticisms against the show.

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One thought on “Outrage, Frustration, Dismay: A Round-up of Hockey Writers’ Reactions to “While the Men Watch”

  1. Pingback: Weekly Links: Derek Boogaard and prescription drug abuse; CBA and Phoenix Coyotes ownership updates « Hockey in Society

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