The W Network recently launched a “reality” series called, Hockey Wives. It’s like the wife version of 24/7…but not nearly as awesome. I watched the season premiere, titled “Married to the Game,” and, well, there were tears, giggles, and diamonds. The website describes the show as such:
Being married to the game comes with its fair share of perks, but make no mistake: managing the pressures of trades, relentless travel, family, career uncertainty, injury, and long periods of separation in the white hot years of your life is a full time job. Meet the off-ice Captains – sexy, savvy, jet-setting women, stick handling through another gruelling hockey season. From wives who are new to the league, to those whose partners are Stanley Cup winning superstars or nearing retirement, these women form a team of their own, supporting and encouraging one another through personal and professional highs and lows.
The cast features Noureen Dewulf (wife of Ryan Miller), Martine Forget (fiancee of Jonathan Bernier), Nicole Brown (wife of Dustin Brown), Marpier Morin (girlfriend of Brandon Prust), Tiffany Parros (wife of George Parros), Brijet Whitney (Ray Whitney), Emilie Blum (wife of Jonathon Blum), Kodette LaBarbara (wife of Jason LaBarbara), Jenny Scrivens (wife of Ben Scrivens), and Wendy Tippett (wife of Coach Dave Tippett). Within the first fifteen minutes of the show one thing in became very apparent: the husbands/boyfriends don’t talk. It is as if they have chosen only those hockey players with an inability to produce speech, or perhaps to non-hockey fans, it fulfills the dumb jock stereotype. The wives talk at their husbands playing the part of nagging female shrew. Ryan Miller says all of two words over a meal and Dustin Brown comes off as the oblivious father on the way out the door to practice (and almost forgets his hockey gear). Sure, the show isn’t supposed to be abut the husbands but frankly all of the family dogs are more animated than the professional athletes. Even when then Parros family drops by the Miller mansion, George and Ryan are barely shown speaking to each other.
Hockey Wives, at least from the first episode, seems like the perfect example of commodified feminism; that is, a form a feminism that screams “girl power” on the surface but just beneath the layer of glitter and diamonds is a foundation based on money and a perpetuation of narrow gender roles. Exhibit A: Noureen DeWulf is the first wife presented, probably because she has the highest profile career as an “actress” on Charlie Sheen’s show, Anger Management. (I use scare quotes because, well, Charlie Sheen.) When discussing the impending move of Miller’s career to the Vancouver Canucks, DeWulf says to the camera “my hair is an important part of my beauty” and therefore, she is concerned about moving to Vancouver because of what the rain might do to her hair. [insert face palm here]. They also film DeWulf during her Playboy photo shoot. Tiffany Parros is a fashion designer and tells the audience that she doesn’t want to sound superficial but she “married George for his looks.” The editing team has done a wonderful job of making you want to hate these women.
But not all the wives are Hollywood prima Donnas. Jonathon Blum is set-up on the show with a two-way contract to illustrate the tumultuous lives of those trying to earn a permanent spot in the NHL. His wife Emily was a former Intelligence Specialist for the U.S. Military but she gave up her career to support her husband. Nicole Brown, we learn, went to university on a full ride hockey scholarship but after her first year was too homesick and quickly became the “CEO” of the Brown household. These two play the roles of successful women in their own right but the take home lesson is that every good woman should be ready to step aside when it’s time to support her husband.
These women are shown as almost hyper-emotional because their husbands are not allowed to be. Emilie Blum cries into Brijet Whitney’s shoulder when Jonathon doesn’t get a roster spot with the Minnesota Wild at training camp. The women discuss how it is more emotional for them sometimes because they can tell that their husbands want to cry from disappointment. But hey, there’s no crying in hockey (except when you win/lose the Stanley Cup), so any emotional duties are deferred to the wives. I think this is an important issue that the show has touched on with the rigidness of masculinity, particularly for professional athletes, but we will have to wait and see if this goes anywhere. Brijet Whitney mentions that she is worried about what will happen once Ray retires because she has heard that the divorce rate for hockey players after retirement is around 75%. If that is true, it is ridiculously high, which again touches on the significant issue of preparing athletes for post-competition life.
Frankly, if you want to learn about the trials and tribulations of being a hockey wife, I think Sean Pronger’s book, Journeyman, does a better job of telling this story. Even though the book is about his career, his wife and her struggles as a journeyman wife are an important thread that runs throughout. Or, you can read this recent article written by Kirk McLean’s ex-wife, Jane MacDougall, I was a hockey wife – and it just about killed me: My stint with NHL veteran Kirk McLean. Ultimately, the problem with Hockey Wives, is not that the wives don’t deserve some attention. I certainly give them a tip of the helmet for doing everything possible to contribute to their husband’s and their team’s success. It would seem they are as much a part of the team as the equipment mangers and training staff. And, an important aspect that is rarely mentioned when players are traded is the impact it has on their family (something that was recently brought to the sports page with Jordyn Leopold’s letter to the Minnesota Wild that went viral). The problem is that the only time women receive any attention in the NHL is when they are the wife or the (potential) partner of a player. To contrast, the women the CWHL are not paid to play and need to work full time jobs to support their hockey career but this apparently does not make for good television, in any form. Hockey Wives focuses on the hyper femininity of the women behind the men when we should be discussing the hyper masculinity of the men in the NHL. This show reinforces the separation of the private (feminized) sphere of domestic duties that requires no remuneration, from the public sphere in which men are seen, heard, play, and get paid for all of it. But hey, this was the season premiere. Maybe it gets better?