Privilege operates all the time and often in seemingly innocuous ways.
I went to a stick n’puck session recently with a friend and I had to leave earlier than her. Stick n’puck sessions are usually co-ed; translation: 90-100% men. Due to the lack of women that usually show up to stick n’puck sessions, rinks don’t always delineate a women’s change room. Fair enough, I suppose. So I was in the change room and this man walks into the room, sets his bag down, and turns around. At this time, his friend comes in as well. I just keep untying my skates and don’t say anything because it doesn’t really bother me if guys want to share the change room. I would prefer if they didn’t but not so much that I care to say anything or move. Without saying a word, the man picks up his bag and follows his friend out of the change room. I look up in time to see a giggle/smirk on his face. You know the “whoops! There’s a girl in here” giggle.
I’m writing this post not because this happened once. I’m writing this post because it happens ALL. THE. TIME. Men walk into the change room and assume that anyone in there before them must also be a man. I usually leave my stick by the door so anyone walking in should know that there is already someone in the room but never has a guy peered around the corner to check the room first. He/they have always fully entered the room, usually sat down, and some have even started to unpack before they realized they were in a change room with a woman or even SEVERAL women (sometimes we travel in packs). Then he/they usually apologize for “intruding” and move into another change room.
Conversely, here’s how most women enter co-ed change rooms at the rink: we listen to hear if anyone is in the room, we go in and if there are sticks by the door we may turn around right there and find an empty room. Even if there aren’t sticks by the door we scan the room or we slowly open the door to see if there are men already in the change room.
When we talk about male entitlement and gender norms, this is a perfect example of something really inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things, but it demonstrates how space is political and can police and/or reproduce gender. It’s the difference between raising a son and daughter under the same roof and them playing the same sport, yet being socialized under different experiences that may never be discussed as “gender inequality”.
I’m not faulting men for feeling like own every inch of a rink because historically they have. And, like I said, usually there are no women that show up to stick n’pucks or co-ed drop-ins. Maybe if more women went they would have to designate gender specific change rooms and this would be a moot point. But the fact that some people are able to enter the change room without a thought about who may be in that space, or already using that space, is a manifestation of power built over generations. Likewise, the fact that others may enter a change room with a similar caution that extends well beyond rink-life (e.g. don’t go out alone, don’t run at night) is a manifestation of historical marginalization and oppression. Women have been socialized to always be aware of their surroundings, whereas (most) men are privileged with a freedom of movement of which women can only dream.
Some never question their presence in a space or have their presence challenged.
Some question their presence some of the time (example: men of colour).
Some always question their presence, and/or consistently have their presence questioned/challenged, in a space (example: women in male dominated sports, LGTBQ athletes).
If you find yourself in the first category, that is called privilege. Privilege, in turn, produces entitlement to space, resources, and opportunities. If you are pro-equality then step #1 is realizing that not everyone experiences space in the same way. Equal opportunities are not the same as equality of experience, safety, or respect.
In short, when you are at co-ed ice time, try and scan the room fellas.