From the sports blog that brought you ‘Smokeshow of the Day’ and the ‘Saturdays are for the Boys’ clothing collection, we now have what I’ll call an informal poll: “Is the Ohio State women’s hockey goalie the hottest college athlete in America?” The sports blog in question is the (in)famous Barstool Sports, which has garnered an impressive following in a short period of time.
I have largely left Barstool alone—I used to follow them on social media and read some blog posts, but decided six months ago to unfollow and pay no attention, because it didn’t serve my interests and I saw no benefit in continuing to engage with it. Someone else brought this particular story to my attention because I, too, am a female goaltender and one who happens to have a good eye for gender issues in sport. So today I break my silence.
Barstool is known for sports reporting and satire with a heavy sprinkling of female content. In fact, on the site’s main menu bar, there is a drop-down titled ‘More’ under which your clicking options include: ticket purchasing, downloading the blog’s mobile app, and—get this—girls. Just girls. Click there and you’ll find a plethora of photos and videos of women, most of whom are being celebrated for fulfilling society’s ideal of attractiveness. My personal favourite is their ‘Chicks in the Office’ blog, in which women address important matters such as “Does this mean a girl wants to hook up with me?”.
You can already see where I’m going with this and I’m not the first one to arrive here. Forbes.com has already interviewed Barstool founder David Portnoy. Forbes asked Portnoy if he feels his blog is sexist, misogynistic, or offensive in any way (for the full interview with Alex Reimer, click here). In short, he responded that the site is meant to be satirical and he feels that men and women are treated equally on it. I’d like to note that there is no ‘boys’ drop-down menu and no one is asking about how completely adorable Eddie Lack is, but I digress.
The following is a snippet of the Forbes interview to provide an idea of where Portnoy stands on the matter:
I’ve seen a lot of back and forth with the girls who like Barstool and the feminists who hate Barstool. It’s strange: There are feminists who like Barstool and then feminists who hate Barstool.
Feminists who like Barstool say, ‘Who are you to tell me what I can like as a female?’ We used to do these college parties called the ‘Blackout Tour’ and we had a protest where these women were screaming at the girls who were going in saying, ‘You’re embarrassing and setting back women’s rights’ because they were dressed in scantily clad clothes. And it’s like, who are you to tell them what they can dress up like and what they can do for fun? Why do you think you’re morally superior to them?
I’m not convinced that Portnoy has a strong command of what feminism means, given that he focuses on clothing and characterizes the differences in opinion as strange—as if women who believe in gender equality are expected to choose one point of view and proceed together as a team, and it’s all based on our outfits. Is the way that a woman dresses or acts really a question of morality from a feminist perspective? That might be a naïve reading of women’s agency and social constructs that legitimise oppression.
Let’s get to the story of the Ohio State women’s hockey player.
Last week, a friend directed me to the Barstool Twitter account. The most recent post showed a photo of the Ohio State women’s hockey goaltender in full gear except her mask and the post’s author asked openly if she is the ‘hottest’ college athlete in America. Within hours, the athlete had contacted Barstool and asked to have the post deleted because she didn’t want to attract negative attention from her school or the NCAA (to see the post in which Barstool blogger Kmarko explains the situation and reacts to the negative attention the post received, click here).
Where Barstool is concerned, I do think it publishes sexist material which promotes a certain kind of masculinity. The same kind that can be attributed to Junior hockey players by companies like Gongshow Gear Inc., a hockey lifestyle apparel company that celebrates philandering, excessive alcohol consumption, and ruckus behaviour that can indeed involve women—whether as active participants, passive subjects, or both. I will concede that Gongshow seems to have cleaned up its act a bit—a bit—in the past few years where sexism is concerned, but to read my blog post on the company’s portrayal of masculinity in Junior hockey, click here.
As much as I consider myself a gender and sexuality warrior when it comes to hockey, this blog isn’t my hill to die on. I’m not going to change the world overnight—and if people want to participate in the culture that Barstool helps build and maintain, I can’t necessarily stop them. At least not all the time. So I ignore it and focus on the things that do ignite some sort of passion in me; and these are typically things that involve hockey directly.
I’m not overly bothered by the fact that Barstool posted a photo of the athlete and asked about her attractiveness. I’m a feminist, a goaltender, and someone who does sometimes get caught up in society’s idea of beauty. Although I would much rather garner attention for my social politics or (lack of) skills on the ice, it does feel good sometimes to receive a compliment on my appearance. And to be quite frank, Barstool has posted far more sexist material than this; I’ll let you seek it out on your own.
What struck me is the way the post was received. I know, I know—I should never read the comments section. But I did.
There is good news and bad news here. The good news is that I estimate that at least 25% of the responses I read (probably 50-75 tweets) pointed out that perhaps her ability to play the game or her education were more impressive than her appearance. Some people vehemently accused Barstool of sexism, which is what prompted Kmarko’s blog post that I mentioned earlier. In it, he wrote, “If calling a college athlete playing D1 hockey at Ohio State University attractive based off the official Ohio State goalie photo passed along on Twitter and saying ‘I’ll be paying more attention to college hockey this year’ is THIS scandalous then I guess Barstool is even edgier than I thought.”
The bad news is that the bulk of the other responses I looked at were ignorant, insensible, and crude. They were also all from men based on what I could decipher from their names and appearances in their profile photos (but let’s not be too quick to assume someone’s gender, of course). The tweets could usually be categorized in three ways. First, there were hockey-related sexual puns: “I’d put it in her 5 hole,” “she can handle my stick.” Second, there were blatant criticisms of her appearance: “she looks kinda fat in that picture.” Third, and perhaps most problematic for me, was a narrative about what it means to be a female athlete: “…playing hockey and not some stupid chick sport or soccer gives her so many bonus points,” “don’t forget she’s a goalie and a girl so that means extra f@#$ing crazy.” I will let those around me decide whether or not I, a ‘girl goaltender’, am “extra crazy”, but I can tell you that the narrative of the crazy girl is not one of which I am very fond.
What is it about being a female and a goaltender that makes us crazy, exactly? Is it the atypical disposition often attributed to goalies? Are we the life of the party? Do we collectively have some sort of mental health issues or insecurities that are perceived as instability? Did we stick up for ourselves when a cisgendered straight white man didn’t do what he told us he would do, or didn’t treat us with respect? I will not go as far as arguing that we need to remove ‘crazy’ from our vocabulary entirely, but I contend that it may be necessary to tread carefully and not stigmatize women as hyperemotional, unreasonable, and unstable. I won’t delve any further into this, but here is a quick and accessible Mic piece on the use of the word crazy in modern language and an unapologetically dry Medium piece on how women can be perceived as crazy in relationships.
I don’t hold Barstool accountable for much of this. On the one hand, I think that it was distasteful to put the photo and question out there because obviously it was going to attract sexist and offensive feedback. On the other hand, it also provided a forum for people to problematize that same sexism and offensive discourse.
If we are to point fingers at anyone, it should be the perpetrators of those comments. They are the ones who choose to express the kinds of attitudes that keep Barstool afloat. They’re the ones consuming the content and celebrating the kind of masculinity that I’ve come to know as a conceivable problem in hockey culture. That’s my ten cents. On that note, I’m going to go back to trying to change that culture in the community and leave the comments section to someone else for the moment. Thanks for tuning in.