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Oh the drama. If you don’t know what is going on with respect to the NWHL and Barstool, you can get caught up with Hemal Javeri’s piece [HERE]. It got worse this morning when Dave Portnoy, President of Barstool, posted his own hateful video. I will not re-post any of the Barstool videos or tweets because they already take up a lot of space on social media. I was planning on putting on my rain slicker to just watch the poop fly from the ceiling; hence, why I tweeted out a GIF of a baboon meditating this morning. Buuuuutttt, I think we need a lesson in misogyny and Barstool has given us that opportunity.
Erika Nardini, Barstool CEO, made the comment that she doesn’t understand why people refer to Barstool as misogynistic. So, let’s do a deep dive into understanding misogyny: What is it? Who can participate in it? How does it work?
In Kate Manne’s book, Down Girl: The logic of misogyny, she refers to the dictionary definition of misogyny as the “naïve conception.” The general understanding of misogyny involves a hatred and hostility directed at women “simply because they are women” (p.32, original emphasis). This definition causes a lot of confusion and creates room for deflection by all genders. As Portnoy claimed in his video, three of the top officers at Barstool are women; therefore, neither he nor Barstool can be misogynists. Furthermore, Nardini, through her existence as a woman, cannot be misogynistic because how can she hate herself or not want good things for herself? And by this understanding, they are correct – they would not fit under this narrowly defined and “naïve” definition of misogyny because the assumption is that a hatred of women would not include women. As Manne contends, this definition of misogyny allows its existence to be rare, in turn hiding its pervasiveness.
Manne instead offers us this interpretation of misogyny:
misogyny is primarily a property of social systems or environments as a whole, in which women will tend to face hostility of various kinds because they are women in a man’s world (i.e., a patriarchy), who are held to be failing to live up to patriarchal standards (i.e., tenets of patriarchal ideology that have some purchase in this environment). Because of this, misogynist hostilities will often target women quite selectively, rather than targeting women across the board...What these hostilities are required to have in common is their social-cum-structural explanation: roughly, they must be part of a system that polices, punishes, dominated, and condemns those women who are perceived as an enemy or threat to the patriarchy (p. 33-34, emphasis in bold added)
Manne was not writing about Barstool, but I give you Barstool in a nutshell. Selective punishment and condemnation as a way to protect a brand that is predicated on “boys being boys.” You’re not one of the women who can take a rape joke? F*ck you. You don’t like what they’re doing in general? F*ck you. You dare critique anything they say or do? F*ck you. And that f*ck you is with the full weight of Barstool and its followers conveying this message in various graphic and abusive ways. This is targeted harassment that is encouraged from the top of the pyramid and has been covered by outlets such as Deadspin, Think Progress, and Variety. Mainstream outlets will often refer to Barstool as “controversial” as a way to distance themselves and avoid naming the toxic environment that it fosters and supports.
Recently, Barstool has been running a fund to help support small businesses affected by Covid related shutdowns. To date, they have raised over $32 million. No small feat. They use this fund as a shield and defence to say, “How can we be bad people if we are raising money to help people?” Well, because both can be true. Barstool can be misogynistic and racist AND raise money for good causes. One act does not erase the other just like I can give a homeless person a $50 bill while walking down the street and then push down an old woman on the next block (don’t worry, I wouldn’t). The Barstool method, however, would be to turn around to the old woman who is cursing me out and say: F*ck you! I just gave that guy $50! He’ll tell you I’m a good person.
Both can be equally accurate representations of my personality.
Manne further explains that misogyny works through controlling the narrative, which Barstool can do with its large media platform:
Part of male dominance, especially on the part of the most privileged and powerful, seems to be seizing control of the narrative–and with it, controlling her, enforcing her concurrence. It’s not exactly deference: rather it closely resembles the moral aim of gaslighting…In some ways, this is an extension of a general modus operandi of such powerful and domineering agents: issuing pronouncements that simply stipulate what will be believed, and then treated as the official version of events going forward. (p.11)
When Barstool says it supports women’s hockey and women, that is supposed to be the end of the conversation. If they say it is true, then it is true. No amount of evidence is relevant at this point. They have hijacked the conversation by pointing out how successful Nardini is and that she is herself a hockey player (all of which is irrelevant to the conversation at hand). Women’s hockey would be foolish, by their account, to not want to be besties with Nardini and Barstool. No one is discounting Nardini’s business acumen or her love for hockey. But we are saying that, of all the people in the world to sidle up next to for business purposes, maybe Barstool isn’t the best option. Similar to when Brett Cavanaugh was up for the Supreme Court seat, Senator Diane Feinstein did not question his judicial qualifications, rather she questioned whether or not “Judge Kavanaugh should be elevated to one of the most powerful positions in our country. This is not a trial of Dr. Ford. It’s a job interview for Judge Kavanaugh. Is Brett Kavanaugh who we want on the most prestigious court in our country? Is he the best we can do?” Thus, is Barstool and Nardini the best that women’s hockey can do? If the answer is yes, then I am concerned for our lack of imagination and moral compass.
Let’s return to the the selective targeting of women because that’s where this gets really messy. Manne explains that misogyny serves “to uphold the patriarchal order,” and it “does this by visiting hostile or adverse social consequences on a certain (more or less circumscribed) class of girls or women to enforce and police social norms that are gendered either in theory or in practice” (p.12). Stoolies (as they refer to themselves) think they can shield themselves behind the fact that their harassment does not encompass ALL women, just some women. And, yes, women participate in this targeted harassment as well. This is where women’s hockey has become a shield for the misogyny of barstool. I have listened to a few of the episodes of Spittin Chiclets where players such as Kendall Coyne Schofield and Amanda Kessel have been interviewed. Honestly, these interviews are not bad. The hosts are more prepared than other men who usually interview women’s hockey players and, I believe, that they genuinely respect these women and want success for them. The problem is that when they are not interviewing an elite women’s hockey player, women are spoken about as objects of sexual conquest. In other words, they selectively target which women they objectify. If you can hang with the boys and talk shop — cool! You’re in. If you’re not one of those women, this is generally how women enter the conversation:
Episode 316: Bissonette “He’s a hornball cuz he’s probably wondering if we sat in the same chair on pervert row chucking toonies up there on stage to see some titties…I think that was the first time I had ever been to a strip club, at the age of 16 years old…I was an under-ager, so yes I did sneak in one time at the end of the year and I think that was my first titty joint experience…I was just mesmerized by how they smelt.”
Manne outlines that the targets for misogyny are generally “those perceived as unbecoming women–traitors to the cause of gender–bad women, and ‘wayward’ ones” (p.51) She continues, “Misogynists can love their mothers–not to mention their sisters, daughters, wives, girlfriends, and secretaries. They need not hate women universally, or even very generally. They tend to hate women who are outspoken, among other things” (p.52). Let outspoken in this context be understood as outspoken against Barstool because clearly they hire outspoken women who can amplify the company lines.
Barstool has always been very honest about what it is and what it isn’t. Men talking about strip clubs as part of a sports podcast is fine. Fine meaning that, as a for profit company, it is their prerogative to choose the content and run with it. What makes it complicated is how they have extended their platform to help support both the PWHPA and NWHL.
Women’s hockey finds itself in a precarious position: elevated as more valuable than the average woman but also the ones who have decided that they want to represent a new face for hockey culture. Barstool represents hockey’s base. That’s okay — be the base. But let’s not pretend that tapping into hockey’s base fandom represents any kind of “growth.” It might result in new viewers for women’s hockey but it’s not growth for the game, it’s lateral movement. Yes, that could be growth for women’s professional hockey, which, can realistically only go up in viewership. Growing the game, however, means bringing in new people to hockey; it means including all the people who have not/do not see themselves in the Barstool crowd. It means the people who not only believe that Black Lives Matter but are willing to say it aloud. If women’s hockey only reaches out to the base, then yes, there are finite dollars to be found, and this has arguably been one of the problems. An existing hockey fan can only watch so much more hockey and spend so much more money on merchandise, tickets etc. But a wholly new fan is a clean slate who can invest in the game and ensure its sustainability for years to come. Women’s hockey can decide in this moment if it wants “new to us” fans or legitimately new fans.
We know who Barstool is. We are still learning who and what women’s hockey is and may become.