Women and Hockey, Pink Hats and Equality

I was 6 years old the first and last time I wore a hockey jersey to school. It was a gorgeous retro Calgary Flames jersey and I had found it in a bag of hand me down clothes my uncle had brought to our house. I instantly loved it and was desperate to wear it to school to show off that I had a Flames jersey because my friends who were boys were always talking about the Flames and Theoren Fleury and I just wanted to fit in. flames logo 1980 - 1994They had to settle for t-shirts and sweatpants printed with logos but my white jersey was the real deal with a beautiful flaming ‘C’ stitched onto the front and the bright red stripes sewn on around the arms.

On the day I wore my first hockey jersey, I slipped it on and walked to school, proud as can be. I got to the school and one of the boys that played hockey for a local team stared at me as I walked onto the playground. I saw his eyes narrow as his friends began to notice what I was wearing. He came over to me, jabbed me in the shoulder and said loudly and directly into my face “The Flames are a bad team. My dad says you dumb girls don’t know anything about hockey and now I know he’s right.” I was stunned as I stood there, feeling my face get hot as my cheeks grew tomato red. His friends began to laugh at me and make comments about how girls are “stupid” and don’t know anything. I watched in silence as the boy who informed me that the Calgary Flames were a bad team stooped to pick up his very own Calgary Flames backpack off the ground and head into the school.

I paused a bit, as thoughts ran through my mind. I debated taking the jersey off since I was wearing a white turtleneck underneath it, hiding it and pretending I didn’t know what he was talking about when he brought it up, as he would inevitably do. I was baffled. It wasn’t like I didn’t watch hockey at all either. I knew exactly who Theo Fleury was and why they thought he was great because I thought he was pretty funny too.

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I ended up wearing that jersey for the entire day, ignoring the stares of the boys in my class who still couldn’t believe that I had the nerve, as a girl, to wear a hockey jersey to school and the girls who couldn’t believe that I was even thinking anything about hockey when there were My Little Ponies to play with. I walked home, went into my room, took the jersey off and stuffed it into the back of my closet. I never wore it, or any other hockey jersey, to school again.

In all honesty, I even gave up on hockey after that. What did I know? I was just a girl, after all, and it was clear that I was not welcome.

Less Than, Never Equal To

What I didn’t realize then was that I had experienced something that would become a recurring theme in my life once I began getting involved in writing about hockey. Female fans are often seen as not being intelligent enough to grasp the concepts behind hockey and while this is wrong, these thoughts are still perpetuated among certain groups of men within the hockey industry. Certain men feel like women talking hockey is an abomination as it’s not “their place.”

Hockey doesn’t need to be dumbed down for women to understand it. If someone is interested in something, they will do whatever they have to in order to learn about it, and the same goes for hockey. In THW’s Massive Hockey House (an open group of hockey fans on facebook), a question was posed on where and when people became interested in hockey. None of the answers from any of the women group participants indicated anything less than an intense interest in the sport itself as it is today. There are many educated women within the world of hockey who are providing excellent insight into the sport, the players and their favorite team. From Sarah Connors, who runs SB Nation’s Stanley Cup Of Chowder, to The Hockey Writers own female authors, women are proving that they are capable of providing intelligent insight into hockey with accuracy when it comes to statistics and facts.

The Feminization of the Male Player

In addition to the perpetuating thought that females are less than males because they can’t possibly know anything about a “man’s sport” is the feminization of male players. Inferring that Sidney Crosby is weak by calling him “Cindy Crysby” is just as detrimental to the role of females in the hockey world as blatantly stating that they are dumber than men is. I understand and embrace trash talking as an inherent part of hockey and expect that fans will always make fun of players on opposing teams. What I take umbrage with is that the use of this term implies that he’s a girl and is therefore less than the rest of the men on the team. Regardless of intent behind this taunt, whether it’s used on the ice to throw Sidney off his game or among fans to mock his style of play or personal characteristics, the underlying connotation remains the same: being a girl is less desirable than being a boy.

Hockey players themselves are not immune to applying feminine connotations to males involved in any facet of hockey in an effort to make them appear lesser opponents. In March, current Washington Capital Dustin Penner posted a few tweets directed at a male fan who send him a comment making fun of him.

I do not include the above tweets to shame Dustin Penner in any way and do not intend to place any judgement on him, I simply wonder if he grasped the underlying connotation of the words he chose in that instant. Comments such as these are unnecessary and there are different ways of getting your point across without using gender as an insult. Sean McIndoe wrote on the need for change in regards to how we mock other team’s players:

That’s not even some sort of call for civility, because cruelly mocking other team’s star players, with no regard for reality or even basic human decency, is a cherished part of hockey fandom and we should continue to embrace it. It’s just a call for creativity. As hockey fans, we all hate everyone and want to make sure they know it. Let’s see if we can manage to do that without taking down 50 percent of the population in the cross fire.

Against Each Other

The above comments from men speak to one problem faced by women within hockey, but there’s another facet to this discussion that would be improper to not include in this piece. Very often, females attack other females that they perceive to be detrimental to their own status within their love of the sport. A female fan who is perceived to be less than more dedicated fans of the sport face discrimination from those of their own gender.

This often occurs because female hockey fans don’t want to be lumped in with those they see as being lesser fans of the sport. It’s a way of proving dominance over those who are possibly just casual watchers, or those who only watch for the good looking men. If a girl can’t rattle off stats, positions and names of players at the drop of a hat, they are shamed with terms like “pink hat” and “puck slut” and separated from the rest of the females who know more than they do. If those females who adore the sport are offended by men who speak against them being involved in hockey, then why is it acceptable for them to turn around and do the same to others in order to prove their own dominance?

This need to prove that we, as females, are just as knowledgeable about hockey as males are leads us to shun those that we perceive as untrue fans. If we are trying to prove our intelligence by knocking down others, how smart are we really proving ourselves to be? Women shouldn’t have to feel the need to shame other women for saying things about hockey that are inaccurate in order to comfort themselves with the knowledge that they may be women, but at least they’re smarter than the other girls. Some girls enjoy watching hockey with their boyfriends or husbands and don’t feel the need to engage in the sport on their own time. Some women only watch the playoffs because they feel it’s more exciting. Whatever way women choose to consume, or not consume, the sport shouldn’t open them up to judgement from others who watch year round and enjoy talking hockey on a daily basis.

Prove It

Very often, female fans are challenged to prove that they know hockey when they mention they like the sport via rapid fire questions aimed at catching them out as being uneducated. Jessica Merighi wrote an excellent guest post on Days Of Y’Orr in which she listed a few common questions male fans tend to ask and answered them as such:

“As a woman, if you answer anything outside of “I’ve been watching (sport) my whole life. My favorite player is someone obscure from the 90’s. My dad got me into it. I majored Sports Theory in college and no I have not slept with a player.” you’re seen as a “Pink hat,” a term used for women who are not fans of the sport but watch games for some random stupid reason, like their boyfriend.”

This challenging of knowledge is something a male fan doesn’t have to go through, or at least not very often. It’s typically widely accepted that male fans are just inherently knowledgeable about hockey. It’s also widely acceptable if a male fan indicates that they don’t know as much about hockey as other males. They don’t have as much to prove as women fans do, but maybe it’s because they don’t necessarily feel the need to prove anything to others when it comes to their knowledge of sports. Perhaps they just don’t care because they aren’t labeled with a derogatory term, regardless of its accuracy, if they fail to provide instant knowledge of the sport, its players and its teams. Males can be casual fans. Women are Pink Hats.

When I was in high school, I sat next to current Toronto Maple Leafs player Joffrey Lupul in Social Studies class. I sat behind current St. Louis Blues player Jay Bouwmeester in English. I made it a point to not talk to either of them too much, lest I be seen as trying to sleep with either of them. lupulI shared homework and jokes with Joffrey and exchanged pleasantries with Jay, but nothing beyond that for fear of not being taken seriously. What I really wanted to ask them was where they hoped to be drafted to and what they thought their chances were of making it in the NHL but I wouldn’t have dared to ask anything like that at that point in time. Now that hockey is a large part of my life, I realize that I should have taken the chance to ask those questions when I had the opportunity, but as a female high school student I simply could not risk it. Any female that indicated that they were interested in hockey at all was shamed with the label “Tiger Tail” (our local equivalent of Puck Slut) and called hateful things behind their backs because trying to have sex with a player was the only reason a girl could possibly want to talk hockey with the boys.

What I Now Know

I don’t claim to speak for all female hockey fans or writers, but I know there are some that are out there like me. When I first started writing, I agonized over every little detail, researching facts that I already knew just to be sure that I was getting my information right because I wasn’t going to be known as a “dumb girl writer.” I placed a lot of pride in my writing ability and my accuracy to the point that it was starting to become a detriment to my love of the game itself. I found myself constantly checking out things before publishing, from stats to numbers to even spellings of last names. I wasn’t going to be caught out writing anything that wasn’t 100% provable by citing many sources. It was absolutely ridiculous.

I’m now at the point where I wonder why. Why should a female hockey fan have to prove their love of the game to anybody? Why should they have to provide cited sources when talking about a sport? Why should they have to run through the roster, naming players and numbers and line combinations before a other hockey fans, both male and female, will believe that they know what they’re talking about? I’m done with this in my life. I love hockey. It’s a great sport, played by great athletes. I love it because it’s fun. It’s entertaining, surprising and fast paced. I think that should be good enough for the hockey community at large when it comes to accepting females into its ranks.

But what do I know? I’m just a girl.

19 thoughts on “Women and Hockey, Pink Hats and Equality”

  1. I love talking to women about hockey, you get a different perspective. Women tend to gravitate to how they skate and stick handle. Men generally only pay attention to who can hit and take a hit. This is just a generalization, and not the “truth”, but it does show how both genders can enjoy hockey.

  2. In all honesty as a teen, I was one of the biggest hockey fans in my school. I was never made fun of, not by the boys or the girls. I even dated a hockey player and was friends with the brother of an NHL’er who attended our school. I didn’t look for it, it just happened that way and I wasn’t considered a puck bunny either.

    Today, it’s a different story. If I speak to a man about hockey they automatically think “what does she know?” and I’ve heard it several times.

    What they don’t realize is that I have been a hockey fan since my early teens and was probably watching hockey when they were and in many cases, before they were born.

    I don’t let it get to me, I know I’m knowledgeable, I love the sport, I don’t even fight them on it, I just don’t care what they think.

    Women, who cares? Enjoy the game, ignore the ignorant.

  3. Thank you for the article. As a longtime season ticket holder, I’ve experienced (and continue to experience) a lot of the stuff you mention. I do not belong to the booster club for several reasons – one because it gives folks the idea that I have some personal interest in the players. (I don’t know any men who avoid it for the same reason.) I post regularly in the league’s forum and get thank you’s and likes on my posts but everyone in the forum thinks I am a man. Its the only place I talk hockey because its the only way that I can do it without being dismissed and ignored. I don’t post hysterics or emotional stuff – just observation about plays or ref calls or overall play of teams. I think men don’t expect or accept that women can be intelligent or vocal in this way about any sport. I am not sure if this is the case in the coverage of the team by our local paper – the reporter, who is a woman, has her stories relegated almost to obscurity in the paper. This is a place where football is king but wouldn’t a town want to boast on the most successful professional franchise in town? We also started the only female goalie in professional hockey (Shannon Szabados) toward the end of the season. An awesome thing for us but it’s garnered a lot of criticism that would never have happened if they had signed her male counterpart. Some of the things said by fans in the stands and in the forums were atrocious. Even the coverage of her arrival was sexist. Many sports news sites chose to run a story on our other goalie’s Wobble dance as though he’d done it only to upstage Shannon’s debut (like he was threatened by her), when in fact, he’d been doing this at intermission for two seasons whenever he was not in net. Would they run a story like that if this had been the debut of Shannon’s male counterpart? We have a local photographer who takes the pictures for Pro Hockey News – female – who takes very little credit for the incredible work that she does (no pay either). How many men would do that or would be expected to prove themselves by doing that? Like it or not, its still a man’s world. Some push back loudly (hurray for them), while others – Like Shannon Szabados, Kathy Greier, and Toni Rae work diligently and often without notice or thanks to show that it’s a woman’s world too. While I would like to blow a gasket and throw a tantrum sometimes over the way women are treated in sports, I think its much more effective to be successful in their field and prove them wrong. After all, its much more fun to meet opposing fans with whom I’ve had long intelligent conversations in the forum and see their face when they see that I am not some big strapping guy with dirt under my nails.

  4. Thanks for writing this, Breanne. I’m a fairly new hockey fan and I get crap from people all the time for not being knowledgeable about the sport. I grew up in North Carolina where I wasn’t exposed to hockey as much (went to one Hurricanes games as a kid, but more popular sport down there is college basketball) and when I moved to Philadelphia a couple of years ago, I fell in love with the Flyers. But, I hardly ever can talk about the team, or hockey in general, without either being patronized or bullied. I actually had someone say to me, “Wow you actually know something about the Flyers.” Doubt they would’ve said that if I was a guy. I’ve also been challenged on numerous occasions on how much I know. Or, my personal favorite, “oh you only like that player because you think he’s hot.”

    I also completely agree with you about the “Cindy Crysby” and “Sedin Sisters” crap that goes on. While I’m not a fan off any of those guys, I really hate the implication that being a girl is somehow bad.

    Finally, what about the lack of fan gear for female fans? I’m so sick of “unisex” (actually men’s) or pink/purple/bedazzled gear. I’m lucky enough that I can get away with wearing men’s shirts, but I know some female fans who can’t. I have a friend who is very petite and has resorted to wearing little boy jerseys. While you can find stuff on-line, there’s definitely a smaller offering for women than men and it’s even worse in stores.

    Again, thanks for writing this article. It’s always nice to know that you’re not alone.

  5. Dear Breanne,

    Thank you for your wonderful and very personal article. I already shared it with a few friends of mine here in Germany. And I wrote „Different Country, different sports, same s***!“ Because we know about these problems, too. We know a lot about it! It doesn’t matter, if you are talking about the NHL in Canada or the best football league (Bundesliga) in Germany. (By the way: The real football. The one where the BALL is played with the FOOT.) All these guys who think they own the world. Who think they are the only ones who are allowed to love and live the game. Who think women can’t understand the game. All these chants and banners full of hate against women. All these „jokes“ about female sport journalists, fans and players. And all the excuses that they only wanted to provoke.

    But the worst thing is the officials`s alleged fight against it. The league, the players, the people in the office, the media – it doesn’t matter who is talking about sexism, it’s not more than lip service. In the stands, at the bars, online – sexism is so deep inside the culture of professional male sport. And almoust no one is trying to change the conditions. They fight the effects. Nothing else.

    Male dominance is especially often seen in the media. There are not even five respected women in German football journalist culture. Of course there are many young and attractive women who are working for the big tv stations. But almoust no one likes them because of their knowledge, their talent or their way of interviewing. Everybody is just talking about their errors, their look and the rumours which player they are dating. If you take a look to the newspapers it’s even worse. There are not even three famous female football writers who are well known by the fans. Not even three. A look at the hockey journalist is even more ridicolous. Altought there are many female hockey fans in the stands, I only know one woman who is writing about hockey.

    I follow the NHL for about 20 years know. And let’s say, I can understand English for 15 years now. And I always knew that there are big differences between the sport culture in America and in Germany. And I always knew that there are more female sports journalists in the US and Canada. But when Katie Carrera startet as main hockey writer for the washington post, first I was suprised. In Germany, that wouldn’t be possible. A woman as main writer for a big newspaper about a big club? No way. But for me, now it’s normal. And that’s the way it should be. After the games, in Germany about 4 a.m., I always listen in bed to the caps post game show. And I always here Katie when she’s interviewing players or Oates. I like that. Not because she’s a woman. I like that, because it makes no different. It’s normal to all the people who follow the Capitals. But at the same moment I always think about all the problems Katie and the other female sports writers like you have to deal with every day. So what can I say: Keep writing. Keep loving the game. Keep fight for equality. Keep fighting sexims. We support you.

    Love hockey! Hate Fascism!

    Sorry for my bad English, my German is much better.

    • Thank you for reading and sharing my article. I also thank you for providing a more universal view on women in sports. You state that I, and women like myself, have your support, and I appreciate that. I would like to extend that same support to you and your friends. Women are starting to become more accepted in the sports world here in North America and I am hoping that the doors in other countries will start to open and allow more female voices as well. All the best to you and your friends in Germany! Keep doing what you love and don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not smart enough for it.

  6. Thanks for this article. It was really well thought out and you shared some difficult life experiences centered around hockey and bullying. I had never thought that if a girl wore a hockey jersey that they would be subject to such harassment about liking the sport. I live in VA where hockey is really recognized but I can see similar abuse happening if a girl wore an NFL jersey to school or wanted to talk football to some star high school players. If I ever have any daughters, I want to encourage them to embrace the sports they love like I do.

    • Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! I appreciate the insight added into a different sport because it’s not just a hockey issue, it’s definitely more universal than that. I have hope that girls in the future can just be accepted as fans of whatever sport they choose without backlash.

  7. Thanks for this wonderful article!
    I’m happy you have a venue here to write about your love for hockey. I do think that we have come a long way in the past 20 years but we have a ways to go. It bothers me that female hockey fans would be thought of as anything less than their male counterparts.

    I hope you keep up the good fight and don’t back down to anyone who questions your love for the game. Shame on anyone who would think you know less just because you’re a woman.

    I’ve written for two years now about the Fox Sports North’s terrible coverage of female hockey during hockey day Minnesota.

    they re-air the women’s game at 11:00 PM when everyone has gone to bed and all their stories are male hockey focused.

    As a father of two, I want my girls to be exposed to sports and have the same opportunities that boys have. they should;d be exposed to female hockey and other female sports and they are just as smart and intelligent as any guy, probably smarter!

    • Thank you for reading and sharing my article, I appreciate it. You bring up an interesting and valuable topic that I didn’t discuss in this article: women playing hockey and the media coverage of the same. Sad that women’s hockey is pushed to late night viewing when we all saw how exciting it can be during the Olympics! All the best to you and your awesome daughters!

  8. Thank you for writing this. The sexism in sports needs to stop. It especially sucks hearing women refer to “Cindy Crosby” and “The Sedin Sisters.”

    • Thanks for reading! I have to agree with you about women using those terms to describe players. Why would you try to shame someone by calling them exactly what you yourself are? Doesn’t compute.

  9. Excellent story, Breanne. It made me think about my own attitudes & prejudices as a life-long hockey fan. I look forward to reading more of your perspectives on hockey. And I hope you can continue to contribute an equally valuable perspective in your academic advisory role.

    • Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts! I appreciate being able to provide my perspective on things and share it with others in a place such as this as well as in my life offline.

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