Whenever someone is nice enough to follow me on Twitter, I receive an email alert and make a point to read the accompanying short biography. I find it fun to see how varied hockey fans are, not simply in their geography, but in terms of their age, race and gender. I haven’t broken down the specific demographics of my followers, but some of my most compelling ones are women who have as much of a passion for hockey as any hardcore fan or professional.
So I wasn’t at all shocked to see the explosion of Internet outrage over an ill-conceived web venture called While The Men Watch. The website covers all the major sports from an, er, novice female observer’s point of view and has published stories (and I use that word very loosely) with headlines such as “7 Phrases to Yell Out if You Don’t Follow Hockey,” “Love Me Like Lundqvist: 5 Sex Games for Hockey Season” and my personal favorite, “Bow to the Brow: 10 Things His Eyebrows Say About Him.” While The Men Watch also announced a partnership with the CBC in which the two principal women behind the site will comment on each of the Stanley Cup final games.
Now, let’s be clear: I’m all for trying to expand the appeal of hockey beyond the borders by which the sport is currently bound. No arbitrarily chosen sum of puck-related knowledge should be the benchmark a person must meet to enjoy the game. But that’s not what rightfully angered and insulted so many people.
No, the issue is the overall tone of the endeavor, which the founders say was “borne out of frustration with (the) sports-addicted” men in their lives. The subtext suggests these women aren’t approaching hockey or any sport with the thirst to understand, enjoy and appreciate it on a more meaningful level. Rather, it’s as if they’re holding their noses and lowering themselves into a toxic goop to improve their relationship with their men, and unabashedly pandering (mandering?) via traditional gender stereotypes.
There would be less to loathe about that “tee-hee-look-at-little-old-me-in-a-man’s-world” attitude were it not invested in and promoted by the publicly funded CBC, especially at a time when social media has shown hockey has a sizeable and ever-increasing number of strong female voices who watch the game because they adore it. Instead of holding an online hockey chat with commentators such as Ellen Etchingham and Julie Veilleux or elite female players such as Jennifer Botterill and Sami Jo Small, the national broadcaster has chosen to lend credence to a 1950s-era mentality that viewed men as men and women as whatever men told them they ought to be.
The hockey world is better than that. Much better. It can grow the game without relying on the crutch of misogyny. It already has thousands of strong, intelligent voices that should have been reached out to long before the women of While The Men Watch. If something similar were to take place in a female-dominated industry like the fashion business – imagine two gruffy-looking male abattoir workers grunting and scratching their heads over haute couture – those responsible would be mocked just as much in that field as female hockey fans are unloading on this particular venture.
We owe it to female hockey fans who possess a sophisticated, modern viewpoint regarding the sport to revolt against the idea that you must own a Y chromosome to wrap your mind around the intricacies of the greatest game on the planet.
In the parlance of the women of While The Men Watch, you need only read the furrowed eyebrows of all hockey fans to see how utterly baseless and pathetic that Betty Draper-from-Mad-Men subservience and faux cutesiness really is.
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