Defying the Stereotype

knight
US National Team star Hilary Knight celebrates a goal at the 2013 World Championships in Ottawa. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick AP)

When I think about girls’ hockey, I think of my team and the countless hours of practice and training we put in each week.  I think of Cammi Granato, Karen Bye, Meghan Duggan, and Hilary Knight; women who have revolutionized the game and pioneered the way so that other young girls can grow up playing the best sport in the world.  I think of the skating that we do when we can’t carry out a drill correctly or as well as we should be able to.  I think of the high that comes after winning a big game, and the disappointment of losing a close one.  However, that’s not what many people see.  When some people think about women’s hockey they see women that will never be as good as men.  They see pink gear and no checking and lesbians.  They see stereotypes.

Forty-three years after Title IX was passed and there is still a culture that degrades and mocks women’s athletics.  Seventeen years after women’s hockey was introduced into the Olympics and still there are national teams that don’t have the same funding that the men’s teams do.  With the start of the National Women’s Hockey League this year there is an extreme difference in pro salaries between the women and the men.  Hilary Knight, arguably the best female hockey player in the world right now, has a salary of $22,000 while Sidney Crosby, one of the best male players, will make over $16 million this season.

In March 2015, a newspaper in Ohio ran a story on a local girls’ team that was on their way to Nationals in Michigan.  Seems normal, right?  Any town would publish that in a newspaper to give recognition and praise for all of the hard work these girls had put into winning.  However, the headline of this article wasn’t “Local Team on Their Way to Nationals” or anything of that sort.  Instead it read “Local Hockey Team Breaking Stereotypes; Team of all Girls is Headed to National Championships.”  It is 2015 and people still think that it is a stereotype for girls to play hockey!  The author wrote “Sometimes on the ice with 13- and 14-year-olds, you will find a girl or two playing with the boys. But on the Gilmour Sabres 14U tier II team you will find more than two. In fact, the whole team is made up of girls.” as if it were some kind of miracle that there were teams just for girls and that we could excel at the sport.  He may have thought that he was praising the team, but it’s infuriating that he thinks this is out of the ordinary.  Why shouldn’t girls have their own teams and be able to play at a competitive level?  What makes that so special and different from boys doing the same thing?  

Before coming to prep school, I didn’t really see the depreciation people had for women’s hockey.  I thought that by coming to a winter sports school everyone would support and encourage each other to succeed and excel in a sport that we all loved.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  Even at the teenage level, boys ridicule girls hockey.  Obviously there is a skill difference between men and women – there is in most sports because of our anatomy – but that doesn’t mean it is acceptable for them to demean us.  They have in their mind that girls’ hockey is a joke, and they make it known to everyone.

The University of New Brunswick Thunderbirds recently posted a video on the internet called “Stupid Questions Girls Hockey Players Get Asked” revealing some of the questions that people have actually asked them about girls hockey.  Some of the questions included “Do you ever wear pink gear?” and “Do you wear figure skates when you play?”  As amazing and funny as the video is at trying to bash stereotypes, there shouldn’t be a need to have videos like this.  Their focus of the video was to try and raise awareness that women’s hockey isn’t all that different from men’s.  We put in just as much effort and determination as they do.  In the end we’re all working for the same goal to be the best that we can be in a sport we love, so why isn’t that respected?

A common stereotype – besides the pink gear – is that all girl hockey players are gay.  Sure, there are gay women’s hockey players, but that doesn’t mean that we all are.  Maybe this conclusion is drawn because hockey is considered a rough, masculine sport.  Or maybe hockey teams form such a bond and relationship that players who are gay feel comfortable enough and accepted enough to open up to their friends about their sexual orientation.  How is that a bad thing?  Just like any other sport, girl hockey players can range from the “girliest” girl to a tomboy.  There is such a range that there is no way to categorize the estimated 180,000 women playing hockey around the world.

It doesn’t look like there will be an end to the criticism of girls’ hockey anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we can’t love what we do and promote and advocate it.  No matter what anyone else thinks, we know what girls’ hockey really is.  It is the hours of dedication and the bond between teammates and the love we have for the game.  And no matter what anyone else says just remember:

“Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches that have pushed you is the little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back… play for her.”
–  Mia Hamm

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