People who follow me on twitter (my apologies to all of you, by the way) have probably noticed this, but... the Olympics is making me bitter as fuck about men's hockey. Actually it's making me bitter as fuck about sportswriters, and I've realized that a certain number of the things that have really made me disgusted about pro sports since following my first North American league has been the shitty, wretched sportswriters - and how they're allowed to carry and define discussions about things that they really don't fucking know anything about. Like domestic violence, or women's sports. (Or the state of amenities in Russia.)

ranting about asshole men's sports dudes
Basically everyone is ignoring women's hockey, pretending it doesn't exist, not making any effort to pay attention to it, and then casually saying "hmmm it's so unbalanced, maybe it shouldn't be in the games anymore" and I've just been seething with rage and disgust and hatred. And now I barely even want to think about men's hockey where they make millions, even to get truly excited about John Tavares hopefully playing out of his mind.

My friends generally seem to care about both the men's and women's tournaments (which is more than I can say for some of the people I knew online during the 2010 World Cup who wanted nothing to do with the 2011 Women's World Cup) but if people get more excited for the men - there's more build up, you know the players, there's more stress about the medal rounds, I totally understand. Hell, when I got into hockey I decided not to make a major effort to get into women's hockey, cos it seemed difficult to find info, and women's sports take so much more time and effort to follow, and often just make me angry and depressed. (Now, of course, I'm completely sucked in... not sure if I'll be able to keep it up with the CWHL. Will I have to start following college sports??? For women's hockey, I'd do it.)

But for the media and people who cover the game and are involved in the sport to make no effort, or only the barest of efforts, to follow and cover and get excited about the women's games... fuck you all. And then to say "yeah I think women just aren't as interested in the sport..." I mean, the amount of completely ridiculous, often obviously incorrect bullshit that I've seen spewed by fans of men's hockey trying to put down women's hockey... is it any wonder that I don't feel good about getting excited about the men?

I've ranted about the "oh i guess there's not enough parity to keep it in the olympics, but i'm just a poor sportswriter paid to talk about men's hockey, i'm just reporting that it's at risk, what can i do, i have to report this stuff but i'm not taking a side" people. Who never give any context or discuss how little parity men's hockey had for years or how much development budget goes to men's vs women's hockey in most countries. But they feel fine "just reporting" that it's "too unbalanced". And I've seen a lot of amazing responses to it posted around the internet.

But I have to get into the "maybe women just don't care about sports" thing, just briefly. Basically: PEOPLE NEED TO STOP SAYING IT. Women don't get to see themselves in top athletes, they don't get to dream about million-dollar careers, and perhaps most importantly, they aren't told it's cool for women to be powerful and aggressive and competitive and skilled. They are told it's cool for women to be sexy. Plus, when you look at low numbers of women who play a sport like hockey - if there isn't a girl's team, they have to play with boys, and be the one girl, the odd man out. How many boys are committed enough to their sports if they had to force their way into acceptance at every level of the sport? Generally, there are a lot more barriers for girls at every level, and a lot less incentives.

The shit about people not watching women's sport is the same, but it's already nicely expressed in this quote. In both cases, it's BULLSHIT to act as if the way things are is just natural and will never change. Such outrageous, obviously stupid bullshit that it bothers me that people say something so patently inane at all, much less repeat it constantly. I just got it again in the discussion of an article. OK, no, we don't KNOW that women's soccer or hockey could be as well-supported as women's tennis. But we also have absolutely no reason to think that it can't be. (ahahaha and see this Onion article that popped up on twitter just as I was posting this.)

ranting about unhelpful approaches from women
This is maybe a bit snotty, but I have to get into it because it's a huge pet peeve of mine: women who fixate on whether or not female athletes are "as good as" male athletes are, in fact, NOT HELPING. Focusing on whether women could make it in the NHL? Stupid and pointless. Bragging about how the USWNT could beat the USMNT in soccer? FAIRLY EASILY DISPROVEN. (The following is all extremely cissexist, and I'm sorry, but I'm using "woman" as a stand in for "physically female" and talk a lot about differences between men's and women's bodies.)

I was trying to leave a comment about this in response to this otherwise great article, which ends by going on and on about gender integration of the NHL, randomly, and barely discusses growing the women's league at all. I keep getting weird error messages - although it seems to have posted at this point, but I'll use bits of it here. Basically it just really annoys me that an otherwise excellent article focused on that so much, because they've focused the debate on whether or not women could make it in the NHL (they can't, basically), and that's a huge distraction from the actual discussion.

Only a few of the larger women in hockey are the height and especially weight of the smaller NHL players. Most of those smaller NHL players are skill guys. There are women in hockey who are as skilled, if not more so, than those men, but are they also among the larger women? Or are they 140lbs, about 30lbs smaller than most of the tiny NHLers?

Sure, there are a couple NHLers who are 5'5", but according to wikipedia, Nathan Gerbe is 178lbs. Amanda Kessel is 140lbs. Hilary Knights is 5'11" and 172lbs. (I know men are likely to inflate their weights and women are likely to deflate them, but it's still pretty dramatic. 172lbs makes Hilary the heaviest woman on the USA Roster. Canada has Natalie Spooner at 180lbs and Tara Watchorn at 176lbs, but most of the players are under 170 or even 150lbs and thus extremely tiny for an NHL team (with little different for AHL teams, where the average size is similar).

In hockey especially, this is a huge deal. A 140lb player up against a bunch of 200lb players? It just doesn't seem feasible to me. And this is illustrated by the fact that the NTs play their practice games against high school teams: because that's when a guy's team is about the same size as a team of adult women. (Yes, I did actually delve into the average size of some Alberta Midget AAA teams but it was a few days ago - when I started this entry, haha - and i no longer have the stats.) People act like gender should make less of a difference in soccer, and I don't really know - honestly, there have to be people more qualified to talk about this stuff than I am, because I don't play sports or know anything about muscle development or sports training or anything. But what I do know is that the soccer USWNT, the number one ranked team in the world, I'm pretty sure they also train against high school boys. Because even in soccer, speed and strength, and size to a lesser extent, clearly do matter.

Could women put on more muscle mass or get faster or develop higher levels of skill if as much money and effort was put into training and developing them as athletes as it is men? Almost definitely. Would that increase the number of women who might be able to compete against men, or increase the level of male competition that women could face? Probably. Would it make a huge difference such that large numbers of top-level women could easily compete against top-level men? I'd say almost definitely not. (Although I did have a roommate who thought women are encouraged to be less physically active from such a young age that it affects our development and that naturally we could be just as big and strong as guys. But tbh I suspect that is not the case? And it's certainly not changing soon.)

But the key thing here is that this does not make women's sports any less valid, less important, or diminish their potential to develop sustainable audiences. Women don't need to be able to beat men at the sport to prove that female athletes can be marketable heroes. If they did, we would be fucked. It's fairly demonstrable that women are not competing at the same physical level as men (skill is a different story) so when well-meaning women argue "you should be watching and supporting women's sports because the USWNT could beat at least a shitty MLS/NHL/AHL team," what you are actually saying is "nope, they're not worth watching" because THEY COULDN'T.

And I feel like my attitude comes across as anti-feminist, and it's supposed to be super feministy and "girl power" and whatever to talk about how women can totally beat men!!!!! But I don't think it makes me anti-feminist to acknowledge differences between average and upper-limit male and female physical capabilities. How much muscle is put on with the same amount of labor, how big the average height is, maybe differences in fast-twitch muscles? As I said, I have no clue. Maybe it is all just environment and training from childhood. But as is, women just aren't beating men. So when you emphasize the possibility of women competing against men or being on a similar level as men and are talking about actual results rather than skill level or "hockey sense," and this is part of your argument in favor of women's sports, you aren't helping.

Women don't have to be able to beat men at sports to make women's sports valid, or worthwhile, or worthy of respect, or in order for them to succeed as spectator sports. And women's sports don't need to be able to pay million dollar salaries to be successful as spectator sports. They need to exist, and they need to pay their athletes a living wage. Let's start there. That's the goal. Let's get somewhere near there. (If you're wondering what DOES make women's sports valid, it's that women play them. Period. That's basically all you need: for little girls and women and fans of female athletes to be able to watch women play a sport. They also tend to be a different spectator experience, both in terms of atmosphere at games and in terms of pace, emphasis on skill over strength, and of course, player motivation.)

And I hear it, following women's sports - I hear it in tennis, of course, and I hear it in soccer and in hockey. Tennis had the whole "Battle of the Sexes" thing and people talk about whether Serena could beat this or that player, and it's just fucking obnoxious. I mean, Billie Jean King and the Battle of the Sexes WAS a big deal and helped women's sports, but it shouldn't be relevant. People don't watch women's tennis to see serves at the speed of John Isner. They watch women's tennis to see well-matched, highly skilled athletes face off (OK, not always well-matched, but no worse than men's tennis and often better - well-matched within a reasonable range). It doesn't fucking matter if they can beat men, and I would really like for discussions of women's sport to stop bringing this up, whether it's a sly dig or a helpful but mistaken assertion.

women in the NHL fic
Before the Olympics brought this discussion to the fore, fanfic was actually the primary place where I saw talk about women playing hockey (because of the aforementioned "oh god, I don't know if I have the energy and emotional reserves to get enthused about another women's sport" issue), in the form of genderswapped "women in the NHL" fics. I was just discussing this with [ profile] liroa15 the other day, actually, but I'm not going to let that stop me from repeating myself. XD

My main problem with genderswapped always-a-girl hockey fics where Sid or someone just plays in the NHL is when they don't mention any current, actual top female players - especially when it's a universe where there's a smattering of different women around the league and they're ALL genderswapped male players. I don't mind focusing on the swapped dudes - they're who we know, they have relationships with which we're familiar, and it's also hard to fight the ingrained sexism that makes us care about and identify with men more than with women. And I like that sometimes authors turn them into women, since Hockey RPF is such a sausagefest. It's nice to have vaginas in some of the fic. But to be interested enough in female hockey players that you're writing about a genderswapped male player, but not to even think about current female players? Not to consider their place in your universe? Which is I think what usually happens, and it is what it is, but it makes me sad.

However, it also gives me a vibe that the author thinks "women could totally play in the NHL, if any women were as good as Sid/Patrick Kane/Taylor Hall, and the only reason women aren't playing in the NHL is that they aren't." Or that they've created a universe where maybe women are larger than they are in this one, or have more opportunities to train, or the NHL doesn't have checking and fighting, and that's why there are a dozen women in the NHL... and still none of the top female players in our world are good enough?? It makes me sad and angry. Even if the author isn't thinking about this stuff at all, if they just kind of forgot that incredibly talented and dedicated female hockey players are a thing that exist in our universe, that's basically the universe they've created when they leave women out. And I try not to think about it and still enjoy the fics, but it always makes me a little sad.

And nothing in here is directed at anyone in particular - in fact, I think I've already discussed this stuff with my friends who have written this sort of fic. And none of this means I think any women in hockey fandom are bad people!! (The hockey media dudes, however...) It does mean that I don't think there's anything particularly positive or feminist about just making a hockey player a woman, and if you're actually erasing the accomplishments of actual female hockey players, you are in fact being kind of... unfeminist - devaluing and erasing women. And yes, it's usually because people are ignorant of top female players and not because they don't think they're as good, but it's still a problem. If this is a universe where women are somehow able to compete in the NHL, and Hayley Wickenheiser isn't there, you've gone astray.

There are some fics where top female players are included, however!! And those are great - there's one (I don't remember which) that talked about how the genderswapped player in question (Ebs or Hallsy, I think?) really looked up to players like Wicks, and they were huge legends for breaking into the league and breaking barriers (and also made Lecavalier a woman of that same generation/groundbreaking status, which kind of tied everything together and really helps establish equivalencies for the non-swapped female players). So those I don't have to wonder why there are no actual women or think about whether the author doesn't know any female players or if they actually think women would be able to play in the NHL if they were just "good" enough and that none of them happen to be.
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