This is my ponytail. Does it make me any less of a hockey player? No. Does it make me more deserved of gender-based “chirps”? Definitely not. Yet, somehow, when I’m on the ice with men, it seems to be deemed okay. I’m here to tell you that it’s not okay, and it never will be. Criticizing someone or making comments about them based on their gender, race, religion, etc. has no place in the game of hockey.
I grew up playing with the boys before I switched to girls hockey. Then, when I moved to the big city after graduating high school, I started playing men’s league hockey. At the time, I knew hockey still had a long way to go when it came to gender, but I didn’t realize how many times I’d be the subject of sexist comments and insults.
I’ve been blown a kiss and asked for my phone number from the face-off dot; I’ve been doubted when the other team sees I’m in net, “Oh, they’ve got a girl in net” only to shut them out; I’ve had pucks fired at my head by the same guy on every shot he took until his buddy told him to stop because he was trying to prove I didn’t belong there; I’ve been called a “f*cking bitch” for making saves; I've been asked if I'm "allowed" to be playing; I’ve been hatefully side-eyed in the dressing room by men who don’t think I belong on the ice with them; I’ve overheard the other team use, “C’mon guys, it’s a friggen girl in net” as their motivational speech during a timeout; I’ve had men refuse to shake my hand in the handshake line after a perfectly clean game; I’ve had men condescendingly call me “sweetie” in the handshake line; I’ve heard guys tell their teammate that my female teammate “just wanted to give you a lap dance” when she went in the corner for a puck battle; I’ve been told, “There’s women’s leagues, you know”. And this is just to name a few occasions.
The one that really set me off, though, was last week. We beat a team 6-1. The goal they scored went five-hole. The guy who scored went straight to his bench and said, “See, just like I told you guys, right in the pussy.” I didn’t hear it, but my boyfriend on our bench did. He waited a couple of days to tell me because he knew I’d be upset about it.
And I am. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being made to feel like an outsider, even though according to my skill level, I’m exactly where I should be. I show up, I play hockey, and I try to have a good time with teammates. But there are men who can’t do the same, or who think sexism is a good time. Maybe if I hid my hair and didn’t speak, I would be respected. I’m not about to do that, though.
I’m also not about to let these comments “roll off”. I know chirping is a part of hockey, but when the chirps start being about my gender, it’s not a part of hockey anymore. Tell me I’m a sieve, tell me I’m swiss cheese, tell me I can’t stop a beach ball, but don’t bring me being a woman into it. If we all brushed sexist or racist comments off as being “beer league chirping” then nothing would ever change. We need to talk about it and we need to call these people out because it’s not okay and it never will be okay.
The men I know don't show up to the rink wondering what's going to get said to them that will make them feel like an outsider. They aren't made to feel uncomfortable for being who they are. They can get chirped and chirp back without being worried that a gender-based comment is coming there way. They don't feel like they have to prove themselves time and time again. They don't have to fear a guy on the other team deciding to use his physical advantage to prove a point to them. They just show up and play—and that's all I want to do.
Feeling like you don’t belong somewhere even though there’s no difference between you and the others except maybe your hair or your skin colour is an incredibly lonely feeling. I can’t change my gender, and I shouldn’t have to in order to belong in the sport I love. And neither should anyone else. If you can play, then you deserve to be there. The worst part is, I know that other women in sport have heard far worse than I have, and it needs to stop.
Sometimes, we like to convince ourselves that things like this are just part of life. But I refuse to accept that. Instead, I choose to speak up about it. I choose to tell people what goes on (and I’m sure I haven’t even heard half of the discriminating things that have been said about me) because I want people to know what’s happening in case they aren’t aware of how these things can affect someone. I want other little girls and women to know that it’s NOT okay to have these things said about or to you, but it IS okay to speak up about it. Chalking this up to being “normal” is the worst thing we can do.
So, if you are one of those people who doesn’t understand what the big deal is: imagine doing the thing you love the most, but always feeling like there’s a barrier between you and everyone else doing it. Imagine being told that you don’t belong somewhere that feels like home. And to the girls and women who have to put up with this: it’s not okay and if it affects you, no matter how small or serious the comment or action is, then it matters. You matter. And you deserve to feel like you belong. Please, don’t ever question whether or not you belong and please don’t stay silent when people try to tell you otherwise. Ponytails or not, we all deserve to play the game we love.
Photo credit: Katt Adachi