This past week I received two articles on women and sports from Harpyness readers, one from MamaSharper, who spotted “Too Dainty to Hit?“ in the Globe and Mail while we were on vacation in Canada, and another from British commenter Carly, who passed on a link to “Meet the HABs” in the The Independent.
The articles focus on different aspects of the age-old paternalistic hand-wringing best summed up as OMG, are the wimminz turning into menz? Sports is an incredibly fertile breeding ground for this alarmism, as its most recent victim, track star Caster Semenya, can surely tell you.
In Canada, fans and players of the national sport/obsession/secular religion of hockey are now actively trying to recruit and build an audience for women’s teams. The Globe and Mail addressed the debate over whether women should be allowed to bodycheck their opponents the way male players do. Currently, bodychecking is not allowed in women’s hockey, but players and coaches are becoming increasingly vocal about wanting to change that and have women play with the same rules as men.
Leading the charge, Swedish national coach Peter Elander thinks women should and would play under the same rules as men. In addition to believing that a ban on bodychecking restricts the sport from increasing its fan base, he says the rules against hitting amount to sexism.
“I just think it’s so old-fashioned to say ‘Girls can do this, but they can’t do that,’.” says Elander, whose team plays Canada tonight in a Hockey Canada Cup semi-final. “Women are doing the full Ironman [triathlon]. So what’s this about women not being able to do what men can?”
Bring it on, says U.S. defenceman Angela Ruggiero.
“I’d freaking love to hit,” says the 29-year-old Harvard graduate. “You don’t know how frustrating it is. Players’ heads are down all the time and all I can do is poke-check.”
Rock on, Angela! The article notes that Ruggiero–an American and three-time Olympic medalist–is one of hockey’s “big girls”, a player who’s so strongly built that she can skate with—and bodychecks—men. I think she’d bring a lot of viewers to games, and be a great role model for young women.
But not everyone thinks that body-checking benefits women in hockey. Because, y’know, the girlies might get roughed up or something:
…on the basis of interviews conducted at the Hockey Canada Cup tournament this week. Canada coach Melody Davidson, U.S. coach Mark Johnson and Arto Sieppi, Finland’s director of women’s hockey, are opposed to introducing bodychecking.
“To scare somebody with physical madness or power, when you take that away, you go back to hockey’s roots. You go back to pond hockey and where it all started. Let’s say one of the bigger girls like Angela Ruggiero just starts hammering everybody. What’s the benefit?…if bodychecking would be allowed, the number of young girls entering the game would decrease rapidly.”
This is just plain sexism. I can’t imagine any coach in any sport saying of a male player, “Well, you know, he’s a big dude and we should make sure he can’t use his strength as an advantage because littler guys might get scared and not want to play.” If you have a player like Ruggiero with a size/strength advantage, you teach other players how to use that advantage against her, or stay out of her way, just the way male players do. That’s how sports works.
The comments section on the Globe and Mail article definitely ran in favor of women being allowed to bodycheck. One commenter wrote:
what i don’t understand is the suggestion that adding hitting to the game would negatively impact girls entering the game. where’s the logic in this? all i can come up with is that some girls’ fathers, those who still look at their daughters as dainty and meek, might not let them play. yeah, it’s ’09, but this does still happen… as for me, as a female ice hockey player, i’d *love* to see hitting be added to the game!
So in the True North, it seems that women—if not always their coaches—are fully prepared to kick some ass, both on the ice and the fight for gender equality. But in the UK, the Independent’s article on England’s women’s football team and their HABs (Husbands and Boyfriends, a deliberate poke at the WAGs of men’s football) shows that participating in sports doesn’t always lead to more enlightened thinking about women’s roles, even among the women players themselves.
Katie Chapman, midfielder for England:
admits that it is difficult juggling motherhood and her playing career. “The demands of international football are huge,” she said, “and it’s tough to balance that with being a mum.
“My comeback after childbirth was made a bit easier because when I was pregnant I trained all the way through. I was still kicking a football when the boy was inside me. I just followed the same programme the doctor gave me when I was pregnant before, when I played until I was six-and-a-half months pregnant.”
Any athlete who trains like that well into her second trimester is a tough woman. And Chapman’s fiancé, the father of their two sons, is a supportive partner. But he admits in the article that their home life is still centered more around his job than hers:
“I work during the day and Katie looks after the children then,” said Mr Wilkinson. “Then when I come home I take over and she goes away to train. Once she has done her personal training, she goes away to train with her team. I work for EDF Energy during the day, and Katie usually has to change her schedule to fit in with mine.”
I don’t think there’s a single male football player in England who’s ever had to change his schedule to fit in with his wife’s, or make concessions for childcare. I’m guessing that Chapman’s having to compromise her own schedule is due to the fact that women players earn such a tiny fraction of what the male stars do that her fiancé couldn’t afford to quit his job to look after their family—or to hire child care—so that she can pursue her sports career.
But while that was a bit discouraging, the real chauvinist groaner of the story was at the end:
England’s 29-year-old goalkeeper, Rachel Brown,has spoken of the challenges of balancing football with a life away from the game. “My schoolfriends are married with children – it’s what any respectable 29-year-old female should be!” she said. (ed: OMFG, HEAD ESSPLODE!) “If I had not got into football, I would probably have progressed as a teacher, earning twice as much as I earn now, settled down and married – but with half the memories.” If England win tonight, she won’t care.
Commenter Carly, who sent me this article, wrote:
I am a soccer player myself, and a big fan of premier leagues, etc and was excited to see the women’s team getting some attention, but this whole article is like a slap in the face of women athletes (and actually of wives, mothers, and any women who chooses to not be a wife and mother). Just, ack.
Now, granted, this article ran in the British press, which even its apologists will admit has the tendency to be sexist as hell. But I agree with Carly that the whole tone of the article is obviously, “Women can play sports but the most important thing is that they’re still ladies!” Tee-hee, menz, don’t be scared of us girls! And apparently there are women footballers who completely agree, which is pretty fucking disappointing.
I’d like to lock Rachel Brown in a room with Angela Ruggiero for a few weeks for a little sportswoman’s education. Maybe she’d learn how to bodycheck a few of the antiquated notions that even sports and success haven’t been able to shake.