For a long time, I’ve sat in silence as an insatiable fire burned within me. A fire born from both shame in a community I’ve grown to love and an intransigent hunger to step forward and bring about changes within that community. That shared space, that place which, for many of us, is synonymous with “home,” is the hockey community. I’ve observed from the room that is hockey twitter, and have peaked into the hockey reddits, and the hockey tumblrs, and many hockey forums across different cities, different divisions, different smaller parts of one greater whole. And the same stories would consistently seep through between the cracks of wavering headlines and stats: “Female reporter this,” “Women in sports that,” unfairness here, inequality there. Harassment. Negligence. A disquieting tone-deafness. Rinse. Repeat. And I’ve read many articles and I’ve scoured many users’ Twitter mentions and I’ve nursed and nurtured this idea that I realized falls absent in so many of our narratives, even under the best intentions of the community at large. Here’s where I stand: I’m a Rangers fan. I’m an unabashed Dryden fan. I followed and watched this year's NHL All-Star game, so I’m a John Scott fan – I am a hockey fan.
I AM NOT A FEMALE SPORTS FAN.
My being a woman has absolutely no effect or consequence to my love for my home team, or my appreciation of old time hockey, or my comical takes and admiration for Scott, or my unapologetic obsession with the camaraderie and talent and unmatched skill that graces 30 sheets of ice in 30 different arenas. Nothing that makes me a woman is a factor that challenges my common interest with a man.
Because let’s talk about what makes me female: I have breasts. I have the ability to birth children, and with that, the ability to expel blood once a month from a place in my body that does not exist in a man.
These abilities, and these places that exist in my anatomy, do not shape or sway my ability to read and interpret statistics. They do not influence my takes and opinions of front office strategies. They do not impact, in any way, shape or form, my admiration and passion for a sport to which I am a spectator. I am a fan. Like you – whether you are a man or a woman or, if perhaps you don’t identify with either – I am a sports fan. Nothing else matters. This admiration for a sport, this common experience we share on a nightly basis, is what connects us. And that’s why it’s implausibly painful to sit and watch these headlines and stories and general dialogues consistently allow for gender biases to steer the conversations away from the sport and the conflicts within that sport.
I wrote a piece about this in 2014: What would happen if you removed the word “female” from your narrative and replaced it with “fan” or “person” or “human?” I’ll tell you what would happen: you would guarantee that your story and your message addressed the community in its entirety, and not one gender exclusively. You would include men in the conversation. Because if a man reads “Player X assaulted a fan” instead of “Player X assaulted a female fan” – he invokes an immediate reaction and response because said player assaulted someone from his group, his community, his kind. The word "fan" includes him; it is the greater whole to which he is a part. "Female" is no such word.
This is why I have a problem with feminism, or at least the word itself: It’s exclusive to women. The official meaning of the word and its derivative movements may subsume the equal rights of both genders, but so many of those same initiatives use feminism as a tool to divide the two groups. But here’s the thing: if you isolate women as a whole and praise and glorify and help them, you’re still disconnecting them from their male counterparts and consequently doing nothing to instill equality. Isolation is the opposite of unity, and unity is the foundation of equality.
So, for better or for worse, the disconnect of men and women will remain a disconnect whether you’re endorsing women’s rights or shunning them. And when it comes to communities larger than those of our small hockey circles, this becomes a rather delicate issue with intricacies that engross the likes of sociologists, psychologists and many scholars through the course of our history. But in the context of a spectator sport, in the context of our communities: no disconnect needs to exist.
What brought us to this community? What brings you to hockey twitter? What entices you to tune into the NHL or check the game logs of last night’s game? Or, going further: what draws you to establish a career in hockey? Why do you want to write about it? Why do you want to report it? Why do you want to wake up at the crack of dawn to cover a practice skate? It’s the same for you as it is for me. The same for him as it is for her: A love for hockey. An unapologetic love for the sport. It’s our common denominator. It’s what links us and joins us together. And, my god, I just want to enjoy it. I want to talk about it. I want to talk to YOU about it. It shouldn't be as complicated as we make it.
This past summer, I had engaged in conversation with another member of the hockey community, in which he tried to sell me on a rousing new program titled “Skirts and Skates” – you know, the enjoyment of hockey, but just for women. Early last week, “Hockey ’n’ Heels” flooded my Twitter timeline.
I don’t want to aggressively bash these initiatives and their messengers, but in the sincerest possible tone: What the hell are you thinking?
If you want to be inclusive to women, be inclusive to women. Designating an exclusive platform for them simply provides them a walking tour from one internment to another. From one small group to another. From one space that’s not the hockey community to another space that’s not the hockey community.
IF YOU WANT TO GET WOMEN INTO THE CONVERSATION, STOP TREATING THEM AS IF THEY WERE NEVER THERE.
We were always here. We love what you love just the same. And I wish we would stop pretending and dancing around these issues like it’s not as simple as just that: that these divisions are unnecessary. For fans, writers, reporters, employees of the NHL – these divisions are unnecessary.
Much of it is well intended, too. There are plenty of writers I follow, writers that I know don’t belittle women or any gender group for that matter. But they’ll use “female” in their writing as a filler whenever a space presents itself, unknowing of the implications they’re inviting. And it’s usually because they have to accommodate a specific word count. Or they’re trying to use any and all literary devices at their disposal. “Female” is, after all, just an adjective. “Woman” is just a noun. But Jackson Katz made an excellent point about the methodical organization of words and the ways we structure our sentences. Here is just a small piece of a very compelling lecture.
Words are powerful, instrumental tools and writers have the responsibility to understand their implications. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer or an editor for a major publisher, or if you’re the owner behind a small blog: We need to be sure that we don’t allow gender groups to steer our dialogues, because once we allow for those simple adjectives to lead the conversation, the arguably greater and intended focus fades into the distance and we lose sight of the problem at hand.
The collective desire throughout the community is to put an end to misogyny and gender biases. And many of these movements, while coming from admirable places, are ineffective because they simply point fingers. Women point them at men. Men point them at women. Whether they’re saying “I stand with you” or they’re saying “You don’t know anything because you’re a [blank]” – in both cases, there is a disparity; a separation. Because the "female" descriptor, much like the "male" descriptor, invites preconceived notions and varying perceptions that take the sport away from the conversation, when the conversation was intended to be about the sport.
We are hockey fans. We are the same. What we do outside of the community is irrelevant. That’s the message that will put an end to misogynistic chirping. That’s the message that will get the "higher ups" to pay more attention to abuse and violence allegations. That’s the message that will allow for a community to come together and enjoy the sport without the unnecessary noise and prejudicial descriptors.
Because once it is unanimously understood that gender has no impact on knowledge, passion or dedication to the sport, once it is understood that the anatomy of a sports fan is paralleled to neither man or woman, it will no longer make sense to scream “Cindy Crosby!” and it will no longer make sense to denounce reporters for their appearance and/or wardrobe, and it will no longer make sense for “skirts” or “heels” to be incorporated into hockey programs because skirts and heels do not belong there. Men and women belong there. Sports fans belong there.
And so, in an effort to be proactive and help drive the conversation in the direction echoed by many within this community, I have begun a movement titled "REPS": Representing Equality in Professional Sports. REPS is a project devoted to driving the dialogue of gender equality within the hockey community by way of design and creative catalyst. Its sole purpose is to channel the collective voice of the community (fans, media, employees, etc.) in a designated "hub" on the web that will provide conceptual devices & educational tools to elicit change within and around gender equality, as well as offer a direct means of engagement through social media, through which the project will be mobilized.
As many of my readers know, design and illustration is my primary medium for communication and expression. My work was originally exposed with my John Scott Story Book, but I have been actively showcasing my graphic design work within the Rangers online community. Much in the same way my work is light and fun and inviting, REPS is a space I am building on the internet that users enjoy visiting and reading – but its principal message will be one that echoes this post. A love for hockey, our common denominator (which is represented in the logo), is what binds us, and we don’t need women’s groups or men’s groups – we need a platform and space that recognizes our unity: what brought us to the community, and why we continue to stay, engage and devote our time and money and careers to the sport. While I do hope that one day this message will spread to other sports and other communities, it will begin within the hockey community, because that is my home, as it is for many of you.
This is a cause and a movement I have harbored in my bones for over a year now, and for a long time I didn’t know what I could do to help make a change. I’ve finally found what that was. I’ve finally put into words what we need. At the 2016 MAKERS Conference in late January, Abby Wambach said it simply and eloquently: “It costs zero dollars to treat somebody equally” – That’s what this project is. That's the message and the fire I've held in me for over a year now, that’s what I’m dedicating my work to, and that's what I want to give my peers and fellow hockey fans: Access to a message lost. Collective outcries received in a singular space: Equality within our community. Equality within our sport. A reminder, and a designated platform, where the message will live and grow.
I am not a female sports fan, and I'm tired of having to remind people of that fact. With this project, I am hoping the message will be clear and the reminders abated. I am hoping to channel the collective voice of the community and provide that community a space to resound that very sentiment. I am hoping more people will learn to respect and accept that men and women are one in the same in the context of our passion for the sport.
I am not a female sports fan. I am simply a sports fan. It's time this message had a platform. It's time this message was understood.
You can read more about the projects I am starting this year here, and you can sign up below to be the first to hear of the REPS launch.