Voices from on and off the field sound off on sexism and gender inequality in sports. You can read other articles in the series here. Have a perspective you'd like to add to the discussion? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catherine Silverman covers the NHL and team prospects for Today's Slapshot, part of the Fanrag Sports network. She's been slowly moving farther west to escape the East Coast humidity, and keeps falling in love with the stories behind non-conventional hockey fanbases along the way. She's a shameless Brad Marchand apologist and Jimmy Craig nut, which may be a result of her secret obsession with minor league hockey and the way they play the game. If she's not at the rink, she's either out for a run or binge watching old CW dramas with her thumb hovering over the Pizza Hut speed dial button.
When I first started writing this, I wanted to write about the way hockey fans — particularly female hockey fans — are perceived in different regions of North America.
I'm from the Northeast, and my mom's family is from Canada. I grew up with hockey as a regular thing to me, although I went through waves where I loved it and waves where I could not have cared less about how poorly the Boston Bruins were doing in the regular season. My family doesn't have giant posters of Gordie Howe on the wall in the entertainment room (although my grandparents did in my mom's childhood home), but we have a number of hockey sticks scattered around the house. There's a signed Houston Aeros puck on my brother's bedside table, an old Mike Modano-signed stick propped up in the corner of the game room, and everything from hockey skates and roller blades to helmets and street nets in every corner of the garage. We were a multi-sport household, and hockey was one of those. It wasn't a weird thing to me.
When I moved to Texas after college, I got plenty of jokes about being 'the hockey fan' and asking for the game to be put on at TVs in bars, but didn't get much flack for it. In Arizona, people all wanted to know how I got into hockey — something that, up North, no one would ever bother to ask you. It's like asking someone in Dallas why they're a football fan. No one wearing a Rangers shirt in New York would be given a second glance, but it's a conversation starter in the desert. As a girl who probably owns more hockey shirts than I do nice blouses, that means I get stopped... a lot.
Then someone commented on an article I wrote Sunday night — and I scrapped my first piece, because I'd like to address gender relations in sports.
I've lived all across North America throughout my life. Houston, New York, Boston, Baltimore, and now Phoenix (add in time spent in Washington D.C. and Toronto, if you'd like). I've seen the spectrum of how people react to being a female sports fan, and moreso how they react to me being a female in sports media.
On a media-to-media personnel basis, I feel largely respected by the male sports media population. I can't tell you how many friends I've made in the press box with other reporters, analysts, and announcers who not only respect my viewpoints, but are interested in what made me choose a career covering hockey. I like to play hockey (though I'm not really able to anymore), and I love to watch it: from tales of my first ever outdoor game (which I saw at a boarding school in Switzerland when I was fourteen) to the way I've always associated watching hockey games on the couch with weekends spent at my grandfather's place. I've never felt like my path to being a hockey analyst is looked down upon by men in sports media. I still think women in sports media have a long ways to go before they stop viewing each other as a threat and start embracing one another as coworkers and allies, but the first hurdle has been jumped. Aside from the ignorance some people never seem to shake, I feel respected and included by the vast majority of my male colleagues.
On a media-to-fans basis, though, is where I've surprisingly found more of an issue.
When I first started writing, my audience mainly consisted of my friends and other bloggers. Those who were writers themselves, like I mention above, are usually nothing but supportive.
As my audience has broadened, though, I've started having more frequent interactions with fans — and that's where I'm encountering more obstacles.
The fans are the ones who first opened my eyes to the 'what made you a hockey fan?' narrative. I've found it much more difficult to be accepted — both in Arizona and around the country, through social media interactions — for what I do by fans than by other members of the media. In Arizona they want to know why I like hockey instead of football. I've gotten reactions to pieces I've written from fans in Canada telling me that 'maybe if I was from a hockey town, I would understand things better' (forget the fact that I've been on skates since I was three and came home from the hospital in a snowsuit) and I've been told to 'watch the game' more times than I can count. I see this reaction from fans to pieces written both by men and women, but being called an idiot based on where I'm from is a somewhat new experience for me.
Then, of course, there's the response I got on Twitter today, from a lovely young girl in Pittsburgh (which I won't link to, because I wish her no more ill will than anyone else). I had done a quick write-up covering some of the bigger names that fans can watch for in the London Knights-Erie Otters series; although I didn't cover everyone I wanted to get to, I had a word count limit (reactionary news pieces aren't meant to be over 600-700 words) and thought I did a decent job hyping the playoff series.
Apparently, this girl thought differently. "Is there a reason you can't see the rest of the team, too?" she tweeted. "Or is it just because you're too blind as a wanna-be puck bunny?"
This was new for me.
I heard from other female sports media members that they'd received their fair share of sexist reactions (although coming from a teenage girl, this one especially disappointed me), but I'd been pretty sheltered from that. In retrospect, it might have been limited by the size of my audience: as my audience grows, the ratio of good to bad reactions is likely to go up. It still surprised me, though; not so much because it bothered me, but because it bothered me more than the regional bias has. I thought my credibility as a voice in the hockey community would be what mattered most, but it turns out I'm just as upset about being cast aside for my gender as I am about being undermined based on the zip code I currently live in.
I wasn't expecting to take this approach, so I'm not sure what conclusion I've drawn from this experience yet. I may not be certain of how it makes me feel for a while.
What I am certain of, though? I appreciate the negative reactions for one main reason: although my feelings may occasionally be hurt, it's clear I'm drawing responses because people can hear me.
And, really... what's a woman, whether she loves sports or not, without a voice?