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Women in the Arena: Looking at the mixed messages the NHL promotes

It's a common conversation, but until things change, it's one that needs to keep happening.

Doug Pensinger

A couple of great articles have come out recently about the way women hockey fans are viewed by the public, players and organizations. I can't say it better than they did, so I'm doing a quick Cupcakes style post to let you know about it, hoping you'll visit those articles and read them in their entirety.

First, from the always amazing Eyes on the Prize, an article by staff member theactivestick discusses the practice of selling hockey to women by targeting female fans through stereotypical "Girls Night Out" and "Hockey and Heels" marketing plans. It also recognizes the continued resistance to women in the press box, a concept that is as outdated as the Joe, but like the arena, people are not willing to let go of it.

There are more professional on-ice opportunities for women who shovel ice in skin-tight, midriff-baring outfits than there are for women like Marie-Philip Poulin or Amanda Kessel.

On the ice, off the ice, in the broadcast booth, on television, in the front office, and in the game of hockey, women are not valued equally. And so, when you’re telling women on the one hand that they have no real place in the game except to look good, and then on the other hand you are asking women to spend money on your product by reinforcing that idea, how can you expect to grow the game among women?

In the short term, it’s pretty easy. Market the sport for its own sake. To everybody.

Melissa Geschwind recently penned an article on Puck Daddy, discussing the regular use of sexism in hockey to promote the sport and entertain the crowd. She made a point about ice girls that I've been trying to verbalize since the Avs first announced they were adding them, but she did it far more eloquently than I've been able to do. (I've used the same quote EOTP used as it represents the article well.)

It’s a step backwards, and it again reinforces the idea that the NHL says it’s for everyone, but it’s not really for women – or at least, it’s not for women who are in it for the hockey. Ice girls look a lot like professional puck bunnies, and their presence undercuts the notion that teams value female fans as highly as male fans. [...] These things might sell, but they're also degrading – not necessarily to the women involved, who are actively choosing to fill this role in return for a paycheck, but to the ones who are supposed to grin and bear the fact that this is how their favorite NHL team views women.

I understand there are women who don't feel this way, and I get that men dismiss it as yet another product of the over-PCing of our country. However, it is an issue. Anyone who thinks it's not should ask themselves why AP, Getty Images, and even SBN always have a heavy selection of photos available to the media which feature ice girls. Are they so important to the game of hockey that they deserve that much of photographers' time?