Sexism and the All-Star Fantasy Draft

 

Dreams really do come true.

Last night the NHL held the All-Star Fantasy Draft for the second time. While it gives adult fans an opportunity to play Statler and Waldorf on Twitter after each pick, it is really meant for the children. As last year’s Guardian Project demonstrated, the NHL sees the All-Star game as an opportunity to sell the game to its younger fans.  The Fantasy Draft sent a very sexist message to those kids last night.

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Young fans, boys and girls alike, tune into the draft to see their favourite players and which team they get drafted to. James Duthie specifically mentioned that the idea behind the draft is to evoke the memories of when the players were young, “tossing sticks into the middle, choosing Captains, and picking teams.” Kids watching at home can imagine themselves up on stage being drafted and putting on an All-Star sweater. Well the boys can. If you’re a young female hockey fan your options for daydreaming are slightly more limited. You can imagine yourself on-stage, dressed in tights and heels silently handing each player their sweater.

There were exactly three women visibly involved in the Fantasy Draft: the two aforementioned sweater shuttles, and Alyonka Larionov. Alyonka was relegated backstage to read off tweets that the Athletes were sending during the draft.

Being a man I’m obviously not the most qualified to speak on these things. And I don’t presume to speak for an entire gender, but what I saw last night bothered me. Female hockey fans have it tough. Their opinions are often marginalized due to their gender and the assumption that they are “Puck Bunnies” who only follow the sport because they have a crush on every player.

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Watching last night’s coverage of the draft suggested that TSN feels the same way. While it may not have been TSN’s intention to use Alyonka solely as “eye candy” a quick scan of her mentions on Twitter show that many male viewers did.

 

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Fantastic stuff there. 

This may not bother you; it may not even bother Alyonka Larionov. Adults can decide for themselves what they find offensive or objectionable. Children cannot. To the boys and girls watching at home last night the NHL sent a very strong message: female hockey fans and their opinions are not to be taken seriously. Female hockey analysts and reporters are under-represented in the MSM. There are many excellent female bloggers who are passionate about the game and offer insightful commentary. They have no representaton on nights like this. I don’t think that’s right. 

What’s worse is that girls watching at home dreaming of playing in the All-Star game one day were given two choices for when they grow up: handing out sweaters or reading tweets. 

 


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  • SarahM

    @xkaren08 The problem is that there’s no way that the NHL didn’t consider that. They had kids riding in the sleds with the trophies during the parade on Rideau Canal, after all. I have to believe that they knew there were less… (I hate the word exploitative because it seems so harsh, but that’s the one I’m coming up with, so I’ll go with it) …exploitative ways of handling it, and still chose to put some pretty young girls in tights and heels and have them walk back and forth across the stage all night.

  • SkinnyFish

    @SarahM I’d like to *think* they at least considered it… either way, the subconscious or deliberate exercise of male privilege like this flat out sucks.

  • SkinnyFish

    Posts like this are kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. You’re going to hit something, and if you don’t, there must be something wrong with you. If you don’t agree with the issue, you are in the wrong, and yet, there are more sides to the issue than usually presented.

    You do a fine job of putting the issue out there, but it’s an issue that has been well worn over time, and for me, there is some serious fatigue in the topic. The reason is this comes up all the time from female bloggers who feel underrepresented in the world of sports. But complaining about it and doing something about it isn’t the same thing.

    In the ‘doing something about it’ world, you have blogs like Chicks Who Give A Puck and the HLOG (hockey ladies of greatness), places that were meant to highlight the actual sports work of women and female bloggers. Where are they now? Dead blogs, both of them. And that doesn’t mean that the efforts were not worth doing. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t do what they set out to do. It does point out that blogging and sports journalism is hard for everyone, regardless of gender. But these efforts were designed for women, and they failed. Lots of things fail, that’s just the way it goes.

    I have gotten called all kinds of things online, and been treated rudely by plenty of commenters, to the point that I turned off comments on my site for a while. They tended to use whatever tactic they could to get under my skin. And for women, the target an internet troll will use is simple, and often times handed to the commenter on a silver platter. Get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich. Boom. Roasted. It has nothing to do with reality. You just have a different target than I do.

    Does sexism exist? Sure it does. But simply pointing out the obvious isn’t the same as doing something about it, or even doing your due diligence. Complain about puck bunnies? Ask them how they see themselves as hockey fans, don’t just shame them into being more like you are as a fan. Go ask an ice girl on Long Island how she sees herself. Ask Alyonka Larionov if she is bugged by her role, or if she feels like her career is being minimized because of her gender. Ask the jersey models what makes them feel like they were the right choice for the job. Maybe they have a different answer than you do. Do something more than write a post and put it into the ether. Write to the people who were there, ask a solid question rather than complain, and then take the time to listen and consider the response.

    It’s a well written post. But it doesn’t do anything more than hundreds of posts before it on this subject. If we are going to take the topic seriously, it needs more than just a glossing over of the issue that paints it with a wide brush.

  • SkinnyFish

    damn it seems my other long comment never went through. so Bullet points

    – I think Larionov was chosen for such a bad assignment because she’s the newest of the reporters not because shes hot. She’s the newbie so she got stuck with the “here read tweets”.

    – How people get assignments at TSN imo is by seniority so to skip that just so you can have a woman get one of the more desirable assignments (I assume) would also constitute sexism would it not?

    – Hedger will get her turn as host when the “tenureds” move on, just like Onrait will get his turn eventually as well. They all just have to wait.

    – TSN is finally evening out the sexes when it comes to their talent. The issue like I mentioned above is all the female talent are on the bottom of the totem pole because they are new.

    – They should’ve had 2 kids instead hand out the jerseys. Thrill of their lives.

    – Should have 4-8 of the top female players also in the skills comp only like the rookies are. I would love to see Haley Wickenheiser undress an NHL goalie. (Speaking of Haley she’ll be the next big female analyst, someone will throw money at her when she retires to go on the air)

  • The '67 Sound

    I have been watching from the side line s until now but it funny how some of the comments here resonate with people,,, especially the girl who was called out for using her sexy voice and pictures to get attention for her blog which is the definition of promoting sexism but I dont really care because thats why I read her page anyway,,, it just goes to show u that people will argue about anything when they believe they have a vantage point,,, then run away when they r called out
    This was a really good article its just a shame that some of the people commenting took like a “”run with it while its a hot topic”” attitude even though their actions in real life do not reflect their comments on here,,

    • SkinnyFish

      “even though their actions in real life do not reflect their comments on here,,”

      Please tell me and the others about our actions in our daily lives, because you obviously know everything we do. Please refresh me about the times I’ve objectified women or made sexist remarks about them. If you can’t do it for me, then feel free to pick any one of the other people commenting on here. I’ll wait.

    • The '67 Sound

      Now I’ll admit I don’t go to Julies blog often because eww habs. However I don’t remember her advertising for her blog saying “Hey come to my blog I have sexy pictures of myself… oh and there’s sports stuff too I guess”

      For as long as I’ve been following her, she’s always been the same about trying to get people to recognize women as equals in all things. I don’t see the hypocrisy at all. I can’t think of anything she does to purposely exploit her sexual nature. All she does is enjoy it and doesn’t mind discussing it. Is it so hard to understand that women like sex too? Why is it social taboo for a woman to discuss her sex life?

  • SkinnyFish

    Where the hell have I ever used sexy pictures to promote blog posts ON SEXUAL ASSAULT?

    Or perhaps because I like sex LIKE EVERY OTHER HUMAN BEING and don’t think I should be demonized for it, that is too much too soon too fast for everyone still stuck in the virgin/whore dichotomy.

    And I don’t see what’s wrong with me personally liking the color pink and having the audacity to believe everyone – men, women, genderqueer – should be allowed to decide how they define themselves, and not be placed inside a box of stereotypes and oppression.

    • SkinnyFish

      Remember Julie, if a man brags/talks about his sexual experiences it’s cool and he should be branded a hero to all man. But if a woman brags/talks about her sexual experiences she’s a slut and should be branded a whore with a big red letter A on her chest.

  • daoust

    @Eyebeleaf – well said. I’ll add some (scattered, random) commentary as a father of two young girls.

    Early indications are my girls are pretty smart. I will be thrilled if they go on to noble pursuits like medicine, law, TV sports commentary, etc. But early indications are also that they are going to be lookers. Should it turn out they choose to make a career of their physical appearance, I don’t want them to be judged – by men or other women – for doing so. Isn’t feminism supposed to be about the freedom to choose?

    Another potential scenario: maybe it turns out that they aren’t as smart as I think, but they are good looking. Their best route in life is to take the physical attributes they’ve been given and make a career of them. Are they lesser people because they’ve been given looks and not brains? Should they take a ‘mental’ job that pays them less and provides less enjoyment to them just to prove a point, or to avoid judgement?

    It’s obviously an important message to say ‘women aren’t just eye candy’. But appreciating and enjoying the beauty of women does not mean that those that do think their sole purpose is to exist for their viewing pleasure. Children are exposed to women in all sorts of roles in society. Sure, my kids may have watched last night’s show and saw those pretty girls standing there not doing much else besides being pretty. But they also see my sister (their aunt) who is a successful doctor. Or their own paediatrician, who is a woman. Or my other sister, who is a successful lawyer. Or my mother, who had a long and successful teaching career. etc etc

    • The '67 Sound

      You are right that there are positive role models for young girls. You are also right that we are in no position to judge women who make a living off their looks.

      It’s also true that even in sports we are seeing a growing role for women as more than eye candy. TSN has lots of competent female reporters.

      Finally, I don’t think anyone is arguing that every televised sporting event must have a “substantive” female presence.

      I think Danny’s point is that in an event aimed specifically at children, it’s a little disturbing that the only role for women is eye candy. Swapping kids for “sweater girls”, as others have suggested, would have been a huge improvement.

    • Danny Gray

      A very thoughtful response, thank you.
      I agree with you, it’s just that one choice is obviously over represented when it comes to females. Especially in the sports world.

    • xkaren08

      I don’t mean to argue with you, because you raise some good points, but I feel like my experience conforms somewhat to what you’re identifying as the range of possibilities currently available for young women. Apologies in advance for how long and poorly-organized this is, it’s a raw topic for me and I have a lot of feelings on the matter.

      I’m a 24-year-old woman, a year and a half out of undergrad. I like to think I’m smart, and I haven’t been given much reason so far to think otherwise. I’m also decently attractive. I’ve been cursed (or blessed, as most men would like to think) with a sizeable chest; sadly I don’t think that’s irrelevant to my experience at all.

      I really love sports, particularly hockey. I’m very well-informed and interested in pretty much all aspects of sports business. I’ve wanted to work in sports for a long time, and so when I graduated I passed over an opportunity with an investment bank to work for a sports marketing business. I don’t regret not going into banking for a minute, but I want to highlight that I had other (much more lucrative!) choices, but I desperately wanted to work in sports.

      I didn’t last a year. I quit after 10 months. There wasn’t a single woman in anything but an entry-level or support position, nor did I ever meet one outside of my company. I was brought along to irrelevant client meetings that I had NO business attending, for the sake of bringing a young, attractive girl along. My boss once congratulated me for “building a great rapport” with a client; the client in question had maybe said 10 words to me, stared at my chest for the duration of a group meeting, and probably couldn’t pick my face out of a lineup. The quality of my work was irrelevant, my ideas ignored, or attributed to male colleagues.

      I don’t know if I was hired for my qualifications or my appearance, but it was made very obvious to me that my role was largely limited to being a pretty, 20-something girl. I guess that means I bought into the process, as the women at the all-star game did, but it’s not what I saw for myself when I used to dream of working in sports. I’m not judging the women who take these jobs, and I’m not ascribing my motives to them, but I just wish sports culture hadn’t failed us so badly that this was what was expected of us. I’m sure to certain commenters here, this will read as whining, or jealousy, or an indication that my work product was inferior to that of a man; I supposed I can’t do much to argue otherwise, but suffice it to say I disagree.

      I’ve had an abundance of strong, professional female role models in my life. My mother worked in finance, her friends were all successful professional women of various designations. The few female role models I’ve been able to identify in sports are mostly in journalism, and of those, the ones for whom their looks are irrelevant are those in print journalism. I’m grateful for all of their examples, but for my purposes it wasn’t enough. I don’t have a journalism degree, I’m not a writer. Of the avenues available to me in professional sports, I am relegated to merely eye candy. It’s not enough that there exist career opportunities for smart women. The ones I wanted, the ones that are currently still available to men, don’t exist for women like me, in reality. My choices were limited to accepting what was offered to me, to smile and entertain the men who had real jobs, to “make a career of” my looks, or to find something else to do. I chose the latter.

      I no longer aim to work in sports. It breaks my heart! I still love sports, I still think the business is fascinating. I feel so guilty for not having had the fortitude to fight through it, to try to carve out a better place for women in the business, but I honestly never got the impression that things would get better. I’m going to law school in the fall, and I’m excited about it and eager to build a career where my intellectual abilities will count for something. It’s just unfortunate that it couldn’t be in sports.

      • Danny Gray

        Well put. Thank you for the perspective. Like you said while many women do choose to be “eye candy” others are forced into it as the only avenue available to them. Appreciate your candor a lot.

      • Well said and I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you.

        However I urge you to consider trying again after law school. I believe most agents and upper management types are these days Lawyers. I know Brian Burke still is a member of the Bar.

        Between a law degree, your 10 months of experience as well as not being so young (being only 23 probably made it even tougher to get respect I would assume) I think you could have a good shot at getting a legitimate job instead of as the eye candy in the room.

        I may only be a 23yr old male who is still student with no idea his future, but I do know that it only takes one woman to break through and get to the higher levels of sports for it to help open the door for hundreds more who are qualified. Please consider trying to be that person.

        • It’s not that easy to just “break through” and “open the door for more who are qualified”.

          These issues are systemic, and at one point, you just get tired of trying because it CAN feel pointless and hopeless. I did sports radio for a few years and quit because their treatment of me and women in general became too discouraging and overwhelming and humiliating.

          Speaking up resulted in less air time. Not saying anything resulted in my cohosts only asking me questions like which athlete is hotter. Blogging about it got me into trouble.

          So what was I to do, exactly?

          • I get that its ridiculously hard, and I’m sorry if I made it sound like I thought it would as easy as just getting a job.

            However you must admit that for true change there has to be change from within. Eventually someone has to be that first female. I realize for that one who makes it there are going to be the hundreds or thousands who get forced out because of the misogynistic attitudes.

            All I was trying to was encourage her to think about giving it another shot from a different angle.

            Also in an FYI kinda thing, there was almost the first female GM in any sport in baseball this past year. Kim Ng is an executive with MLB and was a finalist for the Angels GM opening.

        • I’m definitely considering it, but it’s absolutely not my primary goal anymore. Partly because of prior experience, but also because I know sports/entertainment law is such a niche market, and as a result is pretty difficult to break into (particularly as a woman without experience as a professional athlete). I have nothing but admiration for all the sports lawyer types out there, but I’m very aware of the barriers to entry that would exist for me.

  • xkaren08

    I’m really disheartened by the comments here. There are women doing great work blogging about hockey and even more who keep the commentary amongst themselves because they fear they won’t be taken seriously.

    A couple of complaints to address:

    1. ‘Sexism exists deal with’- um, NO. I’ve been dealing with it my whole life and I’ll go down fighting it, as will many other women and men.

    2. ‘it’s just business’- would a single person have turned off last night’s broadcast if kids had been used instead of women or if the women had been used in more meaningful roles? No. And besides, doing something because it is ‘good for business’ does not mean it’s exempt from ethical/moral critique.

    3. ‘quit complaining about sexism and do something about it’- I’m sorry, but a) this does not invalidate the critique and b) why do you assume people AREN’T doing something about it?

    As for people ‘running away’, I could be wrong but I wouldn’t be surprised if folks had to get back to work.

  • daoust

    @ danny gray @ 67sound What is it about the ASG that makes you think it’s aimed specifically at children?

    You are both correct that women’s role in the sports world is largely tied to their appearance and there is room for improvement. But I sincerely hope most people aren’t basing their ideas of normal gender roles – male or female – on what they see in the sports world.

    • Danny Gray

      I’d say things like the Guardian Project are a huge giveaway. Adult fans don’t take this seriously. I remember when I was a kid collecting the All-Star Cards from McDonalds.

      I just think it’s marketed towards kids.

      • xkaren08

        It may not be specifically marketed to the kids, however the kids definitely enjoy the experience so much more, and it should be about the kids. The NHL definitely angles the game towards the kids without over doing it cutting off the adults.

  • xkaren08

    Thanks for writing this Danny. It’s exactly how I felt watching the draft last night. As another someone else pointed out, having a couple of kids hand out the jerseys would’ve been a simple alternative. But the thing is, I wan’t the least bit surprised because women in the sporting world are constantly portrayed as nothing more than eye candy. There are some talented female sports casters ( ie. Hedger, Beirness), but they are rarely lauded for their ability and talent. Rather, I often see tweets that often praise them for being “rockets”, or people debating who is the hottest female sports caster. I’m not begrudging anyone the opportunity to appreciate attractiveness, but what bothers me is how those talented females working in the sports world are often reduced to nothing more than their looks, while their ability is overlooked.

    Just the other day I was listening to my local sports station expecting them to talk about the impressive performance by Christine Sinclair ( who I believe is the best soccer player to come out of Canada, male or female), and considering Concacaf Olympic qualifiers are hosted here in Vancouver, it was a reasonable expectation. In four hours of radio, there was not one segment dedicated to the Concacaf tournament. Oh but there was a segment dedicated to which female athlete they found the most attractive, Lindsay Vonn and Melissa Hollingsworth were brought up. They are tremendous athletes, but you wouldn’t have known it by the way the radio hosts were talking. And their names popped up because the hosts were discussing female athletes as solely objects of desire, it wasn’t because whatever they were doing was relevant sports news. I did write them an email. Unfortunately this type of female objectification is so pervasive and happens so often that it’s the norm. And just because it’s the norm does not mean it’s acceptable.

    • xkaren08

      Well said about the lack of respect for female athletes/ broadcasters. That too bugs me. I get it Hedger is hot but I respect her because she tells me sports stories properly. It doesn’t matter how hot you are all that matter is I get my sports fix. If you need a hot lady fix during the most entertaining thing in the world (Hockey) than you have an issue. If hockey alone isn’t enough to keep you entertained turn off the tv and go find something else to do.

      That being said I do love Lindsay Vonn as more than an athlete but I think its the fact I love watching her race that just adds that extra sexiness factor to it. I’m a big skier and I love watching ski races (the speed events) both men and women, and technically Vonn is the most precise skier on the planet imo. If it weren’t for her being so tiny compared to the top guy racers (size helps you keep speed on the flats), she could win any guys race as well its crazy watching her ski if you know anything about racing.

      • xkaren08

        @WizardofNaz

        Exactly. I don’t expect sports fans to be asexual. Fans ( of all genders) should be able to appreciate the attractiveness of an athlete, sportscaster, etc. without objectifying them and stripping them of their ability.

  • xkaren08

    I love the idea of getting kids more involved. When I see soccer players walk out with kids I always think of the thrill that it must be for them. Have every all-star be paired with a kid in the green room or whatever. Make it much more of a family affair and I don’t think very many less people watch. Aside from that, kids can really add some humour to a setting. I could see a lot more tweets like “Haha, did you see Phaneuf’s kid stick his tongue out at Girardi’s kid?” than “Whoa, check out the talent handing out the jerseys”

  • xkaren08

    There are some talented female sports casters ( ie. Hedger, Beirness), but they are rarely lauded for their ability and talent. Rather, I often see tweets that often praise them for being “rockets”, or people debating who is the hottest female sports caster.

    I don’t watch Sportscentre anymore so I’m not familiar with Beirness but I don’t think Hedger rose to prominence because of her talent, unless we’re defining talent as “willingness to french kiss girls on camera.” Which is a talent, just not necessarily one relevant to sports journalism.

  • SkinnyFish

    1) Great post that obviously has gotten a lot of people talking Danny (for better or worse?)

    2) I agree with Eyebleaf

    3) Fitted jerseys for women? Every jersey I’ve worn seems to have been intended to be worn under equipment and is not “fitted”, it’s big, it’s bulky, it’s a jersey.

    4) It’s friday, everybody get happy again.

      • xkaren08

        I think the other issue is aren’t the pink jerseys cut for women? I think a lot of women (from what I’ve heard) don’t like the fact that if they want to get a jersey that isn’t like a dress on them they are forced to get a pink one.

      • eyebleaf

        I’m going to need a lot more evidence than that, home skillet!

        Had a conversation with a friend at work about this, and had her read the post. She’s got twin daughters. Here’s what she wrote:

        To sum up: I see the authors point and I see your point. The conflict comes from the fact that women do things that objectify themselves, do so willingly and happily and sometimes for money. Does that make it ok? A feminist would say no. I would say no. But it’s a free country and I’d rather it be their choice and my choice to watch or not watch. What the author is saying is that kids watch the all-stars so those women shouldn’t be there. I’m not that naive. Those women are going to be there. Cheerleaders are going to be there. Girls and bikinis’ are going to help sell cars. If you have kids educate them, that’s your job. If you don’t want them to watch, don’t let them watch.

  • xkaren08

    Lots of good (and bad) responses here. And I really like the post, Danny.

    @daoust @Danny

    As far as the “are kids the target audience here?” question, I’m not sure they are.

    Duthie didn’t hesitate to ask Tim Thomas about the whole White House snub. Why would kids care about that? And I didn’t see many kids in the crowd, mostly drunk lunatics.

    I’m not saying I know exactly who TSN/the NHL is considering their target market for this event. It should be kids, but right now I’m not sure it is.

    Keep up the good work

  • There needs to be a massive cultural shift, not one person changing everything for everyone.

    What kind of change would I honestly have made by being relegated to dumb hot athletes conversations and being asked about my sexuality because I wanted to interview female athletes? I don’t think it’s fair that I would have to endure that for years before being thought of as equal by my cohosts and everyone else at the station.

    It’s not fair for anyone, and I 100% do not blame women and minorities, really, for deciding, ‘you know what, screw this, I’m done.’

    • Danny Gray

      I think that’s why the ASG irked me so much. It was the NHL saying to kids “you like hockey? you’re a girl? well girls hand out jerseys and read off tweets.”
      And it also conditions the boys watching to see women in the same way.

      • daoust

        The NHL is played by men, coached by former players (men) and largely analyzed / commented on by former players (men). There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Different fields have different gender demographics.

        And if I had to guess, i’d say the % of viewers watching last night that were 6-9 year old girls was about 0.000001%.

  • eyebleaf

    Pretty disappointed in Dreger’s comment, as he is a media personality who should take more responsibility for the impression provided. I’m pretty sure I can safely ignore the rest of the anonymous mouthbreathing Twits.

  • daoust

    “What’s worse is that girls watching at home dreaming of playing in the All-Star game one day were given two choices for when they grow up: handing out sweaters or reading tweets.”

    As well, Danny, I dunno if we have to afraid to state facts, but the NHL is a men’s league. The best female hockey athlete of all time in Haley Wickenheiser couldn’t hack 3rd division Finnish league men’s hockey. Physically, a top male athlete is always going to be faster and stronger than a top female athlete. If we have become too politically correct to acknowledge this basic truth, you really need to step down from your pedestal. We aren’t all the same, let’s stop pretending we are. We just have to be happy in our own skin.