By Emilie Medland-Marchen, May 21 2015 —
I was a little girl when I played my first hockey game. I loved it, despite being one of the only girls on the team. It was my dream to play alongside the boys and eventually make the NHL. I still remember the day my parents told me the hard truth — girls don’t play in the NHL.
For the first time since 2004, the stretch along 17th Avenue dubbed the Red Mile returned for the 2014–15 NHL playoffs. The Flames had a more successful season than anyone predicted, securing their first postseason appearance since 2009. Although dreams of a Stanley Cup faded as Anaheim overwhelmed Calgary in the fifth game of their playoff series, the return of the Red Mile united the city’s sports community.
But some things haven’t changed since 2004. This year’s celebrations were tainted by multiple incidences of sexual harassment. CBC reporter Meghan Grant was verbally harassed while conducting interviews along the Red Mile. Another woman was groped from behind while walking with her boyfriend. A Twitter hashtag, #CansForMonahan, made the rounds online. The insensitive hashtag echoed the popular phrase “shirts off for Kiprusoff,” a remnant of the Flames’ successful 2004 postseason.
It’s a trend expected when sports fans are enabled by liquor and hyped up on adrenaline.
But why did this sexual harassment occur eleven years after the Flames’ 2004 glory days? How did it get so bad that Flames executives Brian Burke and Ken King had to urge their fanbase to stop harassing women?
This harassment of women happens because things haven’t changed since 2004. The professional sports arena is still plagued by misogyny. We only need to look as far as the wages for male and female professional teams.
The average annual salary of a star NHL hockey player lies somewhere between $5–8 million. Women playing in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League often go unpaid, or earn somewhere between $1,000–2,000 if they can secure a win. The NHL isn’t open to women.
Some argue that it’s bad business to encourage a female league because of a lack of interest. Apparently, fans don’t want to watch women play hockey. So the sport is disproportionately male.
Hockey culture is dominated and sustained by men. Female coaches are rarely hired. Owners of teams are rarely women. Female sports broadcasters are plagued by harassment. And female hockey fans are abused on the streets when they try to celebrate their favourite teams’ wins.
This isn’t just a problem with Calgary. These issues occur anywhere a divide exists between how we value men and women.
It’s clear that female voices don’t matter in professional sports. The players, coaches, managers and media that make up the sport’s biggest professional league are almost entirely men. And the fanbase follows suit, with behaviour stemming from unacceptable opinions about women.
It’s wrong to look only at the Calgary Flames fanbase and point fingers. We should analyze the sport as a whole. Professional sports remain one of the starkest examples of sexism and there has been little effort to change this.
There isn’t much encouragement to sponsor women’s leagues, watch women’s hockey or support the hiring of female coaches and managers. As a result, there’s little reason for fans of the sport to change their treatment of women off the ice.
The Flames’ executives were right to condemn the harassment of women along the Red Mile. But placing the blame on fans doesn’t get to the root of the problem. To change the Red Mile, the Flames must take a deeper look at their sport and how women are treated in hockey. In a man’s world, that’s no easy feat.