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While the Men Watch; A Terrible Idea

I believe there are some people in Alaska who wish to buy ice.
I believe there are some people in Alaska who wish to buy ice.

To get a different perspective and take on yesterday's news that CBC has picked the While the Men Watch blog for coverage of the Stanley Cup Finals, we turn to Heather. You can follow her on Twitter; @fergus30.

Being a Leafs fan is not easy, as many of you know. Being a Leafs fan is harder when you’re trying to buy a t-shirt with your teams logo and you’re sold something like this.

The segmentation of female sports fans is not new, but with the news yesterday that a sports blog titled While the Men Watch has been picked up by the CBC to provide hockey commentary, this issue has come up once again. Because of this, I was approached to share my opinion about it on this handy dandy blog. Hello!

First off, let’s look at this blog. While the Men Watch is basically two women who provide live commentary of sporting events. Their commentary intends to "keep women entertained during football, hockey, basketball, baseball games and more". The fact that this blog was picked up resulted in a huge outburst of opinion and commentary online. What I’d like to do in this blog post is breakdown some of the problems that I see with the CBC picking up and funding their commentary during the Stanley Cup finals, as well as some problems with the reactions to their blog in the greater hockey community as I observed it on Twitter.

Let me preface this with the statement that I am in fact, a female hockey fan, and that sometimes, I watch hockey with the intention of staring at Sidney Crosby’s butt, critiquing Ron Wilson’s tie choice or deciding whether or not I actually think PJ Stock is attractive or not (my current verdict: no, but this changes weekly). Surprisingly, I also watch hockey because it is a fast paced, complex and fascinating game, and a true demonstration of athleticism, team work and drive which I find compelling.

The fact that I even felt the need to include that prefacing paragraph really hits on the biggest problem with being a female sports fan. As my good friend Emily (@emilydawnlove) stated on Twitter:

I'm frustrated by the perpetuation of the idea that I am a woman first & a sports fan second. Men are not identified as 'male sports fans'.

Perhaps it is the fact that being a female and a hockey fan is a novelty that makes this practice so widespread, but the greater problem here is that as a female hockey fan, a female hockey fan is defined as female first and hockey fan second. The writers of While the Men Watch perpetuate his stereotype and this is the greatest folly of their endeavor, not, as I would like to argue, the way that they watch hockey.

So, let’s break down While the Men Watch. First off, the name in itself is problematic. While the Men Watch reflects an attitude that men watch the sports while women... do something else. Is not watching what these women are doing, even if they are only watching to, as they describe, provide "their own version of sports commentary that women actually want to hear?" Also, the generalization that all women (not just all female hockey fans, all women) actually want to hear about which coaches need a makeover, or which hockey players are the hottest is a huge generalization to make. Not to say that this generalization is not made often, and even not made often within the media environment. These types of segmentation of female attention to an issue aren’t new - female sections of newspapers and websites are common, and these types of segmentation only serve to signify that female issues are not worthy of attention from men, and that what women are interested in are of a different value than the rest of the news. This, indeed is the greater problem here.

Now, let’s talk about the issue that the CBC has seen it necessary to fund this blog and their commentary, while they currently keep only two female hockey commentators on staff, Cassie Campbell and and Andi Petrillo, who many have pointed out are often kept to the sidelines of Hockey Night in Canada. What I see as the greatest problem with the CBC funding this blog is not the content that it provides, but the fact that the CBC has not seen a need to spend some of their budget on fostering and building a base of female commentators/bloggers/opinion writers. A great point was made to me earlier by Karina (@gottabe_KD):

Cassie Campbell has excellent insight into hockey and was never given the time to develop her colour voice in the way that men at CBC have been able to - for example Kevin Weekes was brutal when he started but is good now. Instead, Campbell was switched to player interviews where her insight is absolutely wasted.

At this point, with the pick up of While the Men Watch, the CBC is perpetuating the largest problem with being a female sports fan (that you are a female first, and fan second) and not working to build a network of hockey entertainers and commentators that are also coincidentally, female.

Which really is the main point I’m trying to make here. The kind of fandom that these women are catering to exists! It’s a huge market and for a lot of female hockey fans, blogs like this one provide a space for them to talk about what draws them to the game (whether that be Sidney Crosby’s butt - which, let’s be honest, could sell ice to people living in Alaska - or the pros and cons of the butterfly style) in an environment where what they are interested in is not mocked or ridiculed for being "proper" sports fandom, or the "right" way to watch the game. These blogs are comfortable spaces for these women to talk about hockey and what they enjoy about it without being ridiculed or made to feel uncomfortable. The idea of having a "right" or "correct" way to watch a form of entertainment is absurd, and though it is perfectly valid for someone to prefer to read about hockey stats instead of speculation on whether Steven Stamkos or Jonathan Toews is hotter, (BTW, Toews, all the way) this does not make this type of hockey fandom "lesser" or "wrong."

Which hits upon an issue with how the blog was responded to in online communities - yes, there is a problem with the fact that the CBC felt the need to pick up this blog ahead of fostering female talent in commentary, but focusing on the fact that what these women are writing about is not "right" or "good" fandom ties into the greater problem of being a sports fan who is female - that you are female first, and that this fact apparently makes others think it’s ok to judge how you watch hockey or if you’re truly a "real" fan at all. As a publicly funded broadcaster, the CBC has a responsibility to focus on values that are important to the country as a whole instead of resorting to cheap parlor tricks to get people to watch their shows and click on their links. Focusing on values that are important to the country as a whole includes providing interesting commentary on hockey from both male and female content providers, and focusing on showcasing and encouraging all forms of hockey viewership.

On a side note, if this is the kind of coverage you don’t think that the CBC as a publicly funded network, should provide, you can file a complaint here.