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(Too) Frequently Asked Questions about Sexism and the NHL

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Thinking about responding to an article about sexism in the NHL? Please read this first.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

This past season has been an interesting one for women who love hockey. Just when we feel cautiously optimistic about our treatment as fans, something happens that makes it clear women are not welcome in this boy’s club, no matter how committed we are to the game.

Whether it’s players using "girl" as an insult, journalists harassing women fans, fans making other fans feel unwelcome, or Gary Bettman explaining that it’s okay to use a woman’s name as an insult to a player’s ability, there have been a steady number of incidents that have caused women to feel unwelcome.

Whenever women attempt to address these incidents in articles on SB Nation, the comments inevitably contain a lot of disagreement. In the vast majority of cases, these disagreements center around a few common arguments.

We decided that instead of reinventing the wheel, we’d create a living document -- a primer that explains our position on each of these common points of disagreement. This document will evolve as our concerns and responses evolve, especially with input from women in the hockey community.

Although our personal experiences are primarily with sexism, many of these comments and questions have been used to silence those writing about racism, homophobia, and other issues as well, and perhaps some of our responses could apply to these situations too.

Unhelpful arguments often prevail over listening, and we want commenters to consider their comments more carefully before voicing their opinions. Remember, nobody gets to decide what is hurtful to someone else.

We don’t want to stifle discussion and debate. Rather, we are concerned about the ways in which these repetitive debates are making hockey blogging more hostile to women. Reading comment after comment that repeats the same points and minimizes the grievances expressed by women is exhausting.

Perhaps the responses to some of these common arguments will allow commenters to avoid justifying the existence of the article in the first place.

1. "You are too sensitive! Why write about this when there’s real suffering in the world?"

This type of comment is typically paired with opinions that relate to culture, with examples that stem from one culture’s perspective on the lives of women elsewhere. The gist of comments like these are that the issues addressed by the article pales in comparison to "real sexism" or "real oppression" elsewhere and is therefore not worth being offended about or writing about.

These perspectives are best seen for what they are -- culturally embedded, and often painted with broad strokes.

Bringing up the lives of women in other cultures does not make the commenter seem thoughtful, informed, or particularly concerned about women elsewhere -- because the crux of the argument is not concern for others but simply an attempt to leverage the experiences of those women to silence women here.

The most important part of this discussion is that respect begins at home. If the women in the commenter’s own culture are expressing their unhappiness, the proper response is not to say, "things are worse elsewhere." The proper response is to listen and understand.

2. "I talked to some women and they didn’t find it offensive!"

Not every woman will agree about what is offensive and what isn’t. Every member of a marginalized group does not have to agree that something is offensive for it to be symptomatic of a larger issue.

Women are not a monolithic group, and an individual woman’s lack of offense should not be the metric by which we determine whether or not something is sexist.

It’s worth a woman’s time to consider whether she finds something inoffensive because she’s afraid of what people might think if she admits that those words actually do hurt. It should not be surprising that some women hold misogynistic attitudes, given that our culture is rife with misogyny.

Jenn Frank addressed this in her article I was a Teenage Sexist, pointing out that her own misogyny was so internalized that she did not realize that she was being asked to hate herself and like it.

There is an important distinction between what is sexist and what is offensive, despite a great degree of overlap. Hockey culture can actively create a hostile environment for women, making us feel unwelcome and unsafe as fans of the sport. This is sexism.

Many women were offended by Bettman’s comments on the "Katy Perry" chant because in failing to be critical, he disregarded women’s reactions. He also reaffirmed that sexism in hockey spaces is acceptable.

Our offense is a reaction to the sexist environment in hockey. The important conversation is not about whether each individual female hockey fan is offended by something. Instead, our discussions should revolve around addressing sexism in hockey culture.

When commenters use this argument, they are not contributing to a discussion about sexism in hockey. Instead, they are using anecdotal evidence from some women that they know in an attempt to discredit the feelings of other women.

3. "What about when this happens to men?!"

Questions like these often come up when a discussion centers around violence against women, sexual violence, or the sexualization of women. This type of comment is derailing, because it takes the discussion away from the topic of the article to something tangential.

Violence against men and the policing of men’s masculinity are important issues. Bringing up these points in a discussion of women’s issues comes across as an attempt to silence women rather than as a sincere effort to raise awareness.

Instead of appearing to be a thoughtful advocate, the commenter seems to be arguing that because everyone experiences oppression, the issue is not worth addressing.

If commenters want to discuss violence against men, they should do so thoughtfully in their own articles on the topic -- not by derailing a discussion of women’s issues. Both deserve their own stages.

4. "But it wasn’t intended to be sexist!"

When a player, member of management, journalist, or the NHL commissioner says something that causes an uproar, a lot of people defend the comment based on the belief that it was not intended to be sexist or hurtful. Intent is not as important as impact.

Stepping on someone’s foot hurts, even if it wasn’t intentional. A comment that derides a marginalized group can occur without intent, but that does not mean that it doesn’t have an impact.

Focusing on the potential or real intentions of a person’s sexist remarks takes the focus away from the fact that the words reproduce sexist ideologies, that people were hurt, and most importantly, that change is needed.

5. "[X comment] was said by someone who is a good person, so it can’t possibly be sexist!"

Many of the same things apply here as to the point above. Even someone’s best intentions can produce something hurtful. Also, hey, no one is perfect! Good people can screw up all the time. It needs to be emphasized that bad behavior is not limited to "bad people."

When people are hurt by someone’s behavior, it is important to talk about what was hurtful and why, regardless of that person’s past record on other issues. Most of the time, whether or not someone is a good person is not relevant to the discussion, and discussions of their moral compass is usually used to derail the discussion at large.

Don’t do this.

A sexist comment or action is one that reinforces the idea that women are less than human, regardless of who says or does it.

6. "Why didn’t you talk about [other homophobic and/or sexist terms], which are much worse? Why aren’t you writing about ice girls?"

These types of comments can also be considered derailing. There are many sexist terms and practices in the world, and no one article can address each one.

Instead of dismissing an article for not addressing the topic that the commenter feels should be discussed, the commenter could perhaps take what might be a worthy discussion to another platform. Nobody gets to dictate another person’s choice of article topic.

7. "What does this have to do with hockey!"

Everything. Literally everything.

It is important for commenters to understand the ways in which their perspective is influenced by their position in the world, gender being an important one.

Those in a privileged position may not understand the experiences of a marginalized group of which they are not a member. This includes experiences at sporting events, the workplace, and in every facet of life.

The fact that a commenter is not offended by an incident that impacts others does not mean that no one should be hurt or offended.

Commenters do not get to mandate the responses of groups of which they are not a member. In these cases, rather than shouting down those who are upset, they should consider listening and learning.

Nobody enters an arena for hockey discussion wanting to talk about anything else; it’s the circumstances surrounding said arena that force other conversations.

We enjoy and want to talk about hockey just as much as everyone else. However, the sexism present in the culture lessens this enjoyment for many of us.

We should be talking about issues that affect the experience of so many fans and solving these issues -- so we can get back to talking about the sport we love.

8. "You’re just a Social Justice Warrior who likes to be offended!"

Xena, Social Justice Warrior

Xena, Social Justice Warrior

OH NO YOU’VE FOUND ME OUT. ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE.

Here is the start of an informal list of articles that we think are worth promoting, because they’ve attempted to grapple with issues of women’s inclusion in hockey. If readers have any to include, please let us know.