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Women in hockey being heard, but not loud enough

Amid a growing pile of ugly news stories and a lack of change in their sport, women in hockey remain optimistic, continue to push forward.

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Hockey fans received more disappointing news on Monday, when it was reported that Rockford IceHogs (affiliate to the Chicago Blackhawks) winger Garret Ross had been charged with a felony under Illinois’s revenge porn laws.

Ross was arrested on February 2, nearly two months ago and almost six months after the investigation (which included a search warrant for his cell phone) began, according to reports.

Ross played in 18 games with Rockford after being arrested, including the night after the arrest, before head coach Ted Dent sidelined him twice over the weekend as a "coach’s decision."

The news comes after months, and in some cases years, of internal and external conflicts that women in hockey as fans, bloggers, journalists, and feminists, have faced with their sport.

For some of these women, constantly speaking up about the issues women in hockey face is a necessity.

Jen Lute Costella, a hockey analytic expert and consultant, has used her platforms to speak out about the treatment of women in the hockey world.

At Pension Plan Puppets, Katie Esmonde, Achariya Rezak, and others have felt the need to write about everything from the treatment of Patrick Kane’s sexual assault investigation by the media and fans, to toxic masculinity in the sport, to its misattribution of victimhood.

Writer, feminist, and hockey lover Melissa Geschwind has launched a petition, urging NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly to "take violence against women seriously."

Before Geschwind launched the petition, she tried to voice her opinion and bring about change in the hockey community in other ways through Twitter and appeals to NHL media types.

"I was doing all the things that everybody’s been doing but none of it seemed to be getting any attention from the people that actually needed to be paying attention," Geschwind said in a phone interview on Tuesday. "It was more like I’ve tried everything else I could think of and here’s a new thing that will probably not work."

The entire effort has been frustrating, and continues to be frustrating, according to Geschwind.

And she’s not alone.

After the Ross news broke, Esmonde was saddened for the woman whose privacy was violated.

"Time and time again, we see that women are expected to take every step imaginable to prevent violence or mistreatment in the hands of men, rather than holding men accountable and teaching them not to hurt women," Esmonde said.

For Esmonde, Geschwind’s meeting with the NHL is long overdue.

"We have said so many times that it does not make sense for the NHL to continue to offend, disrespect, and alienate such a large (and growing) proportion of their fan base. Honestly, it’s about time that they started talking to one of the many women who have been vocal about their missteps," Esmonde, who wrote her Masters thesis on gender in sports fandom, said.

Costella also reacted to the Ross news and the Blackhawk’s lack of prior action. "Apparently these guys aren’t being taught that they aren’t entitled to women as their trophies," Costella said.

She understands the exhaustion many women feel after continued efforts to bring about change without being heard.

"I get a lot of jerks calling me names and the typical ‘you should have kept your mouth shut’ or ‘you obviously just hate men’," she said, adding that she also gets replies that are meant to intimidate her.

But despite the pushback, these women still remain optimistic. Costella says people from more than one NHL office have contacted her to let her know that she helped encourage them to review their policies.

"There are good people in these offices that are listening even if they’re not letting everybody know publicly," she said. "They’re trying to formulate, better, more compassionate responses."

But not everyone is heard like Costella, and she knows that. It wasn’t until Geschwind’s petition reached nearly 35,000 signatures that she was able to meet with the NHL and discuss her concerns.

"I’m lucky enough to have a pretty decent sized platform from which to shout from my rooftop," Costella said. "And I know not everyone has that and it’s one of the reasons I feel its kind of a responsibility of mine to not stay quiet on issues like this."

But even when speaking out, the common response is one that insists the women in the community are turning something into a problem.

"We are not the problem," she said. "It’s the guys that are carrying this stuff out that are the problem. And all of these institutionalized understandings of the world that all of these guys bring with them, and their leagues bring with them, and their teams bring with them, say these women are lesser than you and they don’t belong in our sport."

And while Costella recognizes that women are increasingly becoming more prominent in sports, that there’s "still a huge way to go."

"It’s always framed as ‘this women came in and caused this problem,’ well no, this problem already existed and somebody actually spoke up about it," she added. "When women speak up about this stuff, a lot of the people who don’t see these things as being all that wrong, they just don’t see the women as being on equal footing to them in the first place and that they’re just out to get attention."

Like Costella, Geschwind points out that she’s one of the "lucky" women whose words have actually been heard.

"I’ve been incredibly frustrated for a long time but not nearly as much as a lot of other people," she said. "It’s such a dice roll of whether or not you can even attempt to attract any attention."

After 'banging her head against the wall’, Geschwind hopes her meeting with the NHL will prove fruitful. In her meeting, Geschwind tried to impress upon the NHL the value of acknowledging people that are hurt.

But she’s still not surprised by the Ross news. She’s become numb, as have others.

"If we were waiting for a day with no disgusting news of something like this happening, we would never move at all," Geschwind said.

"We are trying to challenge these narratives that blame and disregard accusers. Not to mention the constant perpetuation of this culture where racism, homophobia, misogyny, and other hateful beliefs are tolerated if not celebrated," Esmonde said. "It feels like trying to use a shovel to stop an avalanche."

And while Geschwind doesn’t attribute it to anything she has done, she believes there are now fewer arenas with dance teams and ice girls, and, "Somebody must have told Mike Millbury to dial it the hell back because we haven’t heard him refer to the Sedin sisters in a while."

These changes are quiet and incremental, though.

Rezak is hopeful that Geschwind's meeting with the NHL will produce concrete results.

Like Geschwind, despite not noticing significant change, Achariya says she has seen small positive steps forward, including the increase of women as writers and guests in radio broadcasts, and a growing focus on women's hockey as a topic for hockey news.

Still, these discussions bring out the worst in many people in the online hockey universe, Achariya said.

"It’s a tire fire," Achariya, an associate editor at this site, said. "It’s always exhausting, it’s exhausting because you start to believe there’s nothing but that voice out there and it takes some searching to find the voice that you want to read."

Costella has struggled to find that positive voice too.

"I mean, good Lord who wants attention of a billion Twitter trolls constantly breathing down your neck," Costella said with a pause. "That’s not fun, that’s not a good time."

And for real progress to be made, women in hockey expect more from the NHL than for it to simply listen.