At a very early age boys are taught that they should be “masculine.” In order fit the hegemonic masculine image they must exhibit traits such as aggression, competitiveness, and strength. Gender stereotypes also reinforce the notion that boys should play and watch sports. For example, many boys are socialized at a young age by playing hockey with ‘mini sticks’, while girls are encouraged to play non-aggressive games such as ‘house’. As children grow up, these stereotypes continue to be reinforced. The propagation of these stereotypes work to reinforce the large gap in gender equality within the sporting industry.
Males have always dominated the fan base in sports and because of this there is a generalization that men are more knowledgeable and committed to sports than women. This male privilege has helped foster the creation of the term “Puck Bunny.” In 2004, the term “Puck Bunny” was added to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (Albrechtson, 2009). It is a word used in hockey that objectifies and stereotypes women; Puck Bunny refers to “a woman who goes to hockey games for the sole purpose of ‘scoring’ with one of the players afterwards, a hockey whore.” (Avery, 2009) This generalization that men have more knowledge of and commitment to sports and the concept of a Puck Bunny both work to oppress women in the sports industry. This has prevented women from being taken seriously or treated with respect within certain context of the sports world.
Women may have a difficult time in the male socialized sports world and this is exemplified through the story of Ashley Judd. Often, if one speaks out in opposition to the opinions of our patriarchal society, they become shunned. Judd’s story sheds light on this patriarchal and capitalistic control that is insidious within the entire sports industry. Judd, a 42-year-old actress and advocate for social justice cheered for the University of Kentucky’s basketball team during the SEC Tournament Finals on Sunday, March 15th, 2015. In the midst of the excitement, Judd tweeted against the opposing team, “playing dirty & can kiss my team’s free throw making a—.” (Time, 2015) In response to Judd’s tweet, twitter followers sent her explicit and threatening tweets. The content of these tweets objectified, insulted, sexualized, and dehumanized her. Judd explained to UsMagazine that the amount of gender based violence she experienced was “absolutely extraordinary” and resulted in her filing police reports (Lee, 2015). Through Judd’s story, we can understand that the male-dominated, capitalistic sports industry further increases the oppression of women and perpetuates negative stereotypes.
For years, professional female athletes have not been given the same opportunities that men have been given. The best example of this is the National Hockey League (NHL) where only men are allowed to play. Although there is a Women’s Canadian Hockey League (WCHL), it is far less supported or acknowledged in comparison to the NHL. In Mett Larkin’s article, The fight to sell women’s hockey: Can the CWHL become the WNBA, he explains that the CWHL has sponsors such as Scotiabank, Bauer, and Molson, yet these companies do not provide the significant financial aid that the league needs in order to break into a new popularity stratosphere. However, Sportsnet has made a four-year deal to broadcast three games during the Clarkson Cup tournament in March as well as the December’s CWHL All-Star Game (The Hockey News, 2015). Although these are positive gains for women, our patriarchal society still teaches boys and girls at an early age that is it male athletes who deserve the encouragement and high levels of legitimacy. Male athletes are therefore perceived as more profitable and have the best opportunities for success.
Not only does this gender inequality make it more difficult for women to play professional sports, but there are also many situations within the sports world where women are downgraded and hyper-sexualized. Serena Williams is the first black woman to be ranked No. 1 in women’s singles tennis (Gaston, 2014). Despite her achievements, she experiences body shaming, racism and dehumanization. Williams experiences exemplifies the white supremacy that controls the sporting industry. In one example, Sid Rosenberg, a radio host on 640 Sports referred to Williams as an “animal”. In other instances, remarks made about Williams include suggestions that black women aren’t “real women” and that they are “indistinguishable” from men due to their ‘dangerous’ black bodies (Desmond-Harris, 2015). The horrible backlash that Williams receives as a woman of colour illustrates how society is still affected by the long history of colonialism and slavery. As explored in tutorial during Week 6, during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade it was common for black women to be raped and victimized because they were viewed as property, free laborers and not civilized humans (Maria-Teresa, 2015). Similar to Laverne Cox’s video on the violence trans women of colour experience, it is apparent that racial inequality is still prevalent throughout society.
Both Ashley Judd and Serena Williams have been victims to the unfair treatment that women are subjected to within the sports world; however, Judd is a white woman and because of this she has a privileged positionality. This positionality allows her to have a voice in speaking out and raising awareness of the oppression women experience in the sports world. Judd does so by retweeting everyone’s tweets that related to her. In this act of defiance, Judd resists the patriarchal system and the misogyny that surrounds the sports industry. Although raising awareness is important in eradicating injustices, her protest stems from her experience as a white women and does not include mention of the oppression that black women experience in the sports world. This situation highlights the complexity around speaking out and raises the question: can one activist speak for all women?
In Danyel Haughton’s special lecture on Seeing is Not Believing, she emphasizes the importance of Black twitter and the use of the hashtag #Blacklivesmatter. Through the use of social media, the black community is able to speak up about the systematic and purposeful targeting they experience (Haughton, 2015). Twitter is a powerful tool, one that is utilized by both Judd and black communities around the world.Hopefully, the continual use of media activism will result in more support, acknowledgment and ultimately the eradication of the oppression women face in the sports industry.
Albrechtson, Meagan. “She Got Game.” Toronto Sun. Canoe Sun Media, 6 June 2009. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. Retrieved from <http://www.torontosun.com/life/2009/06/06/9697201-sun.html>.
Avery, Martin. The Devils Wear Bauer (Not Prada). Lulu.com, 2009. 56. Print.
Charlotte, Alter. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape.” Time. Time, 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. Retrieved from <http://time.com/3750788/ashley-judd-speaks-out-about-twitter-abuse-and-rape/>.
Desmond- Harris, Jenee. “Beyond Indian Wells: Serena Williams Has Been Consistently Disrespected for Her Entire Career.” Vox. Vox Media, 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. Retrieved from <http://www.vox.com/2015/3/11/8189679/serena-williams-indian-wells-racism>.
Gaston, Corinne. “Serena and Venus Williams Battle More Body-Shaming.” Ms Magazine Blog. 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. Retrieved from <http://msmagazine.com/blog/2014/10/23/serena-and-venus-williams-battle-more-body-shaming/>.
Haughton. “Seeing Is Not Believing.” GNDS 125 Lecture . Queen’s University. Bioscience Complex, Kingston. 2 Mar. 2015. Lecture.
Larkin, Matt. “The Fight to Sell Women’s Hockey: Can the CWHL Become the WNBA?”The Hockey News. Transcontinental Media G.P., 5 Jan. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. Retrieved from <http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/the-fight-to-sell-womens-hockey-can-the-cwhl-become-the-wnba/>.
Lee, Esther. Ashley Judd Pressing Charges Against Twitter Trolls for Vulgar Tweets: They Need to “Take Personal Responsibility” US WEEKLY, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. Retrieved from <http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/ashley-judd-pressing-charges-against-twitter-trolls-for-vulgar-tweets-2015173>.
Matani, Maria-Teresa. “Colonialism and Slavery.” Tutorial . , Kingston . 12 Feb. 2015. Class Lecture.