Men, women, children...Caniacs come in all different flavors. (Photo: James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE)

If You Can Cheer, You Can Cheer. No Matter Your Gender

I know by now this story is old news. But considering every day when I wake up, I am a hockey fan and a female; it’s always news to me. Last week Sports Illustrated decided to post a slide show featuring female hockey fans or as they said “aka Puck Bunnies.” Yes, they actually said Hockey fans come in all shapes and sizes, but few are as passionate as the league’s female fans (aka – Puck Bunnies).” If you would like to go look at this slide show, I can’t point you in that direction. Sports Illustrated finally removed it after much backlash. I would like to think it was removed with an apology to all female hockey fans, but I know that did not happen. I’ve read Sports Illustrated since I was a kid and it never occurred to me that I shouldn’t because I was a girl. It also never occurred to me that I would be included in a group of fans labeled with a derogatory term just because of the set of chromosomes I was born with. To add insult to injury, this story came on the heels of International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the contributions of women to society.

Right now the big talk in the hockey world is the You Can Play campaign created by Patrick Burke, brother of the late Brendan Burke, who was an openly gay athlete, and son of Brian Burke, President and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The campaign has a simple message; “If you can play, you can play.” The campaign was created to fight homophobia in hockey and make the environment safe for LGBT athletes to come out and still participate in their sport of choice. NHL players are signing on like crazy and participating in the public service announcement campaign. The cry for equal treatment and a non-hostile atmosphere makes my heart sing and the campaign is something I fully support.

I can’t be the only person thinking about the juxtaposition of these two issues though. This is the hot campaign. THE campaign to attach your name to if you want to be considered a stand-up guy in the NHL. But yet women are still being called “puck bunnies” and no one seems to blink an eye. Yes, the slide show was removed. But someone allowed it to be posted in the first place. And someone was ignorant enough to think that term categorized all female fans. Or sadly, they knew exactly what it meant and they just didn’t care.

(I am not a Caps fan but I want to hug this video by Russian Machine Never Breaks. No I have never hugged a video, but I feel confident that I can make it happen.)

Women are constantly singled out for being “female hockey fans” as though we are different than any other fans. We show up, we cheer, we buy merchandise. We know our stats and rules and some of us even spend hours of our free time blogging about the sport we love. I could list all of the things I know about the sport of hockey to “prove” myself and tell you how being a female fan is just being a fan, a regular fan. But I am not going to do that. Frankly I am tired of doing that. I am tired of defending my knowledge and being called a puck bunny. I am tired of watching half naked women scoop ice off the rink and dance in low cut tops as a means of entertainment during a sporting event. I am tired of the hockey community lauding people like Paul Bissonette for their “sense of humor” when he is really just a sexist. I am tired of the sports community, hockey included, thinking it’s okay to mistreat women. Misogyny my friends is not cool.

I am glad the NHL wants to make everyone feel safe to play regardless of their sexual orientation. But I wish someone would acknowledge that not all fans of the sport feel equally welcome to cheer. I maintain if you can cheer, you can cheer and my money and fandom is just as important whether or not I do my cheering while wearing a bra. Hockey is for everyone. But sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. What would an NHL arena without female fans be? I contend the answer is fairly empty.

  • Make sure to check out Hockey Broad’s commentary on the Sports Illustrated slide show here.* She includes a screen capture of the text from SI.
  • Learn more about the You Can Play campaign on their website.
  • Hockey Against Hate fights for equal rights in the sport. Check out their good work and cool merchandise here.
  • Elena Palmer, fellow Caniac blogger over at Eye on the Storm, had a nice post on this as well.

Sick of having your fandom labeled because of your gender? Any menfolk with mothers, daughters, wives or sisters want to chime in? Leave us a comment! Find us on  Facebook and the magic Twitter machine: @Esbee92, @CardiacCaneFS@peacelovepuck, @caniaccaz and @caniac176.

Tags: Brendan Burke Brian Burke Hockey Against Hate Hockey Is For Everyone Ice Girls International Women's Day Misogyny In Sports Patrick Burke Paul Bissonnette Puck Bunnies Puck Bunny Russian Machine Never Breaks Sports Illustrated Toronto Maple Leafs You Can Play

  • caniac176

    As the only male member of our dysfunctional Cardiac Cane family, I can truly appreciate many of the female Caniacs that I see on a game-to-game basis and their love for their team. In no way I would consider the ones I know “puck bunnies.” They are passionate and educated women about the game of hockey and I would not think twice about going to a hockey game with any of them. Nicely done.

    • Esbee92

       @caniac176 Thank you very much! And it speaks to me that we are not mostly female by design. We aren’t a blog for women. We are a blog for Hurricanes fans that happens to have women writers and one male writer. Fans applied and fans were hired. It just happened to work out that way. We aren’t dysfunctional because our gender makeup. We are dysfunctional because we are wacky! But in the good way.

  • Esbee92

    @CaniacCaz Why thank you!

  • kcracken

    While I laughed more than was offended by the article, because I do not see SI (or ESPN) as a place to look for all things hockey, I do agree that the derogatory use of “Puck Bunnies” needs to stop. I do wish that the NHL would stop the teams from having “cheer squads”(?) that objectify women like the NBA/NFL does.
    I LOVE the Storm Squad. These ladies are classy and know their sport. They wear appropriate clothing and cheer loudly for our team. They get the fans riled up and energize the game. However, most of the other teams have young women wearing next to nothing and dancing provocatively. Yes, I realize the sport’s fans are mostly male, but even the “Puck Bunny” slide show showed that the female fan is very prevalent. Don’t insult the female fans while trying to placate your sexist male fans (of which I am sure there are few and far between, at least in my experience).
    The NHL is not the NFL or the NBA. We’re better than both. We should act better than both, even if the press is too stupid to notice the difference.
    (I apologize for the length and getting slightly off topic.)

    • Esbee92

       @kcracken Thank you for reading and for your comments! I too am a fan of the Storm Squad. I confess initially I did not have a good impression and that was because of my OWN prejudgement which I have since abandoned. They do dress quite modestly for the role they are in. I have never seen them do anything offensive or suggestive. While of course they are attractive ladies I have never seen them do anything but try and energize the crowd in a tasteful manner. When I think of the Storm Squad I immediately think of Big Mike and the interaction of the ladies with the children in the arena. I also think of former member and in-game hostess Maggie Reaves who, while a beautiful gal, is obviously knowledgeable about the sport and serious about earning her chops in the broadcasting realm.
      So when I speak of the scantily clad women I object to, like you I am not speaking of our Storm Squad ladies.

  • CaniacCaz

    This is a fabulous blog and your point is extremely valid and well taken. It’s hard to constantly fight these offensive terms, treatment and double standards. I wonder how many women this eventually drives away from enjoying sports. While most males that I attend games with tend to enjoy it in a different way, meaning serious analysis of strategy, stats etc, it doesn’t mean 1. that I don’t care about those things too or 2. that I’m not a serious fan because I tend to enjoy the game in a different way (which usually means a lot of cheering and yelling and freaking out). I guess I tend to get a bit more emotional about the game, which is not to say that men don’t, but without trying to stereotype, I’ve observed it to be a tendency women have more often. Do I have to stop calling Brandon Sutter “Sutter Butter” now? Does that make me a so-called “Puck Bunny” because I give a player a “cute” nickname? Does it make me a “Puck Bunny” because I painted player numbers and logos on my fingernails? No it absolutely does not. It makes me a FAN and a SUPPORTER of the team. And yes we are wacky!

    • Esbee92

       @CaniacCaz Thank you! And as a fellow freaker-outer you know I share your approach to watching as you have seen it in action.
      I DO think some of this does drive women away from enjoying sports. Or it makes them extremely defensive and feeling like they constantly have something to prove.I am guilty of that myself. I have been very lucky that I grew up around sports and for the most part I have been respected as a sports fan, but I confess that I always feel like I need to know a little more than the average guy to be taken seriously. I think you and I may have it “easier” in some respects as neither one of us is afraid to speak our minds. i.e. if we are confronted about these sorts of things we would not hesitate to give a “colorful” response. But I think some women could find that intimidating and frankly could keep them from attending sporting events.
      It just makes me sad that it’s not ok to use racial epithets or slurs against someone’s sexual orientation but it is perfectly acceptable, and apparently celebrated, to use a derogatory term to describe all female hockey fans.
      I won’t go into all the ways I am a “real” fan. Because it doesn’t matter. I buy a ticket. I show up. I am a fan. My reasons for being there are really irrelevant.
      I also maintain you can call Brandon Sutter anything you want and until his cousin Brett stops referring to himself as “Suttsy-bo-buttsy” it’s all good.

  • peterhassett

    @PuckBuddys @YouCanPlayTeam @russianmachine Oh that’s awesome!

    • Esbee92

      @peterhassett Glad you enjoyed. Still trying to figure out logistics to hug the video. I have faith I will figure it out though. Loved it.

  • CaniacLady17

    AMEN to everything you said!  I have lost count of how many times when I talk hockey with a degree of knowledge, the response I get is “Wow! You do know your hockey.”  What’s up with that?  The most avid, knowledgeable fans I know are female. And, we’re NOT bunnies. 
    Now, I do like our Canes “cheerleaders,” but I surely think they’d look better if they were more fully dressed and if they actually cheered for the game & the plays instead of just hanging on the railings.  The Checkers cheerleaders’ outfits are the worst!
    Thank goodness the Hurricanes organization hasn’t stooped to having half-dressed females cleaning the ice during times out.  Those who do use females this way:  TACKY!

    • Esbee92

       @CaniacLady17 I sat closer to the Storm Squad one night and actually heard the gals cheering for Mr. Skinner one night. I was surprised. I am not a huge fan of the outfits but once I saw the Checkmates’ attire I considered our ladies outfits almost fit for churchgoing in comparison! I have to confess this is the first year I finally got over my own issues and finally made my own peace with us having “cheerleaders.” And yes…TACKY! Once again you are my kinda lady CaniacLady17. And definitely not a bunny! Thanks for your readership and your always entertaining comments!

    • Esbee92

       @CaniacLady17 Oh. And when I get reactions like that about my knowledge of sports I often respond with “Next thing you know we will be wearing pants and driving!”