By Toni McIntyre

I learned about the existence of ice girls long before I ever attended an NHL game. I was told that the ice girls were kind of like cheerleaders—but not, because some teams had those to. They had spangled outfits and short skirts and were awful, all of them, awful. I first encountered arguments against the existence of ice girls back in the pre-season, but as recently as this past Friday, ice girls have been described as “soft core porn with team logos.”

Whenever I see a group of women criticizing another group of women, I like to ask why before I settle down on either side of the debate. Something that bothered me in general about the ice girl debate was that nowhere did we hear from any actual ice girls. So, to get a look at the ice girl drama from the other side, I spoke with Karly Ratzenberger, life long hockey fan, professional model, and member of the Columbus Blue Jackets ice crew.

It was a friend who suggested to Karly that she try out for the ice crew.

“I thought, I can skate. I love hockey,” Karly says. “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.”

At open auditions, Karly and other ice crew hopefuls were put through rigorous skating drills, designed to determine if the skater could maneuver the ice with the ice crew issued shovels.

“It’s hard,” Karly says. “I played hockey for a lot of my life. Pushing that shovel is ten times harder than carrying a hockey stick.”

The ice crews have to tend to the ice three times a period. They have to skate well, push the heavy shovel, collect the ice, lift the ice into a bucket, and then get off the ice quickly, so play can resume. I have difficulty texting and walking at the same time—ice girls have to remain poised while doing something complicated and athletic.

Of course shoveling the ice is only one part of the job.

“We’re also required to interact with fans and promote the team,” Karly says.

It’s this second aspect of the ice girl job that seems to attract the most anger.

In an article published on Puck Daddy, former Buffalo Sabres beat reporter Melissa Geschwind wrote, “the ice girls’ presence both in and out of the arena [is a sign that] teams think their on-ice product—the actual hockey—isn’t enough.”

When I ask Karly about this, she says it’s not quite that simple. She uses the Detroit Red Wings as an example. They have people who shovel the ice, but they’re strictly rink management staff.

“They don’t have a promotional team because they don’t need a promotional team,” Karly says. “Historically they’ve had enough fans and support that they haven’t had to generate it from the community.”

It’s hard for the hockey-crazed amongst us to understand how it could be difficult to convince people to attend an NHL game. But for teams like the Stars and the Columbus Blue Jackets, located in states where hockey culture is still growing, it can be tough to get fans in the seats.

“It’s just one more thing to get people to come to the games,” Karly says.

Going to a hockey game is a visceral experience—a full on assault of the senses. You have the popcorn and the beer, the sea of screaming fans, the voiceless announcers telling us to “make some noise” and clap along to hava nagila of all things, and you have ice girls.

Are the ice girls any better or worse than the other ingredients that go into a live NHL production?

I wonder what Geschwind would make of a woman like Karly. Confident and secure in expressing her sexuality, Karly wears a revealing uniform as part of her role with the Columbus Blue Jackets, has been a hockey fan all her life, and played hockey for the women’s team at Northern Michigan University.

To be fair, I think Geschwind’s article is symptomatic of a larger problem.

Female hockey fans suffer under a nefarious and relentless scrutiny that other (male) fans don’t. The second women express interest in hockey we’re told we can’t actually like the sport. We’re only interested in hockey because of the cute guys.

Our natural response is to over-correct. We memorize stats and pour over the game—we become extreme fans to escape ridicule.

We learn how to spot the fake fans—the puck bunnies with their heavy make up and their high heels and their pink jerseys.

In our paranoia, ‘fake female fans’ look an awful lot like ice girls.

So we lash out.

“I tripped once on national television,” Karly says. She’d been wearing skate guards and temporarily forgot that fact. When she went onto the ice to collect pucks after warm ups, she fell.

A female fan who witnessed Karly’s tumble tweeted: “to the ice tart who fell, you’re an idiot.”

When women become hockey fans, we’re encouraged to first police our own sexuality, and then police the sexuality of others.

So we assume ice girls are only in it to bag themselves hockey players. We obsess over their outfits—our entire argument devolving to ‘but why the short skirt?’

We do things like walk up to Karly, dressed in her ice crew uniform, and with a dark look in our eye and a smirk we tell her, “You must be so cold.”

“I know what you actually mean when you’re saying that,” Karly says. Which is, ‘you’re showing too much skin and you should be ashamed.’

In regard to their uniform, Karly says, “[the] outward display of sexuality has nothing to do with sleeping around. It has to do with the celebration of us as women. That’s it.”

And as far as the whole “sleeping the players” thing goes—Karly tells me that the CBJ ice crew isn’t actually allowed to interact with the Blue Jackets players.

“I think it’s stupid that instead of educating our sons, we’re punishing our daughters,” Karly says. Telling them what not to wear, what they should wear, and how they should feel about it.

“That gets to me.”

Geschwind argues that the ice girls are part of the overall institutionalized sexism in the NHL. I’m not here to argue whether or not the NHL is sexist—though there’s plenty of proof that it is. I’m here to argue that of all the ways to sell the idea that the NHL is sexist, attacking ice girls isn’t the right way or the best way. It’s the easy way.

It’s click bait. It’s guaranteed to stir up some controversy and in the end point out exactly nothing new or interesting that could further the cause of feminism in the NHL.

Geschwind was content to spend paragraphs railing against ice girls, but what seemed to go unnoticed by her or her readers was the larger problem that, of the five or so NHL franchise officials she spoke with, only one was a woman.

Lets spend more time talking about that. Lets find a way to get more women into positions with the league and with successful franchises. Lets support and applaud players like goalie Shannon Szabados, now playing with a men’s team in Georgia. Lets inspire more fans to attend CWHL games and cheer on female hockey players.

And lets spend less time complaining about the length of ice girls’ skirts.

 

To Karly what attracted her to the job as an ice girl is what keeps her optimistic about what she does, despite the criticisms.

“We get comments, people are mean,” she acknowledges. “But […] we get to interact with young fans. We have kids who look up to us and we are role models, regardless of what our uniforms are.”

She cites one event with the Blue Jackets as particularly memorable—a skating clinic with the girl scouts. The ice crew joined the young girls on the ice, teaching them, getting them excited about skating and hockey. The girl scouts, future hockey fans, were surrounded by optimistic and smiling ice girls—all of whom have other jobs. Karly tells me one is a nurse, another is a law student, and yet another is a full time nanny.

“They’re real girls,” Karly says, reminding me of something that critics of ice girls sometimes too easily forget.

At the end of the day, for Karly, the point is promoting the Blue Jackets and getting the next generation interested in hockey.

“[It’s] the best thing we could possibly be doing,” she says.

 

16 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent points all around. While I did like and mostly agreed with Geschwind’s post, she did paint with a very wide brush and her language was too exaggerated, which I told her about.

    She obviously has never seen softcore porn, either, if she can use that term to describe ice girls.

    I liked better the more nuanced approach you took, and the fact that you took the time to actually talk to an ice girl. I have friends who are or used to be ice girls and they’re all confident, educated, intelligent women who just happen to really enjoy cheering for hockey in that particular way. Nothing wrong with that in an of itself.

  2. The issue is not who the ice girls are or what they’re actually doing, the issue that most women I know have is the attitude the teams take toward them. Geschwind’s article didn’t talk to ice girls because they don’t have to defend themselves. But the teams do have to defend the fact that when they want to promote the team, they decide that the way to do it is via women in short skirts who are presented as either eye candy or janitorial staff, not competent skaters and PR representatives. It doesn’t matter that she’s comfortable in a short skirt because she didn’t pick the uniforms and that is the person we’re judging. Karly sounds lovely, but this is what the Jackets have to say about her and it’s not that she does a difficult job or that she’s part of an exciting and active promotional team. They don’t show the pictures of her teaching little girls to skate, they show two large pictures of her being attractive. I’m glad that CBJ management treats her and her coworkers well behind the scenes, but that does not excuse their public face. Karly can keep doing what she’s doing and I wish her well, but the NHL has to change around her.

  3. When you said “Geschwind was content to spend paragraphs railing against ice girls”, did you miss the following part of her article?

    “These things might sell, but they’re also degrading – not necessarily to the women involved, who are actively choosing to fill this role in return for a paycheck, but to the ones who are supposed to grin and bear the fact that this is how their favorite NHL team views women.”

  4. Thank you for getting the opinion of an actual Ice Girl for this piece! You made some very interesting points and it was nice to get the perspective of someone who does the job.

    However, I do have a problem with the basis of your argument. You’ve made a false equivalency here of disliking the way Ice Girls are presented by NHL teams and slut shaming. There is, of course, a percentage of people who are slut shaming the women who do the job and they shouldn’t be. The Ice Girls don’t determine what they wear, they’re paid to do a valuable job for their employer and how they dress is dictated by the teams that pay them. There is no grounds for moralizing or shaming women who are wearing a uniform to do a job.

    There were definite faults with the Puck Daddy article’s view on Ice Girls and the way the writer presented some of her arguments, but it wasn’t wrong about Ice Girls (by which I mean how teams dress and market them, not the women themselves) being part of the sexism problem in the NHL. Hockey teams continually talk about a need to expand their market to new fans. They target women with “Girls Nights” and ridiculous glittered pink promotions and gear, while at the same time actively encouraging sexist cultures that tacitly endorse shitty slut shaming fan behavior.

    You objected to the use of the phrase “soft core porn with team logos” to describe how Ice Girls are currently presented by the teams they represent. How can you object to that description when things like this http://www.thefourthperiod.com/icegirls/ and this http://stars.nhl.com/club/gallery.htm?location=/photos/icegirls&navid=NAV|DAL|ICEGIRLS are how Ice Girls are marketed in a distinctly sexualized manner directly to the male gaze? This isn’t a problem with the women who do the job, it’s a problem with the teams who employ them.

    Ice Girls shouldn’t be subjected to sexual or verbal harassment from fans or slut shaming or any of the other awful things I’m sure they face regularly. Female fans also shouldn’t be asked if they’re “just there to see the hot guys” or accused of being puck bunnies or asked where their male escort is because clearly they have to have one. It’s all part of the same sexist culture problem.

    When the only presence of women on the ice or employed by an NHL team are scantily clad women who are routinely marketed to male fans as sexual objects, it does nothing but other female fans and endorse sexist behavior among all fans. It tacitly tells men that women aren’t there for hockey, they’re there for the men’s enjoyment and it tells women they should be there for the men’s enjoyment too.

    Ice Girls do a valuable job and they should be able to do it without having to wear skimpy clothes targeted to scintillate or take bikini beach shots for a calendar or pose seductively for an online bio picture. Community outreach is valuable and needed in many markets and so is clearing the ice. Why can’t women be mostly clothed and not subjected to sanctioned sexual festishization by their employers while they do this job?

    When will the NHL realize that more than a third of their fans are female and stop treating us like sex objects and a niche market they need to coddle at the same time?

  5. I’m glad someone wrote this article. I’m not ready to come down on either side of the debate (for me, in an ideal world, hockey and other sports could stand on their own. this is not, however, that ideal world, for a wide variety of reasons), but I think it’s important to hear from the women in question. Thanks to Karly and Toni for letting us hear an ice girl’s perspective.

  6. Why do the ice girls need to project such a sexualized image, particularly if they are role models for young girls? Sure, be fun out there, but when the only women visible in the NHL are dressed like a negative stereotype (puck bunnies), it doesn’t exactly promote a strong “girls can be hockey fans and players” image. Instead, it just reinforces the “girls must be pretty and sexy to be a part of anything” stereotype. I’m sure those girls can skate, but they can skate with team-oriented and not sexualized clothing as well. Other teams have non-sexualized ice cleaners and rally/cheer/promo teams, co-ed ones even, that the crowd loves.

    Ice girls are just another example of girls can’t do anything without having to be conventionally sexy as well, no matter how unrelated to the job performance or situation at hand. And as a female fan, I get awfully sick of seeing gratuitous T&A all the time, reminding me that I’m not the desired fan demographic. In the hockey world, women are supposed to be sexy and likely stupid, as judging from all the inane, condescending gender specific marketing ideas. And it does appear that many women DON’T like ice girls, so why do some teams still use them, knowing that they are marginalizing many of their fans and even offensive to some?? Do men really need to see boobs that much that they can’t go for 2 hours without it?

    For the record, I’m all for women *choosing* to dress as they like, and if the ice girl walked down her street in a sparkly outfit, great. I just don’t like corporate-reinforced sexism.

  7. I think NHL teams hiring Ice Girls and uniforming them in sexualized costumes is problematic, and this does not address any of my objections – none of which are with the actual women themselves. Being an Ice Girl actually seems like a pretty cool job and none of my objections are based on their choice to do it. A woman who enjoys expressing her sexuality (or sensuality) outwardly is totally fine. Wanting to look attractive, wearing short skirts, showing midriff – none of these have any bearing on someone’s worth as a human being.

    However, women are persistently and excessively sexualized, especially in marketing and in men’s sports, but also just about everywhere: music, television, movies, magazines. I can recognize that many women are comfortable making individual choices to outwardly express their sexuality, but still object to those more formal methods of cultural expression that almost mandate that women be sexy at all times.

    NHL teams who have Ice Girls are actively seeking a sexualized promotion team. They are selecting women who are conventionally attractive and they are (with variation from team to team) having them wear clothing that is coded as sexy. The fact that this is a problem is totally unrelated to the actual attractive women in question, or what they feel good about wearing, or the fact that they’re interested in the job – I cannot stress this enough!! I feel stupid saying it again, but I will: I am not trying to say that there is something wrong with being a conventionally attractive woman who wants to look sexy. My problem is with the TEAMS who choose to have sexualized women be a part of their marketing, and present them in a somewhat objectifying manner, in an environment which is not and does not need to be overtly sexual, and an environment which does not have other women in prominent or visible positions.

    I do think this can be hostile to female fans. I think it sends a message “this is how we view women, this is the role we see women playing in hockey and in our organization.” I think in context of some frequently sexist and halfhearted marketing attempts towards women, Ice Girls also send the message, “we are really, really interested in creating an environment that’s friendly to straight men, you are an afterthought and we don’t care about your comfort.” It’s even more troubling in the context of the NHL’s overall disdain towards more serious issues about women: no evidence of formal attempts to address sexism from players (although the You Can Play efforts to address homophobia are externally driven, so perhaps it’s silly to expect anything from the league there), and no sense that it might be a problem to exalt players who are convicted or accused of sexual assault.

    And outside of the marginalization of female fans, I just think it contributes to a society in which women are, as I said above, very frequently valued only for their sexuality, where only conventionally attractive women appear in many contexts, and where objectification of women is common (and dangerous). Once again!! This is NOT an objection to women who choose to appear sexy themselves. It’s not an objection to the idea that women would be comfortable and happy to do a job in which they appear sexy, or that they would enjoy that part of the job. The objection is to the team organizations making the choice to add sexy women to promote their non-sexual product in an environment that lacks any women in any other visible roles (and very few invisible ones).

  8. I really liked this article- it was great to get perspective on where the ice girls themselves are coming from.
    As a female fan I don’t like the idea of ice girls being overly sexualized. To be honest, I’d be so much more on board with the idea of pretty girls with shovels if they weren’t dressed in practically bikinis 41 nights a season. There’s a way to dress “sexy” (if that’s what PR is going for, I guess) that doesn’t involve baring all- and is that not an important point to make to young female fans as well?
    My issue with ice girls is that management shouldn’t have to think that their product on the ice isn’t good enough to get people to games- their job as management is to make sure that it is. If you are working in an untraditional market I think I can understand where they’re coming from, especially in football-crazy markets like Texas where cheerleaders are fawned over. But Edmonton’s management shouldn’t be watching games and then coming to the conclusion that people aren’t coming to Oilers games because there are no ‘Octane Girls’.
    To play devil’s advocate- shouldn’t the NHL be focussing on expanding to women in their key markets (in a way that doesn’t include ‘A Girl’s Guide to Watching the Rangers’)? Why do the Leafs not have shirtless guys shovelling the crease? (I know this is absurd and even I wouldn’t want this to happen but can you see why flipping this issue makes it sound absolutely ridiculous?)
    I understand that in markets like Florida where you can’t even give away tickets ice girls are another draw and can improve in-game experience, but in markets like Columbus where the team has just been bad/mediocre and is now starting to improve, maybe now there should be more focus on marketing the on-ice product rather than someone’s midriff.

  9. First, I would like to thank Ms. McIntyre for taking the time to interview my wonderfully articulate, intelligent colleague, Karly, and for representing an Ice Crew member’s perspective on what I know is a very sensitive subject.

    I appreciate my fellow commenters for courteously reminding us that we, the women who make up the Ice Crew, are not the targets of your disapproval. I fully understand and respect the points raised in opposition to the presence of “Ice Girls”.

    Upon reading Geschwind’s article, as well as the opinions of those who commented above, it appears as though the viewpoints of most members of the respective camps align on several issues. We agree that Ice Crew members are typically competent, reputable individuals; that we have strengths and interests that go beyond our uniforms; that we have an important job, requiring not only on-ice skills, but the ability to act as ambassadors for our organizations; and finally, that we have commendable motivations for obtaining our positions. Additionally, we want many of the same things, including female empowerment, increased equality, and heightened female involvement in both the administrative and leisure components of hockey.

    Being a part of the Ice Crew has provided me with an avenue to secure these goals, and the encouragement I receive from the community has facilitated my academic and professional accomplishments. I assure you, I would not be commenting so extensively if I did not sincerely appreciate the Blue Jackets Organization for all of the opportunities they have given me, and for the doors opened through my involvement with them. My years of experience are indicative of a positive impact of Ice Girls on women in hockey.

    So perhaps, instead of focusing on our points of divergence, we should acknowledge our similarities, and strive to develop a more cooperative, supportive network of female hockey participants – Ice Girls and fans alike.

    *In the interest of ensuring the viability of your factual contentions, I’m a law student, not a lawyer. We have no lawyers on the team.

    • I’m glad that you are enjoy your job, but that doesn’t change the terrible message your team promotes through your crew to fans, especially young fans. Are there women on your team who are great, athletic skaters (maybe hockey players in their own right?) and awesome, outgoing community volunteers who are also fuller figured, or a little butch, or very shorthaired? Are your outfits more focused on functionality and comfort for the work you do, or on being sexually appealing to a certain fan demographic, excluding most female fans? Do many male fans out in the arena catcall and make loud, sexualized comments about you? How do you think the female fans around them feel in that environment?

      What do you think young fans are taking in when they notice all of this about your job? What does it say to them about women in general, and especially about women in hockey? None of those problems are your fault. Not a single one. You didn’t invent ice girls or choose for your team to have them. But please don’t act like your personal positive experience as an individual is on equal footing with the much larger negative impact experienced by many others.

  10. This statement is actually false. Detroit does not have rink management staff that shovels the ice during the game; rink staff drive the zambonis, just as they do in any ice rink. The shovelers are actually hockey players (both male and female), from the metro-Detroit area, who sponsored by Fifth Third Bank. And as for the promotional team, they do in-fact have the Volunteer Energy crew. So unfortunently your interview with a female ice crew member, isn’t quite so accurate.

    “When I ask Karly about this, she says it’s not quite that simple. She uses the Detroit Red Wings as an example. They have people who shovel the ice, but they’re strictly rink management staff.”

    “They don’t have a promotional team because they don’t need a promotional team,” Karly says. “Historically they’ve had enough fans and support that they haven’t had to generate it from the community.”

  11. “we get to interact with young fans. We have kids who look up to us and we are role models, regardless of what our uniforms are.”
    There is seriously something disturbing with this sentence. Is this what we want little girls and boys to see as role models? They do not have a sign on their head “I am a lawyer” or “I use to play Hockey” so what exactly are they looking up to?
    These outfits are something I would buy for the bedroom, for my boyfriend, not for my 8 year old nephew to “look up to”.
    You want to see a female role model go to a NWHL game!

    But that is not the only issue. You want to exploid yourself, do it somewhere else where people actualy pay to see it and don’t force it on us. Women are being exploited and objectified everywhere: Comercials, tv, magazines, music and sports. Their actions have a huge influence on how the rest of us are seen and treated by men. It is very disappointing to see NHL do the same. I know one thing; if my team starts this BS, I wont be the only female who will stop supporting the team.

  12. My team is starting it and never thought they would. I’m sadly giving up my season tickets which I’ve held since 1996 and I’m so torn. I will miss live hockey and my friends I’ve made there over the years but I know if I hold on to them and go to games that I will go home, every game, angry and upset. They have ruined my love of the game and my team for me. I agree with Carolina, above, how can you be an influence to young boys and girls while showing off your breasts and bottoms and midriffs to them? Or — like other teams’ outfits you have one for the men/game day and another tamer sports outfit for when you’re working with young minds.

    Unfortunately the teams are doing the exploiting with their choice of uniform but the women go along with it and equally unfortunately, it is forced upon the female fans that have been spending thousands of dollars for many years for the love of the sport. If we wanted to see T&A we could easily take our money off to a strip club. I’m not a prude and I love men’s and women’s fit bodies but there is a place for everything and shoveling spit and ice at speed in a hockey game doesn’t require beach clothing.

    I will lose my team and love of hockey and also some of the rapport with some of my men friends because this has also pitted the male fans against the females and the men are all calling all of the woman whom are opposed to this: whiners, fat, ugly, old, insecure, feminists….. just because we believe in equality in the workspace and a love of hockey as it used to be
    ; it never needed sex to fill the seats — not in our arena.
    :o(

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