In the first round of the NHL Playoffs, the Winnipeg Jets were swept by the Anaheim Ducks in four straight games. The Winnipeg fans were universally praised for their loyalty to their team, the successful “whiteout” of their arena for both home games, and the fact that they all stayed until the bitter end to cheer on the team that made the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 season, despite the quick defeat. The Winnipeg fans were even awarded the third star of the game.
But after the series was over, a new controversy emerged about an incident that had taken place during Game 3 of the Series. During this game, the Winnipeg fans had started chanting “Katy Perry” at Anaheim Ducks’ forward, Corey Perry, whenever he skated onto the ice. The initial reaction of most was amusement but afterwards, criticisms and questions began to emerge.
As Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy reported, NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman was asked by reporters about the chants and whether he felt they may be driving away female fans. Bettman’s response was “You think that’s sexist? Taunting chants aren’t intended to be sexist.” Bettman went on to say that the NHL has a track record of “diversity and inclusiveness” and he didn’t view this as a problem nor did he think the NHL could do anything about it.
As Wyshynski very aptly points out in his piece (which I strongly recommend reading in its entirety), the “Katy Perry” chants when taken alone, are not necessarily indicative of a problem in the NHL. But unfortunately, when taken together with all of the other examples of sexism that exist in the league, they indicate the very real problem of assuming that “like a girl” is equivalent to “bad” or “less than equal.” When combined with the near constant comparison of male players to females intended to suggest that they are somehow weak or whiny, along with with the recent abuse of some female Ottawa Senator fans by some Montreal Canadiens fans during a playoff game, and when these examples exist in a world where male sports stars are frequently accused of domestic violence against the women they purport to love — the chant is just one more example of a society that continues to reinforce the notion that women are somehow “less” than men.
I watched that Jets game and remember when the chants erupted. I laughed. I was amused. No fan of Corey Perry or the Ducks, it seemed that calling Perry a female singer’s name was just another hilarious diss and certainly, hockey fans have called players they dislike worse things.
But then I started to think about it. This was such a familiar occurrence: a male athlete being called “a girl” or being endowed with female characteristics to criticize him. In the hockey world, despite the scores of female fans and increasing numbers of women playing the game, it’s a commonplace theme. Vancouver Canuck fans are certainly used to hearing their top players, brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin called “the Sedin sisters” in disdainful tones. Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins is frequently called “Cindy Crosby” to suggest that he is a complainer. I had a chance to experience this when my husband and I attended the last meeting of the Kings and Penguins in March of this year. At one point in the third period, Crosby skated into the face-off circle and a male fan two rows behind us began yelling, “Sidney! Where’s your purse?” I will admit to you now that I laughed, as did my husband and most of the Kings fans around us. I’ll also admit to you that in retrospect, I’m sorry I did.
What I’ve realized in the aftermath of the Katy Perry case is that sexism is so deeply ingrained in our society, that even those of us who consider ourselves modern, forward-thinking individuals – dare I say, even feminists – find ourselves condoning behavior that is clearly continuing an atmosphere of inequality.
To be clear, I doubt that most of the Winnipeg fans who chanted “Katy Perry” were consciously being sexist or trying to demean women in any way, shape or form. But that’s exactly the problem. For so long, our society has accepted the idea that women are somehow not equal to men, that if you “play like a girl” or “act like a girl” this somehow demeans you or paints you in a negative light. The notion has been so commonplace as to seem normal, so we accept and don’t question whether a taunt like this is ok or even funny.
Last year, a popular campaign aptly titled #LikeAGirl emerged from Always, a feminine products manufacturer. The campaign’s first ad clearly outlined the prevalence of sexism — particularly when it comes to women in sports — and how girls and women themselves perpetuate the stereotypes:
I’d venture that most Winnipeg fans who chanted “Katy Perry” that night and most of us who chuckled at the chant are 100% supportive of a campaign like this. And yet, we continue to unwittingly reinforce notions and behaviors that directly conflict with that message and send us right back to square one when it comes to equality for women. As the mother of two female athletes, I’m somewhat ashamed of my role in perpetuating the stereotypes, however unconsciously.
The bottom line is that it’s time to stop criticizing men by calling them women. Just as we now recognize that calling someone “gay” as a put-down is unacceptable, we should realize that “like a girl” is a compliment, not a condemnation. Female athletes and sports fans alike – as well as those who love them – need to agree that taunting a male hockey player, athlete or any man, for that matter, by calling him “a girl” or endowing him with female attributes is not funny. Next time I see Corey Perry on the ice, I won’t be calling him a woman’s name — unless my intention is to compliment his play.