Before starting the new season of hockey I was worried. I was worried I wouldn't be strong enough, fast enough or big enough. Three months in, I’ve learned a lot. I know I’m physically strong enough and I don’t know why I was so scared. So far it’s been an amazing season, but the three girls, myself included, have experienced moments that showed us that co-ed hockey (“boys hockey”) isn’t fully adjusted to the concept of girls in hockey. It feels like we will never be seen as hockey players, always as girl-hockey players.
Walking into rinks before games, I’m hyper aware of all the shocked faces. When people see my hockey bag, they know that I’m not the typical girl they would expect to see - like a sister or a girlfriend. My presence is a shock: I am different, I am an outlier and I don't seem to belong.
This reaction makes me feel exactly that, but I want to be able to play hockey and to feel like I belong within the community. I am not an anomaly. I don’t want to be stared at, I don’t want to be looked at funny, I just want to be seen as part of the team - a hockey player.
At the beginning of our season we made what seemed to be a simple request- Coed change rooms. At a team meeting, the team decided to move the request forward to the league. Unfortunately, the adult male conveners, who had never met us or our team, decided to sexuliaze us. They told us that in order for us to have Coed change rooms the guys would need to arrive partially changed into their equipment (get dressed waist down at home). We felt that this would be an unreasonable request for us to ask our teammates and we silently retreated to the quiet “Female Alternate Change Room”. Ten minutes before games we are permitted to join the team. The walk between change rooms feels like a mile, it symbolizes the divide created by those higher up. After games, as the sounds of the team change room fades, we return to our assigned space, hidden at the back of the rink, an afterthought.
After our first game of the season, we sat in the girls' change room discussing the game. My teammate revealed that a player on the other team had made a comment on her weight and had called her a “bitch”. I was shocked. It was beyond inappropriate and I know that the comment was directed at her solely because of her gender. This was a blatant case of sexism in hockey.
Usually a referee wears a single orange armband, but one game early in our season I spotted a referee with a green armband. After asking him, I learned it meant he was under 18. After the game, I received a follow request and message from this individual on social media. This has been a recurring trend with the under 18 referees, both affecting my sister and I (she is also on the team). I assume that the referees are using the game sheet to find our names which makes my sister and I feel uncomfortable and that we lack privacy. These actions feel like they do not meet the level professionalism that is expected by Hockey Eastern Ontario, the hockey community, and myself. We just want to be seen as players, to play hockey, to be treated equally, and to know that our gender does not define us. At the surface level it’s hilarious, but once again, it shows us that we are seen differently, we are seen as girl-hockey players.
Before I end this review, I want to commend my team for all of their support and inclusivity. The team coaching staff has gone above and beyond. They have taken all of our requests seriously, and have advocated for them. They have pushed every player, regardless of gender, to improve and to play their best. They, along with my teammates, have developed an inclusive, respectful and overall amazing environment to play in. From the beginning it’s been a season of laughs, fun and hockey. I’m not letting the negative experiences outlined above diminish the fun I’ve had this year. The hilarious moments far outshine these more questionable ones. I know I’m strong enough to play, and I will continue to do so. After all, I'm a hockey player.