Gender equality in sport has rightly received renewed attention in recent years. This is thanks in large part to the work of athletes, advocates, leagues, federations and governing bodies across Canada who have continually campaigned to ensure gender equality in the form of increased opportunity, funding or ownership of the sports themselves.
Despite attempts to correct inequality in men’s and women’s sport, inequality remains an insidious force due to a discrepancy between the practical administration of men’s and women’s sport.
This imbalance can often be seen in the language of the rulebook itself: a document that reveals how gender inequality has been embedded into the very fabric of a sport.
So if the Canadian government intends to deliver on its promise to achieve gender equality in sport by 2035, it’s time to review the rulebooks.
Throat Guard and Hockey
When I was recently teaching a course on Canadian sports policy at Brock University, I was approached by two women ice hockey players who had a question about a policy governing their sport. Both students, including my co-author Camie Matteau Rushbrook, had serious questions about Hockey Canada’s neck brace policy.
They wondered why there is a gender difference in throat protection policy: female players are required to wear them, and male players have the option.
Despite the fact that a throat protector can help avoid an unlikely cut to the neck, most players find it uncomfortable and despise wearing it – making the requirement frustrating for female hockey players, especially as they are no more at risk of injury than males Men.
The Hockey Canada rulebook states:
“Wearing a BNQ-certified neck protector is mandatory for players registered in small-scale and women’s hockey. If at any time during play on the ice a player does not wear a throat protector or wears it improperly, the team will receive a warning and any subsequent violations by the same team will result in misconduct. Referees are encouraged to communicate this warning directly to the coach.”
It also states that “football or women’s hockey goaltenders who wear a mask or helmet attachment designed to protect the throat must continue to wear a BNQ-certified throat protector.” By comparison, US hockey does not require the use of throat guards. However, they are strongly recommended.
In fact, this policy states that minors and all women must wear a neck protector, while men can remove it from the age of 18. This is an obviously infantilizing directive that equates women with children. And its inclusion in Hockey Canada’s official rulebook should raise significant concerns, as it did for my students.
Canadian Women’s Sports Policy
It’s worth considering why this policy even exists, and why an oddly worded and apparently contradictory safety rule is included in a document as rigorously vetted as the Hockey Canada rule book.
To understand this, it is important to consider the historical context of Canada’s women’s sport policy and examine the destructive remnants from the earliest days of Canadian women’s sport.
The discovery by Rushbrook and her teammate is a succinct summary of the struggles women face when trying to achieve gender equality in Canadian sport.
Canadian sports historian Ann Hall has characterized the history of women in sport as “a history of cultural resistance,” and this policy, while rooted in attempts to protect players, is much more reminiscent of late 19th and early 20th century sports policies. century to regulate women in sport.
Outdated and intentionally restrictive guidelines are based on pseudo-scientific beliefs about female fragility. Concerns about the safety of the uterus prompted doctors to write directly to women in medical journals and newspaper articles, warning them of the dangers of cycling, basketball and long-distance running. Women have been warned that exercise poses a physical and existential threat to their health, well-being and, most importantly, their perceived femininity.
In the earliest years of women’s sport in Canada, men controlled nearly all sporting organizations and created systems and structures under which women could play. Gambling was technically permitted, but only if certain restrictions, modifications, and guarantees regarding the preservation of Victorian notions of femininity and virtue could be made.
This went beyond what was expected of her behavior off the field, including regulations on romantic relationships and into the structure of the sport itself.
The forces that governed Canadian women’s sport in the early decades of the 20th century were overwhelmingly male and perpetually condescending. And many contemporary women’s sports include artifacts from that era in their rulebooks.
Safety equipment and regulations should be managed based on medical expertise. However, safety equipment regulations, as found in Hockey Canada’s rule book, are only intended to distinguish females from their male counterparts.
True gender equality in sport is not just lip service to equal rights and opportunities. It’s about challenging outdated assumptions and being open to rewriting the rule book.
Camie Matteau Rushbrook, a third-year sports management student at Brock University, is a co-author of this article. Camie is a forward on the Brock University women’s hockey team.