Today, Alex McNab takes us into the hot, sordid, sweaty and potentially smelly world of girls sharing hockey change-rooms with the boys. (And with regard to her last paragraph, she totally had it coming.)
(Next up, “Jess” with a very personal, brave and heart-wrenching story of how hockey changed her life.)
It’s (only mostly) a man’s world
By Alex McNab
“I’d like to try on some skates, please.”
“Sure, they’re just over here.”
“No, not the figure skates. Hockey skates.”
“Oh. Oh, okay. Ha.”
This exchange took place late last year, a couple of weeks into my first term of Intro to Hockey, and people’s reactions to “I’m learning to play ice hockey” still range from disbelief to hyena laughter.
Responses of “But why?” or “That’s different …” or “Are there many girls that play hockey?” are pretty standard. If it’s unusual in Australia for a bloke to play hockey, it’s even more so for a girl. A quick head count of those in the Rookies Facebook group (my only point of reference, but surely a good one) shows guys outnumbering girls approximately six to one. This held true in last term’s class, where there were just five girls in a class of thirty. I don’t know if it’s different overseas, but in Australia we’re the minority in a minority sport.
Which is mostly pretty damn awesome.
For starters, away from the ice, there are always people willing to talk about it, hear about it and ask questions about it. You are a curiosity, and if “I play netball” isn’t much of a conversation starter, “I play ice hockey” guarantees a response, especially if you’re wearing heels when you say it.
I’ve been asked some pretty funny questions: Are girls even allowed to play hockey? Do guys go easy on you because you’re a girl? Why don’t you just play a nice, gentle, non-contact sport? Do you have unresolved anger issues? (What the …?)
In contrast, on the ice and in the world that surrounds it, gender doesn’t really come into it. Classes are unisex, changerooms are unisex, leagues are unisex. Even the gear is (mostly) unisex, which results in all sorts of strange sizing and comfort issues when it comes to chest armour. My single favourite piece of hockey equipment isn’t my skates or my stick (no penis jokes here), but my lovely girly chest armour with curved plates on the front, designed to accommodate boobs. And as far as the rest of the gear goes, a lot of smaller girls shop in the kiddie section. (Don’t laugh, at least it’s cheaper.)
Most typically ‘female’ sports – netball, dance, tennis, swimming – are non-contact, and in many mainstream sports there’s enough female participation to warrant separate leagues for men and women. So it’s an awful lot of fun to play a mixed sport where you can go hard, shove if you need to, and not worry about breaking someone’s nail.
Yeah, skating as hard or fast as a guy can be tricky when you’re a foot shorter or thirty kilos lighter, but given my current skill level, that’s the least of my problems, and at least I have a girl’s arse for cushioning when I fall.
Plus, there are some perks to being a girl-in-a-guy’s-world. Lliam, for one, is far more concerned and conciliatory when you fall over in class than he would be otherwise, and he has been known to stage whisper, during scrimmages: “Just hit them. You can do whatever you like to them because you’re a girl. Hook, trip … whatever.” As you say, coach.
And there’s some fine man candy around the Icehouse, for those who care to look. I may still be mourning the departure of the gorgeous Jacques Perreault from the Melbourne Ice team at the end of last season (and Cute Dave ceased to be Cute Dave, and merely became Dave, once he modelled club gear for the wrong team), but sometimes unisex changerooms can seem like a gift.
For the sake of discretion, I duck into the toilets to change – topless girls would probably result more in shock, and less in celebration – but guys have no such qualms about whipping off the gear. So yes, boys, we might just take the opportunity to sneakily check you out while you’re shirtless, and we’re not going to apologise for it – think of it as compensation for the way you smell post match. Certainly, growing up with three sisters and going to an all-girls school did nothing to prepare me for the odour of 25-odd sweaty, post-hockey men in a confined space, but I’m not arguing for it to be changed.
The question of whether girls and guys wanted separate changerooms came up recently. Answer: hell no. Logistically, the changerooms are already stupidly crowded, so an additional changeroom that just four or five people would use at a time would be plain silly. I was also quietly chuffed at the responses of some of the boys: that they like the camaraderie and team spirit of changing together, and that having women around keeps them in check (pun intended, I’m sure). That it’s good to be equal, and that they’d hate us to be removed from the pre and post-match banter – even if this concern was based more on the possibility we might discuss them behind their backs …
And then the discussion descended into a debate about the merits of Bonds knickers.
Hockey isn’t exactly a glamour sport, and we sure don’t do it to look sexy, but despite this the girls I play hockey with are some of the, well, “girliest” I know: Jess, who combines her hockey with pole dancing (hello!), Aimee, who looks like a blonde Christmas angel off the ice, my sister, Scarlett, with her Jane Austen-era sensibilities, Rachael, the Rookies’ answer to MasterChef, and Theresa, the ultimate social secretary. There’s also another woman I see around a bit who sports a “Mother Puckers” jersey. Brilliant. Me? I quit moaning about the cost of skates when it was pointed out to me (by several people) that I had unflinchingly spent that and more on far more impractical footwear in the past.
We like that it’s guys and girls, all learning together. We like the social side of it. We like that we’re not treated differently, that you boys don’t go soft on us, and that we can walk into the changeroom in heels and out of it in skates.
Recently, at a Stick and Puck session, Nicko hooked me and I fell. I wasn’t wearing armour and I played the girly card. He called me out on it: “Quit whinging. I’m a feminist. If you’re on the ice, we’re equals, and you shoved me first.”
Which pretty much sums it all up.