BCB wrote a piece discussing the launch of the Oilers ice girls earlier in the week in response to many reactions around the Oiler Blogging community. BCB discussed the notion of who is responsible and how we must collectively take on this responsibility for the decision of bringing the cheerleaders into the Oilers fold. This is a really excellent question but we must also address our own accountability for perpetuating the problematic heteronormativity present in all professional sports. The argument therefore should not only be who is responsible for making this happen but also how did we let it get this far?
Last week I happened to travel to Toronto to watch the baby Oilers get crushed by the baby Leafs with several prominent members of this very community. Not surprisingly, similar discussions were had while we had our Oiler Diaspora blogger summit, prompted by the presence of the Marlies Girls. The Marlies girls were out in full force during the Marlies/Barons game and we were constantly "treated" to girls on the ice, poorly skating, dancing and jumping around during tv time outs. There were also cheerleaders in the stands who would make their rounds and do their thing between extended breaks in the game. We were sitting in the corner and the cheerleaders were often in our field of view for long periods of time. To be fair, the main point of discussion was if these girls were in fact of age and whether or not it is pervy to be watching them due to this questionable age issue, but after a while it stopped being funny. Ok, Tyler Dellow never stops being funny, but eventually we got to talking about the Oilers' decision to have ice girls.
I am of the opinion that they don't bring anything to the game and actually do serve to be something of an unwanted distraction to even the most uninvolved fan. I don't think they really need to be there, but that is neither my point, nor the camp I wish to ally myself with. Does it bother me from a place of solidarity with feminist movements however? Yes, it does, but only to a certain extent. There is a degree of exploitative spectacle associated with this concept, as the expectation of these women is that they dress and perform in a hypersexualized manner, while the target audience is clearly men who are drunk on overpriced domestic swill-beer who like ogling at pretty young things. This is the obvious reading of the cheerleader scenario, one that my initial reaction was in line with. I don't support the decision of bringing in the ice girls for that very reason, as I am ideologically opposed to hypersexualized women used as objects of desire within the framework of public spectacle. I think ethically that it is uncool, and also distracts me from the purpose of the game, which is glorified masculine violence and the commodification of people for the sake of my entertainment. Then again, I suppose I should be ideologically be opposed to the NHL itself if I am to be running on the same ethical principles as my ideological opposition to the ice girls. So, if ideologically I am opposed to the exploitation of the women, why am I not equally opposed to professional hockey? Or all professional sports for that matter? I don't know. I am a stupid hypocrite it seems. This is one of the questions that seems absent from the debate. If we are critiquing notions of gender and heternormativity in relation to the cheerleaders, why are we not using the same inspired ideas of gender norms and gender roles in relation to the players. It's not something that often comes up in hockey discussions, as gender roles and sexuality have long remained taboo in the sports world. These sorts of issues still remain largely absent in media accounts of the game as well, though this is beginning to change.
There is also another side to the equation, one that isn't simply for or against it, but rather what cheerleading is as a sport itself. For many years I was very close friends with a girl whose whole life was about cheerleading. She was captain of the U of A cheer team, a coach for two different teams of Jr. Highschool students, and worked really hard at it. Concurrently she was working on an engineering degree, and despite her beauty, she definitely was more brains than breasts. Yet she was passionate about her sport, went to great lengths to go to tournaments and compete, and she looked at it from a more liberatory perspective informed by her own interpretation of feminist thoughts. She felt that cheer was moving away from being all about men watching her to all about women having incredible control over their own bodies, the athleticism required to participate in cheerleading, and how great she felt being able to teach that kind of thing to her students in middle school, breaking down some of the heteronormative notions of gender, sex and sexuality to girls at a very vulnerable age to fall victims to this problematic system.
So what is the point of my argument? I am not entirely sure, but I know that something about this ice girls situation has gotten my attention and made me return to my only avenue available to express this displeasure. Is there an easy answer to this debate? No. Do I think the Oilers need ice girls? No, I really don't. However, I don't want to moralize over whether or not cheerleading is either good or bad or whether or not the Oilers and Pat Laforge are sexist douchebags for bringing ice girls to Canada and breaking with tradition. Sport and attitudes in sport are constantly evolving and context is key to this evolution. As gender and sexual norms shift, so too will our collective perceptions of these norms. We are all doing gender in all of our every day actions, we just need to be more aware of how we are doing it. This is where the concept of the 'relational self' BCB introduced becomes all the more important.