The Ice Girls Debate: Counterpoint Edition

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.

Go Oilers



shepso said...

yes it's true, there is now a picture of Judith Butler on a hockey blog. i hope she doesn't take legal action.

B.C.B. said...

Shepso, I have some serious issues with your latest blog post:

First is your idea evolution of attitude: “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.” For me ‘norms’ are not something we do (as in I am a cheerleader or hockey player because of heteronormative act) but rather something that structures our actions (as in I become a hockey player—or rockstar, or businessman—because I am trying to express a normative—which is based in heterosexuality—desire.) This leads me to a difference in the context they change or are changed.

My position on ‘norms’ is that they are always in flux in order to demonstrate that they can and should be change (that object A is always moving, so it does not matter if we move object A since it is not still to begin with), while your position on the fulidity of norms is that norms are changing so it does not matter if we attempt to change them (that object A is always moving, so if we attempt to move object A or not still produces the same result—object A is moved). Or in other words, the fact that norms are not absolute and static, means they can be changed and should be changed vs. that norms are not absolute and static, means they are already changing so there is no relevance of what we should be doing. The ‘should’ in the last sentence always signals an ‘ought to’ claim (in analytical philosophy, this itself would be characteristic of a normative claim). A “should claim” is always an exercise of judgment on the value of the object: thing Z is more valuable then thing X, so I want thing Z in my society. Or that I should be attempting to achieve thing Z because . . .

But you clearly do not what to make any statements about the what we should be doing, and further reinforce your position with this statement: “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.” So you did succeed in not moralizing over cheerleading as neither good (you presented a case study on healthy side of cheerleading) nor bad (you made statements denouncing the hyper-sexualized women selling hockey), but more importantly you ignored the question of ethics! Ethics allows you to make the ‘should claim’ about cheerleading in a certain social content and from a single positionality . . . or that ethics should allow us to make a value judgment in a single unique content: i.e. “that in the case of the Oilers and from my social position I think that Ice Girls are _____________________”. So in avoiding the moral a priori that would dictate identical ‘blanks’ because of a categorical imperative, Sheps, you manage to remove the necessity to value something at all.

B.C.B. said...

The interesting story about your friend involved in cheerleading is analogous to this avoidance of the ethical ‘should claim’ in form and content. By bringing this women stops us from talking about cheerleaders as stereotypes, which is a good thing, but removes attention to the fact that most cheerleaders (from the context of the Oilers having them) will be read or received as a stereotype. Just because individual cheerleaders are attempting to break “down some of the heteronormative notions of gender, sex and sexuality to girls at a very vulnerable age”, doesn’t stop the Oilers from using women as sexualized marketing commodities. By providing an alternative reading (one that is supportive of status quo) of cheerleading you substitute the ‘content’ of the notion: cheerleading is given a progressive function, that it is helpful in promoting a healthy understanding of sexuality. This undermines the stereotype context (that cheerleading leads to unhealthy sexualized norms) but it also dismisses the value of content in an opposition to cheerleading (that not cheerleading or engaging in heteronormative actions is not pathological, but instead of being seen as unhealthy or abnormal these content of other types of non-heteronormative actions are valuable). Any grounds of discussing the value—health / pathology, Nietzsche’s Good / Bad, norms /abnorms, etc—of content of a norm is explained away. What happens in the ‘form’ of the lack of ethical claim and the narrative also is altered: more specifically the form of judgment is not changed that there is just a replication the process for validating the content. That cheerleading is now not seen as pathological but seen healthy: rather then challenging the Oilers on having problematic (hetero)normative cheerleaders the same action (cheerleading) is seen an expression of aristocratic Good rather than slavish Evil. More importantly, this type of reading further removes the possibility that cheerleading is neither health nor pathological but as a symptom of another condition or a product of homoestasis.

What I am attempting to say is that I am not making a value judgment on who this women (that “definitely was more brains than breasts”) is or what she does, but I am saving myself space to make value judgments on the norms she expresses herself with (or the discourse that her actions can be seen in relation to). Just because we are all doing gender everyday, doesn’t just mean we have to aware of this; instead it means that we should be attempting to create the gender that we want (whether is includes or excludes normative behaviours traditional associated with masculinity). In this attempt to create the gender we want involves main should claims that are implicit or explicit, and what rethinking gender is the rethinking of these should claims.
I had to put this as two comments since it is too long to be one.