In recent years, gender equity in sport has rightly received renewed attention. This is due in large part to the work of athletes, advocates, leagues, associations and governing bodies across Canada who have expressed an ongoing commitment to ensuring gender equity in the form of opportunities, funding or increased ownership of the sports themselves.
Despite attempts to rectify inequalities in men’s and women’s sport, inequity remains an insidious force due to a gap between the practical administration of men’s and women’s sport.
This imbalance can often be seen in the language of the rules themselves: a document that lays bare how gender inequality has been woven into the fabric of a sport.
So if the Canadian government intends to deliver on its commitment to achieve gender equity in sport by 2035, it’s time to look at the regulations.
Throat guard and hockey
Recently, while teaching a course on Canadian sports policy at Brock University, I was approached by two female 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 policy on neck protection.
They wondered why there was a gender difference in throat protection policies: female players are required to wear them and male players are given the option.
Despite the fact that bra guards can help avoid an unlikely cut to the neck, most players find them unpleasant and look down on wearing them, making this requirement frustrating for female hockey players, especially without an increased risk of injury compared to men.
The Hockey Canada rulebook states that:
“Wearing a BNQ-certified throat protector is mandatory for players registered in minor and female hockey. When a player fails to wear or properly wears a throat protector at any time on the ice during the game, the team will receive a warning and any subsequent infraction by the same team will result in a misconduct. Referees are encouraged to convey this warning directly to the coach. »
It also specifies that “minor or female hockey goaltenders who wear a mask or helmet accessory designed to protect the throat, must still wear a neck protector certified by the BNQ”. Comparatively, American hockey does not require the use of throat protectors. However, they are highly recommended.
Indeed, this policy stipulates that minors and all women are required to wear throat protectors, while men can remove them once they reach the age of 18. This is a manifestly infantilizing policy which equates women with children. And its inclusion in Hockey Canada’s official rule book should cause considerable concern, as should my students.
Canadian Women’s Sport Policy
It is worth asking why this policy exists and why a strangely worded and obviously inconsistent safety regulation is included in such a scrutinized document as the Hockey Canada rule book.
To understand this, it is important to consider the historical context of Canadian women’s sport policy and examine the destructive remnants of the early days of Canadian women’s sport.
Rushbrook and her teammate’s discovery is a succinct summary of the challenges women face when trying to achieve gender equity in Canadian sport.
Canadian sports historian Ann Hall has called the history of women in sport a “history of cultural resistance.” regulate women in sport.
Outdated and intentionally restrictive policies are based on pseudo-scientific beliefs about female frailty. Fears about the safety of the womb have 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 sport poses a physical and existential threat to their health, well-being and, most importantly, their perceived femininity.
In the early years of women’s sport in Canada, men controlled almost all sports organizations and created systems and structures in which women could play. Gambling was technically permitted, but only if certain restrictions, modifications and safeguards could be made regarding the preservation of Victorian notions of femininity and virtue.
This went beyond expectations related to their conduct off the field, including regulations regarding romantic relationships and 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 relentlessly condescending. And many contemporary women’s sports contain artifacts from this period in their regulations.
Equipment and safety regulations should be administered based on medical expertise. However, rules regarding safety equipment, such as those found in Hockey Canada’s rule book, simply serve to differentiate women from their male counterparts.
True gender equity in sport is not just a matter of paying lip service to equal rights and opportunities. This involves questioning outdated assumptions and being open to rewriting the rulebook.
Camie Matteau Rushbrook, a third-year sports management student at Brock University, co-authored this article. Camie is a forward for the Brock University women’s hockey team.