How Sexism Manifests in Sports; If You Do Not Like “Ice Girls” and “Grid Girls,” YOU Might be the Sexist
In a recent (and well-written) article by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski about Gary Bettman’s tenure, Wyshynski dropped a line that gave me pause. In his section, “BAD: Failures on Inclusiveness,” he wrote the following, “Meanwhile, the league has struggled with mixed messages for female fans — ice girls remain a thing — and with changing the demographics of who watches and plays the game.” It appears initially as a throwaway line, but the “ice girls remain a thing,”–meaning that the ice girls remain a thing is a bad thing–reeks of sexism (UPDATE: Wyshynski’s take is, “add the scantily clad ice boys, too. I’m not looking to take away someone’s living.”–I wholeheartedly agree with this take).
Wyshynski is a terrific writer, and anybody that follows him on Twitter and reads his writings understands he is a well-thought, well-meaning, and progressive guy. These are all admirable traits and Wyshynski (from everything you can gather from following the man) is a terrific human being. He interacts with fans regularly and has the type of spine that makes him one of the more enjoyable reads on Twitter, hockey or otherwise. But there is a growing trend by some people to see something they do not like and do the exact thing they are arguing against; in this case, treating the Ice Girls as objects. Looking at a woman and only seeing her as an object is one of the tenants of sexism.
Wyshynski is obviously not a sexist. TO REPEAT: THIS IS NOT CALLING WYSHYNSKI A SEXIST. Far from it. His heart is in the right place, but his mind is not. To see Ice Girls around the league (their job is mainly to clear up the ice during TV Timeouts while wearing leggings and showing off their midriffs, but they also do charitable and promotional work outside of games) and bemoan their existence is to literally look skin deep. The amount of time and effort it takes to (1) not fall on your ass like a bafoon in front of 20,000 people (or 10,000 if you are the Hurricanes… BRING BACK THE WHALE) and (2) look amazing while doing so, should be applauded, not derided.
Many of these women are former athletes. Most of them are performing as Ice Girls for a second job. To say they work hard is an understatement. To be in that type of shape takes commitment, not just physically, but mentally as well. To see them and think anything else is to just see the surface. It takes hours, day after day, week after week, month after month to have the type of body one would feel comfortable with showing off in front of 20,000 people. That type of effort and commitment should bring cheers (and it does). When somebody works hard enough to achieve something close to perfection, that is laudable.
Look, I am not naive enough to not recognize fact; many of the (mostly male) fans in attendance enjoy the ice girls because they have been drinking, and seeing a physically attractive woman skate in front of them warms up their insides. But that is a legitimate job and to think you know better is patronizing and, again, sexist. The Wyshynski line of thinking is what led to the dismissal of Formula One’s “Grid Girls.” The response from the Grid Girls was overwhelming, “Rebecca Cooper, a five time F1 grid girl, said on Twitter that it is “ridiculous that women who say they are ‘fighting for women’s rights’ are saying what others should and shouldn’t do, stopping us from doing a job we love and are proud to do. [It is] political correctness gone mad.”
Do people like Wyshyski and the commentators enjoy robbing women of their right to work as they please? It is political correctness gone mad. It deprives people of not just a job and the chance to make money, but also forbids them from doing something they love and are proud to do. Jobs are ways of fulfilling an inner desire to feel like a productive member of society and to gain a sense of pride. Where is the harm in that?
The answer is there is no harm. Wyshynski’s own employer, ESPN, has done more for female empowerment and positive-body-image than anybody else on this planet. ESPN’s “The Body Issue,” is routinely one of its best selling and most popular issues. It shows athletes entirely naked, performing feats in their athletic arenas. For every “perfect” Julian Edelman and Aly Raisman, there is a Vince Wilfork and Amanda Bingson, some of the best athletes in their sports worldwide. One look at Wilfork and Bingson and you should immediately recognize them for the top athletes they are. To just see their bodies and not the work that went into them is a surface level response. It is the same misperception that leads to people chastising the existence of Ice Girls and Grid Girls.
If you want this world we live in to be better, look beyond the surface. Next time you see cheerleaders, remember that their sport has more injuries and concussions than any other sport. See the dedication it takes to be supremely fit. Understand the sacrifice inherent to achieve the type of body that looks like it belongs next to Michaelangelo’s David. Internalize that the most powerful thing a woman (or anybody) can do is stride, or skate, in front of thousands and thousands of people, and not give a damn what you or I think.