Friday, December 15, 2006

Female aggression: A case study?

I witnessed a very strange hockey game last weekend. I went to a recreational women's league game and saw a level of aggression that I rarely see in women's hockey--I certainly didn't see it two nights prior at the Harvard-UNH match-up which, though they are not classic rivals, is certainly an anticipated match-up every season.
Anyway, there was heavy shoving that fell just short of hitting and "dialogue" and flipping off the ref from the very first period. The ref, who admittedly was not that good, was giving out double penalties to members of both teams. It was bizarre and seemed to be a little contagious though certainly most of the women on the ice tried to stay out of the whole mess.
Lest you think I am suggesting that women are not or should not be aggressive--I am not. But I was struggling, as I sat there watching this all, with the level of aggression that should be allowed or tolerated/condoned. This is an issue women's hockey has always had to negotiate. Because body checking is not allowed in women's hockey as it is men's there seems to be the implication that the women's game should be just a little bit nicer.
Certainly that was the original intent of the no body checking rule: let them play a feminized version of the "men's" game and thus retain their inherent femininity. There was the fear, present in almost all women's sports since the beginning of time, that the game would masculinize them.
Of course when one is talking competitive hockey we see that there is plenty of aggression. Certainly it exists in the collegiate game where players often at the start of the game push things a little to see what refs are going to call. At the international level, a greater amount of body contact is tolerated.
But that does not mean only women who play higher levels of hockey have or develop a more aggressive demeanor on the ice. Hockey is a contact sport with lots of legal contact, lots of scrambling and fighting for a little piece of rubber that is very slippery when put on ice--and thus frustrating. So it is not really surprising to witness a certain amount of aggression.
But how much is too much when we're talking about recreational hockey?
As I sat there watching this all play out I really wondered how immune I would be if I felt I was being targeted or if the ref was making bad calls. Perhaps this is the reason I do not play contact sports. I take out my aggression on a little yellow ball.
And I certainly have aggression to take out. As do most people I would guess. But as women where are we allowed to vent it?
In sports of course.
In the book The Secret Lives of Girls author Sharon Lamb discusses this particular use of sports for young girls. And the issue of acceptable aggression in for girls and women playing sports is part of the larger discussion of femininity and sport.
What does this not so surprising fact say? I am not sure really. It certainly helps me understand better what happened at that game last weekend. But as for whether it was "acceptable" behavior--that becomes a more complicated question.

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