Of Playoff Beards and Genderist Marketing
June 9, 2009 | Filed in: Feminist Agenda, Ultimate Dumbness

The hockey season could be over tonight. Kaput. Ended. The Wings could win Stanley as the Bears win Calder, and we could be on our way to the offseason of awards and drafts and such. Which means a bunch of faces could be getting significantly less hairy within the week.

But, y’know. Only MALE faces. Because hockey’s a MALE sport.

At least that’s what Andrew Potter of wants to keep telling you.

Essentially, Mr. Potter argues that:

“In a sport like basketball, the forms of masculine display the players adopt—such as Afro hair, gold jewellery, and copious tattoos—tend to be borrowed from the sport’s inner-city origins. Whereas the significance of the playoff beard is rooted in standards of success internal to hockey itself. The hockey beard serves as a very visible marker of success: the longer you go in the playoffs, the longer your beard. Everyone can see it, and everyone knows what it means.”

Interestingly, Mr. Potter also makes another distinction he may not even be aware of in this statement. While hockey players may have impressively shaggy playoff beards, note that they’re playoff beards. These “displays of masculinity” are only around for two months, whereas a basketball player’s “afro hair, gold jewellery and copious tattoos” are on display for the entirety of the season. Not to say that hockey players don’t display some of those “inner city” symbols as well (Scott Hartnell-hair, Alex Ovechkin-jewellery, Ryan Malone-tattoos) but they don’t display them as prominently as they do a playoff beard.

Potter continues, bringing home the bacon in this paragraph:

“Which brings up another kind of status being signalled here, namely, manliness itself. The NHL playoffs provide a bit of much-needed PR for the male of the species at what is shaping up as a very troubled time for masculinity. As the recession continues to decimate the manufacturing industries, men are finding themselves disproportionately shunted to the margins of economic life, a shift that threatens to become permanent. As Margaret Wente argued in a recent essay for the Globe and Mail, jobs in the new economy require female-style emotions, not manly muscle, and so much the worse for men”

Hey, with the WHAT NOW?

Essentially, I read what Potter is saying as “Men need to be watching manly men with facial hair so they still have some solidarity with ‘real’ men, and this is what hockey gives us.” There’s just so…. much… not right with this. So sorry to the Sidney Crosbys and the Jay Beagles of the world who go out and grind away for 30+ minutes a night, but because you can’t grow a mountain man beard, you’re not living up to the standard of “man” that we need right now to assuage our stinging wallets.

And frankly, the entire concept of having to sell hockey players as MANLY MEN ™ to get an audience is a little Charles Atlas, don’t you think? Not all men right now (or ever) WANT to see big hulked out bearded bruisers as the people to look up to. One of the most popular Washington Capitals (judging by jersey sales) was Alexander Semin, who (sorry Sasha,) can’t throw a punch to save himself, let alone grow a playoff beard. He’s not the big bearded body presence of a Brooks Orpik, but a smaller, fancier, soft-handed, dare I say more “female” style of finesse player. So already, there are some holes in Potter’s little theory.

Potter, clarify for us?

“[This womanizing of jobs] leaves regular guys in a particularly sad and lonely condition. It also might help explain why growing a beard is becoming increasingly popular for hockey fans once their team enters the playoffs: it allows them to participate in one of the last symbols of male solidarity.

Not every man can shoot, skate, or throw a bodycheck a tenth as well as the players on the ice, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are men. But where there’s solidarity there is competition, and some men may find a minor satisfaction in knowing that even if they can’t play like their heroes, for a few weeks every spring, they can look like them.

Here it comes, you know what it is; the beating of my favorite dead horse, where are the female hockey fans left in this supposedly beard-crazed testosteroney world of playoffs?

Clearfaced and marginalized, yet a-freaking-gain.

But according to Mr. Potter we have it easier because:

“women now outnumber men on Canadian university campuses and hold solid majorities in professional programs such as medicine and law. Only engineering and the physical sciences are still mostly male, and not by much. It is hard to avoid concluding that, after being in demand and in charge for millennia, men no longer have any special skills to offer the world. The writing is on the wall, and it reads: “so long, fellas.”

In fact, I think in that little statement, the writing on the wall reads “I want to go back to the 1950s because I can’t get my head out of the gender binary society spoonfed me in which I have to be the Big Providing Man and keep my Little Lady at home and out of the research lab.” Helooooooo. Welcome to the millennium. All of that Girl Power stuff from a few years ago? Yeah, it was sort of the well-intentioned but poorly dressed sister of what we like to call a feminist movement, which has been going on for, well, since the suffragettes walked their little beardless faces down some streets and convinced some Big Powerful Men to let women have the right to vote.

But anyway. Bringing this back to the beards.

Hockey is a sport played professionally by men (Let’s say here I don’t AGREE with this, but grudgingly accept it to speed the point along). As such, the playoff beard tradition evolved out of something most men could do-grow facial hair. As a historian, I understand the need to keep tradition alive, so I don’t begrudge teams the playoff beard experience. More power to them.

What I DO object to, though, is being left out of fan activities because of my gender. If Potter is to be taken at face value, I’m not allowed or not able to feel solidarity with my team during playoffs, because I will never experience the growing of my own playoff beard.

Now that I’m already slightly distanced from playoffs due to my underachieving follicles, go ahead and have the team that I support run a beard-based promotion for the post-season, because that’s exactly what the Capitals did. Instead of making their postseason “Beard-A-Thon” inclusive and more like a “Hair-A-Thon,” they cut women out of it in all positions except that of “donor.” Oh, I could pledge money to support my favorite playoff beard, but I couldn’t win “Best Playoff Beard,” and all the nifty Caps swag that came with it. I was shot down with the bid for the “Armpit Hair Division,” quite possibly because while beards are a socially acceptable sprouting of hair in North America, women are supposed to be pliant and SMOOTH. The Capitals, for all their attempts to include women, just shut 50% of their fanbase out of a promotion. Not the smartest thing for a team to do in this economic time, even if they are riding a resurgence.

So here is what I see needing to happen. Mr. Potter needs to step back and re-examine his gendered views of hockey and the society that surrounds it. I would offer him up my thesis as a starting point, and then request that he go listen with an open mind to some of the women he sees in the arenas. I would also posit that perhaps he needs to step back and re-examine his slightly-outdated sterotpyical views on gender in society as a whole as well. Teams need to keep growing playoff beards in keeping up with tradition, but they also need to recognize the women and pre-pubescent boys that may want to participate in their post-season efforts. Somehow, the women in the stands need to establish their OWN playoff traditions, whether it’s crazy hair, armpit growth, refusing to wear anything but team-colored lipstick until they win,or something as simple as donating money per-goal, instead of per-scrubby moustache.

Oh yeah, and the Caps should hire me to tell them how to stop shooting themselves in the foot with the ladies.

For Talk Hockey To Me’s Feminist Rant section, I’m your host, Teka.

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