Checking In: An Analysis of the (Lack of) Body Checking in Women's Ice Hockey

By Weaving, Charlene; Roberts, Samuel | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Checking In: An Analysis of the (Lack of) Body Checking in Women's Ice Hockey


Weaving, Charlene, Roberts, Samuel, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


Despite the growing popularity of women's ice hockey in North America, players continue to face limitations because of the prohibition of body checking. In this paper, we argue from a liberal feminist philosophical perspective that this prohibition reinforces existing traditional stereotypes of female athletes. Because the women's game does not incorporate checking, female ice hockey players are not afforded the same opportunity to flourish as men and experience bodily agency, which results in continued male domination of the game, therefore, indirectly reinforcing a gender hierarchy in hockey and society.

Key words: femininity, masculinity, physical sports, stereotypes

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Canada's official winter sport is ice hockey; however, its popularity transcends a government declaration in that the game remains at the core of Canadian passion and identity. Traditional stereotypes of men and women are reproduced in many sports through varying rules and regulations, which result in male and female versions of the same sport. Female ice hockey players do not have the same opportunity to flourish (1) as men, resulting in continued male domination and reinforcement of gender hierarchy in hockey and society. Burke (2010) argued:

   The male athletic body is held up as an
   exemplar of physicality, strength, power,
   athleticism, and superiority, with a monopoly
   on the practices of violence and aggression.
   The female, by comparison is considered incapable
   of playing in these sporting competitions
   because of the perceived insufficiencies
   of her body. Hence, it is these sports which
   help to provide apparent justification for the
   hierarchy of gendered social assignments and
   positions in the contemporary sporting and
   social world (p. 19).

Certain activities in traditional male sporting competitions, such as body checking in hockey, may challenge some discourses that reproduce the wider oppressions women experience. Despite the success of women's hockey in the United States, extensive college programs, and the Canadian Ontario Women's Hockey Association, female players continue to suffer from traditional sexist beliefs. We argue that due to existing rule discrepancies, female hockey players do not have the same chance to flourish as male players do. Because women are required to play without body checking, we argue that they cannot participate in the physicality the game demands--they do not experience bodily agency. They are not afforded the experience of using their bodies in a manner that exudes force, power, and domination. We believe that women's hockey has yet to truly flourish, and, furthermore, we show that incorporating checking into women's hockey will enable the game and its players to flourish and experience bodily agency. If women check in hockey, they would challenge the stereotypical constructs of masculinity and femininity. Dworkin argued that, "... bodies are politically symbolic arenas in which fierce ideological debates about natural male physical superiority and female inferiority are played out" (Dworkin, 2003, p. 251). There is a research gap in the sport philosophy literature analyzing gender equity issues in sport (Burke, 2010). Further, case analysis of gender issues appears to be missing, especially in hockey. Each winter Olympiad, there is increased discussion in North American media debating whether female hockey players should check. We believe it is worthwhile to analyze such a case to contribute to the sport philosophy and hockey literature.

When we refer to hockey throughout this paper, we are conceptualizing a certain type of game. Specifically, because the major competition for women's hockey is played at the International level, players follow the rules of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF, 2010). We believe the IIHF game is different from National Hockey League (NHL) play. Specifically, we argue that the IIHF style of play involves less violence (e. …

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