Taking Back the Rink: Fighting for Women’s Hockey

A Dark Tale Promises a Brighter Future

The fight for women’s hockey has made great strides but still has a long way to go

I love playing outdoors. It’s freeing. The sound of the ice crunching, the wind in your hair and the stars at night. A soft snowfall adds to the magic. But sometimes the gloves have to come off. It’s silly really, but some people don’t want women to play hockey and the battle for ice has sometimes gotten ugly. Name calling, threats and just plain bad manners were not uncommon before our scheduled women-only times but getting the City to see this as a problem was a problem. Then this happened in 2014. The happy ending to this story? Within 48 hours I was invited to a meeting and new policies were implemented immediately.

This story was told to me by a Toronto-area hockey player. It’s not my story alone, but it’s many women’s stories.

– Deirdre

Women's Hockey: Don't tell us we can't play
Don’t tell her she can’t play. credit: Steve McKinley photo

The Setting: An Outdoor Rink in Toronto

Here’s what happened. About 10 women showed up last night to play during the women-only time slot (8-10pm). There were men on the ice playing at 8:05 and they had to be asked by rink staff to vacate. They did, yet several lingered around the ice waiting to see if we had reached 10 players. If not, their stated intention was to use half of the rink. My understanding from the rink supervisor, the police and the City, is that our time slot is reserved for women players regardless of whether there are 2 or 25 players. This is not the understanding on the part of the “regulars” at the rink.

Sometimes the gloves have to come off.

A show of strength
A show of strength

The Situation: Men Refuse to Respect a Women-only Shinny Game

As play began, there were continual attempts on the part of the men to get access to the rink. On several occasions we had to ask one or more to leave the ice. By 9pm, half of the women left; exhausted and intimidated and/or unwilling to deal with the hassle of having to justify their ice time when all they wanted to do was come out for exercise and fun on a winters night.

He insisted it was “free speech” yet the 911 operator told me to inform him that his language was a “hate crime.”

As players left there was increasing insistence by the men/teenage boys that they were now justified to come on the ice. They flooded onto it. I had to ask the rink employee to ask them to leave, mentioning that it was still women’s shinny time, and that we still had an hour to play. Things escalated. A man in his 40s, and his 16-year-old son, were very angry. They stood at the entrance to the ice yelling expletives (the “c” word and the “b” word) as well hateful comments to the remaining players who were attempting to enjoy the final hour of play. Things got so heated that I called 911 and as the recorded call illustrates, the aggression on behalf of the 40-year-old man was especially vitriolic. He could be heard using hateful language throughout the 911 call. He insisted it was “free speech” yet the 911 operator told me to inform him that his language was a “hate crime.” She could hear it loud and clear.

A hard-won battle to protect women-only shinny games
A hard-won battle to protect women-only shinny games

The Strong: The Women’s Game is Non-negotiable

The 8 officers arrived and took reports. This man was just as belligerent with them. The rest has been documented by staff at the rink and in a police report.

An officer asked me to let the City know that there needs to be much stronger communication and enforcement regarding women’s shinny at this rink; that these two hours are non-negotiable and completely reserved regardless of how many players show up. The incident last night was very intimidating. It would be a shame if the women began to stay away simply because they want to avoid altercations with male rink users. The rinks are to be shared, and there is precious little time available to women’s shinny as it is.

The Stories: Share Yours

We want to hear from more women in the trenches. Share your stories of the fight for women’s hockey with our community in the comments below or in our Facebook group.

We also invite you to come out and play with us. Check out all of our upcoming Toronto-area and International Tournaments!

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