Addressing the Gendered Practices of the Hockey Hall of Fame

It took far too long, but it has finally happened: the old boys club that is the Hockey Hall Of Fame have altered their practices to separate the induction of women and men. Under the new rules, a maximum of four men can be inducted each year, while only two women can.

In response to this announcement, it seemed that many hockey fans responded by lining themselves into three separate camps. The first camp is a boring one that I do not need to discuss - these people liked the changes. The second and third camps, however, are interesting and require further insight.

The second camp is one that argues, bizarrely, that the HHOF is now more sexist than it used to be, because it is giving female hockey players special recognition that they do not deserve. This thought comes from the idea that women's achievements are less than those of their male counterparts because women play against a lower level of competition, and that all hockey players should be compared against each other. This is, of course, problematic logic, and the kind that kept women out of the Hall for as long as they have been. In responding to one of these types of comments in From the Rink's messages, I wrote:

This is what is called substantive equality. This notion is commonly accepted by pretty much all legal scholars across the globe and is utilized in most western legal systems.

Substantive equality is the realization that treating people exactly the same (called formal equality) often results in inequalities. Therefore, treating people different so that they ultimately end up in the same place is a better result.

This is why there are different leagues for men and women in almost every sport. We are different. We have different bodies that result in differences of size. Size, as you know, is a bit of a blessing in hockey.

Women who will be inducted into the HHOF did not have to overcome less adversity than men to make it in: if anything, they have faced more. They were raised with female gender stereotypes in mind, had to attack preconceptions held by male players and male coaches, and persist through all of this.

If it takes an approach in which the HHOF looks at men and women separately to get female hockey the recognition that it deserves, then that is what has to be done.

I wrote that rather quickly, but I stand by it: treating women as a separate category so that they can receive the same recognition as men is an unfortunately necessary step, seeing as their achievements have yet to be considered impressive enough for induction (as Mirtle notes: there are 240 men in the Hall, but 0 women).

It is the final group, however, that offers the most interesting argument. This third camp argues that the changes are not far enough, as the maximum 2:1 ratio of men to women effectively retains the current patriarchal state of the HHOF. At first glance, this appears all too obvious. It not retains a male-dominant policy at the Hockey Hall of Fame, it may be worse: it actually encodes this as an official rule and therefore legitimizes it.

But after considering it, I realized why this may be a wise step for the current time: sample size. As it stands, there are far less women playing hockey than men, both professionally and recreationally. This is due to countless barriers that prevent women from playing hockey, from the gendered roles as a child to the familial obligations as an adult. Furthermore, formal international women's hockey competition basically did not exist until the 1990s (remember, there have only been three Olympics to feature women's hockey).

The end result of the barriers to women playing hockey is that the sample size of female candidates available for entry to the Hall is far lower than that of men. To bring in too many female players all at once could end up with periods where - due to a lack of recorded history - there would be no notable candidates for induction. Another thing to note is that the four male and two female figures given by the HHOF are maximums, and are by no means guaranteed: out of the last 10 years, there were only two years where four players were inducted (2001 and 2007).

It is extremely unfortunate that it took this long for the Hall to finally implement measures that ensured women get the recognition they deserve, but I'm glad that they have finally taken some steps. 2010 should be a great year for women's hockey, with the spotlight on women's Olympic hockey, and a couple of inductions (at most) at the Hall of Fame.

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