It's not every day that a CBC programming decision draws strong international condemnation everywhere from sports sites to feminist blogs, but the government-funded broadcaster pulled off that feat with Wednesday's announcement that they'd partnered with While The Men Watch to provide alternate audio commentary during the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs. For those unfamiliar with While The Men Watch, as many of us were before Wednesday's announcement, it's a site run by Lena Sutherland and Jules Mancuso that features live commentary on sports events (or, more typically, on the physical attractiveness and stylistic decisions of the athletes involved in said events), portrays women as only interested in sports to keep their men happy, and posts such enlightening articles as "Love Me Like Lundqvist: 5 Sex Games for Hockey Season Pt 1" and "Sex on Game Day: Does He Lock it Up or Love You Down?" It's not particularly surprising that such a site exists, but CBC's decision to team up with this duo and prominently feature their commentary during sports events further reinforces problematic gender stereotypes and hurts perceptions of women in sports, whether that's as executives, reporters or viewers. Here are some notable Twitter reactions to Wednesday's news from female journalists and fans:
Why are so many so vehemently opposed to the idea? Well, for one thing, consider the content that Sutherland and Mancuso tend to provide on their site. Here's a sample from the "5 Sex Games for Hockey Season" post:
Love Me Like Lundqvist: An NHL goalie could teach the average man a thing or two about positions. This game will get you about as close as most of us will ever come to having Henrik in bed! During each period of the game, take note of your favorite straddle, dive or stretch by the goalie in net and make your man act out the position with you during each commercial.
And one from "6 Things Not To Say If His Team Loses":
6. Sorry, not tonight, I have my period."
Make it happen girls — under any circumstance. Take one for the team.
While many of us wouldn't particularly like this sort of stuff regardless of where it was posted, it's CBC's decision to promote it that's especially troubling. If the network was particularly interested in adding a female perspective to its coverage, it could expand the roles of some of the talented people it already has, such as Andi Petrillo and Cassie Campbell. If they wanted to get thoughts from faces outside the CBC, well, there's no shortage of talented female hockey analysts out there: just as a short listing, on the mainstream media side, Katie Baker, Katie Strang, Helene Elliott, Lisa Dillman, Vicki Hall and many others come to mind, and in the blogosphere, there are lots of other talented female voices including Cait Platt, Julie Veilleux, Hayley Mutch,Laura Astorian and others. Anyone who spends any time discussing hockey should be well-aware of how many women out there are incredibly informed about the game, and anyone who's spent any time in media outlets should know how many talented female reporters and columnists are out there.
Unfortunately, CBC has decided to use their enormous platform (keep in mind, these people will be prominently featured during the Stanley Cup final) to promote the worst stereotypes about women and sports rather than the smart, intelligent hockey analysis many women out there have to offer. That sends terrible messages to women in the sports media industry, telling them that the way to get ahead isn't through knowledge and hard work but through acting according to the expected stereotypes. It's also insulting to CBC's viewers and listeners, both female and male. Hockey's been a progressive sport on many fronts, with efforts like the "You Can Play" campaign trying to break down barriers and stereotypes, but a respected sports media organization like CBC electing to partner with a shallow site like "While The Men Watch" instead of women who could offer serious analysis favours pigeon-holing of female journalists and fans, and it leads to problematic generalizations. The CBC can and should do better, and both female and male viewers, fans and journalists need to hold them to a higher standard than this.