I began playing hockey in 1969. I was 15 years old. I was a girl.
Women have never had it easy in the sports world, myself included. We’ve been deprived of financial equality, peppered with insults, even legally mandated out of teams, and all on the basis of a single X chromosome. Our so-called “limitations” have been keeping us out of professional sports leagues, out of equal playing opportunities, out of equal salaries and media coverage, and the list goes on.
As a young girl in Canada in the 1960s, I witnessed blatant discrimination. Now, as an older woman in the 21st Century, the discrimination is less visible but still highly effective. I’d hoped that by this point in my life women would have achieved an equal status with men. I still have hope that we will do so within my lifetime.
Many years ago, I was one of the founders of federally organized women’s hockey in Canada, as it was reborn in the early 1980s. As the first paid member of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association (OWHA), I sat as chairwoman of the inaugural Shoppers’ Drug Mart National Women’s Hockey Championships in 1982. This was the first time a National women’s hockey tournament had ever been sanctioned by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (now Hockey Canada), officially supported and recognized by the Canadian government, and aired on both radio and television across the country.
This tournament really changed the stigma against female hockey players, empowered young girls to partake openly in the sport they loved, gave elite women a chance to vie for a national title like the men, and was the stepping stone needed to see women’s hockey make it to the international level almost a decade later.
It was also at this tournament that my colleagues and I created the Female Council, a group which serves as the main voice for women in hockey even today. As Chair of the council, I was granted the “privilege” of being the first woman to sit on Hockey Canada’s Board of Directors in all their 65 years of existence. Once there, I had to fight for the right to hold a vote like the rest of the (male) members, to finally give women a say in Canada’s major hockey decisions.
Sadly, this women’s position would later be revoked by Hockey Canada, meaning there are currently no women sitting on our National Board of Directors.
During my time with the Female Council, I oversaw the removal of body checking from the women’s game at a national level. Let it be noted that this was not done due to any qualms about the fragility of the female body, but rather, as a generally sound safety practice for men and women alike. I had hoped that the example set by the women’s game would also spread to the men’s.
Very ironically, 21 years later, I suffered a serious spinal injury while playing hockey in a women’s pickup league, which would change the quality of my life forever by forcing me to give up all the sports I had once loved and leaving me to suffer from chronic pain to this day.
However, this injury was not the most difficult blow that hockey has dealt me. In 1984, I had my time in hockey administration cut short due to an unfortunate relationship with a member of my organizational team leading up to the first women’s nationals. To me, the inability to actively assist in the promotion of the women’s game has been the hardest hit yet.
It has been interesting to sit on the sidelines and observe the evolution of the women’s sports movement over the years; while on the one hand, we have achieved amazing advances towards social equality even in the span of one generation, we are still plagued by institutionalized sexism which causes setbacks such as the recent folding of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) in May 2019. In other words, at a time when the push for pay equity from female athletes is stronger than ever, the “issue” of professional women’s sports is still creating something of a demographic rift as it comes into the public eye.
I’m sure that everyone is aware that this cultural rift has deep-seated historical roots, but a few years ago I began to realize how piecemeal the historical records were for the women’s sports movement, especially for the debate about women’s hockey. Very few people know of the struggles their foremothers faced trying to get the game off of the ground.
I thought that by capturing the story of our social development in the chapter I lived through, our future female athletes would better understand what we’ve been up against since the start. I hope my memoirs can help bring to light some of the more intimate details of the discrimination and other difficulties faced by women like myself, on both the administrative and player sides of the women’s hockey world.
I’m not telling my story because it's unique; I’m telling it because I know there are thousands of other women who have faced and overcome challenges similar to my own. I do not aim to speak for these women, but rather, from beside them.
Let us stand in solidarity and remember our past as we prepare to face a new era of adversity.
- Rhonda Leeman Taylor
Aug. 15th, 2019