Sports  On the offensive

Female sports fans are interested in more than just the athletes

During Montreal’s latest playoff run, I saw a woman proudly wearing a baby-pink t-shirt with “Canadiens Puck Bunny” emblazoned across the front. My reaction was strong – I remember thinking to myself, “Why would a woman allow anyone to call her a puck bunny, let alone want to refer to herself as one?” In my experience, the term has always been used to insult women, and is not in the least congratulatory or complimentary.

The ambivalence associated with the term likely stems from its definitional ambiguity; many people do not agree on precisely what being a “puck bunny” means. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a young female hockey fan, especially one motivated more by a desire to meet the players than by an interest in hockey.” I suppose that someone forgot to tell them that most female hockey fans would be infuriated to be called a puck bunny, or that it is extremely sexist to call all young female hockey fans puck bunnies, while young male hockey fans are simply “hockey fans.” Under this model, male hockey fans are authentic and neutral, while female fans are seen as less legitimate than their male counterparts.

In a strange reversal of the world order, the UrbanDictionary definition is less offensive and more correct than the previous definition. According to a contributor on the site:

“A ‘hockey fan,’ usually female, who only likes the sport because they hope to/already slept with the players on a team, and generally knows nothing about it. Or pretty much any girl that only likes the Penguins because they have Sidney Crosby.”

In other words, puck bunnies are women whose hockey interest is primarily directed towards having sex with players as opposed to what goes on during the game. Since the term “puck bunny” is often used to dismiss female fans as ignorant fan girls, it is easy to see why a passionate, dedicated, and knowledgeable female fan would balk at the suggestion that she is more interested in what is inside Sidney Crosby’s jock strap than the latest results.

The repeated dismissal of female fans as puck bunnies likely stems from the common assumption that women’s interest in sports is always related to men: women are fans because their boyfriends are, because they want men to be interested in them, or because they think that the players are hot. Evidently, the idea that a woman can be interested in something irrespective of any male influence is too revolutionary for some.

But even so, does it make a woman any less of a fan if her partner introduced her to hockey? Many women aren’t hockey fans simply because they aren’t expected to be in the same way that men are, and are therefore exposed to hockey considerably less. These women are dismissed as hockey fans simply because they took up an interest later in life, despite the fact that their boyfriend may have been the first person to expose them to the joys of the sport.

Women’s fanship is further discounted under the assumption that sexual attraction to players and genuine knowledge and passion for the game are always mutually exclusive. In a culture where hockey players are deeply loved, admired, and are considered to be the pinnacle of masculinity, many straight women (though I am certainly not suggesting that this includes all women fans) may have certain, shall we say, “romantic” feelings toward the players that they watch every week. What it means to be a fan was defined by men, and therefore the sexual detachment from players that is demanded of fans is possible for straight men (and hockey is a very homophobic sport, making it an unfriendly environment for queer men anyway) in ways that it is often not for straight women. The belief that a desire to marry Sidney Crosby (and honestly, who wouldn’t want to marry Sidney Crosby?) automatically renders women less knowledgeable of the game is just another way that women are denied legitimacy in hockey fan circles.

Regardless, women hockey fans are obviously a varied group. Many may have no interest in the players whatsoever. My point is that the definition of a fan must be expanded, and that the fan hierarchies that almost invariably place men over women must be challenged. Not calling women puck bunnies is one way that this can be done.

That said, there are women out there who would embrace the puck bunny label. Puck bunny status can be achieved by doing anything from dating a couple of hockey players in high school, to sneaking up to hotel rooms or frequenting the bars, restaurants, and clubs where NHL hockey players are known to go in an effort to bed said hockey players. The sexual choices of puck bunnies should be as respected as any other; their sex lives are no one’s business but their own, and as long as sex is consensual, respectful, and honest, I don’t see why anyone should have the right to judge.

Unfortunately, calling these women puck bunnies is very often a form of judgment. In a society where female sexual agency is more often treated with contempt than respect, and sexuality outside of long-term, heterosexual monogamous relationship is thought to be immoral, calling someone a puck bunny is just another way to slut-shame.

Ultimately, calling someone a puck bunny is almost always an insult; either it accuses them of not knowing anything about hockey, or it refers to their sexual pursuit of hockey players in a judgmental manner. Can the term be re-appropriated?  Some women, including several female hockey bloggers, are attempting to do so by proudly referring to themselves as puck bunnies while simultaneously brandishing their knowledge of the game, which often surpasses that of men. Will this give women any more legitimacy in the hockey world? Unlikely.

Personally, I wish the term a swift and painful death. It has insulted and de-legitimized women for long enough.