Most of us remember the old guys who used to shovel the ice during commercial breaks at Mellon Arena. They were effective shovelers who represented the blue-collar spirit of Pittsburgh. But after the move to Consol Energy Center, the team ditched the old guys in favor the "Ice Crew," a group of young people who would be hired to shovel based on appearance. Some women (including me) have been mocking the latest round of auditions on Twitter, leading to accusations that we don't like the Ice Crew because we're jealous of how pretty they are. I've found that Twitter is an especially bad place to argue about feminism, so I decided to explain my feelings about the Crew here in this post.
Although I object to some aspects of the Ice Crew, I want to give the team some credit and acknowledge that it could be SO MUCH WORSE. Unlike some other teams, the Penguins have included men, which makes the Crew feel a bit less like "here are some sexy women to ogle." The outfits worn by the female members are less revealing than the outfits worn by women who work for other organizations. For example, the Blackhawks dress their all-female crew in tiny miniskirts and bras with sleeves. The LA Kings photograph members wearing only a jersey (as in, no pants. Like this one), and they sell a wall calendar that features Ice Crew members in bikini bathing suits. In Pittsburgh, the members of the Ice Crew get to wear clothes, and they aren't subjected to photo shoots that make them look like they're advertising a hockey-themed phone sex line. So, well done there.
However, the Penguins are still following the general model of "sexy women with shovels" when they audition and and hire female members of the Ice Crew. Members of the Crew must have a "lean and toned figure" because "being physically fit is a part of the athletic, high-energy Pittsburgh Penguins Ice Crew image" (from the requirements). Women are also encouraged to bring "personal items such as make-up, curling iron, etc" -- you know, to promote athleticism and fitness.
And in practice, the women just happen to be more "lean and toned" than the men. The men get to audition in a "short-sleeve top" and "athletic pants" while the women must audition in bra tops and yoga pants. A photo of the semi-finalists shows that the men vary in size and shape, while all of the women are skinny enough to have flat stomachs in the official midriff-baring top -- which, we all know, is really the point of the "lean and toned" requirement. Strong, fit people come in all sizes, and I'm sure all of these men qualify. But so would plenty of women who are larger than a size 2.
Women are already marginalized and objectified in the male-dominated, sexist world of professional sports. There are no women playing, coaching, or refereeing. In sports media, men call the game and provide the analysis. A very pretty woman in heavy makeup might get to ask a player a few soft questions at intermission, but that's it. And then there are the beer commercials.
Given this culture, it's hard for women to get respect as knowledgeable, enthusiastic fans. We don't need our own team to make it worse by sending the message that only thin, pretty, white women can shovel ice because, hey, (male) fans like to look at sexy women. The team can do better. My own fantasy Ice Crew would look something like the cast of Glee Project: a diverse group that represents everyone.
The new members of the Ice Crew seem lovely, and I've got nothing against any of them. It seems like a fun and easy way to make money, and you can't blame them for accepting the opportunity. None of the fine young people who made the Crew are responsible for the exclusion of others who don't look like they do. They also didn't choose their costumes or the beauty standards, and they don't deserve to be called puck bunnies (or worse) for participating. The organization hired and dressed them, so if you don't like the requirements for the Ice Crew, blame the Penguins.
So, I am going to direct this at the Penguins: Your vision for the Ice Crew could be a lot worse, so thanks for not being like the LA Kings. But why not go even further and hire an Ice Crew that reflects the diversity of young people in Pittsburgh? Why not recruit men and women of all sizes, more people of color, or even a woman with short hair? I don't think anyone would enjoy the games any less if the Ice Crew included a diverse group all wearing Penguins shirts with pride. I bet you would actually get a lot of credit from appreciative fans, and you wouldn't have to read mocking, critical comments on Facebook & Twitter every time you post about Ice Crew auditions.