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Starbuck Got Paid

In a very good piece lamenting the early retirement of Noora Raty, celebrated Finnish goaltender, The Pink Puck points out that women need a practical professional option for their considerable hockey talent.

Why don’t we have viable professional hockey leagues for women? One reason is that our society accepts that men are entitled to get paid, even for doing things women are supposed to do for free. It is stupid, it is unfair, and it is the present state of affairs. When young women smugly denounce feminism, I remember my mother saying: “a woman who is not a feminist is a masochist.” Then she would scold me for not being lady-like.

The issue is so, so much bigger than whether a woman can earn a living playing hockey.


Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck 2004-2009

When the revisioned Battlestar Galactica featured a female Starbuck, it was one of the most revolutionary rewritings in television history. The character was so well developed and performed that no one under 30 would think Starbuck had ever been a man. Yet Kara Thrace was virtually the same character as the original, right down to the cigar habit. She had the same character strengths and weaknesses as she did as a man: a reckless gambler in all things, sexually promiscuous, an amazing pilot, fiercely loyal, a lovable trouble-maker and a hero. And of course both Starbucks had pretty faces, can’t forget that.

Viewers accepted it, loved her, thought she was powerful and sexy and funny, just like her predecessor. And many of us knew both Starbucks, had grown up watching Dirk Benedict play the character.

We have come a long way, but we have miles to go before we reach the level of gender equality portrayed in that show. Set aside the fact that they were military, that their combat units were fully integrated and no one thought twice about training women with men for combat. That is done, has been done for centuries by warring peoples short of bodies.

What about the aesthetic of women in motion, in physical confrontation? How do we measure up to Battlestar Galactica’s idea of professional contact sports, a game called pyramid? Can modern viewers accept and enjoy seeing women compete physically, even with men? Is there any future for women in professional contact sports?

Ironically, women’s boxing is probably on better footing than hockey, basketball, soccer, or any other rigorous physical competition. I don’t know if that is a good thing or not, but I hate all boxing.

There is some hope, in that we have professional women tennis players, golfers, that sort of sport. But “big man” sports? Can women get paid to do that? Do people like the way women look doing that?

The aesthetics of it are a small part of a larger issue. Our very concept of gender is incompatible with rigorous physicality for women, just as it rejects men as caretakers. Men should be doctors, not nurses. Mom should make dinner, Dad should earn money. Caretaking is undervalued while reckless risk-taking is grossly over-valued. That these stereotypes are unrealistic does not change the fact that the vast majority of our population still aspires to this simplistic and unfair gender split.

Men are great nurses, women are excellent doctors. Men who insist on cooking get paid well as chefs and cooks, yet Mom is supposed to make dinner? Almost no one can afford to not earn money, man or woman, married or single. Life is risk, there are no safe good choices. Risk isn’t something women can avoid any more than men can. Still we cling to ridiculous gender stereotyping.


Dirk Benedict as Starbuck 1978-79

The resistance to real equality extends to areas where aesthetics are not an issue. In the military, where soldiers are overworked and deployed for longer than they imagined they would be, you would think the armed forces would do everything they could to get any and all willing volunteers into uniform and deployed. But no, still they wrestle with whether women can hack it. Equally ridiculous, they can’t believe men can deal with women in their midsts. Of course they can’t, if they are pig-headed misogynists like their leaders. The folly extends to horror when the military tacitly permits assaults on female soldiers that would result in a courtmartial if the victim were male. The military’s inability to incorporate women is not about protecting the weak. It is about punishing women for daring to stand up in the world of men.

Israel’s Caracal Battalion has demonstrated that men and women can function in a combat unit as well as any all male unit, yet the USMC is stymied by the discovery that most of their female recruits can’t do a pull-up. What would they do with a man who could not do a pull-up? They would reject him or give him fitness training. But not women, no, women are different. For women, lack of fitness casts doubt on their present and future ability to be trained as military professionals.

Been to a cross-fit competition lately? If you didn’t know, women can do pull-ups. Most adult office-workers can’t.

Going back to spectator sports, the inequality is not limited to contact team sports. Why are there 20 women riding horses for every man doing so, while the overwhelming majority of professionals in equestrian sports are men? It is not because men are better with horses than women are. They are not. It is not because men have more upper body strength. A horse can’t tell the difference between a 215 lb man and a 125 lb woman. We are all puny to a horse.

Men get paid because we expect to pay men for skill and effort. Accordingly, men expect to get paid. Women don’t expect it, women don’t get paid. It isn’t as simple as asking, as the persistent salary disparity in the U.S. shows. We need a fundamental shift in our expectations for women and men.

Battlestar Galactica is not the answer either. There is a problem with using that as a model too. That I chose it is a sign of my own bias, my own gender training. On that ship, in that military culture, women do what men do, but do men do what women do? The devaluation of caretaking is ingrained in me too.

You cannot have gender equality when you put more value on creation than on caretaking. Even in the NHL, the “stay at home” defenseman is less celebrated than the offensively-minded one. The latter scores goals, the former just cleans up the latter’s mess.

So when a hockey fan asks why there are no viable professional options for women, my inclination is to put the question in that context. Just because women can play hockey doesn’t mean the public is really ready to watch them do it.

That is a sad truth. We all do what we have to do regardless of gender. Shouldn’t we also be able to chose the risky path, and do what we want to do?


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