A number of Vanier students can now boast about having held an Olympic gold medal in their hands, thanks to Caroline Ouellette’s inspiring visit to Vanier in honour of International Women’s Week. Ouellette has participated in the last four Winter Olympics, bringing home four gold medals with the national hockey team – the most recent of which, won in Sochi in 2014, was earned while she was captain. She is also a player for the Canadiennes (formerly the Montreal Stars), a professional-level team on the NWHL.
Her talk aimed to promote the status of female athletes playing on a professional level, to encourage women to take part in sports, and to denounce certain injustices. For instance, she mentioned that one of the most prominent distinctions between the portrayal of female athletes, in comparison to men is in terms of sponsors and their advertisements. For women, the less they wear, the easier it is for them to find sponsors. This is an obvious, repetitive objectification of the female body, and it makes Ouellette “uncomfortable”. She acknowledges that media coverage of professional women’s hockey is significantly lower than that of men’s hockey. The athlete supports her point using the Clarkson Cup (the women’s version of the Stanley Cup) as an example, explaining that most people aren’t even aware of its existence.
The gold-medalist did point out however, that women’s hockey is a big deal when the Winter Olympics come calling. She talked about the amazing experience of winning the gold-medal game at the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, after having lost the previous eight games against their rivals. It was a heated match, and thirteen million Canadians tuned in to that game. She sees that as a step towards recognition, and as a sign that the nation is ready to support its women athletes.
Ouellette brought to the audience’s awareness the fact that one of the only ways for the female teams to prove themselves in hockey (and in many sports) is to play against men’s teams – and win (which is something the Canadiennes are able to do in many cases). She promoted her annual event, the Girl’s Hockey Celebration, which aims to transform the common mindset so that telling someone they “play like a girl” becomes a compliment.
For now, playing “like a girl” is still often seen in a negative light – the female players’ pay checks can testify to that. In response to an audience member’s question about the pay gap between professional men and women in hockey, Ouellette admitted that there is a huge discrepancy – women aren’t paid to be part of teams such as the Canadiennes. They are sponsored by the government to train for the national team, but “it isn’t enough to live on” – let alone to profit from the sport.
Advocating social change, the Olympian emphasized that the power to change a generation’s perspective often resides in that generation’s parents. It’s important that fathers (and mothers) remain attentive to their daughters’ opinions, and that they foster an egalitarian ideology. She told her story, saying that she asked her father if she could play hockey when she was seven. “He said no. It was 1988 and he’d never seen a girl play hockey,” she recalled. Two years after she first asked, her mom took her out to buy her first pair of black skates, and registered her with the local boys’ team – without discussing it with her father. Today, both of her parents support her choice… and look how far it’s gotten her!
Written By: Katherine Willcocks
Originally Published: March 2016