White Girls and Pony-tails by Amie Chaudry

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Tonight and tomorrow (November 10th and 11th), sixteen of the nation’s elite collegiate field hockey squads will take to the pitches to play in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division I Field Hockey Championship Tournament. Almost one week later, the four advancing teams will head to the University of Maryland College Park to play in the semi-final games on November 16th for a shot at the national title game on November 18th. What the mass of spectators will be greeted with at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex on the University of Maryland campus is a 20ft banner donning the NCAA 2007 Field Hockey Championship insignia, a woman field hockey player running on an angle, a classic pose seen when players carry the ball at top speed (you can check this out online also at http://www.ncaasports.com/fieldhockey/womens/schedules). More than likely, those spectators visiting the campus will not think to question the underlying details of that logo. I have to admit that even I neglected to take notice until my professor Dr. Andrews brought it to my attention a few weeks back.

Taking another look, I noted that the caricature was that of a white female with noticeably broad shoulders, muscular arms, thick thighs, and a bouncy pony-tail. In a rather raw analysis I thought to myself that this was a relatively accurate depiction of the contemporary women who play elite-level field hockey. The sport demands of its participants a marathon runner’s endurance, as well as incredible upper arm and lower body strength. Because of the sport’s design being played on the ground with a ball equal to the size of a baseball, and a stick not much wider than a broom handle and no taller than an individual’s hip, field hockey players spend an immeasurable amount of time in a crouching or squatting position. I can attest after playing field hockey for nearly 15 years that these aspects of the game result in well or over developed hamstring and quadriceps muscles, as well as a phenomenon known only as “hockey butt”.

 

But putting my insider field hockey knowledge aside and strapping on my academic thinking cap, I had to question the underlying messages within the image. Whether or not the NCAA had intended to depict women’s field hockey in this way, the illustration really speaks to the particular gender and racial make-up of the sport (and giving credit where credit is due, Dr. Andrews originally suggested this to me). Surely the NCAA was not trying to pride itself on the fact that less than 6% of collegiate field hockey players are black, but using a stark white female character to represent all of NCAA field hockey certainly made the dramatic under representation a wee bit obvious. And even though the highly trained and developed field hockey body is a norm for the sport, the long and playful pony-tail most certainly is not. Could it be that the hair style chosen for the NCAA logo is a feminine cover-up for the large muscles often seen in the sport? A way to sooth over parents, fans, and critics that think young women will become too masculine with continual participation in the male-domain of sport? Who knows for sure, but the image certainly raises some alarming concerns.

 

After doing some surfing on the internet I found that NCAA 2007 Field Hockey Championship insignia had been put on a black and white color scale on the University of Maryland athletics website (see it here at http://umterps.cstv.com/sports/w-fieldh/spec-rel/07-ncaa-tournament.html). The graphic shows the female figure now as black, with the same features and characteristics previously mentioned. I was completely delighted when I saw this and assumed that the University of Maryland knew what was up and decidedly took a stand against the NCAA by changing the colors of the image. A colorblind approach one might argue. More than likely this was just a random incident and the website changed the colors to coincide with the white backdrop of the web page (an unconscious reproduction of the whiteness embedded in collegiate field hockey perhaps?), but I enjoy my little dream world so leave me alone.

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The moral of this blog is that the NCAA needs to shape up or ship out. After perusing the official website for NCAA sports (http://www.ncaasports.com/) I found that every womens sport, with the exception of swimming, water polo, fencing, basketball, and volleyball, features a logo containing a white female character with a pony-tail. I can only assume that the reason the first three mentioned sports do not have a pony-tail in the graphic is because those athletes wear some sort of mask or cap which covers their hair entirely. For an organization “committed to nurturing and encouraging diversity and inclusion” with goals “to create a culture in which each person is seen as unique and every individual feels like he or she is a viable and valued part of the university, athletics department and intercollegiate athletics”, I think it is time that the NCAA starts walking the walk instead of just talking the talk.

The aforementioned quotes were taken from the NCAA’s Diversity and Inclusion Brochure, available on the NCAA organizational website http://www.ncaa.org/wps/portal.

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3 thoughts on “White Girls and Pony-tails by Amie Chaudry

  1. Interesting analysis, but do you think perhaps identity was left open by the blank face on the logo? Also, I think many people would agree that ponytails are indeed the hair style of choice for most athletes with hair that is any longer than shoulder-length, simply because it’s fast, easy, and keeps hair out of the face. As I’m looking at the poster of the U.S. Women’s Field Hockey team, which is a collage made up of individual action shots of each team member, there is only one player without some sort of ponytail (a few have wound theirs into a bun) and that is only because she has short hair. How do you suggest they depict the hockey player in the NCAA logo, if not a generic silhouette in a typical hockey position?

  2. Jess, thanks for the comment. You bring up a valid point regarding the blank face on the caricature, but I feel like that effort became disingenuous with the particular usage of (white) color to represent the player. Perhaps I’m taking my pony-tail argument to the extreme, but I do strongly feel that the image is particularly limiting. And when it comes to proper depiction of NCAA field hockey, I’m entirely conflicted. Utilizing two crossing sticks or possibly a stick and a ball would probably be the least problematic representation for a field hockey logo, but I also think that idea is rather dull. They could do a silhouette of the heavily padded, helmet wearing, Mega Man looking goalkeeper. That would most certainly be an eye-opening image, but that is also my self-indulgent plug being a GK myself!

  3. I think you both bring up interesting points. It seems to me that there are two problems here. First, that most of us (until we read Amie’s blog) just took the logo (if we even looked at the field hockey page on NCAA.com) at face value and simply assumed that was how hockey is graphically represented. The second problem is that once we accept these types of graphic representations, we don’t often bother to look more critically at who or how it represents. I agree with Amie that this image definitely presents a depiction of what the normalized field hockey player looks like. Not being a hockey player myself, I’m not all that familiar with the demographics, but I can only think of one non white woman I know who plays hockey. I do also find the ponytail issue troubling. As a woman with short hair I do on occasion find myself wistfully remembering my pony-tailed days and I think that is in no small part due to the presentations of female athletes wearing pony-tails. Of course, I think the real issue is not how the NCAA should depict a hockey player, but that we should be aware of the normalizing power of these images and remind ourselves and others that just because the NCAA shows a pony-tailed, white, faceless female figure running around with a stick, we don’t all have to be pony-tailed, white and faceless.

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