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A Woman’s Right to Sweep: What You Can Learn from Co-Ed Curling

January 31, 2016 8:22 AM | Columns

By RoseAnna Schick (@ras_creative)

Women Curling

Women in Manitoba celebrated a milestone anniversary this week – earning the vote 100 years ago. Indeed, we’ve come a long way, baby. Gender equality has been a long fought battle. Yet I’ve never really felt myself on the front lines.

While I’ve always believed in the cause, supported it, and undoubtedly benefited from it, I don’t feel like I’ve ever really championed it. And to be honest, I’m not sure why.

Maybe I feel like others are doing just fine leading the charge, and don’t really need my help. Maybe I just don’t want to bother, because if I don’t get involved, surely someone else will. Maybe I don’t want to be labeled a feminist, a word that carries mixed connotations in my mind. Regardless, I’ve always been grateful that many other women have been carrying the torch on behalf of all of us.

Women have long been fighting for their place in sports, too, and earning the right to get in the game. The Olympics let ladies enter track and field events in 1928. The Boston Marathon allowed its first registered female runner in 1967. Full-court basketball welcomed women in 1971, and little league baseball welcomed girls in 1974. Jump ahead to 2016, and women can play any sport they want. Since I love sports, I play a few myself, including curling.

Curling was part of my culture growing up in small town Manitoba. Funny, though, I never actually tried curling until I was in my mid-30s – and quickly became hooked, mostly playing women’s leagues and bonspiels. This year, though, I was asked to join a coed team, and have begun to notice an odd practice in coed curling. It goes something like this: a male skip will anticipate that a particular rock coming down the ice is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing, will leave the house, run down the surface of the ice, bully his way into the mix, and take over sweeping the rock – thus casting aside a female teammate in the process.

It was one of my teammates who first pointed this out to me, and honestly, it didn’t seem like a big deal. A little strange, perhaps, but no big deal. Then, over the next few weeks, I couldn’t help but notice that it kept happening over and over. And it wasn’t just one team, with one aggressive skip. Another team was doing it. And then a third team!

What about the women on those teams, were they just expected to step aside so a man could step in and to their job? Let a man take over sweeping a rock they were fully capable of sweeping? Let a man squeeze them out of the game? It didn’t seem right! A skip’s job is to stay in the house, watch the line, and CALL for sweeping. Not DO the sweeping. What the heck was going on? I don’t know if this happens in all coed leagues, but it’s certainly happening in mine. And rampantly, too.

Last time I checked, curling was a team sport, with four positions. Each of the four positions has a job to do, and teammates typically trust each other to do their job. Sometimes we do our job well, sometimes, well, not so well. That’s called being human.

As teammates, we don’t just go and shove each other aside because we think we can do better. Take someone’s spot because we feel more deserving. This belittles individual contributions to a team, and disrespects the entire team structure. Not only that, but it’s downright annoying and aggravating to watch men literally shove women aside, over and over, for two hours every week.

It dawned on me that, while it might be a small act, it’s symbolic of a much bigger issue – that age-old battle of gender equality. Women wanting the vote. Women wanting to get in the game. Women wanting to sweep their own damn rock.

Coed curling made me realize that yes, I DO care if a man tries to take a woman’s spot. I DO care that there are still plenty of men out there who think they can do a better job than a woman, just because they are a man and she is a woman. I DO care that there are still women out there who let themselves be shoved aside and discounted by a man.

Coed curling suddenly put it all into perspective for me, making me realize women have been fighting for their spot for a long time. On – and off – the ice.

Yes, we have come a long way, baby, but we still have a longer way to go. Because while it may be 2016, and 100 years have passed since we’ve won the right to vote, in some houses, we’re still working on the right to sweep.

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RoseAnna Schick is a freelance writer, travel columnist, outdoor adventurer, and PR professional. Read her stories at ras-words.com.