There is a fuzzy-headed mascot on the sidelines of almost every college or university across the country — and almost every one of them is perceived as male at first glance. There are a staggering fewer amount of female mascots than male at universities nationwide and, when they do make an appearance, they are usually the female counterpart to their male partner.
Montclair State has been the home to Rocky the Red Hawk for over 15 years. The brown-furred bird stands tall at almost every major event held on campus. The mascot, who usually displays a Montclair State tank top and basketball shorts has been primarily recognized as a male. However, Cindy Meneghin, director of student communications and the “go-to” contact when it comes to Rocky the Red Hawk, said otherwise.
Meneghin explained that Rocky was never officially introduced as a male — the mascot is not gender-specific, and she makes a very concerted effort to avoid using gender pronouns when addressing the red hawk. Although, she as well as others have found themselves slipping, referring to Rocky as a ‘he’ when speaking in conversation.
Nonetheless, Meneghin believes that Rocky embodies the “spirit of the red hawk, the spirit of Montclair [State].” The students who have suited up as the members of “Team Rocky” don’t follow any set patterns.
“Without giving away any secret identities, underneath that iconic costume are Montclair State students who represent a diverse spectrum — all sizes, shapes, ages, personal identity,” Meneghin said.
However, the average student on Montclair State’s campus looks at Rocky and sees a male figure handing them a cupcake or giving them a high-five. They don’t see a non-gender-specific mascot—they see the traditional Rocky the Red Hawk.
“Rocky is generally perceived as a male because of the pronouns given to ‘him’ when Rocky is referred to,” said Melissa Morillo, vice president of Femvolution, a feminist organization on campus devoted to promoting awareness to issues of inequality. However, Morillo pointed out that she believes that Rocky alone didn’t play on any specific gender roles.
With the university’s most recent incoming class sporting a 63 percent female to 37 percent male student population, this debate goes surprisingly unnoticed. Meneghin explained that this article was the first time that the idea of mascot gender disparity was ever discussed during her time at Montclair State.
One Red Hawk who doesn’t seem to mind is Karin Harvey, head coach of the dominant women’s basketball team, who said she has “no issue” with the fact that Rocky is perceived as a male.
“Rocky is a way to generate excitement and enthusiasm at our games,” Harvey said. “Anyone, regardless of gender, or if he or she is wearing a costume, can do this and I know it is appreciated by all of our student-athletes.”
Harvey sees no reason for the team to be represented by a different mascot, especially a female counterpart.
“Feminizing a mascot doesn’t signify the importance of females in athletic competition,” Harvey said. “The collective, tangible results of our female student-athletes’ hard-work and dedication is a testament to them.”
However, there are some universities across the country that feel differently. Universities like North Carolina State, the University of Arizona and the University of Arkansas all have both a female and male mascot cheering on their team. There are many others with non-gender-specific names, like Rocky, but who follow traditional male stereotypes when it comes to appearance.
Morillo highlighted the fact that sports have always been gender specific in her opinion, but with the passing of Title IX, the sports world has seen improvements.
“As a University, I believe it is our duty to be welcoming and inclusive to all people especially in sports,” she said.
Morillo simply put it, “Rocky is Rocky,” but then added, “If there is an issue here there might need to be a call for change.”
Meneghin spoke of the possibility of bringing another Red Hawk to Montclair State’s campus — a possible “little brother or sister” for Rocky in the future. But as it stands right now, there are no concrete plans in place to do so. However, she and all of the members of “Team Rocky” believe that the mascot is very positively received by the student body.