Your Advice And Opinions Are Not Always Needed

Posted: August 17, 2014 in Problems
Tags: , , ,

The inspiration from this post: online groups/communities/forums for women who lift that men join to offer their advice and opinions too.

It’s not done maliciously, but it’s a problem. Weight lifting is an activity that is predominantly dominated by men. And women often face unique challenges due to this.

For one thing, in mixed gender settings we face sexism in assuming we don’t know what we are doing, or that we don’t belong. Many men make the assumption that by virtue of them being men and us being women, we must need their help. Or they feel threatened that we have encroached on the their manly man space. They feel the need to lash out because they feel emasculated if a woman can do the same manly man activities they do.

Aside from these problems, there are others women face too. Like just the simple assumption that lifters are men. I ran into this today. Someone recommended a training program and I was reading about it and it clearly was directed at men. It was not being promoted as a training program “for men”. Nothing about it is something that would only benefit men. But the assumption was simply that a training guide for weight lifting would be geared toward men.  Everything about how it was written assumed that I, the reader, was a man. Every example given to illustrate a point used  a man. While trying to determine if this program would be good for me I am reading how this program will put hair on my chest, said of course with the assumption that I would want that. Because I’m a manly man who wants manly man hair on my chest. Except not. Men are the default. Look at NROL. I’ve heard a lot more about the book New Rules of Lifting for Women. A book marketed to women. A book  a bought and the training program I started with that introduced me to lifting. And I do like it. I also later discovered it was not actually the only New Rules of Lifting book/program. It followed a book called New Rules of Lifting. Which apparently was geared toward men, like other training guides just as  default assumption that folks who lift are men. It wasn’t New Rules of Lifting for Men. Men are the default, women need to be specified.

This isn’t unique to lifting even, but with something male dominated it’s more pronounced. Throughout our culture there is an established standard that says using men is genderless and using women is gendered. Movies about male protagonists are movies for men and women. Movies about female protagonists are often deemed for women. Women are taught our whole lives to be able to see past gender to identify with a protagonist even if it’s a man, because we have to. But men are not taught the same, so they see a woman and cannot see themselves in her. And this impacts everything. Want to give an illustration of something? Use a man and the focus will necessarily be on gender, use a woman and men are likely to flip or scroll right past it assuming it does not pertain to them because that’s a woman.

This default vs specified leads to other issues too. For one thing, can we assume that advice given by men, for men, is actually advice we could use too? This isn’t new to lifting but is replicated in lifting. For a very long time in medical research, for example, studies were done on men only. Because men are the default. Findings on men were assumed to be genderless findings (of course no one would think to generalize findings on a sample of women only as applicable to men and women). The problem being that men are not just a default setting of humans that their results can fit women too. And so a lot of things once upon a time assumed to be true for all people because it was found in studies of men, turned out to not be true for women. And medicine still has an androcentric focus- still doctors are taught first and foremost with men as a basis and default. We know, for example, that symptoms of a heart attack can be felt differently by men and women. And still the ones most well known by lay people and doctors are those men are more likely to experience. And so, still, women having heart attacks don’t realize it themselves and can be misdiagnosed in a hospital because they don’t present with the same symptoms men do. This becomes an issue in lifting too. There are physiological differences between sexes. They are frequently not as black and white as many people make them out to be. (ie “Men=Testosterone=Strong, Women=Estrogen=Weak”. No. Stop.)  But certainly there are differences, and so women can get hurt when we assume that what applies to men must apply to us.

But now we have more and more, I think, lifting advice and plans out there that are targeted specifically at women! This is great in a  lot of ways. It tells women who don’t lift “hey, this isn’t just for men!”, and it tells women who do lift “you aren’t alone!”. But it also brings up it’s own issues too. I’ve mentioned this before, how even when something says “women can lift heavy too!” we still get the assumptions based on our gender- biggest of them being that we are afraid of being bulky. And so still women who lift, who want to build muscle, who want visible muscle, who don’t care about being “bulky”, we are constantly up against this assumption that our goals are gender deviant. We face this within society at large for lifting, or having visible muscle, we face it within lifting communities where we are still assumed to fear bulk where men desire it.

All of this is to say, there are a lot of experiences with lifting that are unique to women lifting. And all of those unique experiences lead many women who lift to want to congregate with and talk with other women who shares some of these experiences with us. We want to create spaces where our voices and our experiences are at the forefront. And then what happens? Men show up.

Say anything negative though about their presence and they will get angry and defensive. Why shouldn’t they be there? They have valuable knowledge and experience to share! How dare you suggest that only women have this knowledge and experience.

But the cold, hard truth of life is that your advice, opinions, and experience are not always wanted or useful. And in this case, men- your advice, opinions, and experience are not needed. Back off.

I don’t understand why if feels such a threat to certain men that women want to define a space for just women. There are plenty of women lifters out there- do you not understand how arrogant and sexist (even if you don’t consciously think of it this way) it is to insert your presence in a space defined or women to offer advice as if out of all of the women lifters out there, none could possibly possess the level of knowledge and skill you have to offer? It is sexist to think your presence is needed, that if men were not there women lifters would somehow be missing important information.

There are a lot of mixed gender, gender neutral spaces for lifting. There are a lot of men who have contributed knowledge that is useful for men and women lifters. No one (that I’ve ever seen) is suggesting that women who lift throw out and ignore all sources of knowledge that have come from men. But when a community is specifically designated as being for women who lift, why is it asking to much that you respect us carving out a small space where we are front and center, when in all the rest of the lifting world women are secondary, or ignored all together?

And it seems there are some men who think I feel this way because I just don’t understand the true hardships of being in a privileged group. I don’t understand the pain of being told that your opinion on everything is not important.

So let me take a moment to speak from a position of privilege. There are a lot of groups out there defined for people of color. I know of a few organizations for Black Social Workers, and some for Latino/a Social Workers. I’m not a member of these groups because I am not Black nor am I Latina. And I’m sure their spaces, carved out for them, function just fine without white opinions. Because the cold, hard truth is that my advice, opinions, and experience as a white person are not always wanted or useful. Sometimes the right thing to do is to sit down, shut the fuck up, and respect other people’s wishes for the spaces they carve out, even when those wishes are that you not be there.

That doesn’t mean oppressed groups don’t want or need allies. Allies are important and have a place. But that place is not always in every space. As a white person I can speak out against racism, I can attend marches, rallies, and vigils opposing racism, and I can advocate for an end to racism. None of this requires insisting I be allowed in groups specifically for people of color.

Similarly men can speak out against sexism, be involved in advocacy and activism. Specific to lifting men can be more aware of their wording that they don’t assume other lifters are men, they can speak up if they hear someone else being rude to a woman lifting in the gym, or negative comments about women lifting in general. You can offer the same support and encouragement to women who lift in mixed gender spaces. But if a space specifies  that it is for women, consider that maybe THAT is not a place where your advice and opinions are wanted or needed.

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