Posts Tagged ‘Gender’

This is one of those things that is said all the time in fitness forums, articles, and books, and it usually makes me want to scream.

Usually it comes in the form of reassuring women that weight lifting will not make them “bulky”. But it can take other forms as well, and regardless of the reasoning it still annoys the hell out of me.

A lot of women who lift and want to build noticeable muscle do find this to be true. But not all women are the same.

The reasoning behind this is that women don’t have enough testosterone so building any muscle for us, all of us, takes a long more work and takes a lot longer. But fun fact, “hormone levels” aren’t actually exactly equal among all women. In fact, they can vary quite a lot from woman to woman. We are not actually all clones.

Sometimes I wish that I could see muscle growth more quickly, but overall I don’t usually feel like I have a very hard time building muscle. And never have. It’s always seemed like I could see more muscle growth more quickly than this well known fitness fact seems to imply I should.

I mentioned recently some changes I’ve seen with my body from weight lifting. Which is also what got me thinking about this topic today. Because according to many folks, what I notice is just not possible because I’m a woman.

Besides being fairly intimately familiar with what my body looks like and feels like, I take measurements semi-regularly, and noticed first awhile back that my arms (measured around my bicep) were getting surprisingly bigger (especially surprising given I don’t specifically train biceps) meanwhile my arms look and feel more ‘toned’, more recently my thighs have increased in size at the same time I can notice that my hamstrings look and feel much larger.

Which I’ve actually been told by random dudes (actually all men- which makes sense because clearly they are the experts on women)  even though they don’t know me, that this is just not possible. As a woman, I have not been lifting long enough to build enough muscle for me to have that significant muscle growth. Clearly I’m just getting fatter and lying to myself about it.

I don’t buy it. I don’t buy it because unlike them I know my body.

And to be clear, it’s not that I need to prove to anyone that I’m not getting fatter or that it would be any of their business if I were. That’s not what this is about. What this is about is that it’s really annoying to get excited about building muscle (because I get excited about that!) and being told that I obviously just don’t know my own body and can’t tell the difference between fat and muscle because women just can’t build muscle like that (source: everyone just knows that).

This whole idea that all women’s bodies work exactly the same such that we can make this universal claim that women don’t build muscle easily just needs to die already.

For some reason there is something… or somethings… about me some people just really hate. I mean, I never expect to be everyone’s cup of tea. But honestly I am surprised at times the amount of obsessive hate I get directed at me. Particularly the obsessive part. Like the folks who obviously disagree with me and clearly straight up do not like me, yet still apparently read everything I write here and on other websites- and check all my workouts I post online. I mean, I have a blog specifically identified as being about feminism, I expect the random nasty comments. That some people really get so obsessed though that they don’t just say “haha fattie!!!!” (<- real comments I get often) and move on but keep following all my activities across various websites- that was a bit unexpected.

But I guess I should have expected, I’m fat, I’m a woman, and I’m queer a dyke, several characteristics that mean a lot of people are very bothered by my mere existence on the internet. I actually try not to venture too far away from certain safe internet spaces usually (my facebook that is limited to those I have friended, and a few forums that restrict membership and are heavily moderated against hateful or harassing comments). Though I’ve branched out recently. Though I still won’t go on reddit. But I have this blog, and another, I use twitter now and then, and I started posting on instagram a lot and even made my account public, and I’m active on this fitness website called fitocracy.

The latter being the primary source of most issues I run into.

None of this should surprise me. I stayed out of #gamergate and mostly out of #shirtgate but I read about both and I know women who actively posted bout them. I know about the rape threats and misogynistic comments that followed those who did. I know about the doxing and many women who had the harassment go beyond the internet resulting in being stalked and threatened IRL. Women who no longer could feel safe in their own homes all for speaking out on the internet against sexism and in support of other women.

Misogyny on the internet isn’t news to me. But I stayed largely uninvolved in both of those precisely because I have limited energy to deal with bullshit. I have more than enough stress in my life already, and I do research that revolves around violence against women- when I want to relax and get away from that, I don’t want to get away from it by reading a bunch of rape threats.

And it shouldn’t surprise me running into so many issues on a fitness based website, it should be no surprise that a number of men who are interested in lifting feel the need to fuel that interest with misogyny and homophobia. Because it’s all about proving one’s masculinity which apparently means tearing down women and gay men.

And even though this is titled “haters gonna hate”, I wish I could sit here and say that it hasn’t changed anything for me and I just ignore it. I do my best to, but sometimes, it doesn’t work. I’ve deleted a number of workouts after just downright mean comments (not advice, just mean for the sake of being mean.)  I’ve started not tracking a lot of workouts online- not for the reasons I hear others use about just not caring about points anymore, or because they track other places instead, no- for me when I choose not to track something online it’s because I just don’t want to deal with comments from folks about how they are laughing at my workout.

I want to connect and talk to folks who have a similar interest and I want to celebrate progress, but I can’t do that without also opening myself up to all number of rude comments there, and here, and probably soon enough other places as well as a small set of people follow me around from site to site.

Part of my inspiration for this is when I see folks say this doesn’t happen, they don’t see it. Well, you wouldn’t if it’s not directed at you. Many of these exchanges have not happened in the open. I’ve deleted them on other sites, on this site comments need to be approved so if I delete it without approving it no one except me knows it happens. And so that’s part of why I’m writing this. To acknowledge that this happens, even though if you looked through comments here or elsewhere you would find no evidence of it.

And a big part of my inspiration in writing this is just how exhausted I am with it. I’m exhausted at having to put my guard up if I venture over to certain sites. I have to prepare for the backlash if I do something as radical as suggest that folks should maybe not use homophobic slurs. And it’s just fucking exhausting and there are so many times I just want to delete all my accounts, block everyone, and hide from the whole world because of this. Usually I get over that. I get some rest, get my strength back up, but the mental armor back on, and venture back out to deal with it all again. But god damn it blogging, tracking workouts online, and wanting to talk to other people about lifting should have to feel like that.

And it’s on a totally different topic but I am somewhat reminded of this article I read recently about Lena Chen’s experience blogging about sex. There are a number of parallels, plus it’s a great piece and worth reading so I’ll take any excuse to link to it.

I was hanging out with a friend once, and we were driving somewhere in my car with my music playing when a song I like started- Emotional Girl by Terri Clark. It’s a song that came out when I was 9 and I’ve been listening to it ever since then. My friend starts telling me how he can’t believe I would like this song. I’m confused, he’s hear enough of my music he should know by now that I like country music. That’s not it. He explains that this song supposedly represents everything I disagree with because I get upset at sexist stereotypes and this song is saying they are true.

Except not. I’ve listened to this song a lot. No where in the song does she says “women just more emotional than men!” or “women can’t control their emotions!” She sings about herself being emotional, and the artist happens to be a woman (or “girl” in the lyrics of the song). This led to an argument about whether or not it “proves” a stereotype for an individual to meet it, which he claimed it did- I still find interesting considering how many stereotypes he would be “proving” under that logic.

But I’m reminded of this conversation from time to time because while most people would never say they think a single individual displaying a characteristic means that proves a stereotype of all people like them in some way will have that characteristic, people still are inclined to take such things as evidence that their stereotype is accurate.

And this is one of the problems with stereotypes- making people in certain groups feel like everything they do has to be defined by that stereotype by way of disproving it.

You tell me women are just too emotional compared to men, and now I’m apparently under some obligation to never show emotion to prove your stereotype is wrong and show that I am worthy of being treated equally. And suddenly an entire group of people are not allowed varying personalities and characteristics because if even a few fit the stereotype for the whole group that is taken as proof the stereotype is accurate.

I’m writing about this because in a lot of ways it took some work to say “so what if I fit your stereotype?” For a long time I did feel like I had to behave in certain ways so I wouldn’t be considered a stereotype. But the thing is, the problem with stereotypes is the stereotype, not me being whoever I am.

And who I am sometimes fits certain stereotypes and sometimes it doesn’t. I wrote recently about musing about fitting the stereotype of the man-hating, lesbian feminist in combat boots, and the thing about that stereotype is there was a time when I did feel like I had to counter that stereotype personally and would be afraid of fitting it. Of course I still don’t fit the stereotype perfectly- usually the stereotype also includes “hairy legged” and I do shave. But, that’s kind of how individuals work.

Some stereotypes about women don’t fit me at all, some do. Some stereotypes about lesbians fits me, some don’t. Et cetera. And that’s fine.

There is nothing wrong with being an emotional person, so why should I be bothered if I fit that stereotype? There is nothing wrong with being a lesbian or wearing combat boots, so why be bothered if I fit those stereotypes?

Also fitting one part of a stereotype does not mean all the things people think about that are accurate.  See for example: fat lesbians do not prove the stereotype that lesbians are just gay because we are too fat and ugly to get a man. Being a fat lesbian doesn’t even prove that lesbians are as a group always fat (even if most of us are, your stereotype still sucks because it doesn’t ft all lesbians) and it certainly doesn’t prove all the extrapolation beyond that about the supposed meaning of our bodies and sexuality.

The problem is with people who make and operate under stereotypes about whole groups of people, not me for being who  I am instead of always trying to be the exact opposite of every stereotype that could maybe be applied to me.

I just posted on my facebook about being amused that I’ve pretty much become the stereotypical man-hating, lesbian feminist who wears combat boots.

And I was thinking more about this, and how I wear combat boots all the time these days- but but often with dresses and such. So being femme even though I wear combat boots I don’t look like the stereotype of a lesbian.

Which then got me thinking about being fat, which is often a stereotypical lesbian trait. The awesome Lea Delaria had some asshole comment on her twitter I think it was about how she was a walking stereotype being a fat, butch lesbian.

But I’m fat and femme. And these often feel like contradicting points to me. Even though they are not at all. But if you were to say “fat lesbian” I think most people would be more likely to picture someone who looks like Lea Delaria than Mary Lambert.

Speaking of which, how adorable are they! *swoon*

On the other hand I follow a lesbian page on facebook that primarily talks about femme visibility. It’s cool, but I notice a lot of the time there is stuff I just can’t relate to, because “femme” ends up being used to mean “conventionally attractive”, but the two are not necessarily the same thing. I’m femme. I’m attractive in my own way, but I’m not conventionally attractive. And the biggest part of that is because I’m fat.

#fatfemmeproblems

I’m just going to leave this there because I’ve been drinking and I’m not sure how to nicely conclude my rambling thoughts on this.

Ok, I’m going off topic for a second, on a feminist ran unrelated to fitness or body image and fat acceptance stuff.

I was reminded today about an issue I have with the representation of women in tv shows and movies.

To clarify my title here, it’s not that I dislike strong female characters- it’s that they are not enough, in my opinion. And I’m sick of being told that token strong female characters should make up for the overall lack of representation of women.

I am still a fan of the Bechdel test. Which for those who don’t is a “test” that came Allison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For (btw, very cool comic). A character in the strip says she will not see any movie that does not have at least two women characters, who talk to each other, about something other than a man. The last movie she had seen in theaters was Alien in 1978. Since then many have expanded the test, to better represent the thought behind it, that the two women be named characters.

I don’t use the Bechdel test as the character in the comic did- I see movies in theaters that fail it, I watch movies and tv shows that fail it. I even enjoy movies and tv shows that fail it.

But I still think it’s useful in pointing out the utter crap that is representation of women.

One criticism I’ve seen of the test is that it fails to account for a film that fails it but still has an awesome, strong, female character.

But there is still something wrong when we are given these strong female characters who exist in a fictional universe that does not represent reality in a gendered sense. Approximately half the world’s population is female, and in many countries (including the US) we are actually a slight majority. There is no good reason that women should not also account for half of characters, including names characters, in television and films. And for all the women out there, when was the last time you talked to another woman about something other than a man? I’m guessing it was pretty recently. And happens fairly often in your life. I know it does for me. I have a sister I talk to about things other than men, a mother I talk to about things other than men, Aunts I talk to about things other than men, women classmates, colleagues, and professors who I talk to about things other than men, et cetera. To not meet these very basic requirements is to represent a huge break from reality when it comes to gender.

I love strong female characters, I just want them to exist in a fictional universe to accurately reflects that women exist as we do in reality. I don’t want strong female characters who exist in this vacuum devoid of any other women.

I mean, take for example Avengers. Black Widow is an awesome and badass character and that is awesome! And yet on a team of 6 superheroes we has one woman. And that’s par for the course for representation of women. Representation ranges 0-1. No one questions 5 superheroes who are men but if we reversed that ratio it would be a huge deal, it would probably be called out as some feminist attack on culture, and certainly would be deemed a film for women only. But 5 men and 1 woman? Totally a fair representation that has appeal to men and women.

And of course despite her awesomeness Black Widow has yet to get her own movie. Two Iron Man movies before the first avengers and no Black Widow movie. Three movies total for the asshole playboy character, and zero for the sole woman on the team.

And Black Widow isn’t even the only badass woman in the Avengers. Yet, while we get scenes of Agent Coulson and Steve Rogers talking about Captain America collectibles, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner talking about science, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers talking about Weapons, Tony Stark and Thor talking about Shakespeare, et cetera, et cetera, we don’t ever get Natasha Romanoff and Agent Hill talking about the tesseract, or fighting aliens, or how much it sucks being the only women in shield, or whatever else. How about anything to suggest that Black Widow exists in a world were she is not the only woman, and interacts with other women in the world as well?

Not that I think throwing in that just to “pass” a test is a good thing. In fact, the biggest problem I think with the Bechdel test is the idea that passing it is a big deal, or trying to pass on a technicality only. Rather passing should be standard and really films and tv shows should be far exceeding those minimalist “requirements” for representation of women.

I’m seeing these terms, “Skinny Shaming” / “Thin Shaming” and “Fit Shaming” more and more online and honestly, I don’t get it.

What is wrong with the term “body shaming”? Why specify “skinny”, “thin” or “fit”? (that last one not being a body type though) That probably sounds a little hypocritical of me because I don’t have the same issue with “fat shaming”. But of course part of what bugs me about the “skinny shaming” et al is that they seem to be specifically used by many as a means of demonstrating that these things happen just as much, or more, to thin women as to fat women.

The thing is body shaming does happen to women of all sizes! And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone claim otherwise. And this relates to a long standing issue I’ve had with certain folks who try to claim that fat oppression is just an extension of sexism and not it’s own thing, and reduce it to body shaming. Because it’s not. Fat oppression is not just body shaming. Body shaming, and fat shaming, is an extension of that, but not all of it.

I’m also not bothered by fat shaming being called that and not just body shaming because, at least as I conceptualized the term, fat shaming is not just about the way an individual has their body attacked and mocked but also the way fat bodies are typically not represented or represented as disgusting or as jokes, within popular media. It has to do with the way fat bodies are presented as indicators of ill healtah, disease, laziness, and gluttony. How a fat body can in our society serve as a stand in for all those things. It has to do with the fear mongering around fat bodies that seek on a large scale level to shame people for being fat. And it connects with all other areas of fatphobia and fat oppression.

None of this means that body shaming is ok or doesn’t hurt at any body size. Of course it does. Body shaming of any body is wrong, it’s painful, and since we are typically talking women here- it is sexist too. It’s sexism that tells women our bodies are never good enough. It’s sexism that the body ideals we are fed are literally impossible for any woman to achieve (even the women in them do not look like that thanks to photoshopping). It’s sexism that we are taught the best way to cut a woman down is to attack her appearance or attractiveness. It’s sexism that  tells women our bodies are never good enough. It’s sexism that says we must always be attractive to men, and it’s sexism that we are taught that a woman’s worth is defined by men finding her attractive. It’s sexism that men think it matters whether or not they would want to fuck any particular woman (see comments on any photo of a woman on the internet with men commenting whether or not they would want to fuck her as if that is some great compliment or great insult, as if anyone actually gives a damn). It’s sexism that women tear each other down and feel they need to make other women feel unattractive in order to make themselves feel better.

It’s sexism, it’s vicious, it’s a problem, and all women face it.

And it is different than fat oppression. Fat oppression is having only thin bodies represented positively in popular media. Fat oppression is having thin bodies presented as healthy and as the default. Fat oppression is having fat bodies portrayed as indicators of ill health, disease, laziness and gluttony. Fat oppression is fat people receiving poorer quality healthcare because of this. Fat shaming can be having someone on the internet make negative comments about your fat body, and sure enough that happens all the time, but it’s also having your doctor treat you more poorly because you are fat. It’s being shamed by your doctor for daring to come in when you are fat, it’s being told not to come back until you lose weight, and it literally kills. Fat oppression is being discriminated against in employment. And while fat shaming can be negative comments online, it’s also negative comments from an employer, it’s being told that your weight is an indication of laziness and/or doesn’t represent a company well. It’s these things, and so many more things, that are targeted at fat people as a group because they are fat. That is fat oppression, that is fat shaming, which is not the sexist body shaming that all women experience. And inersectionality means that most aspects of fat oppression effect women far more than men, but they are not exclusive to women.

So to talk about fat shaming is to put that shaming within the context of fat oppression- within the larger social context. The same cannot be said for “skinny shaming”, “thin shaming”, or “fit shaming”. There is no larger social context of thin people being discriminated against in healthcare, employment, and other aspects of life because they are thin. The larger social context to those acts is sexism and body shaming, so just call it body shaming.

Body shaming is wrong, it’s harmful, it’s in no way ok or excusable. So why do folks feel the need to use a different word?

So I just came across this article titled: Weight Discrimination Is Surprisingly Rare, Study Finds. My typical reaction to news articles about studies though is “is that really what the study found?” because news articles are terrible at reporting such things.

In this case, going based solely on the information provided in this article- no, that really isn’t what the study found.

The biggest problem is that this study was based on self reports of discrimination.

The participants — nearly 3,000 men and women 50 and older — were asked how often they encounter five discriminatory situations: “In your day-to-day life, how often have any of the following things happened to you: (1) you are treated with less respect or courtesy; (2) you receive poorer service than other people in restaurants and stores; (3) people act as if they think you are not clever; (4) you are threatened or harassed; and (5) you receive poorer service or treatment than other people from doctors or hospitals. Responses ranged from ‘never’ to ‘almost every day’.”

But there are a lot of problems with this. How do you know if you are being treated more poorly than other people?  Sometimes you might know because a person treats you obviously rudely and you can see that they treat others differently.

But what if you can’t see how they treat others? If a doctor treats you rudely, are you going to assume you’re being treated more rudely than other patients or assume the doctor is just generally rude? Anecdotally, it’s my experience people are more likely to just assume the doctor is generally rude.

And that assumes behavior that is clearly rude and can be easily identified as such.

Look at studies of attitudes and behaviors of physicians and you can see that many do report bias against fat patients and treat them differently. “More than 50% of physicians viewed obese patients as awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant.” Along with having more negative views of overweight and obese patients, doctors have also been shown to have less emotional rapport with overweight and obese patients. When medical students were asked to provide recommendations for virtual patients, identical except for weight/BMI, “[s]tudents revealed more negative stereotyping, less anticipated patient adherence, worse perceived health, more responsibility attributed for potentially weight-related presenting complaints and less visual contact directed toward the obese version of a virtual patient than the non-obese version of the patient.” Weight has also shown to relate to what activities doctors spend time during visits on, with doctors spending less time educating obese patients about their health. And this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of research showing weight bias among health care providers.

But if you are a patient how will you know if your doctor is spending less time educating you on your health condition than their thin patients? How do you know your doctor has more emotional rapport with thin patients? If your doctor never explicitly states anything negative about you or your weight but in subtle ways treats you differently due to negative bias how would you know you are being treated that way because of weight? In fact- often they don’t even realize they are treating patients different or even that they posses these biases. We all typically have biases we are not consciously aware of, yet they still impact our actions.

So expecting to capture this all in self-reports is misleading.

If you go by self-report we would miss a lot of discrimination, not jut of weight, but lots of issues.

It reminds me of something that happened in high school that I will never forget. Me and a few friends were heading out to hang out in Canada, and crossing the border. After we got through the checkpoint area I commented on it being so ridiculous the way the officers at the border acted suspicious of us and our relationship to each other (friends). I’m white, one of my friends is Indian and another is black and Puerto Rican. They told me I was crazy, that’s just standard “dong their job” for people who work at the border. And it dawned on me the difference in our perception- it was ridiculous to me because I knew from experience that if I was in a car with only other white people, they would not have acted that way. My friends had never been with an all white group crossing the border, because their presence would have automatically made the group no longer all white. If the only experience we have is with our own identify present, we can’t always know how our identity influences it. That’s why studies that actually document the differences are helpful.

Look at any area of discrimination and you will find that. We don’t always know it’s happening or why it is. If I get passed over for a job I have no idea if it’s because there was someone more qualified than me, or I’m being discriminated against due to my gender, or I’m being discriminated against due to my sexual orientation (which an employer can learn from googling me, or can assume by seeing that I’ve work with lgbtq organizations on my resume), or I’m being discriminated against because of my weight, or any other reason actually! I just know I never got called back for the job.

You cannot expect to capture the true frequency of discrimination based on self-reports.

Even the study’s authors offer another potential issue with the self-report data:

Jackson added that “research suggests that many overweight people don’t perceive themselves to be overweight, perhaps due to normalization of carrying excess weight. If people do not perceive themselves to be overweight one might expect them to be less likely to attribute experiences of discrimination to their weight.”

As well, they did not only study overweight and obese patients so the results are also including individuals who are “normal weight”.

I also see no indication that they analyzed the data by gender, which is significant since women are more likely to experience discrimination due to weight than men.

So apparently there was a study which found that among the lesbians sampled 75% were overweight or obese.

I first heard of this when I saw this article on my facebook feed about what is wrong with the statistic. The woman who wrote that article mainly takes issue with the fact that the sample size for lesbians was 87 compared to a sample size of 5,460 straight women.

I read this awhile back, and it made me uncomfortable, but I often like to stop and sit on those kinds of thoughts and feelings for awhile so I give myself time to think through why. But my thought at the time and my thought now remains- so what if it is true?

Putting aside whether the statistic is good or accurate, I’m more concerned with why we care one way or the other.

The author of this article is concerned that this statistic will be accepted as fact, will morph into countless memes and jokes used to mock lesbians and “delegitimize our sexuality”.

But it seems to me- as a fat lesbian- that the underlying issue to that is that it’s considered mock worthy to be a fat lesbian.

Ferndale Pride with Extra Lesbian Sticker

Fat Lesbian! … Fat extra lesbian? … or Extra Fat Lesbian?

Side note: I took 3 selfies at ferndale pride with 3 stickers- extra queer, extra gay, and extra lesbian (all 3 being terms I identify with), and of course it’s the extra lesbian one, which was most relevant to this post, that I like the least. Oh well. 

And why should this statistic “delegitimize our sexuality”? Being fat does not make my sexual orientation any less legitimate.

The author of the article explains further: “the publicity around this ’75 percent of lesbians are fat’ statistic on social media is at present exacerbating the stereotype that ‘lesbians are just a bunch of ugly, lazy, misguided women with low self-esteem who can’t get a husband because they’re fat and don’t wear make-up, and therefore they’re terrible people and don’t deserve to be taken seriously!'”

And here is where I get deeply uncomfortable with this. Because my sexual orientation is not a response to low self-esteem nor an inability to get a husband. Being fat doesn’t mean I have low self-esteem and it sure as fuck does not mean I can’t get a man. I get hit on by men with some frequency. Whether or not those are men I’d actually date even if I was dating men is another issue. But if I were really desperate for a man, I could get one. But I’m not. 1. I’m single and not desperate for a relationship period. I have no interest in being with someone just for the sake of not being single and proving to society that I found someone who found me attractive. 2. More on point here, I don’t want to date men. I am attracted to women. My attraction to women is not a back up, substitute for men. And my weight does not make that any less so.

The stereotype that “lesbians are just a bunch of ugly, lazy, misguided women with low self-esteem who can’t get a husband because they’re fat and don’t wear make-up” is a problematic one. It’s a problematic one for fat lesbians too. It’s still problematic even if 75% of lesbians are overweight or obese. Because fat lesbians are not lesbians because we are too fat to get a man. Being fat and a lesbian does not make this stereotype true. Just like lesbian women who don’t wear makeup don’t make this stereotype true. If 75% of lesbian don’t wear makeup this stereotype would still be a heaping pile of bullshit.

So given that fat lesbians are still not lesbians due to an inability to get a man, given many men find fat women attractive, and that the reasons fat women are lesbians are pretty much the same as the reasons thin women are lesbians- what would it matter if 75% of lesbians are fat?

And I leave you with: Extra Fat Lesbian in Rainbow Fishnets

And I leave you with: Extra Fat Lesbian in Rainbow Fishnets

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.

So I was looking for new blogs to read related to what I blog about here- which is difficult at times. Search FA and get anti-FA too, search based on fitness interests, get blogs all about dieting and weight loss.

So I saw this anti-FA blog post that compares being fat to being a slut. For reals.

And I find myself thinking “well, I’m both of those, so… was I supposed to be offended by that?”

And yeah, I’ll call myself a slut. For pretty similar reasons to calling myself fat. I mean, I call myself fat because I am. But as a word that is hurled as an insult, it’s also about reclaiming it. About saying I’m fat, and I don’t see anything insulting about that fact about me.

Slut is a word a lot of people define very differently. Though… when I think about it, not to much different than fat. For the most part, it seems society typically deems any woman who dares enjoy sex a slut. Though, that’s not totally true- wear something too revealing, seem too vain, or flirt more than people think you should and you are also a slut, even if you’ve never had sex. So I take that back, I think slut seems to be a word we use for women who dare to not be deeply ashamed of their sexuality.

It’s also a word used to tear other women down. Some folks will tell me that I’m wrong, that slut really only refers to women who slept with 20, 30, 40+ people or some other thing. Just like other people will tell me that I’m not fat because if you workout you aren’t fat (even if you are), or if you are under 250, 300, 400+, you’re not really fat, or whatever other arbitrary definition someone comes up with.

But in both cases, the reality is that’s not how society defines those things, and in both cases they just shouldn’t be insults. Being a slut means being a woman who is arbitrary defined as being too ok with her sexuality just the same as fat is arbitrarily defined as having too much mass.

And neither of these are things that should bear any shame or stigma, in my opinion. Whether one gets called a slut just because they wear short skirts, or if it’s because she really did sleep with 40+ people, and whether one gets labelled fat at just slightly over the “normal” bmi range or at 400+ lbs, why should these be things to be ashamed of? Who cares? Why on earth would having too much sex or carrying too much reduce our worth as people? Well, they don’t!

And so, as a person whose mass is arbitrary defined by society as too much I will call myself fat, and I will feel no shame in doing so. And as a woman who is comfortable with my sexuality, I will all myself a slut, and I will feel no shame in doing so.

huh, so maybe being fat is sort of like being a slut? Still not ashamed of either.