Sexism in the Weight room and the importance of connotation.
Think of three characteristics that make for a good workout. For me these are “aggression” “dedication” and “skill.”
It comes as no surprise, that in our patriarchal society these are words that have masculine connotation. The punishment for exhibiting a characteristic that is considered not appropriate for your sex is diminution. For example when women show aggression we are immediately labeled as “bitchy” or “catty.” To turn this around we also use feminine words as insults to keep men from breaking social norms.
Women from the 90’s generation are particularly afraid of being labeled as masculine. I believe this is somewhat due to the anti-feminist backlash since the 1980’s. Unfortunately this is not limited to physical appearance and thus there has been a regression in the honesty with which many women carry themselves. So now it’s time for a story.
About a month ago I was at the gym doing a circuit conditioning workout. I will be the first to admit that I am far from pretty when I workout, more so when I do conditioning. I just don’t care how I appear and can usually be found with converse, sweats, and a red hoodie. I was going after this workout with (if I do say so myself) the characteristics I listed above. During one of my 30 second breaks I heard a tiny 100lb girl exclaiming to her friend how “mannish” I was. When I recalled this encounter for several of my friends, they were furious on my behalf. I however was not really bothered and I actually felt sorry for the girl. As I have breasts, hips, medium length hair, and several pounds of mass that I still want to put on I can assume that what she meant was that I was “acting mannish.” In attempting to cut me down for having an effective workout she was revealing what she thought about her own sex. In her mindset I was incorrect for lifting heavy weights (relatively), for sweating, and for occasionally making a grunting noise. :0 In my mind she is incorrect, because in the long run she will be the person battling weight gain, self confidence issues, and probably osteoporosis.
Words should not have connotations based on sex, as gender is only a cultural construct. My reproductive organs cannot make me frail, weak willed, or stupid. I am no one’s “help meet.” However, changing how I approach my life because patriarchal society reserves aggression, assertiveness and intelligence for men would make me all of the above. Unfortunately there is not much to be done about culture, except remaining aware of our constructs and choosing intelligently when we will fight stereotypes. This is one of those stereotypes I think is worth fighting.
This is to both men and women. When you see a woman in the gym that isn’t afraid of lifting heavy weight, of making a little noise, or of spending a few hours being un-pretty, THINK before you scoff, criticize, or label. Encourage others to consider their actions as well and understand the implications of telling your sisters, mothers, or daughters (through your actions) that they should not strive for strength and independence. The alternative is that girl (incorrectly) lifting little pink 5lb dumbbells for 5 million reps and counting every calorie she eats, because a skinny celebrity trainer told her to.