More on the puzzle of gender and the problem with pink

These aren’t complaints about CrossFit per se. CrossFit is, I think, the most women friendly fitness environment in which I’ve found myself. Yay! Women and weights.

But CrossFit doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Some suppliers of fitness equipment, some coaches, and some fitness programs inevitably pick up gendered assumptions that frame the world around us.

I think these assumptions hurt women, hurt men, and hurt those who don’t identify within gender binary at all.

With those disclaimers, here are three pet peeves.

1. Why, why, why on earth are the lightest kettle bells pink? It doesn’t matter where you go, the lightest weights come in the colour pink. It’s as is the colour pink is code for light weight. Though really “pink” is code for “girl” and “girl” is code for “lightweight.” (See What’s So Bad about Pink Anyway?)

(Why, why, why are the shorter skipping ropes pink too?)

Rhetorical questions. I know the answer. For once, just once, I’d like to see heavy weights in the soft pink colour.

For me, I don’t really care. I don’t even use the pink kettle bells but I wouldn’t mind if I did. But the association with smaller weights and weaker persons with femininity bugs the crap out me.

I do feel sorry for the small guys, some of whom have baggage around masculinity, and who use the pink ropes (because they’re short not because they’re girls) and maybe even pink kettle bells, again because they aren’t that strong, not because they are particularly feminine.


2.  Gender stereotypes can come up in coaching too. See Coaching 101: Your Words Speak Volumes. Rebecca Bilodeau writes about her experiences with a coach who assumed that being female meant lifting light:

“On this particular day, we were getting ready to do 10×3 of back squats to get as heavy as possible. Great, I thought. I love me some heavy squats! I’ve got that big strong butt and great legs that I never truly appreciated until I started CrossFit. I could squat all day, every day, if my legs would let me. Needless to say, I came to the box pumped.

Our box has only three squat racks. No big deal. We usually just separate and get our squat on, taking turns as necessary and adjusting the weight for each other as we go along. We work well perfectly fine and push one another as we see fit. We are really a self-sufficient sort of group, but here were the coach’s directions:
“Heavy lifters on this rack, other guys here, and all the girls over there.” Okay, so we may have ended up divided that way anyways, but all I could think was, “Wait, where do I go? What if I’m a heavy lifter and a girl… Where’s that squat rack?””

In other gyms, I’ve heard the lighter bars referred to as the “girls’ bars”  and the heavy ones as “boys’ bars.” But I should say I’ve never ever heard that at my CrossFit gym.

And again, what if there is man who lifts lighter than the women, now he’s a girl? That just isn’t right.

3.  In CrossFit box jumps the women’s workouts call for 20 inch boxes and the men get the 24 inch boxes. (Confession: I can only do box jumps on a 16′ box. On even the 20 I’m reduced to stepping up and jumping down.) But why isn’t it by height? There are some tall women who make the 20 inch box jump look easy and some short guys who really struggle. How about a height cut off rather than a different requirement for men and for women. See Why “women’s specific” anything is likely a bad idea. The current system isn’t good for men or for women.

We can do it. Look ma, no pink!


13 thoughts on “More on the puzzle of gender and the problem with pink

  1. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way (obviously), but I’m really sick and tired of seeing all things related to “girls” and “women” being pink, more specifically pale pink. I LOATHE PALE PINK. I look horrid in pale pink, and I destroyed the pale pink bridesmaid dress I had to wear in a friend’s wedding. I’m also not a fan of Pepto Bismol pink like the kettle bells shown above. No. Just no.

    If I had a daughter, I’d want her to enjoy a rainbow of colors. Lots of bright, vivid colors. I would not want her to feel like she “had” to wear pink to be accepted. Ugh, did I mention that I loathe pale pink?

    All that aside, I have to admit that I’m now totally jonesing for the purple kettle bell. I don’t care what weight it is, I just want the purple. And the teal. 🙂

  2. I totally agree with you about the code-pink issue, but just so you know: the lighter bar IS the women’s bar, and there’s nothing sexist about referring to it that way. In lifting competition, men use the 45 pound bar and women use the 35. You add as much weight as you can handle of course, so it doesn’t detract from the total numbers. (Given my small size this is a great help to me – the larger bar is noticeably harder for me to stablize and grip.)

      1. I wanted to make the same comment. I have smallish hands, so I really appreciate that we have so called women’s bars in my box, it is so much easier to get a good grip especially when oly lifting (and of course anyone can load as much weight plates as they want regardless of the weight of the bar itself). We even do call them women’s bars. On the other hand, I usually use the higher box for my box jumps as I am quite tall and find it to be more fair towards shorter people 🙂 . So I agree with you, it would make more sense if the box jump cut offs were made according to the height of the jumper, not by gender. (and I have never seen pink skipping ropes but I somehow find myself wanting one now, haha)

  3. I totally agree with you about the pink coding issue, but just so you know, the lighter bar IS the women’s bar – calling it such is not sexist. In lifting competition, women use the 35 pound bar and men use the 45 pound bar. You add as much weight as you can handle, obviously, so this doesn’t detract from the overall numbers. (It’s a great help to me, since at my size, stablizing and gripping the larger bar is hard.)

    (If this is nearly a double-comment I apologize; I can’t tell if the system lost my first attempt to comment or not.)

      1. Both terminologies are standard here. I like pounds better because I can lift more of them 🙂

        I’ve also never seen a pink jump rope in any of the places I’ve trained, so that may be an idiosyncratic feature of your gym.

    1. What if you’re a woman with bigger hands, and the 45-pound bar feels better for you? Can you use it instead of the smaller one?

      1. I was thinking too of men with small hands. Kind of like women specific bikes, best just to name them for dimensions “long torso” or “small hands”than by sex.

  4. I want to talk about this forever! On the one hand, having standard colours to represent weights is VERY convenient. In all countries, all kg bumpers are green=10kg, yellow=15, blue=20, red=25 (and in the smaller size plates, green=1kg, yellow=1.5, blue=2, and red=2.5). In any gym in the world, that is how plates are coloured (the pounds plates don’t have colours because all oly lifting competitions use kg, even in America). It’s handy for math, it’s hand for judges to know that bars are loaded properly, it’s handy for adjusting to a new gym, etc. I love standardized kg colours!

    So with kettlebells, pink is 8kg because that is the standard (and blue is 12 and yellow is 16, etc.) Every 4kg is there is a standard colour (when there’s a non-standard weight, like 10kg, it can be any colour the manufacturer wants).

    But it still makes me so angry! Why would they (“they”) choose pink for the lightest. In oly lifting the colours are all neutral. I just really hate that pink is lightest. I want my gym to override the standard and spray paint our heaviest size pink! It’s very annoying! But I also get why they are universally pink (it was a decision made once, not a decision made uniquely by 100s of manufactures in isolation)

    1. Thanks. Helps to know that these kettle bell colours are the same the world over. I didn’t know that.

  5. “Heavy lifters on this rack, other guys here, and all the girls over there.”

    One of my coaches in high school did something like this once, only for us it was that we were running stairs with weights in our hands. I think he said something like, girls take fives, boys take tens? I took twenties. 🙂

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