competition · Crossfit

The CrossFit Open: Wish me luck!

I’ve signed up! I know I can’t do all the workouts and for the Open there aren’t modifications allowed but I’ve decided to try and do the best I can.

It’s five competitive work outs, over five weeks.

The 2014 season begins with the worldwide Open competition. Everyone in the world is invited to compete in five workouts over five weeks, posting their scores online in real time. Last year, almost 140,000 athletes competed in the Open.

Read about The Open. Be sure to watch the video on that page.

You can also read about CrossFit London’s participation here. I think there are nearly fifty of us registered so far.

Here’s self identified vegan CrossFitter Danette Rivera with four reasons everyone should take part in the Open.

I’ll be sure to report back and let you know how goes.






Making a commitment to equality in women’s cycling

This week I started to think about spring and summer. I know, I know. It’s ridiculously cold. But St Henrik’s Day is behind us. Also, I’m going away to Arizona again, sunshine and road bikes in February. Yay! And when I come back it’s just a few short weeks till club rides start. My optimist’s heart leaps pretty quickly to warm weather bike rides.

And then, with thoughts of spring and road bikes firmly in mind, my next thoughts are about cycling events, big rides and races. Great minds think alike and friends started to ask about this race and that ride. Was I interested?

That’s how I landed on the Centurion ride series web page. The dates for the June century didn’t work. Looks like I’ll be in Madrid for the International Association for Women in Philosophy conference. Hard to be too upset about that. I’ve never been to Madrid. (Touristy type advice welcome! )

But I saw that Centurion had a new women’s series. Intrigued, I clicked to find out more.

The women’s ride turns out to be a disappointing 25 miles. I do that lots of week days in the summer. I wrote a blog post in which I asked why the women’s ride was just 25. See here. The Centurion series is about centuries and 25 isn’t a century no matter which measurement system you use.

I posted the blog post to the Centurion Facebook page, hoping for a response.

I said, “And to be clear, I’m all fine and good with a shorter ride. Some people might want a 25 mile, rather than a 100 mile, event. But note my word choice, “people.” Why make the short ride a women’s ride? What about men who want a short distance? And where do the women who want to ride 100 belong? Triathlon doesn’t do this. Running events don’t do this. Just stop it cycling community. Just stop. Please.”

They wrote back, “This years events will be 25 miles and both men’s and women’s. Last year we were trying to encourage more women to try riding. It’s is different than running and tris and it takes a while to get use to the group riding and safety component ”

I continued, “I see that. My worry is that for those of us who like longer distances and have lots of group riding/racing experience there’ll be even fewer women in the mixed event. But maybe the hope is that women will do the 25 miles and see it’s not so bad and do the longer event next year?”

Centurion Cycling replied, “Women can do any of the events . We just wanted one less Intimidating option If they wished. You can do the 50 or 100 ,or beginners can try shorter.”

All very nice and respectful and we all want to the same thing, more women riding.

But my suggestion remains the same either a mixed series of a range of distances where you expect more women, novices, will do the shorter distances. Or separate women’s rides the same length as the men.

Otherwise, what about beginner men? Where do they belong?

I know that the longer women’s event won’t be as popular as the men’s, first time out, but if they go that route, in a few years ít might.

If you go the route of opening the short distance to beginner men, maybe they will be outnumbered, but so what?

You can avoid sending the message that women ride radically shorter distances because why exactly? Our uteruses might fall out? Our precious virtue might be corroded? Bicycle face?

Given cycling’s history, let’s be careful to get it right this time.


Spring is Around the Corner and You Want to Start Riding a Bike?: Five Tips to Make it Easy


I’m an experienced cyclist and there is almost no part of my life that doesn’t involve bicycles. I love cycling holidays (see Cycling holidays, Part 1: Rail trails and Cycling holdays, Part 2: Organized tours in which other people carry the stuff). I like to commute by bike. And I’m also a big fan of group riding and racing. I’m comfortable on my bike almost anywhere. (Okay, not on mountains or on trails with trees and rocks and water in the way. I’ve got work to do there.)

But I know that lots of women aren’t so happy on bicycles. Numbers tell part of the story.

In 2009 Linda Baker wrote a great piece for Scientific American called “How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road: To boost urban bicycling, figure out what women want.”

“If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’—just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female,” says Jan Garrard, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and author of several studies on biking and gender differences.

In the U.S., men’s cycling trips surpass women’s by at least 2:1. This ratio stands in marked contrast to cycling in European countries, where urban biking is a way of life and draws about as many women as men—sometimes more. In the Netherlands, where 27 percent of all trips are made by bike, 55 percent of all riders are women. In Germany 12 percent of all trips are on bikes, 49 percent of which are made by women.

More recently the book City Cycling edited by John Pucher and Ralph Buehler  talks about the role women play in urban cycling and commuting.

Women, the co-authors say, are an “indicator species” for bike-friendly cities. In cities and countries where a high percentage of bike trips are by women, rates of cycling are high, and cycling conditions are safe, convenient and comfortable. Where relatively few women cycle, rates of cycling are low and cycling conditions are unsafe, inconvenient, uncomfortable and sometimes impossible.

It’s clear we need to do something to close the gender gap in cycling.

I don’t have Canadian statistics at hand but it seems to me this is another area where we are closer to our American cousins than we are to Germany and Denmark.

There are lots and lots of reasons to ride bikes. Some are health related. It’s also a terrific stress relief, and it’s good for the environment. It’s an easy way to incorporate exercise into your day. It’s good to spend more time outside. As well, it’s a sensible financial move. Driving, once you add up the costs of car payments, parking, insurance, and gas is an expensive way to get around. And I agree with all of these reasons but on their own they might not be enough to get me out the door and on my bike. What does it then? The sheer joy of cycling. On my bike I feel like I’m 12 again. Whee, zoom!

Suppose that you’re interested in riding and want to get more comfortable. What then? Here are five pieces of advice I give my friends who want to get started:

  1. Get a bike rack for your car: If you’re unsure about riding through town but love the idea of riding along country roads there’s no shame, when you first start out, in putting the bike on the back of your car and driving to the countryside. Park, get your bike off the rack, and set off. No one needs to know how you got there. There’s also a fitness issue in adding the ride out of town and back to your mileage. For beginners, there’s a big difference in adding the extra 10 miles on to your distance. Now, I think I’m practically home when I reach landmarks that I used to be proud to reach by bike but that’s after a considerable number of years. The bike rack also comes in handy later if you’re out on a ride and encounter problems and need to call home for a rescue ride. We’ve all been there and again, no shame.
  2. Buy or borrow a nice bike if you can afford it: Don’t say, I’ll ride my old bike and give a try and if a like it, then I’ll buy a new bike. You probably won’t like your old bike. They’ve come a long way since you were in college. Really. The new bikes are faster and safer. They shift more easily, zoom up hills, and brake easily and quickly. Obviously this piece of advice is money dependent and an old bike is better than no bike. Still, I’d take that old bike into my local bike shop and have a spring tune up to make sure it’s safe and ready for the road.
  3. If commuting is your goal, make it easy:  Yes, you can outfit your bike with panniers and carry everything with you each day. Eventually maybe you’ll want to do that. But there’s no need to be a purist. When I’m regularly commuting, I get in the habit of going into my office once over the weekend by car and dropping off a week’s worth of food and clothes. I keep make up and bathroom stuff there and that makes getting ready at work easy. When the kids were younger there was also the added bonus of arriving home in clothes that could touch with paint and dirt smattered fingers. I was ready for instant hugs, no need to say “Wait til I change out of this suit.”
  4. Learn some bike maintenance, but not everything, unless you love it: People disagree about how much you need to know about fixing your own bike and how many tools you have to carry. I can fix a flat (on a road bike with skinny tires, that’s a necessity) and get my chain back on if it slips but that’s about it. And I’m okay with that. I carry a cell phone, always, and mostly I’m riding with people who know lots more about doing quick repairs on the fly than me. But you do need to know how to check your tire pressure, adjust your seat height, and fix flats. Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot more time and money than you need to at the bike shop. Larger cities have women-only bike repair workshops (like Toronto’s Wenches with Wrenches), lots of local bike shops teach the basics, and lots of universities have bike co-ops where you pay a membership fee and share their tools.
  5. Don’t ride alone all the time: I’m a big fan of riding with other people, combining my fitness and social life. Why? You meet people who share your interests and support your lifestyle choices. There’s also a time issue. You won’t feel like you are always juggling friends and riding if you make friends with the people with whom you ride. On a related note, I encourage my friends to start riding. There’s also some good fitness reasons to ride with other people. You learn some important lessons, If a faster friend asks you to go for a ride, say yes. Don’t worry that you’ll slow the other person down. If you’re a beginner and they’re not, they are prepared for that. I ride with people a lot faster than me (sometimes I chase, sometimes I slow them down), I ride with people about my speed and I also ride with friends who are a lot slower. Cycling is fun whatever the speed.

Get out there and ride your bike!

Here’s some other things I’ve written about women and cycling. It’s a bit of a passion of mine:

Bicycles: Making good women go bad since the 1800s

Riding this summer? Beware of bicycle face!

Women cyclists, implicit bias, and helmet pigtails

Do Cupcake Rides and Heels on Wheels help or hurt the cause of women’s cycling?

Bike races and podium girls: Time to kiss goodbye?


And this post originally appeared at Spry Living.

body image

Revisiting the Thigh Gap: Thin Body Shaming Isn’t Okay Either

judging-any-body-is-wrongWe talk a lot on the blog about body-shaming and usually it’s code for fat-shaming.  But thin bodies can also be “shamed,” and this has been brought to my attention a few times in recent weeks.

In December, I showed the film, Arresting Ana, to one of my Women’s Studies classes. It’s a documentary about the potential criminalization of the pro-Ana (pro-anorexia) movement in France.  At one point, they show a billboard campaign in Italy [first campaign shown in this link] that was meant to scare women out of being anorexic.  The billboards depicted an extremely thin model posing nude, with the caption “No!.”

At the time of the photo shoot the model, Isabelle Caro, was recovering from near death from her eating disorder. According to her interview in the film, she weighed 75 pounds in the photo.  Isabelle Caro has since died from her eating disorder at the age of 28.

When the lights came on and we started our discussion, several of my students said that they found the billboard campaign and the discussion of Isabelle Caro’s body to be body-shaming. Yes, she was skinny–deathly so–but the idea that simply showing her body would be enough to shock contains an implicit negative judgment.  The judgment is something along the lines of: NO ONE should want to look like this woman.

Then, remember when Jennifer Lawrence got called out for body-shaming by Jenny TroutI picked up on that, claiming it was a bit harsh.  Well, one of our readers pointed out that one of the quotes was incomplete. Jenny Trout quoted her as saying this: “I’d rather look chubby on screen and like a person in real life.”  The full quote was actually this:

I don’t really diet or anything. I’m miserable when I’m dieting and I like the way I look. I’m really sick of all these actresses looking like birds… I’d rather look a little chubby on camera and look like a person in real life, than look great on screen and look like a scarecrow in real life.

I think the context is important.  But unfortunately it’s not totally redeeming. Why, because it tilts in the other directions. Now, thin women are “scarecrows.”  Not so nice either.

And just recently, someone wrote in on my old and still oft-read post, “Why the Thigh Gap Makes Me Sad.”  The commenter said:

I take exception with the remark that the girls “look like they could use a few good meals.” Naturally thin people can eat good meals and still look the same. Eating more food does not necessarily equal gaining weight, and frankly, telling someone they look like they need a good meal is just as rude as telling someone they look like they could afford to lose a few pounds.

And you know what? She’s right. The comment that they look like they could use a few good meals oozes with judgment and the presumption that I know better. Point taken.  My comment was an instance of body-shaming.

Until these few incidents, I confess to never giving the body-shaming of thin women much thought at all. Yet it happens a lot. Even in a culture where we prize thinness, it’s just not true that “you can never be too thin.”  Media leaps on celebrities when they gain weight, for sure. But they also leap on celebrities who lose weight.

There’s a whole thing about Angelina Jolie — a media obsession with how thin she is and calls for her to “eat a sandwich.” This article talks about skinny-shaming and how unhelpful it is.  Shaming in general isn’t a great strategy for altering behavior.

It is most certainly true, for example, that Isabelle Caro had a severe eating disorder and was not a healthy woman. She herself says as much in the film, Arresting Ana.  But as Dr. Gail Saltz, writes in her article about “skinny-shaming”:

Skinny-shaming, calling someone — celebrity or otherwise — “emaciated” or “stick thin,” or telling the person to “eat a sandwich,” as the cliché goes, is as unhelpful as fat-shaming. It is our skewed view as a society obsessed with being thin that left us open to commenting on Jolie, forgetting that any extreme in appearance can be a difficult and painful place to be (just ask any adolescent).

A loving discussion from someone known and involved can be a life-saver, whether you are too thin or too overweight. If you notice your friend is seeming to shrink before your eyes, you could try saying something like, “I’ve noticed you’re looking quite a bit thinner recently, and as your friend, I just wanted to check in. If something’s wrong, please know I’m here to help you.”

But comments from the public at large should avoided — or, at the very least, used to empathically understand a real issue that may be going on for many women.

Notice how she says this kind of approach should only come from an empathetic friend. It’s just not okay for complete strangers to approach people. It’s really no one’s business. And body-shaming is not the kind of approach that will help.

Is and expression of concern necessarily body-shaming?  People who appear overweight often report that they take “concern” as intrusive.  We have a difficult time separating judgments about weight from judgments about health.  Does it go the other way, where extreme thinness is concerned?  I’m not entirely sure.

So body-shaming is not okay in either direction or for any reason at all–there are all sorts of ways to body-shame that have nothing to do with size.  At the same time, the thigh gap does still make me sad. But it’s not because of the way it looks. It’s more because in many cases, engaging in disordered eating is the only way to get it.

charity · cycling

Why are the Centurion women’s series races 25km?

Spring is fast approaching (in my mind at least)! We celebrated Henrik’s Day yesterday, halfway through winter, and so we’re on the home stretch to race season. Time to spend some time on the rollers and check out the ride/race season ahead.

Friends send me messages asking if I’m keen/willing to do this event or that race, family schedules are checked, and plans are made.

Last night I got a message from a friend scheming about the Centurion series. We’d done the Gran Fondo together last year and had a fun time. The Centurion series is similar in spirit–let the racers, race and let the riders ride–fast paced but more fun than serious road race. And given the hills, that suits me fine.

Here’s the promotional blurb:

We’re combining the mass-participation buzz of a big-city marathon with the epic feel of riding in a stage of the Tour de France. If you want to race, you can race. If you’d rather ride, you can ride.  Centurion Cycling events feature:

  • Epic courses in unique venues

  • Standardized format and set distances of 25 miles, 50 miles and 100 miles

  • High quality of production, including a coordinated mass start so racers can race and riders can ride, chip timing, controlled traffic throughout and full support

  • Enhanced atmosphere of an expo village

  • Individual and team competition and camaraderie

Centurion Cycling welcomes racers, competitive cyclists, tri-athletes in training, recreational riders and families/friends to all embrace this new challenge and be a Centurion!

In the end the date won’t work. There’s a good chance I’ll be at a conference in Madrid. But while  on the website I noticed that they were launching a women’s series. I thought that might a fun event for me and some of my women cyclist friends.While I’m not a huge of cupcake rides, I like riding with other women. There isn’t much going on here in women’s cycling, but a Centurion race for women? Wow, that could be fun.

Except it’s not 100 km. It’s not a century. The women’s ride is 25 km.

Last I checked that isn’t a century in any known system of measurement!

And it’s PINK! Screaming pink! A fundraiser for breast cancer research. So pink, and breasts, and one quarter the distance of the standard Centurion rides. Really!

This is a problem. In my academic talk I’ve been giving here and there about women and cycling I note that distances often vary drastically between men’s and women’s races. There’s no good reason why. Yes, some women are slower than some men. Some women are faster than some men too. But on average women are slower. So maybe the volunteers want to pack up and go home once the men’s race is over. Fine. But that gap might be 100 km for men and 80 km for women, not 25 km for women.

And 100 km isn’t even that far.

Sometimes the difference is even worse. See Neil Browne, a sports journalist, who writes about the gap between men’s and women’s cycling events.

“The upcoming Atlanta 100K race dramatically showcases both of these inequalities. The women’s event, which is NRC categorized, is a 10-kilometer race with a $2,000 pay-out. The men’s non-NRC race is 100 kilometers and pays $10,000. The Atlanta 100K race offers a dramatically shorter race for the women.”

It’s not just a difference in distance. A 10 km race is a different kind of race than a 100 km race. Different sorts of cyclists will win.

Going back to the women’s Centurion I’m pretty sure the 25 km event won’t lose the hills and for me a 100 km ride that includes hills is different than a 25 km event with those same hills.

And I’m not going to want to put my bike on the back of my car, drive two hours each way, for a ride/race that will be over in well under an hour. Grrr.

[UPDATE: Looks like all distances are in miles. Makes sense for the century as 100 miles is what people usually mean when they say a “century” ride. The women’s ride must be 25 miles, not 25 km, as they estimate the finishing times between 1 and 2 hours. But still the gap remains, it’s now a gap between 25 miles and 100 miles, not 25 and 100 km.]

I’m not opposed to charity rides but it’s not clear to me why the women’s event is a charity event and the open event isn’t. Too many stereotypes all in one place for me.

Here’s the Centurion women’s series jerseys:

Pedal for pink bike jerseys


Happy Henrik’s Day!

campus footbridge on gery snowy day
Bridge to Westminster Hall, Western University

I’m doing a 5 km clinic at the our local Running Room store. Great group of people and when I can’t make it out for a group run, I’m able to get out on my own in the early morning. (See Rough times, tough choices for why that’s needed these days.)

Sundays are our long, slow, run day but since it’s a 5 km clinic “long” is a relative term. Today we did 3 km and a bit, in two sets of “run 10 minutes, walk one minute.”

In the absence of technology, and I haven’t been running with my heart rate monitor (see Take it easy: Why train with a heart rate monitor, part 1 for advice on doing just that), one good way to tell if a run is “slow” enough for you, is the talk test.

The so-called “talk test” is one of the most widely used, not to mention most convenient, methods of determining whether a person is exercising too hard. The idea is that if you can still carry on a conversation while training, then you’re not overly taxing your cardiovascular system. Running above this intensity level pushes you out of your aerobic-conditioning zone (the aerobic exercise level that produces maximum training effects), and it becomes hard to sustain exercise for any length of time. Speak Easy, Runner’s World

I’m an introvert and I like to do more listening than talking on these runs and that means I get to find out lots of interesting stuff about my running companions.

I’m often amused by the tendency to shy away from controversial topics. I used to run with a man, again as part of a Running Room group, who ran at exactly my pace but who I suspected held conservative political views. He was a great run buddy. I didn’t want to argue with him or get into a disagreement that would make him think he should run with someone else so I deliberately kept him chatting about food, movies, even car choices. It felt like that episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine meets a guy she really likes but who she thinks might be anti-choice on abortion. It’s a deal breaker for her so she tries to make sure the subject doesn’t come up so they can keep dating.


But I’m digressing. I wanted to tell you about something I learned about on today’s run, St. Henrik’s Day. Apparently, January 19th is Henrik’s Day. It’s celebrated in Finland as the official halfway through winter mark, the day that winter’s back is broken. From here on, we’re on the home stretch to spring. What an exciting thought! I’ve been enjoying the extra daylight lately too and I’m looking forward to getting my bike out again. (See Welcome Winter Solstice.)

Who was St. Henrik?  Wikipedia has this to say:

Saint Henry (pyhä Henrik or piispa Henrik in Finnish, Biskop Henrik or Sankt Henrik in Swedish, Henricus in Latin; died allegedly 20 January circa 1156[1]) was a medieval Englishclergyman. He came to Sweden with cardinal Nicholas Breakspeare in 1153 and was probably designated to the new Archbishop of Uppsala, but the independent church province of Sweden could be established only in 1164 after the civil war was over, and Henry would have been sent to organize the Church in Finland, where Christians had existed already at least two centuries. According to legends, he entered Finland together with King Eric the Saint of Sweden and died as a martyr, becoming a central figure in the local Roman Catholic Church. However, the authenticity of the accounts of his life, ministry, and death are widely disputed.

Together with his alleged murderer Lalli, Henry remains one of the most recognized people from the early history of Finland. His feast is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church of Finland, and he is commemorated in several Protestantliturgical calendars.

An encyclopedia of saints says this,

To call St. Henrik obscure is only possible to an English speaking Catholic. For us, he is so obscure that he does not even have an entry in the voluminous 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia. But, to Finnish Catholics, he is the nation’s patron and one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages, and of today. Henrik was born Henry, an Englishman, sometime in the early 12th century. It is unknown where he began his ecclesiastical career, but in 1152 he appears as a companion of papal legate and fellow Englishman Nicholas Breakspear (later Pope Adrian IV), who spent two years in Scandinavia trying to organize the Church in that region. Henrik appears to have remained behind, where he was later appointed Bishop of Uppsala, primatial See of Sweden, in 1156. This was around one year after Eric IX Jedvardsson, also known as King Eric the Saint, took the throne of Sweden. Henrik, who had a heart for missionary work, found a friend and supporter in the zealous King Eric, who was anxious to spread the Faith into neighboring Finland as a means of not only winning souls, but stabilizing his own borders.

See more here.

Anyway, there you go. Obscure things you learn on long runs. All new to me. But I like the idea of a halfway through winter feast day.

St Henrik


Things Aikido has taught me, #2

I’ve got a long list of lessons I’ve learned from Aikido. There’s a post in the draft folder called  “Six lessons..” but it grew to “Ten lessons…” and then it just kept growing.

I started posting them one at a time.

Here’s one: Trust the technique.

Here’s another: The attacker is the more vulnerable party. They’ve made themselves vulnerable. You can think about this in metaphysical terms, disharmony and harmony, or you can think about in purely physical terms, like momentum and balance.

“What may be totally new to you is that part about the attacker being vulnerable. It usually seems that the person being attacked is the vulnerable one. But the truth of the matter is, when someone attacks you, they commit their body to that attack – at least for an instant. And if, at that instant, you don’t behave as expected – for example, if you move out of the way – that attacker will momentarily lose both physical and mental balance.

It would be like standing in a room and casually leaning against a wall, only to find that what you thought was a wall was only the thinnest of tissue paper. Even though your initial action of leaning was not violent, the aftermath (falling through the tissue-paper wall) would be. In a similar way, Aikido robs attackers of what looked like an easy target, and thereby makes them lose balance.

But Aikido Kokikai takes this idea even further. Suppose somebody else was standing next to that tissue paper wall. And just as they leaned against it and began to lose balance, you gave him a push in the same direction they were falling. How hard would it be to push that person? Pretty easy, right? Well, that’s exactly how Aikido works. We first get the attacker to lose balance. Then we keep him off-balance, and move him where we would like him to go.

This is why you don’t need to be big or strong or young or athletic to do Aikido. You make attackers feel light by taking away their balance, while you maintain your own strong mind/body state.”

See more here.





Self defense is a feminist issue

Tips to prevent rape tshirt

Let me begin with a story about why I first took self-defense classes.

In 1984 I was an undergraduate student at Dalhousie University.  I was attacked in Halifax on a crowded street during the day. I wasn’t hurt and in a way it wasn’t a big deal. The guy was likely drunk, and given that it was a busy street in broad daylight, I don’t think he’d have gotten away with very much. My response, or lack thereof, really bothered me more than anything.

What shocked me was that I was silent while being held against a car on a crowded street. There were police officers across the street and I could see them but I didn’t yell to get their attention. Not even a “Hello” or “Over here.” I don’t know if 19 year old me was scared that the man holding me against a car would hit me if I yelled. I don’t know. I didn’t think about it. I just froze.

The police saw me and rescued me. Thank you. After, while getting a lecture from the police about being in that neighbourhood (I lived there!) I felt so stupid and so angry with myself.

So I did something about it. Along with a group of young women I spent a weekend learning some self-defense basics. It was an explicitly feminist course, focused on teaching women some self-protection basics. I learned to get up quickly from the ground, to break a board into two pieces, and most importantly, to yell.  I used the broken board as a cutting board for years. The class I took was called Wen-do.

Those of us taking the class were all surprised at how hard it was to yell loudly.

It’s still hard. Read more about that here.

Yelling is a feminist act, writes Susan Schorn for the Hairpin. Schorn is defending teaching women’s self-defense in her piece, The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear: Why I Teach Women Self-Defense.

“I also feel qualified to defend “yelling” as feminism. Our voices are one way we can define ourselves. They let us set boundaries. They project our power. They connect us with others who can help us escape harm, or heal from it. Communication skills are critical to transformation of all kinds: personal, interpersonal, political. The ESD instructors at Thousand Waves Martial Arts in Chicago teach an entire workshopdevoted exclusively to communication skills. When I teach, I spend at least a quarter of every class on the concept of “Yell”—that’s how vital it is to empowerment and safety. Yelling is the opposite of silencing. Yelling stands at the very heart of feminism.”

Yes, yelling is a feminist issue, so to is looking large, taking up space, and looking tough and confident. That’s far removed the way women are socialized to look and act.

See Lisa Wade’s Gender and the Body Language of Power for a nice discussion of the ways women are socialized to be quiet, demure, and not take up space.

“Philosopher Sandra Lee Bartky once observed that being feminine often means using one’s body to portray powerlessness.  Consider: A feminine person keeps her body small and contained; she makes sure that it doesn’t take up to much space or impose itself.  She walks and sits in tightly packaged ways.  She doesn’t cover the breadth of the sidewalk or expand herself beyond the chair she occupies.”

There is also a new tumblr about men taking up space called Move The Fuck Over, Bro that’s worth having a look at.

I’m always surprised when I hear other feminists upset at women’s self defense training. I don’t think it’s my responsibility that I was attacked. It seemed clear that it wasn’t my fault. But in a world in which women face the risk of assault, I want to be able to respond a little better than I did. Acquiring those skills doesn’t make me any less a feminist.

I think there are two very different worries about self-defense classes for aimed at women.

The first is practical. They worry that a few classes won’t do any good and that they might merely build a false sense of confidence.  When you’re actually attacked, they worry, you won’t remember any of it. A friend says she worries that she’ll feel like Buffy after she’s taken the class but really she won’t be able to execute any of it.

I can say that for me, I didn’t feel invincible after the taking the class. I was more alert and aware of my surroundings and I probably took fewer risks not more. Even now, after 6 years of martial arts training, I don’t feel invincible. I do know that i can yell loudly. In Aikido there is even a name for the yell you make when striking. It’s called a “kiai” and is a self-defense technique in its own right.

I know I can engage physically with another person without freezing in panic. And I think I walk with confidence, eyes up and alert. I do believe that my martial arts training makes me much less likely to be attacked in the first place. I’m going to post later about some of the things Aikido has taught me.

When I say that I’m not saying I won’t ever be attacked again, nor am I blaming women who are attacked. I am not blaming the victim but that leads to the second worry.

The second worry is more political. The worry is that teaching self-defense to women shifts the burden on to women to protect themselves and off the men who are the attackers. We should stop writing lists of how to protect yourself from rape and start writing lists that tell men not to rape. But I don’t see this as an either/or thing.

It reminds me of the debate in political theory about the distinction between ideal theory versus non-ideal theory. Yes, in an ideal world we’d have successfully taught young men not to hurt women. In this world, we ought to try to pass that lesson along, but we also ought to teach women to react in a way that is most likely to lead to a better outcome. Yes, men have the greater responsibility but it’s also feminist to defend a women’s right to self-defense.

I cheer when I read stories like this one–“An off-duty US Navy sailor stopped a Dubai bus driver from raping her at knifepoint by breaking his knife in two, biting him and putting him in a stranglehold between her thighs,” (see rest here)–while at the same time wishing I didn’t live in such a world filled with violence and hate.

On the Ms Blog Meg Stone writes in favour of women’s self-defense classes as empowering women. In A Call for Self-Defense Against Victim-Blaming AND Against Rape, she writes,

“Self-defense training with a social justice perspective should be embraced, not dismissed, for three main reasons:

1. It Works

In a recent review of the state of research on strategies that are effective at stopping rape, the Violence Against Women Network (VAWnet) identified self-defense as one of the most promising practices. More than ten years of data collected by people of multiple political persuasions (or no apparent political persuasion) shows that women who forcefully resist attempted rapes can stop them effectively and can do so without increasing their risk of injury.

2. Instant Accountability

The ability to protect our bodily integrity gives women and others targeted by rapists the opportunity to right an injustice as it is happening. It means not having to depend on others (men) to keep us safe.

3. It Doesn’t Require Women to Diminish Our Lives.

Most advice women get about how to reduce our risk of rape is also advice about how to reduce ourselves. It’s about places we shouldn’t go, clothes we shouldn’t wear, times we shouldn’t be alone. The message of feminist self-defense is just the opposite: Use common sense, sure, but if you have the skills to verbally and physically protect yourself, you can live your life fully and safely in a rape culture.”

I agree.

Here’s some further reading:

1. “Protecting One’s Commitments: Integrity and Self-Defense,” by Sylvia Burrow, International Journal of Applied Philosophy, Spring 2012

Abstract: Living in a culture of violence against women leads women to employ any number of avoidance and defensive strategies on a daily basis. Such strategies may be self protective but do little to counter women’s fear of violence. A pervasive fear of violence comes with a cost to integrity not addressed in moral philosophy. Restricting choice and action to avoid possibility of harm compromises the ability to stand for one’s commitments before others. If Calhoun is right that integrity is a matter of standing for one’s commitments then fear for safety undermines integrity. This paper extends Calhoun’s view through arguing that integrity further requires resiliency to protect one’s commitments. My account shows that self-defense training is a key source of this resiliency because it cultivates self-confidence. The practical point is that self-defense training directly counters fear and other passive responses to violence that undermine integrity. The theoretical significance is that violence against women is a social condition threatening integrity. Hence, integrity requires self-protection for more socially minded reasons than moral theorists have previously recognized.
2. Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women’s Self-Defense
by Martha McCaughey, New York University Press (1997)
Abstract: An examination of women’s self-defense culture and its relationship to feminism. I was once a frightened feminist. So begins Martha McCaughey’s odyssey into the dynamic world of women’s self- defense, a culture which transforms women involved with it and which has equally profound implications for feminist theory and activism. Unprecedented numbers of American women are learning how to knock out, maim, even kill men who assault them. Sales of mace and pepper spray have skyrocketed. Some 14 million women own handguns. From behind the scenes at gun ranges, martial arts dojos, fitness centers offering Cardio Combat, and in padded attacker courses like Model Mugging, Real Knockouts demonstrates how self-defense trains women out of the femininity that makes them easy targets for men’s abuse. And yet much feminist thought, like the broader American culture, seems deeply ambivalent about women’s embrace of violence, even in self-defense. Investigating the connection between feminist theory and women physically fighting back, McCaughey found self-defense culture to embody, literally, a new brand of feminism.

Guest Post · injury · yoga

Nagging groins and Yoga apps (Guest post)

Growing up, my mother, who loves to watch sports, would laugh every single time she heard a commentator say a player had a “nagging groin.” There’d always be snickers and, if she was feeling particularly ribald that day, suggestions between her and my father about what and why the (almost inevitably male) groin was nagging. Until last May, these memories were the extent of my interest in the subject of nagging groins.

Then I played a soccer game in early May in -4 C weather and strained my groin, apparently badly straining the right adductor brevis muscle and “tweaking” my right adductor magnus muscle. The left side was equally displeased. The combination of an ineffective warm-up in cold weather, muscles that had not kicked a ball in some months, and age meant that for the first time ever in my personal history of playing sports I had to go down on the field of play. I managed to hobble off on my own, and I was smart enough to stay off the field for the rest of the game.

Long story short: I did those things one is supposed to do to treat a strained groin. I rested, I iced, I gently stretched. I was back exercising and playing relatively quickly, although I still had the odd twinge in the muscle for a long while. I got better at kicking with my left leg. By July I was hiking on Hadrian’s wall, playing soccer, and doing pretty well everything normally.

I say “pretty well everything” intentionally: I couldn’t sit cross-legged.

I could sprint, squat, and kick, with no pain. I could swing my leg across my body. I could lunge, twist, and push off. I just could not sit cross-legged.

Of course it infuriated me to no end. I went from being someone with flexibility in that area of her body to someone whose knees were up around her ears at every attempt to sit cross-legged. I needed to regain flexibility, and after a month, I knew it was going to be a long, slow process. I went back to yoga, telling the instructors that I needed help with modifying the poses, spending a lot of time being gentle with myself (even as I continued to play that aggressive sports that I love with good reason [see previous post, In Praise of Physically Aggressive Sports). Yoga helped a great deal, and I made incremental, but noticeable gains when I did it more regularly (which for me was three times a week.)

In the summer I could make it to two classes, but as the fall term got under way I had to accept that the class that I had been going to on Tuesdays at noon was not going to be possible. I couldn’t suspend the balls I had to juggle for the two hours it would take to get there, not in the middle of the day on a typically intense day of my work week. I noticed that I began to constantly agonize over when I could fit MORE of it in to an already full life in order to keep making progress on regaining my flexibility. Factoring all of the things that I have to factor in – costs, childcare, time, other commitments – I had to accept that if I believed that yoga was helping (it was) and if I knew I needed to do it more regularly (I did), that I would need to do it at home more than once a week. It meant confronting my inability to stick to a home yoga practice …

This comic by my friend Jules pretty well sums up my home practice of yoga: Used with permission.



Here is the point in this blog post where, if you have not noticed it already, my own privileged position will be made entirely clear. Because my solution to what counts as a problem in my life was to find an app for my (new) phone, something that would help me do yoga more regularly, something that mimicked as closely as possible the experience of being in a class. This solution worked for me because I wanted the aural cues for the pose more than I wanted the visual cues (such as would be provided in a magazine), and I do not have a television in an area that would work for yoga (so a dvd was not an option). I wanted something that would work when I travel as well. I decided on the app called “Yogify” that allows you to select some or all of a series of classes. The classes range from 15 minutes to 60 minutes, and they offer “strength,” “flexibility,” or “balance” programs at three different levels. In total, I think I have 45 different options.

I can (and do) complete a 15 minute long class called “Great Groins” while my child is in the bath. I can (and do) complete a 30 minute long class called “Rock Star” in the early hours of the morning, after I am done meditating and before my house wakes up. I can (and do) complete the longer classes on nights when I am in a hotel. It works for me. Proof: On Dec 27th, for the first time in almost eight months, I managed to meditate with crossed legs. In other words, I held the static position for, in this instance, more than a half an hour. I still don’t have the same flexibility I used to, and I still have to be extremely patient with myself. But it is no longer an exercise in frustration to get on the floor to play with my son or to sit comfortably with my legs crossed.

Now if only the cat would stop attacking my wrists while I am in downward dog …

eating · sports nutrition · training

Why I’m Trying PN “Lean Eating” after a Year of Intuitive Eating

fresh-fruits-and-vegetables1On Monday, after long discussions with Sam about her experience with Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program, I started my one-year commitment to the program.  If you’re not familiar with it, see Sam’s detailed review here.

I’ve been doing and enjoying Intuitive Eating for a year. When I started the Intuitive Eating approach, I was obsessed with food and weight, weighing myself daily, gaining instead of losing, and generally feeling crappy about myself after years and years of the diet roller coaster.  I didn’t think I could handle one more climb to the top of that hill even if the “wheeeeee!” of going down felt great.

The Intuitive Eating solution was to stop focusing on weight–no more weigh-ins (read about that here).  It felt very nurturing to me, and much more in line with my feminist principles than the obsessive focus on seeing a certain number on the scale.  The central principles of honoring my hunger and respecting my body really altered my attitude and refocused my attention.  Self-awareness increased.

And yet, over the course of that same year, I’ve become more interested in triathlon. I’m training harder to prep for the summer season, with regular swimming workouts, three-times a week running, and on-going resistance training in addition to my yoga practice.  And that’s not even fitting cycling into the equation (it’ll be back in the spring).  And though I have gone on record saying that to me, sports nutrition counseling is like dieting in disguise, I feel as if it’s time for me to make some changes.

One of the principles of Intuitive Eating–the last principle, in fact, because it is so loaded for so many chronic dieters–is “Honor your health with gentle nutrition.”  I don’t want to exaggerate. It’s not as if I’m living on junk food and soda pop or anything like that.  But I do feel as if I’ve not quite mastered nutrition since I became vegan just over three years ago. And while I’ve been focusing on a more intuitive approach to eating, nutrition hasn’t been the main guiding principle in my choices.

And truth be told, I’m ready for a change.  From what Sam has told me about the Lean Eating program and from everything I’ve read, it’s not a diet and it can be compatible with an intuitive eating approach to food. So let’s just say that this year, I’m honoring my health with the re-introduction of gentle nutrition.  Nothing extreme will work for me.

One of the things I like most about the Precision Nutrition approach is the focus on healthy habits.  In week one, we’re not even changing anything about eating. We’re just committing to a schedule of working out and active recovery, and adding one “five-minute action” to our day. It can be anything. Mine is at least five minutes of meditation before I sit down to work each day.

Sam has blogged about habits. Habits work well because they’re things you can do without having to think too much. At first you need to be hyper-conscious, but after a time, they become a part of life.  This kind of approach strikes me as entirely compatible and consistent with Intuitive Eating.

I like the sense of community, support, and camaraderie I’m experiencing already on the PN Lean Eating forums. So far, I’m liking my coach (Janet) a lot too, as well as the mentors in my group, who are helping to orient us newbies.

What am I most worried about? Though we haven’t started yet, I know that tracking progress is an important element of the program.  They want weekly weight. body fat, and body measurements, and I think it’s monthly photos.

After a year of staying away from this kind of tracking, I’m going in with a new attitude: that it’s just information. If I can maintain a neutral attitude to that information, I’ll be happy about that.

Of course, I could skip that part. But I have made a commitment to do the program “as directed” for at least the first three months. If I’m struggling with any aspect of it, I’ll approach the coach, the mentors, or the group through the forums. There are quite a few women (over a hundred) in my group, so I’m sure I’ll be able to find some like-minded people along the way.

I’m also kind of excited this time about learning to eat in a way that supports my activities better, and also, to be perfectly honest, about the prospect of getting leaner and stronger as I go into the home stretch of the fittest by fifty challenge and prep for a summer of triathlons and 10K races.