Guest Post

Finding my Inner Femme with Circus (Guest Post)

As far as I can recall, I’ve always been a tomboy. I don’t think I really had much of a princess phase, except for Princess Leia and Wonder Woman. I was also a short Asian-Canadian teenager in the 90’s, where pale skin and waiflike looks were in. So I’ve never really thought of myself as one of the pretty girls, which is fine (ok, so my teenage Ani DiFranco soundtrack is also coming out here). It means I don’t worry much about my clothes, hair, or eyebrows, and the only makeup I own is probably expired (does makeup expire?). Cool, less effort.

When it comes to sport, it also means that most of what I do hasn’t asked too much of my appearance. Sport taekwondo has me covered up in a loose white uniform and padded up with protective gear. And rock climbing, well, I don’t know how good anyone looks in a climbing harness, much less when you’ve been living out of your car camping out at the crags.

Still, I’ve always loved Cirque du Soleil, and the awesome athleticism of aerialists. I took the odd drop-in class in things like aerial yoga and hoop, but most of the places I found that offer those kinds of things are places primarily for pole, burlesque, and other types of sexy fitness. Which I certainly have no problem with in their own right, but they are really really not for me. I did wushu for a few years in school, and loved the acrobatics and aesthetic – but even if there was a school I could find to train at, I don’t know if these 38 year old tendons would take it well any more.

But here’s the good news. A circus school, just 10 minutes from home, opened in December, offering classes on aerial apparatus for all ages. I talked a friend into doing a drop in introductory class with me, and was hooked. The instructor at The Rising is an aerialist and former gymnast, and doesn’t seem to care if I’m a scruffy dog-hair-covered tomboy who probably couldn’t do a sexy hip thrust if my life depended on it. In fact, my general willingness to hang upside down like a monkey from things has turned out to be an asset after all. It also turns out that many many years of a sport where I get kicked by people has helped to desensitize my legs so they don’t get bruises from the apparatus.

doing an arabesque pose on a static trapeze

But most of all, what I’ve found interesting is that it’s helped me find a little sense of femininity through strength. A lot of really pretty poses are things that require non-trivial arm and core strength to do gracefully. And while I’ve always found muscles attractive on other women (I know, I know), this is one of the first times that I’ve started to approve of the way they look on me too, and of the cool tricks they can let me do.

hanging sideways from a strands of silk

Obviously I’ve only just started, and who knows where I’m going to run up against the limits of my gendered comfort zone. But so far I’m loving doing something that I’ve always admired, and finding that these muscles let me do pretty things after all.

fitness · gender policing · Guest Post · martial arts

The MMA Fighter and the Troll (Guest Post)

Once upon a time there was an Internet troll who thought that he had found some magical fairy dust called testosterone that would make him stronger, faster, and smarter than any woman in the world. So he thought he could just claim that he could beat any female MMA fighter out there who was in the same weight class as him. Luckily for us, some fine folks set up a match between him and Anna McCauley Dempster, an amateur mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter out of Oregon, to take place on January 6th.

Anna McCauley Dempster, a young blonde athletic-looking woman, throwing a knee with an elbow guarding her face across her body.
Anna McCauley Dempster

Now, while it seems obvious that this particular troll is just asking to get knocked out, as he attempts to channel the ghost of Andy Kaufman, much less extreme versions of the claim he makes are pretty common. Lots of people do think male fighters in general have an advantage over female fighters, even correcting for things like relative size. Weirdo internet trolls aside, most people with any kind of experience doing fight training, in mixed gender contexts, will know that there are women who are better fighters than many men they train with. But that doesn’t mean the playing field is level.

On a personal level, I’m as committed to both feminism and martial arts as anyone I know, but hesitate at the thought of genderless divisions. I suppose I do agree with the view that male fighters have an advantage, but I hesitate to say that it’s just a simple physiological fact (e.g. more testosterone). I know, I know. Testosterone is advantageous, and that’s why it’s used as a performance-enhancing substance. Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) is banned by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).  But it can’t be the whole story. After all, “Bigfoot” Silva, who has acromegaly, naturally has testosterone levels that are well below average, but has had to fight for many years without TRT.

One thing I think we can’t rule out, though, to explain differences in ability, is the role of gender socialization. Spend some time hanging out with kids, especially when they’re doing physical stuff, and take note over time of how differently little boys and little girls are treated. A lot of what we supposedly know about hardwired differences between male and female brains can plausibly be chalked up to what Cordelia Fine has called neurosexism. Could something like that be going on with physical ability? Well before puberty and many of the more significant developmental differences, lots of people don’t seem to expect little girls to be as physically capable as little boys, much less encourage them to be physical in the same ways. It seems weird to think that kind of thing wouldn’t affect them as they get older, even if they’re active athletes.

But I think that if we want to encourage people to be athletic, and to take part in athletic competitions, we need, as a sporting society, to sort out just what we think the important differences are to make competition fair. Not everyone’s gender identity fits neatly into a binary, and many trans and intersex athletes have been subjected to a great deal of discrimination. It just doesn’t seem as though gender segregation along a binary is doing the trick these days, and maybe it’s time to consider whether there are any viable alternatives.

Still. In the meantime, while we figure out the deeper issues behind gender and sport, you can tide yourselves over by watching Anna McCauley Dempster beat up a troll.


Fixed it! (Guest Post)

So I spend lots of time around people who work in the fitness industry. My partner runs his own kickboxing program that he has worked really hard to make an inclusive place for people who might not feel comfortable at other gyms. And I teach taekwondo several days a week, mostly to kids, where I can only hope that some of the positive stuff we say to them about being strong and kind and not putting down other people sinks in.

And I’m not oblivious to all the fitspiration that’s out there which I’m happy to see is being more academically studied and shown to be quite counterproductive. So when a friend of mine who works at the same gym as my partner posted this picture (with annoyance) on social media, I was pretty annoyed too.

A sandwich board on the sidewalk: the top part says "Suck it up" then an "OR", and on the bottom part, someone has partially erased the words "Suck it in"
Someone was not impressed by this message.

And ok, sure, maybe there are some people out there who are motivated to exercise by some generalized feeling of shame for their bodies, but I feel pretty strongly that we can do better than telling people that if they don’t have fit-looking bodies they should hide them. Or exercise until they change them. Or should feel obligated to change the way they look at all.

So… that meant that upon seeing the sign reinstated on Monday afternoon, someone *ahem* decided it might need a little light fixing.

A sandwich board on the sidewalk. The top part says "Suck it up" then an "Or" and the bottom part where it says "Suck it in" is covered up by a piece of paper taped to the sign saying "You might not achieve your goals, but don't be ashamed of your body."
Fixed it!

Your body does not exist to please other people. You are under no obligation to diet-and-exercise it into whatever shape the cultural norm dictates. Your body should not be an enemy to be tamed. Exercise should not be punishment. And don’t let any sandwich board or Internet meme tell you otherwise.


fitness · Guest Post

Exercising at the APA (Guest Post)

Audrey: Conferences are tricky to navigate for those of us who are used to moving our bodies on a regular basis. Lots of people get up and stand, but sometimes that’s just not enough. The Pacific APA (American Philosophical Association) Conference was held in Seattle in mid-April, and I was lucky enough to be able to get funds for staying at the conference hotel, which I often don’t do, since I’ve tended to opt for cheaper off-site accommodation. But one of the benefits for staying on or very near the venue is an increased ability to engage in non-conference socializing with other conference-goers. This time, my dear friend Rebecca Kukla (my co-author on the Lingerie Fighting League post) and I were able to plan a few hours to meet up at the hotel gym and do a little bit of training. We did a little bit of boxing, calling combos for each other, and I got to get some kicking in, since my main sport is taekwondo. It was nice having her non-academic partner there as well, who partook of the boxing, and helpfully held kicking targets for me also.

I’m in a pretty privileged academic position these days, and my ability to skip sessions and exercise surely reflects that, but it was definitely a fantastic time for setting the tone of the rest of my day. Not only did I get to do something I love that isn’t philosophy, but hitting stuff is pretty great stress relief too, that helps with talk-related nerves. Plus, you get to pose like a superhero afterwards!

Audrey (left) and Rebecca (right) posing like superheroes at the hotel gym.

Rebecca: Philosophy has a happy number of Amazingly Badass Women who are not only brilliant and charismatic and righteous but also awe-inspiring, highly trained athletes. Their existence makes me so happy – it reminds me that being a legitimate scholar doesn’t mean I have to ignore or denigrate embodied pleasures and pursuits. When I get to train with one of these Amazingly Badass Women at a philosophy conference, I feel like my life is in perfect balance. I’ve escaped conferences to go running with Tracy Isaac, to lift weights with Serene Khader and with Julia Bursten, and to box with Cassie Herbert. But it has been a specific bucket-list goal of mine for a long time now to get to punch and hit things with the formidable Audrey Yap. I’ve wanted to do this for so long, but I have to say, feeling the power of her incredibly precise, strong kicks and punches in person intensified my awe. Not only was this training session one of the highlights of the APA, but it made me once again so proud that the discipline is home to these women.

(And we had a blast even though the inevitable older philosophy dude had to walk by and chuckle, “Har har I wouldn’t want to be hit by one of those!” No, sir, you really would not, nor would you ever have bothered making explicit that you didn’t want to be hit by a man’s fist or foot!)


Some Thoughts Before Posting About Weight Change and Diets (Guest Post)

Eating disorders are typically associated in people’s minds with women, and more specifically with emaciated young girls. Eating disorders are not things we think of ‘serious’ people as having. Those of us who suffer from them or have recovered from them often are quite secretive about it, and feel a fair amount of shame about the whole issue. Often, for busy and powerful feminist academics, having an eating disorder, especially with the attendant stereotypes and stigmas, does not fit our self-image. But there are a surprising number of full-grown academics of various genders and body shapes and ages who struggle with eating disorders. Often these struggles are life threatening. They are also very often invisible.

Facebook posts and unexpected blog entries about dieting, food restriction, and weight loss and gain are extremely and dangerously triggering for many of us who struggle with these issues, and may be alienating and painful for your fat colleagues. Posts that seek and/or receive wide social approval or sympathy around issues of weight and food restriction are especially triggering. These triggers are serious mental and physical health risks for many of us.

Of course we support everyone’s right to post whatever they want on their own walls, and to blog about whatever they like. It is impossible to avoid triggers altogether, and not our place to demand that the internet be safe for us in particular. But we ask you to think seriously before posting on these topics, and to take into account that these posts are difficult for more of your colleagues and friends than you know. We also ask you not to assume that someone who ‘looks normal’ will be comfortable with these issues. If you want to discuss and especially to celebrate dieting and weight loss, you might think about creating a restricted list for friends you know to be comfortable with the topic.

Much love to all of you and strength in all your complicated struggles –
Anna Bergqvist, Tiffany Cvrkel, Megan Delehanty, Fiona Maeve Geist, Tracy Isaacs, Rebecca Kukla, Whitney Mutch, Audrey Yap

dogs · eating

Canine Fitness Coach: Don’t Celebrate Your Skipped Meals (Guest Post)

The last time I wrote about why my dogs are my fitness heroes, I talked about how they’re always motivated, and exercise for joy, not for calorie-burning.

This time I want to talk about their adorable yet irritating tendency to beg food from anyone they meet. This includes their ability to deploy their beseeching eyes and convince almost anyone that they’re on the brink of starvation.

2016-08-07 06.32.48
Seriously though we are about to collapse from lack of snacks

But my poor dog training skills aside, one new lesson I am trying to learn from these beasts is that hunger is not a reason for celebration (though they do admittedly often see it as an emergency). There’s this trap that I fall into entirely too often, particularly when I’m busy (though the frequency of this state of busy is itself an issue for discussion), which is to eat far less than I know I should, mostly because of poor time management. Now, this is a pretty common problem, and here’s some ways that people like me talk about it:

“I know I should have, I just didn’t have time to eat lunch today.”

“There just wasn’t a break between classes and things just had to get done, so I just couldn’t eat before training.”

The problem, though, isn’t just the skipped meals. It’s the fact that secretly, humblebraggily, I’m proud of having skipped them. This pride is a holdover from a mentality that calories are bad (they aren’t). But being secretly proud of your skipped lunch should make as little sense as being secretly proud of your skipped workout, because both types of activity (eating and exercising) are important.

For one, the quality of my training definitely goes down when I haven’t eaten enough. Though I don’t get hangry like lots of people – it’s more like… hinconsolable. And in case you haven’t tried sobbing your way through a circuit, I can assure you it’s not recommended. Especially given that said sobbing usually takes place in front of my partner, who works in the fitness industry, and can’t stand calorie-counting, weight loss based approaches to exercise, or his girlfriend tearfully attempting to wall ball.

Food is great. We don’t function well when we’re lacking in it. And we probably shouldn’t take pride (even secret pride) in things that are hurting our overall well-being. Especially if the only reason we’re taking pride in these things is because of an unhealthy relationship to food and eating.

So here’s the official recommendation from the canine fitness coaches I live with.

Don’t skip meals if you can help it. And if you can’t help it, don’t view it as somehow beneficial or a bonus calorie deficit. Oh, and if you forgot to pack lunch, maybe there’s a friend who might be persuaded to share.

2016-08-01 08.24.52
Hello yes I am very interested in pasta salad



Happy Pride, UFC! (Guest Post)

Sunday was our Pride Parade here in Victoria, BC, and as a Pride present from the UFC (or at least I’m going to take it that way), we got to see, for the first time, a belt going to an openly gay fighter, Amanda Nunes. On Saturday night for UFC 200, Nunes defeated Miesha Tate, the previous title holder in the Bantamweight division (Ronda Rousey’s division), by rear-naked choke. Though Tate tapped out, and the fight was technically won by submission, it was Nunes’ excellent striking, breaking Tate’s nose, that really gave her the victory.

Told you! #ufc200 #AndNew #mychampmandy #loveislove

A post shared by Nina Ansaroff (@ninaansaroff) on

Nunes’ girlfriend, Nina Ansaroff, is also a UFC fighter, but in the strawweight division.

To top it off, this title fight ended up being the main event at UFC 200, one of the most highly publicized UFC events to date. This is a pretty big deal for women’s MMA, because every single name on that main card was a big one. Two women headlined an event that also featured Brock Lesnar’s much-touted return to the octagon against Mark Hunt, a matchup between Daniel Cormier and recent substitution Anderson Silva, a fight for the interim Featherweight belt between Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo, and a Heavyweight match between Cain Velasquez and Travis Browne. Admittedly, there are a lot of ways in which Tate vs Nunes was the logical choice, since they were the only title defence on the card. But there’s no denying that fans were expecting an exciting match, and that the women delivered on that. And all this only a few years after UFC President saying that he was against women’s divisions.

So happy Pride, everybody, and let’s hope for even more encouraging times for women’s MMA.