Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health
Author: catherine w
I'm an analytic philosopher, retooled as a public health ethicist. I'm interested in heath behavior change, particularly around eating and activity, and how things other than knowledge affect our health decisions.I'm also a cyclist (road, off-road, commuter), squash player, x skier, occasional yoga-doer, hiker, swimmer and leisurely walker.
This weekend, my friend Norah and I are in Central Massachusetts, cycling, swimming, getting great coffee, and going to a dance concert at Jacob’s Pillow in western MA. We saw the Martha Graham Dance Company last night– stay tuned for a blog post next week about them.
This is our second year doing this weekend outing, and we’ve got it down pat. We stay in a modest motel across the road from the Norowottuck Rail Trail, which runs from east of Amherst to west of Northampton. It’s 11 miles long, and also lets you connect to other rail trails north of Northampton.
Friday afternoon we arrived and I was dying to get out on my bike. It was sunny and warm, and the path was green and leafy. See?
Norah had both work and napping to do, so I headed out on my own. Of course, I wasn’t alone– there were other folks on bikes, skates, feet, and one person on a skateboard. Still, it was calming and refreshing to get out there on my own, just pedaling and looking around at the scenery.
I rode to downtown Northampton, reengaged with technology for a bit (texting and emailing on my phone), and then headed back. The ride back gave me a second dose of quiet enjoyment. And there were great visuals, too. See?
On Saturday, Norah and I set out together to ride to Amherst, find coffee, walk around, have lunch, and then make our way back to the motel. We were riding together, pointing out interesting-to-us sights to each other. Soon, though, Norah said to me, “I’d like to have a quiet ride. Why don’t you go on ahead?”
I did, riding at my own pace and in my own space. My road bike weighs about half of Norah’s sturdy commuter (complete with rack and panniers), and I enjoyed stretching my legs and covering more of the path. Soon, the scenery changed from farmland to ponds, with lots of birds and flora. See?
I was close to the end of the trail when I got a phone call from Norah, asking where I was. She was sitting on one of the rustic benches on the side of the trail, taking a break. I told her I would return as soon as I got to the end of the trail (in this sense, I’m a completist like Cate).
Soon I was back with Norah. We were both very happy and ready to search for coffee. So we did, along with meandering, eating lunch, and chit chatting with folks at a farmer’s market.
Then we got back on our bikes and rode to the motel together. We chatted a little, talked about plans for the rest of the day, pointed out interesting rights to each other. It was calm and relaxing and fun. We both got what we wanted from our outing– calm quiet cycling, calm together cycling. Yay!
Readers, do you ever split up when riding with friends? Do you like it? Do you prefer to ride together mostly, or separately, or a combo? I’m curious.
You know, sometimes you’re in a spot where the only way forward is with the help of a GIF. As a non-early adopter of both texting and GIF-ing (yes, I know it’s annoying, but I can’t/won’t stop), I’m still in the thrall of sending GIFS to, well, everyone. Undoubtedly this phase will pass (and perhaps not soon enough). But, in the meantime, I’m living my best GIF-sending life.
The other day I was texting my friend Pata, who was sad on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. In the course of the back-and-forth, we talking about drowning in emotions vs. swimming through them. I mentioned how it was good we were both lifeguards for each other when the waves got rough (please don’t judge me for being sappy here…)
Then, it occurred to me: time for a lifeguard GIF! And what better one than… wait for it…
Here is the one I sent.
However, looking through the other candidate GIFS my iPhone handily provided, I saw another one I liked much much better. Then I sent it. Here it is:
I LOVE THIS. I LOVE HER. I LOVE HER EXPRESSION. I LOVE HER BEACH RUNNING STYLE. I LOVE HER SUIT. I LOVE HER SENSE OF HUMOR. I LOVE HER STRENGTH. I LOVE HER MOXIE.
Maybe/probably/certainly people are using this GIF to express fat phobia. Shame on them. But I bet she made it to express fat power. To personify fat grace. To demonstrate fat strength. I am there and loving it.
I hereby promise you, dear readers, that sometime I will:
make some GIFS of ME doing some active things
take pleasure and pride and humor in the making of them
distribute them copiously (with the forbearance of my friends)
take in the FACT (not idea or hope or possibility, but FACT) that I am– if not exactly cool– instead strong and funny and graceful and attractive and eminently watchable.
I didn’t make any GIFs this week, but here is a series of photos of me pretend-dramatically jumping from one rock to another, by my niece Gracie. My nephew Gray is on the left. Definitely gearing up for more projects like this…
Hey readers, how do you feel about pictures or videos or other representations of you doing your active/physical/movey things? What makes you feel good about them? I’d love to hear from you.
1.Question of pay. is the USWNT paid equitably? By “equitably”, we could mean something like “paid the same as men’s professional soccer in accordance with”:
their win-loss record, compared to those of the men’ teams
their tournament play/record, compared to mens’ teams
the prize money offered in the tournaments they play in
prize money offered in professional soccer tournaments in general
revenues generated by league and tournament games
revenue generated by sponsorships, merchandise, viewership, etc.
I could go on
Yes, we know: economics is complicated. But do we have some idea of the answer? We do– the answer seems to be “no”. The USWNT is not paid in accordance with any of the above-listed measures. How do we know this? Here are some informative bits from articles I read (here and here and here).
US women’s soccer now has edged out US men’s soccer in terms of game revenue generated ($50.8M vs. $49.9M)
The US Soccer Federation sells broadcast ad sponsorship rights for the women’s and men’s teams together, so they haven’t provided information to separate out the revenue streams.
Nike’s highest-selling soccer jersey is the USWNT’s home jersey. Here it is:
The USWNT is paid a guaranteed base salary, while the US men’s soccer team is paid in bonuses alone. However, the men are paid when they play (win or lose), so their annual pay depends on how many games they play in a year.
The total prize money for the women’s World Cup is about $30M, whereas the FIFA men’s World Cup prize money is around $400M.
The US men’s and women’s teams have different contracts under different collective bargaining agreements. The US men’s team has publicly stated its support for increased pay equity for US women’s soccer.
The USWNT has sued the US Soccer Federation for changes in their pay structures (read more about it here):
All 28 female players sued the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) — their employer — in U.S. District Court in March, alleging they are paid less than the men and are provided with less support, despite their consistent outstanding performance. The lawsuit also argues the team’s success has “translated into substantial revenue generation and profits” for USSF and “during the period relevant to this case, the WNT earned more in profit and/or revenue than the MNT.”
The soccer federation denied the claims in the women’s lawsuit, arguing in a May court filing that the pay differential between the men and women players is “based on differences in aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex” and that the two teams are “physically and functionally separate organizations.”
Are the women players paid less? Sometimes. When the female players have appeared to make about the same or more money, they’ve had to turn in consistently outstanding performances on the world stage. Even with those feats, earning the same amount as the men’s soccer players was near-impossible under the previous collective-bargaining agreement.
The new agreement has provisions that may reduce the difference in bonuses for friendly games and tournaments, but there is — without question and for whatever reasons — still a massive gap between men’s and women’s World Cup bonuses.
2.Question of politics. Is the question of the USWNT’s pay becoming a nasty political fight? That one’s easy.
Prominent Democratic politicians have not just tweeted support, but in fact introduced legislation requiring that US Soccer pay women’s and men’s teams equally. In response, the US Soccer Federation hired two lobbying firms to present a case that the women’s teams are not paid inequitably. Groups are battling over the numbers, which (as I pointed out above) are complicated. So far the lobbyists are working on Capital Hill but haven’t registered yet (they are required to register within 45 days of beginning work). The lobbyists and US Soccer say they are trying to give accurate information, and the USWNT say that the lobbyists and US Soccer are trying to derail legislation and mislead legislators. Politico reported the following interchange:
...one of the lobbyists representing U.S. Soccer — Ray Bucheger, a former Democratic congressional staffer who’s now a partner at FBB — told a Democraticcongressional staffer late last month that one of the bills could jeopardize the country’s chances of hosting future Women’s World Cups, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Bucheger declined to comment.
3.Question of (mis)perception. It is, sadly, true that lots of people hold women’s sports in lower esteem than men’s sports. And there are loads of reports and surveys and studies that show that non-professional-athlete men think they are as good or better athletes as world-class professional women athletes. You have no doubt seen the survey, published here, that 1 in 8 men in the UK surveyed believed they could take a point off tennis titan Serena Williams.
In the comments section of this article (I know, don’t read the comments ever, but I’m doing this for blog research purposes) I saw exactly this same view: some people said that the USWNT were less good soccer players than mediocre men’s professional teams. Some cited a 2017 scrimmage with a US Soccer development program under-15 boys’ team (that the USWNT graciously did to teach the boys some techniques) in which the final score was 5-2 in favor of the boys’ team. You can read the real story here. You also might be interested to hear that in 2017 (maybe encouraged by the USWNT’s participation?) US Soccer added some girls’ development soccer teams (finally).
Other commenters said that this is the way of all women’s sports, that professional women athletes pale in comparison with (most? all?) male athletes in terms of performance. So it’s okay to pay them less and think less of them as athletes (or not to think of them as athletes, period).
Responding to this general claim– that women just aren’t as good/strong/interesting athletes as men– takes a lot of hard work. Scholars and activists and athletes have been and are currently spending their careers responding in a bunch of ways. Some of those ways include:
carefully documenting and framing the comparative histories of sports and athletic development programs for boys and girls, pointing out the myriad disparities girls experience in everything from resources to coaching to goals to opportunities to social support, etc.
framing and revealing the historical and social contexts in which girls and women interested in physical activity/athletics are treated; in short, it’s not good.
providing context for the ways media coverage of women athletes treats and judges their athletic performance, I blogged about the juggernaut UConn women’s basketball team, stuck between a rock and a hard place– media criticized them for being too good and messing up the sport. Really. Read about it here.
What I hope and even expect is that, with increased support and programming, society’s perceptions of girls and boys and men and women as athletes will change. Then we will be able to see and value girls and women as the athletes they are and can be.
Readers– what do you think about our current atmosphere of sports development and outlets for girls and women? Any stories or ideas or suggestions you want to share would be most welcome.
We at Fit is a Feminist Issue have a wide variety of personal viewpoints on yoga. I’m a huuuge fan myself, and have been immersed in it for the past four years or so (I’ve practiced off and on for 30 years). Tracy does yoga and meditation regularly and has even done the 108 sun salutation practice (108 Sun Salutations– Oh My!) Cate, inspired by Tracy, did 108 sun salutations on Christmas morning while on vacation in Australia (108 Sun Salutations on Christmas Morning). Christina has done yoga challenges, Mina has contemplated her toes during yoga, and several of our bloggers have tried goat yoga (for a compendium of our goat yoga posts, look here).
But nowhere in the vast oeuvre of Fit is a Feminist Issue will you find us discussing competitive yoga. Why not, you might ask? Don’t we have a responsibility to cover topics of import and relevance to the community? Indeed, we do. So, let’s settle in, breathe, and begin.
What is competitive yoga? It’s hard to get a neutral explanation; even its Wikipedia page is disapproving. So here goes: competitive yoga is a sport in which participants do yoga asanas, or poses, and are judged on them. The poses they do are very advanced or are extreme modifications of advanced poses, requiring flexibility and strength well beyond what any yoga practitioner needs or ever demonstrates in a class or workshop or retreat.
Pictures will make this clearer. Here are some:
Competitive yoga seems to combine yoga asanas with contortionist performance. That’s cool; it’s not what my body can or wants to do, but y’all go!
However, using the word “yoga” upsets a lot of people. In a Yoga Journal article on a documentary about competitive yoga (because of course there’s a documentary about it), yoga teachers expressed their unhappiness about it.
“I think competitive yoga is a form of misappropriation if they’re calling it yoga and making it look like they’re really doing yoga and competing,” Breaking India author Rajiv Malhotra says on-camera. Other yogis agree with him, suggesting that the focus on a mere three minutes of asana leaves out the spiritual side of the practice. “The word yoga competition becomes so offensive, because yoga is much more than posturing,” adds New Jersey yoga teacher Loretta Turner.
I haven’t seen the film, but we can all access it here.
I’ve been thinking this week about the idea of trying to perfect a yoga pose– being in competition with others, or even yourself. I admit that I do this often in yoga classes myself. I try to stretch more deeply, get those palms on the floor, straighten those legs, intensify that lunge, you name it. My friends have joked for years that I am competitive even in yoga class. I get the joke, and there’s truth in it.
What I love about my own approach to yoga, is that my efforts– for more intensity, for trying modifications, for stretching myself (literally), are about ways I want to feel, not ways I want to look. And they are all about what’s going on in my own body and mind and heart and feels.
On Friday I went to my absolute favorite yoga class– gentle and restorative yoga– with my favorite yoga teacher Liz Reiser at Artemis, my local and beloved yoga studio. My sister Elizabeth and niece Grace went with me. We all had different experiences there, as we have different bodies, different body and yoga histories, and were in different emotional and physical states that day. That day, when we did yoga nidra, an extended deep relaxation, I did it with my legs up the wall, not a standard pose for yoga nidra. It can feel uncomfortable, and you need hamstring flexibility for it to work. But I have that, and that evening it works blissfully. I felt calm and settled and relaxed and quiet. It was wonderful.
My sister and niece lay on their backs with legs on bolsters, covered with a blanket. It was good and okay for them, respectively.
I would not call my Friday experience competitive. I would call it attentive to the variations of life. Sometimes you are in the zone. Sometimes you are distracted. Sometimes you are injured or otherwise tender. Sometimes you are annoyed or distracted (maybe by goats). What I love about yoga is that the goal is to realize where you are, and do what you want and feel like you need to do. And you’ll have some experience or other. And that’s what winning is in yoga– have the experience you have.
What do y’all think about competitive yoga? Working on super-hard poses? Not working on them? Is this inspiring, off-putting, amusing? I’d love to hear from you,
I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing e-bikes everywhere: in the news, in my Facebook feed, and all over the place in the real world. Last Wednesday, while driving oh so slowly through morning traffic on my way to a critical thinking workshop, a woman on an e-bike zipped by us all in the bike lane. I looked on in envy and admiration. I was carpooling with a friend to a disclosed location 40 miles away, so biking there wasn’t an option.
But a lot of the time biking is an option. I bike not just for fun, but also for errands and meetings near where I live. Most places I go in my part of the Boston area I can get to within 20-ish minutes on a bike. I can’t say the same for driving: there’s the current road construction chaos and the omnipresent parking problem, both against a backdrop of congested urban streets. For this kind of cycling I have to pay very close attention to what’s going on around me, but I tend to get where I’m going quite efficiently and in good time. No need for an e-bike, it would seem.
Then there’s my commute to work.
My university is 41 miles from my house. I commute generally 3 days a week, about 30–32 weeks a year. This is not horrible. I’m lucky that I have the option of working from home 2 days a week, and also in the summer and during school breaks.
I hate the drive to and from work. It takes an hour to get there– I leave after 9am to avoid the morning traffic crush– but it takes anywhere from 1:15 to infinity to get home, which is during the evening rush hour. Yes, yes– I listen to podcasts and audio books. But it is still a long and not fun drive.
There are public transportation options, and I’ve tried them from time to time. It involves either:
walking to the bus stop near my house; taking the bus to the subway (called the T); taking the subway to the train station downtown; taking the commuter rail to school (47 minutes); walking 10 or so minutes to class or office. OR
Cycling to the train station (around 45 minutes depending on traffic lights); changing clothes in the train station bathroom, as I’m sweaty after that long a ride; taking train to school; walking or cycling to class or office (depending on whether I took my bike on the train).
Either of these options makes my commute take 1 hour 45 minutes–2 hours EACH WAY. Blech. I’ve duly tried to make myself adjust to this over the years, but it never sticks.
Enter the e-bike option.
In a big fancy survey of e-bike owners, they listed a bunch of reasons why they chose e-bikes (over driving and over regular bikes). Here’s the big fancy graph of their responses:
All of these reasons make a lot of sense. Of course a bunch of these motivations would promote non-e-bike riding. However, they also cited a bunch of barriers to standard bike commuting. Here’s the fancy graph with that info:
These reasons make a lot of sense, too. For me, the factors that are motivating me to test-ride some e-bikes are:
An e-bike would reduce my commuting time; by how much, I’m not sure.
I’ll likely be less sweaty when I arrive at the train station, which means not changing in the bathroom and also arriving at class looking less disheveled (the train arrives 12 minutes before class starts).
Given 2., I think I’d bike commute for more of the year; in the colder months, I would be less sweaty (I sweat while cycling no matter the weather– that’s the fact), which would make the rest of my commute more comfortable.
So what is holding me back?
Price– e-bikes are still very expensive. From very preliminary research (more will be forthcoming and duly reported here), decent ones start around $2500 and go up from there. Way up.
I’m not an early adopter of new technology. I prefer waiting until the kinks are worked out, more and better features appear and the price drops.
I’m not sure how much shorter an e-bike commute would be. It’s about 8 miles to the train station from my house, but it’s a very congested route on city streets with loads of traffic lights. My land speed record there on my road bike is 38 minutes. It’s not clear how much the e-bike would cut the time of the trip.
It’s not clear how much less sweaty I would be, either. Pedal-assist bikes do require pedaling, so it will take some experimenting to see how my body behaves.
What do you think? Do you have an e-bike? How do you like it? Do you want an e-bike? I’d welcome any thoughts you have on the matter. I’ll report back as I try some out.
Who here dances around their kitchen in the morning/noon/evening/night? Come on, let me see those hands.
This morning, after turning on my internet radio (second-favorite gift from my former partner, first being fancy espresso machine), I found myself distracted from coffee making by some great grooves emanating from said radio. I programmed in my favorite jazz stations from all over North America (and one from France), and rotate/update as the spirit moves me.
This morning, even before coffee consumption, I found myself dancing to some funky jazz. Because of the miracle/burden of the internet, I looked up the playlist and found it: Houston Person, “Walking the Dog”. I recommend taking your phone or computer to your kitchen now, hitting play, and seeing what happens. Other locations may work just as well.
There’s nothing like a little Hammond B-3 organ to get you going in the morning.
Since it’s summer and I was having a moment of delightful leisure, I let myself go with the flow (please forgive the previous phrase–I’m feeling carried away). It was so fun. I kept dancing– moving my hips, adding in arms, no real footwork, just some lazy morning grooving.
The tune is 8 minutes long, so there was time for memories to rush in. Muscle memories showed up in waves. You see, I used to be/was/am a dancer.
I don’t remember any time in my childhood when there wasn’t groovy music playing, with someone swiveling hips, snapping fingers, etc. I was born into a Motown household in the 60s. We always had a funky soundtrack for the work of the day.
High school dances (yes we had them back in the late 70s) were all about the funk. The Isley Brothers, Earth Wind and Fire, and yes, even Lionel Ritchie were the rhythms of the day.
Ballet at age 8 was my rocky start to structured dance, abandoned 3 months after (don’t remember why). It took until college, when, on a whim, I signed up for tap class and ballet class, to discover my dancer self. Ballet was not where that happened. I enjoyed it and learned a lot about my body; taking ballet can teach you almost as much as yoga about what your body can/can’t/loves to/flat-out-refuses to do.
Lest you think that rhythm tap is a genre limited to jazz lovers (not that I find this a limitation, but…), check out the Syncopated Ladies‘ number to Prince’s “When Doves Cry”.
My prime tap years were from my late 20s through my mid-30s. I studied with great teachers in Boston (I even did master classes with Savion Glover and the late great Gregory Hines). I taught classes to adults and kids, did workshops, and studied privately with the above-mentioned Pamela Raff and also Katherine Kramer. I was able to perform with live jazz combos, solo and with friends and teachers.
Some gigs were more modest than others. Two friends and I, armed with boom box , went to an assisted-living facility to do a little show. We tap danced to recorded jazz standards and I sang a little bit while my friends tapped (our “crowdpleaser” number was All of Me). Halfway through the show, an announcement came on over the PA system, saying that the bus to Stop ‘n’ Shop was leaving in five minutes. We lost a third of the audience then. Whaddya gonna do? Seniors need groceries.
There’s no one reason why tap didn’t stay with me, or I didn’t stay with tap. I was changing jobs and moving, traveling a lot, and tap requires access to teachers and studios with wood floors and communities and connections. DO NOT TRY IT AT HOME, unless you live in a single family house alone or with a soundproof basement. It is loud. Very loud.
Lately I’ve been thinking about returning to the floor. Listening to more jazz has put me in mind and mood for dancing again. My body isn’t what it was then (no need for reminders about this; I’m trying to be nicer and more accepting, but having a harder time with it these days; another story for another post).
Can I still tap? Yes. Can I still boogie? Absolutely. Maybe it’s time to start dancing again.
Hey readers– any dancers out there? What makes you get your groove on (yes, I know you’re cringing just reading this; please forgive me). I would love to hear from you.
My actual tap shoes are in my basement (time to get them out!), but I’ll leave you with a portrait of my black-and-white Dansky custom tap shoes. Artist Shari Hersch was nice enough to do this as a commission for me. It was some of the best money I ever spent.
It turns out that I can take the train from Boston with my bike (I can roll it on, and they will store it, and I then roll it off), take a ferry over, and pedal around and explore. I have friends there, so am staying with them.
I found a nice coastal ride on the mainland as well. There’s a tour company that offers a 5-lighthouse tour for $99. They included a map, so I think I can forgo the $99 fee and do it myself. You can, too– here’s the map. The total mileage to and from the ferry terminal is at most 25 miles/40 km. That sounds perfect for a leisurely exploring jaunt.
Another island I am planning to visit is Block Island, off the south coast of Rhode Island. Here’s a map; I think grownups made this one.
For this trip I’ll drive to southern Rhode Island (the Amtrak train to Providence doesn’t let you roll on/roll off bikes… 😦 ) and then take an hour-long ferry. It’s an easy day trip pedaling around, browsing, taking pictures, enjoying beaches, etc.
There’s one more island trip I have planned, although it’s not by bike. The Boston harbor islands are easily accessible by ferry, and loads of people go in the summer. My sister and her kids and I are taking a ferry to Spectacle Island, where we can walk around, swim, and maybe kayak too (they offer free kayak use and intro classes). It’s rather small, and easy to navigate on foot. To get an idea of how small, here’s a map of the route for a 5k race run on the island:
Readers, what are your rest-of-summer plans? Are you gravitating toward water, woods, desert, lakes, mountains? Let me know; cool summer getaway ideas are always welcome.