I just finished grading papers for my class “The Art of the Personal Essay” and I continue to have so much respect for personal writing and the stories it enables people to tell. So it’s got me thinking (again) about personal writing. We do a lot of it here on the blog — the majority of our posts involve personal writing at some level, even if it’s a post focusing on commentary. I thought it might be good to revisit why we do that. So here is a post from a couple of years ago as a #tbt that considers why our blog has so much personal writing on it. Have a good one! T
We’ve celebrated various milestones along the route of our blogging journey. On May 19th, 2013 we were excited to welcome our 500th follower. At the time it seemed like a really big deal. On January 27, 2015 we welcomed follower number 4000. On November 13, 2015 we hit 15,000.
And now here we are welcoming our 20,000th follower! Welcome to our happy place where feminism and fitness meet.
Here’s some of the blog regulars talking about what they like best in the world of feminist fitness:
Cycling continues to be my passion when it comes to movement. Over the years I’ve even found joy in winter cycling whether that’s snow commuting or fat biking through the woods. Whee! Zoom!
Sam fat biking at Tremblant on a trail that turned out to be a black trail, for expert, advanced riders. After finding that out Sam felt less bad about being nervous about the cliff and the river on her left side.
I started the Fittest by 50 Challenge back in 2012 not enjoying running at all. Now I love it and can’t imagine life without it. I am most excited when I have a big goal ahead. This winter, the Around the Bay 30K is keeping me focused and consistent in my training. Here I am with Anita after our epic half marathon at the Scotiabank Waterfront half in Toronto in October.
Right now, I’ve fallen in love with the mix of movement that made it possible for me to work out 302 times in 2018: running, spinning, cycling, walking, small weights and yoga. This handstand was only my second ever, and I did it on July 31st, after meeting my goal of working out every day in July. The blend of those activities perks up all of my different kinds of strength and determination, though I think if I had to pick just one right now, it would be yoga. I’m getting so much from the simplest postures right now.
I love Taekwondo because of the mental and physical discipline it requires. I love all the jumping and punching and kicking, it feels like I am using all of my muscles and building my power. And I love how the process of learning TKD has taught me how to understand other areas of my life – how to break things into smaller tasks, how to practice effectively, and how to be kinder to myself while I learn.
Swimming makes me feel awesome. Without fail, I’m in a better mood when I get out of the water than when I get in! I love the feeling of becoming one with the water and how it helps me propel myself along.
Of all the physical activities I like to do, cycling is my favorite. Seeing the world from the handlebars, whether going fast or slow, near home or across the country or globe– this is where I’m happiest. And the cherry on top is doing this with other people. I love regular summer Friday coffee rides with my friend Pata, renting beach cruisers with my sister and her kids, and going on group vacations that include or are dedicated to cycling. This summer I’m trying not to plan much travel so I can revel in summer cycling in New England. Come join me!
I love my bike. That’s it. Don’t need to kill every strava segment to know it loves me too. (Though when that happens, that’s nice.) Prefer a Sunday when the clouds fly away just in time for me to pull my favourite shorts on. Nothing like waking up to a burst of sunlight and knowing there’s a friend-filled ride ahead. And nothing like the treat to end the ride!
I love rowing and powerlifting. I love rowing for being part of a team and I love powerlifting because I am the team. I came to both sports late in life after years of feeling pretty well non-functional in a sports environment. When you row as a team, you can get to a place where you feel you are flying through the water. That can happen too in lifting. I love that feeling.
As it’s winter, my happy place is on cross-country skis, one of my all-time fitness favourites for the way it makes cold weather a gift, for the inescapable effort that makes my heart work as absolutely hard as it can; all in a landscape of solitude and quiet.
Mina cross country skiing (at Tahoe Donner Cross Country in Truckee, CA)
We here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue like to talk about our “big tent feminism” and how we try to make space for everyone. That’s a lofty goal, I know. One of my favourite questions in feminism is “is an inclusive feminism possible?” I use it as a thematic frame for most of my teaching in feminist philosophy and women’s studies, as a way of pushing people in my classes to think about inclusivity and intersectionality not just as theoretical ideas, but in their actual material practices.
It’s hard. We struggle. People get defensive. There are misunderstandings. Hurt feelings. Anger. Difficult conversations. People are called on their privilege and need to look at that. People are afraid to speak for fear of offending, excluding, saying the wrong thing on a multitude of other levels, sounding closed when in fact they are open, hurting others’ feelings, having people be upset with them. Sometimes we find ourselves at an impasse. We have to agree to disagree or be stuck. This is all in the context of feminism, where the majority of students are already there with respect to the broad strokes of it.
And though I do my best to manage the discussion, to push it forward or in a different direction if any of the above takes place, I can’t promise a totally “safe space” where no one will ever feel shitty, be offended, say the wrong thing.
Because guess what? Feminists disagree amongst themselves sometimes.
Oh, you might say, feminist disagreement isn’t necessarily “unsafe.” Well, that would be right. It isn’t necessarily unsafe. But as Cate said a couple of days ago and as Sam experienced this week, offense can turn to anger and vitriol pretty quickly. And when it does, it’s hard to know who will be in the line of fire. Or, if you feel some responsibility for the space, what to do about it. And sometimes our own content can be the instigator. We post a lot, there are many of us, we don’t spend a ton of time on each post — many risk factors at play.
We often go to what seems like the commonsense solution when things get ugly: tell people to engage respectfully with each other, not to be mean about it, etc. But guess what? That seemingly sensible suggestion is mega-triggering for some. One woman’s “be nice” is another woman’s “tone policing.” There is no feminist on this planet who hasn’t been told at some time or another that her anger is misplaced, that she should “be nice,” that she “shouldn’t” feel that way. It is a dismissive tactic used to undermine legitimate social justice complaints.
If a safe space is a place where you’re insulated from all possible hurtful, harmful, or offensive comments, then even on a feminist page we can’t promise that. It’s not so much the misogynists who take us down — we can deal with them by deleting and blocking. But it’s much harder to take that same approach to other feminists. I mean, we’re all on common ground when it comes to feeling sick to our stomachs about what Christine Blasey Ford is about to endure today, right?
I very much like Cate’s questions that press us to think about what we are making:
In our facebook interactions what are we making? Community? Uncrossable boundaries? Winners and losers? Are we making invitations to respond, or are we making hurt creatures who are going to slink off to their own corners and reload?
Obviously we don’t want to be making something shitty where people feel awful. I felt awful the other day and engaged in a way that was unhelpful, more emotionally charged than I’d have preferred it to be, and ultimately left me feeling emotionally drained and hungover. That was no one’s fault but my own, because I was angry and defensive and instead of going off and breathing for a bit, I shot back comments seeking to be understood.
The irony of acting exactly like the way I perceived the people who were pissing me off to be acting was not lost on me in the least. That I wanted them to feel compassion for Samantha when I was exhibiting none for them indicates the type of logical block that takes hold. I could feel it happening while not being able to stop. There is a certain adrenaline that gets pumping in these things. Tempers rise. Everything escalates. It’s hard to think clearly. These are times when (for me anyway) silence is a better option.
And when that’s happening, the thing we least want to hear is “whatever whatever but do you mind being nicer?” As one of the angry people said (I’m paraphrasing), “how about trying to understand why we’re angry?” By then lines had been drawn in the sand (this is how it happens) and there was not going to be a lot of understanding.
I get it. Even as I argued and swore (yes, I swore at a reader in the comments on our Facebook page) I could see that this wasn’t a productive way to engage. That people were getting more angry. More hurt. More frustrated. We reached the impasse. More frustrating still because it is among feminists.
Feminist solidarity all the time would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? That kind of sisterhood where we all get one other. But it isn’t like that all the time. The history of feminism, the non-intersectional feminism of privileged, nondisabled white women, claimed to be that — to apply universally to the experience of women. And then feminists of color said, “hang on, your feminism doesn’t include me.” And disabled feminists said, “wait a minute, your feminism doesn’t include me.” And feminists who lived in poverty said, “you’re not speaking to my experience.” And feminists who didn’t live in “The West” said, “the material realities of our lives aren’t represented by your feminism.”
The women in positions of privilege wanted a big tent, and they said it was open so anyone could wander in. But the tent didn’t feel so inclusive to the women who struggled in ways that the big tent kind of neutralized and didn’t seem to make space for. And so the space didn’t feel safe because they had things to say that couldn’t be said without making the more privileged women feel defensive or attacked or just not quite as comfortable in the tent as they wanted to be and aspired to be.
The road to an inclusive feminism that accurately represents differences among women instead of assuming a homogeneous sameness has been long and winding and difficult, sometimes even divisive, hurtful, harmful, and dangerous to women. No one is trying to make it this way. We aren’t dealing with malicious motives. But invisible privilege — the privilege of asking others to be nice perhaps — yields a type of denial. It’s not intentional, but it makes uptake of different experiences more difficult.
Does this mean that I don’t believe in our “big tent”? Not at all. I believe in it very much. But I am also aware that as big as the tent may be from my/our perspective, it doesn’t feel totally open to everyone all the time. And yes, I would like all the people who enter — whether through the blog or the Facebook page or the Twitter discussion — to be kind and respectful to each other. Why? Because truly, we are all feminists even if all feminists don’t have exactly the same set of beliefs. But we can’t promise harmonious non-hurtful interactions all the time.
I can say that I myself will attempt to do better. And I know that as a collective we do actually grow through these stormy times. We’re not perfect (yet!). There is always going to be room to improve, to modify our practices, to do things differently. It never feels good to be attacked, so we can hope that over time, we build up enough good faith that when we misstep and someone wants to let us know, they’ll be kind and not mean about it. But upon reflection, I do think that sometimes even that might be too much to ask.
When people get angry (including when I get angry), that vitriol usually lands on someone. And ouch. No one likes to be on the receiving end of fury. Sometimes it’s directed at one of the blog authors. Other times it’s a member of our community who has ventured to post a comment. But that we can post things that anger and upset people, and that people’s anger can land on us and others are both reasons for saying that as much as we would love to keep it all nice and kind and civil and harmonious, we can’t promise to do that.
Saw the surgeon and his team on Monday. I’ve been crying on and off since.
The easy bits are that I got another shot of synvisc under my kneecap. What is it and what’s it for? “SYNVISC is a viscosupplement injection that supplements the fluid in your knee to help lubricate and cushion the joint. SYNVISC is for people with knee osteoarthritis who have not received enough pain relief from diet, exercise and over-the-counter pain medication.”
I’m also still wearing the knee brace and it’s helping on days when I’m on my feet a lot. I spent the weekend in New York and even though I took the subway more than usual and hopped in a few taxis for good measure, I still got 13,000 steps in on Sunday including a walk through Central Park. Thanks knee brace. I did some shopping for more leggings for under the brace and for short skirts and dresses to wear over the leggings. The brace presents some fashion challenges and I’m warmer than usual with black leggings on no matter what.
I’m still going to physio and doing lots of knee-supporting exercises.
I still meet the conditions for knee replacement surgery (in both knees actually though only the left hurts) but neither of the surgeons I saw recommend it. I’m too young and I’m too active. The surgeons made me laugh, which is something, given the general message they had to deliver.
They said they like to make people happy. The person they make the most happy through knee replacement is somebody who arrives in their office, sad and older. Someone who just wants to walk to the grocery store without pain, the kind of person who says they want to lead a normal life, get a decent night’s sleep, and not suffer all the time. Knee replacement apparently makes that person very happy but they said for someone like me it wouldn’t make me happy.
Why not? Because I want to regain function and their line on knee replacement is that you shouldn’t do it to regain function, you should do it to lose pain. Also, knee replacements don’t last very long maybe 20 years and I’m young. I want to do things like ride my bike and some patients after knee replacement have difficulty bike riding because they don’t have the full range of motion back necessary for riding a bike.
Instead they discussed a different surgery called high tibial osteotomy. That surgery involves breaking bones and resetting them so I have a bigger gap in my knee cap on the side that’s in a lot of pain. It’s a good sign that the brace helps because this does surgically what the brace does mechanically. But it’s not a permanent fix. There’s a chance the other side of my knee will become painful as arthritis advances. So it’s good for 2-10 years maybe. Also, it’s big deal surgery. Like knee replacement it’s months and months of recovery. I’d trade off 10 years of active living without pain for six months painful time consuming recovery but I’m not sure about 2 years. There are no magic globes I can peer in to see the future.
I’m trying to decide. See them again in three months.
But the other depressing piece of news from the surgeons was the strong recommendation of weight loss, both as a way of avoiding surgery and as essential to recovering from it. Either way I should lose a lot of weight. It will definitely, they say, help with pain relief. The pain is all about weight bearing. That’s why downstairs is harder than up. It’s all about force on the kneecap. And as far as motivation goes this is pretty horrible pain. Like pain that makes hard to think about other things.
Now as I’ve said before I wish that it were the case that medical reasons for weight loss changed the facts. But that’s not so. Your body doesn’t care how good, how “pure” your motivation is. It’s still tough. It’s tough losing weight and tough keeping it off.
I don’t have any choice but to try. The worse case scenario is that I lose it, gain it back, and more and need knee replacement surgery. But that’s the same worst case scenario I face now. I’ve lost significant amounts of weight in my life, 70 lbs in grad school, 60 when I turned 40. The trick, the hard part, is keeping it off. This time, if I actually lose weight, I’ll be unicorn training, learning the habits of people who actually keep weight off.
Don’t worry. This won’t become a weight loss blog. Likely I’ll save any angst, any updates, to my monthly check in posts. I’ll also add content warnings.
I thought about leaving blogging but making this pain manageable and movement possible is a big part of my life right now. And I’m very much still a fit, feminist just one who is coping with injury and aging and hoping to keep in moving.
It can be tricky moving around in a small boat in ways that don’t hurt my knee but I’m learning how to do it. I haven’t raced a small sailboat ever. All of my sailboat racing experience is on relatively big boats so this is new to me. With all the knee misery, see above, it’s good to have something new to focus on. It’s fun and exciting and lots to learn.
Tracy Isaacs posts Tuesdays and most Thursdays, writer, feminist, vegan, runner, sailor, philosopher, yogi, photography-obsessed, sometimes knitter, co-founder of Fit Is a Feminist Issue, co-author of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (launching in April 2018, published by Greystone Books).
Sam Brennan, posts regularly Mondays and Wednesdays, and randomly lots of other days and times! Philosopher, feminist, parent, and cyclist! Co-founder of Fit Is a Feminist Issue, co-author of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (launching in April 2018, published by Greystone Books.
Susan Tarshis is a feminist, therapist, parent and general know it all about a lot of things. She loves to hike with her dog, ride horses, ride a bike and do Pilates. She runs but doesn’t like that nearly as much. She is Associate Faculty with the Toronto Institute for Relational Psychotherapy. Activity is necessary for life, health and growth in all domains. Our access to it and our ideas around it are informed by our histories and social locations. Susan likes to engage in discussion of these domains with personal stories. Her blogs often explore themes of performance, joy, authenticity and even despair. In the end, her dog always saves the day.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto when she’s not roaming the earth. She works in the space of sustainable socially accountable change in health and education, and is particularly interested in fostering a greater culture of aging with the greatest mobility possible. She posts the second Friday and third Saturday of every month as well as other times when the mood strikes!
Martha lives in Newfoundland and posts here the third Friday of every month. Martha is a late 50s feminist writer and consultant. She has tried running, rowing, trail walking, swimming and powerlifting. So far lifting weights and practicing laps in the pool have stuck.
Natalie lives with 3 awesome humans as well as high blood pressure and Major Depressive Disorder. She is working on completing her BA in Women’s Studies from Athabasca University one course at a time. She tries very hard to be a hopeful feminist and enjoys debunking ideas around fat bodies by wearing a lot of Lycra. Natalie posts the first Saturday of the month.
Kim Solga was born in Montreal, Quebec, grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, and has lived across Canada, in the US, and in the UK. She is a feminist scholar of theatre and performance by day, and a cyclist and rower by evening/early morning/on the weekend. Her trusty dog, Emma Jane, keeps her honest by demanding three walks daily. Kim also blogs about teaching, performance, and activism on WordPress, at The Activist Classroom. Kim blogs on the 4th Friday of the month.
Bettina is a 33 year-old research manager with a PhD in Political Science. She lives in Heidelberg, Germany, where she works for a European research enabling organisation in the life sciences. In her spare time she swims, runs, boulders and generally likes to be active. She thinks fit is a feminist issue because all too often, exercising while female means being judged: too weak, too strong, too fat, too thin, too ugly, too pretty… you name it. It’s time to fix that, so we need a feminist perspective. Bettina blogs on the second Saturday of the month.
“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.”
Christine Hennebury, posts the last Saturday of the month. “I’m a writer, storyteller, and creative life coach from Newfoundland and Labrador. I’m a 2 degree blackbelt in ITF Taekwon-do who dabbles in yoga and Nia dance. I’m intrigued by the challenge of getting my body to do the things that my mind has already learned. Fitness is a feminist issue for me because I am much more interested in what my body can do than what it looks like. (After all, I am not a decoration.) I blog about taekwon-do, my inspirations, the challenges involved in building habits and learning new things, and the mental blocks to fitness.”