**Strong A(s) F(eminist): Power in Strength Sports** Noelle Brigden, Melissa M. Forbis, and Katie Rose Hajtmanek are seeking contributors to an edited volume on strength sports.
“Despite sports being a powerful site of social control and resistance in most parts of the globe throughout modern history, they have too often been ignored by scholars. Situated within this context of ongoing political struggles, and building on a literature that explores the intersectional politics of embodied practice and physical culture, this edited volume takes up the importance of sport, and analyzes the unique potential of strength sports as a site of gender contestation to the existing order.
Recognizing the importance of this radical understanding of empowerment for the future of strength sports and its potential to disrupt white supremacist patriarchy, we welcome intersectional feminist analyses of gender in strength sports, beyond a singular focus on women’s participation. This volume defines strength sports as activities in which the competition outcomes depend exclusively on the individual capacity to move weight, including but not limited to: functional fitness training, powerlifting, weightlifting, kettlebells, strongman/woman, highland games, and historic feats of strength.”
This week I’m super busy and super-stressed about being super busy. But, I am also feeling pretty good body-wise. That is, I’ve been doing more activity and more types of activities that have gotten me out of my winter movement doldrums. Infusing my physical life with some novelty has been refreshing; it’s almost like spring has come early. Well, almost…
Sam posted about some of us trying new things, and for me it’s not over yet; more new things may be in the offing. Stay tuned to the blog for details.
Yoga is sill on the list, definitely. Last year I wrote this:
Hanging out in downward facing dog or wide legged forward bend, I feel strong, stretched out, grounded, engaged with my muscles. In shavasana (corpse pose for resting on the mat at the end of class) I connect with the floor, feeling my limbs and back and head and belly all sink into relaxation and stillness. And when I get up to leave I feel grateful for the body I have.
Last summer I discovered yin yoga, and it’s added enormously to my enjoyment of yoga, my enjoyment of my body in stillness, and my enjoyment of my body stretching and experiencing shifts from that stretching. I love it.
I also wrote last year that I loved primping and poufing and prettifying myself from time to time, especially focusing on my hair. This year, I’d say I’m not so into that. I do like wearing clothing that feels comfortable, sleek, with pretty colors, and accessorized with more color. What I want more this year is comfort and ease in the clothing on my body.
Walking was on my list last year. But in September 2018, I sprained my ankle, and was in physical therapy for a long time. I’m a lot better, but these days am preferring the gym or the yoga studio to loads of walking. Paying attention to where I still need more healing seems like not a bad thing. Also, working on strength and flexibility through different exercises is where my happy place is (for now).
Cycling was and is and will always be on my list of things that make me feel good physically. But these days I’m letting myself spend more time on other activities before turning to cycling more. Now that spring is here and temps are rising, I’ll be outside on two wheels a lot. It’s been a nice change of pace, however, to try out other ways to move and work my body.
A new addition this year has been weight training. I’m still in the early stages of working with a trainer, but so far I love it– working with free weights feels elemental and pure. I really enjoy how I can tune in to my body when deadlifting, benching, etc. I am still in the process of putting it in place in regular rotation, but I’m getting there.
Finally (and I’m not putting out a content warning, but I will talk about my eating here):
I have had to change some of my eating habits because of a health problem (I had pancreatitis recently). This different way of eating in response to and because of that diagnosis has resulted in my feeling a lot better than I had in a long time. I’ll blog about this sometime, complete with content warning. But for now, let me just say that some health-enforced changes have resulted in my body feeling a lot better. Yay!
Are you doing anything that is making you feel luscious, yummy, energized, comforted, serene, on fire, ready for anything? Let us know– we’d love to hear it.
I went to see Captain Marvel on the weekend with my family. I enjoyed it very much. The characters were nicely developed; the story line was engaging; the writing was clever. The hero was not hyper-sexualized and there was no love story. As much as I liked Wonder Woman, I was more than ready for an action movie featuring a woman in a central role that did not require a skimpy outfit.
Captain Marvel is a woman who thinks for herself and seeks solutions. When she ends up stranded on earth, she figures out how she is going to communicate with her team. She’s not afraid of hard work nor is she afraid of training hard. Her fitness and strength are tools she uses to defeat her opponents while outsmarting them.
Like many noble warrior heroes, Marvel is challenged to find her true self. Her memory has been fragmented, but over time, the bits she has retrieved form a story. There are three pivotal moments for me in the film and they all come pretty closely together in the final quarter of the film.
The first is when Vers remembers her real name, the second when she comes into her full powers, and the third when Carol quashes her former mentor’s ego. These three moments have a lot to offer women in pursuit of fitness, strength and power in the gym.
When Vers remembers who she is, she rejects the name she was given and asserts her real name. “My name is Carol,” and she pushes back with all her strength. Women are often told they shouldn’t lift weights; that working with the bar will change their essential nature, that they will change shape and not in a good way. I’ve learned that when I walk into the gym and assume my role as power-lifter, that when I accept I am there to lift all the heavy things, then the dynamic between the bar and me is quite different.
When Carol thinks and reflects on what she is hearing, she is able to reframe what she knows. She’s been convinced for too long that she has no power except for what her oppressors have allowed her to express. She remembers all the times she fell down, the times she was taunted and told she could not do what she planned, the times she was scolded for having dreams that were too big for “normal.” Most importantly, Carol remembers all the times she got back up.
When I am at the gym, I remember all the times I got back up even though I didn’t want to. My trainer even has “Always stand up” taped to the squat cage. This winter has been hard with extra cold weather and a cranky hip. It’s surprising what strength you can find when you say those three little words.
Finally, Carol takes joy in her strength and power. She revels in what she can do — defeat bad guys, look after the good guys, and organize a plan to make change happen for the people she helps. When the bad guy tries to take credit for her skill and power, Carol tells him she has nothing to prove to him.
Indeed, if there is one thing you take away from this post (and the movie), is that the only person to whom you must be accountable is yourself. You show up, do the work, and get on with the job at hand.
How about you? Do you find inspiration from action movies?
Swiss cyclist Nicole Hanselmann was competing for her Bigla Pro team at a race in Belgium; the men’s race had a 10-minute start, and Hanselmann made that up pretty quickly after grabbing an early lead. Her race was stopped so the men could get ahead again; she was given a head start once the women’s race resumed, but the wind had left her sails by then. (UM: DUH.) She finished 74th. Later she instagrammed the incident: “awkward” was her photo caption.
Why did this happen? I’ve been looking around for an explanation for the last day or so and have no clear one to offer you. It sounds like the officials made a wrong call on the race gap: 10 minutes was not long enough. (Is this a standard gap for this type of race? I can’t tell – I haven’t been able to find this information out. If you know, please say in the comments!) It also sounds like Hanselmann had GREAT legs going into the race, and really took advantage. (There are structural reasons why this might be the case; women’s race lengths are often not long enough to capitalize on women’s peak fitness, which means early attacks happen. Go here for more.)
But “why” on this day, in this place, is not really the point; there are a lot of culturally-embedded, fairly obvious reasons why this incident is newsworthy. And if you’re a strong female cyclist, you already know the why.
We get underestimated. This is true of pretty much ALL female athletes, but it’s definitely the case for female athletes in male-dominant sports. Snoop around on our blog for lots of qualitative evidence, most recently this fantastic guest post from just a few days ago, about trying to lift around men at the gym.
I’ve been riding road bikes since 2012; I learned early (from a hugely inspiring female coach) that I was strong and suited to the sport. I drop a lot of guys. I’m faster than a lot of guys. And I love riding with folks who are faster than me, because they make me get faster.
But fast guys also tend to misunderstand what it means to have women on their ride.
(And here, let me specify: I’m talking largely about CLUB rides. When I go on organized rides with guys I know and trust and train with, we are all good and the adventure is ace. #notallmaleriders, of course. But still plenty.)
How this misunderstanding? Step one: mansplaining.
If I’m on a high-end bike that fits my body, the bike is kitted out with all the gear, and I demonstrate clear road- and club-riding skills, chances are I do not need you to tell me basic things about the sport, my bike, or anything else to do with what we are doing at the minute. Keep it to yourself, unless you see me in obvious need of assistance. And if that happens, maybe ask first if I need any.
Step two: aggressive off-showing. Yes, I’m on your ride because I’m fast enough for the posted ride pace. This should not be an invitation to you to attempt to ride significantly faster than the posted ride pace, just because you can. Or maybe you’re trying hard to show off to the other dudes on the ride? (I see this A LOT. God, it must be exhausting to be a male club rider.) At any rate, 38kph on a posted 32-34kph ride is too fast for me. You are going to drop me. And quite possibly you’ll drop the other, less fast, guys on the ride too. Is that really what you want? (And if so, ask yourself: WHY DO YOU WANT THIS?)
Step three: excessive complimenting. I pulled that pace line for two minutes and it was a strong, effective pull? We held a good pace? Yup, that’s what happens when you pull, after resting inside the pace line for a bit. I pulled the peloton with another woman at the front, and it was a strong, effective pull? Whadaya know. We have #madbikeskillz. GET OVER IT.
If you’re not going to say “hey! Great pull! Way to go!” to the guys on the ride, when you say it to me the message is clear. You didn’t think I could do it. You underestimated me. Thanks for sharing.
It’s not just guys who underestimate women riders, though. Many women I know have no idea how strong they are. Many of the women in my club think they are too slow for the two faster groups the club runs; even the amazing mountain biker I train with in winter (like, PODIUM MB-er, peeps) isn’t sure she can hold the faster lines. (Spoiler alert: she really can.)
I know these women are stronger than they let themselves think. They don’t believe it, and that’s because they have been taught, over years of aggressive gendered socialization, that women aren’t fast or good enough when it comes to sports like cycling. There’s tonnes of external reinforcement of this idea, too: just ask Hanselmann. All around us the messages normalize the notion that women can’t do it, not really, no matter what Nike says as it tries to sell us things.
I know this post sounds cranky, but I’m fed up. Being underestimated is exhausting; it makes it hard to want to go on the rides, to try to get faster, to deal with all the noise while ALSO trying to ride the ride. Cycling is hard enough work; I don’t need to be doing extra emotional labour on the damn bike, too.
What’s your experience on the bike? Do you have supportive ride-mates, or do you experience unnecessary gender blow-back on your usual club dates? Do you have race experiences you’d like to share?
Every day I find myself using something I learned in my almost ten years with the Guiding movement.
While I might not ever go camping in the woods again by choice, should I land there, I know how to build shelter and fire and how to find water. I use my map reading and orienteering skills when I travel; I am conscious of my footprint on the earth and what I need to do to take care of it.
With my Brownie pack and my Girl Guide company, I learned to be part of a team, to solve problems jointly, and to respect others and their gifts. I learned to set goals, to acquire new skills, and to cultivate resilience and strength in myself and others.
I am grateful to the fabulous women who gave their time to support us girls in growing up to become competent, committed, and engaged members of our society.
Today is Thinking Day and I am reminded of what a great space for girls and young women the Guiding world is to learn some practical skills. And this reminds me that I have found or built other spaces where I can continue to grow and develop.
Like the gym. Not the gym of my childhood though. That place was fraught with stress and fear, the kind that is negative and immobilizing. While I know my gym of today can sometimes cause me stress (hello, wonky hip) and a little fear (goodbye Jacob’s ladder), it’s the good kind of stress and fear.
The gym is a place for me where I can build the skills that will make me strong, and I hope, keep me that way for a very long time.
The gym is a place where I can push myself to try new things. And it’s a place, when things don’t work, I can try again, or figure out a way to do it differently.
The gym is a place where I learn how marvelous our bodies are: for the things they do naturally and the things they don’t and the things we may need to re-learn how to do all over again.
For me, the gym has become a place of opportunity and a place where I value physical strength, in the same way being in Guides developed and supported others kinds of strength.
How about you? What does the gym mean to you (if you go to one)? What are the other places where you grow and support resilience and strength through fitness?
MarthaFitat55 is a writer lifting all the things, physical and mental.
You know how (if you’ve ever worked retail) there’s a clichéd ha-ha customer joke for when something scans and isn’t in the system? “Oh there’s no price on it? It must be free!” From the customer’s angle, it’s mildly funny because they use it once every couple of months. Clerks in stores hear it multiple times an hour sometimes. (It’s not so funny after the first 383 times.)
There is a conversationally-equivalent bad joke for male partners of strong women.
I cannot tell you how many times a man (it is always a man, never a woman) has broached a conversation with, “So you’re a powerlifter?” with a look from John me, followed by “You can lift HOW much? Wow. That is something…,” with a tone that sounds like a mixture of admiration and awe.
At this point it goes one of three ways. Either things segue to the details of lifting, we shuffle on to another topic, or……
…they turn to my husband and say, “You must have to watch your step at home.” or “Wow, I’d be careful if I were you.”
There’s always a moment of silence in which you can hear both of us frantically hunting for something pithy to say in response. Often these conversations come up at professional gatherings and what we WANT to say isn’t polite or appropriate.
It’s insult masquerading as compliment to subtly prevent rejoinder, a backhanded slap across both of our faces but done politely enough that a “fuck off” cannot be handed in return.
It’s also just not funny.
The initial praise of a woman for an ability for which she has worked hard is the veneer, but underneath it’s actually an inelegant way of saying, “Dude, your wife is stronger than you, which I believe means that you are relatively weak of body and spirit, also I am intimidated as hell both that she probably can pick me up and throw me (side note: buddy, I’m thinking about doing just that) AND I do not understand the strength of character that you must have to NOT be intimidated by this so I will pretend that you are both weak and hen-pecked because I feel more manly that way. Also, lady, you are too strong for a woman and the way in which that is determined is my comfort level, so there’s clearly something wrong with *you*.
Firstly, yes, I am pretty fucking strong. That does not require that I be compared to anyone, male or female. It’s a simple fact. The almost-daily battle of Vicky vs The Weights currently sits at 1045 to 184 in my favour (most days I don’t get my ass handed to me, but they occasionally happen), based on training days over the last six years. The fact that I can lift more than John or any man is irrelevant to both of us. I never set out to be stronger than him and my strength doesn’t have anything to do with his self-esteem. Each of our respective skills and hobbies is not something that pits us one against the other, it’s an attribute or asset that we bring to our team. Also I have worked harder for this than most people know or could understand. I will never apologize for it or downplay it. I am well past the point in life of dumbing myself down for social acceptability.
I am and have always been a strong and intelligent woman. There are a lot of us around and I count myself incredibly fortunate to have become a part of the community of powerful women locally, nationally and world-wide. When you become strong, you tend to congregate with folks who are equally strong because they understand both who you are and what it takes to get there and they support that. I am not a gentle personality and I don’t want to be. My grade three report card says, “displays leadership qualities” on it and god bless you Miss Roche for writing it that way because most of the time people called smart and decisive girls “bossy”, “pushy”, or “know-it-alls”. Men (and women) are sometimes intimidated by me.
Most of the women I coach have similar personalities, strength of character, and intelligence.
None of us apologizes for it anymore.
We just throw another plate on the bar and lift that shit, with the knowledge that someone else’s weakness of character is not our problem.
We are under no obligation to be less physically powerful, less intelligent, less forthright, or less confident than any man. And we are not responsible for someone else’s self esteem.
Further to this, men are under no obligation to spend their free time lifting. There is no law that obliges my husband to enjoy strength sports (thank heavens – one lifter in the house is hard enough during comp season and expensive enough to feed!).
We are allowed to make different choices based on preference and talent regardless of sex or gender. John enjoys bushcraft, hiking, triathlon, trail and ultramarathon running, and kayaking. He is able to tackle tremendous distances which are impressive as hell. He is also my best friend, someone I love for exactly who he is and whom I respect immensely.
So does John have to “be careful at home”? No. Because he is my equal in worth and value and he knows and is confident in this. And I am his.
Vicky Taylor-Hood is a powerlifter, lifting and fitness coach, mother, wife, dog-wrangler, kayaker, hiker, and likes to pick things up just to see if she can.
This year, I’ve joined the 219 in 2019 workout challenge: the goal is to work out 219 times this year. We check in with each other on Facebook. There are two groups, the general one and one that grew out of Tracy, Cate and Catherine’s feminist fitness challenge. I post my updates to both of them, and in both cases when I mentioned I’d been bouldering, people asked what it was. So I thought I might blog about it here, since it still doesn’t seem to be a very well-known sport – even though you wouldn’t be able to tell by the amounts of people at my bouldering gym!
Bouldering is a type of climbing, but it’s done at relatively low heights (I’ll come to that in a moment) where you don’t need a harness and rope. You can do it outdoors and indoors, although I’ve only ever bouldered indoors. For outdoor bouldering, there are special mats, called crashpads, you can carry to where you’re climbing. At an indoor gym, the floor is one gigantic soft mat. So if you take a fall, at least you fall onto something soft (again, we’ll come back to this). Here’s what a bouldering gym looks like:
On the walls of a bouldering gym, you’ll find holds (aka boulders) of various colours drilled into the wall, forming different routes (aka problems or routes) of various levels of difficulty. The goal is to complete a problem without touching the boulders of another one. You’ve successfully completed a problem once you get to its “top” boulder with both hands.
So what do I love about bouldering? The short answer is: almost everything. It makes me feel strong and badass. By the time I finish a problem, chances are I will have overcome moments of fear, my arms will have almost given out, and my hands are sore. It turns out I’m more afraid of heights than I’d previously thought, so higher walls are a real challenge for me, and it feels fantastic to rise above that. It often takes me several attempts to finish a route because I get scared. There is some reason to this – despite the soft mats, it’s not a danger-free sport. You can fall and break something. You can hit boulders while falling or scrape yourself. I’ve definitely come home with more than one big bruise. And yet.
Bouldering has taught me that I’m stronger than I often think. Yes, there are problems I can’t do because they’re too long and I run out of strength before I make it. But at least as often I just think I won’t be able to do it, while I actually can. It’s a full-body workout that requires a lot of body tension – core strength combined with the ability to use your arms and legs to push into a wall or against a boulder all at the same time. So it’s tough, but it’s also made me tougher, and I’ve found that being able to control my muscles better has actually had a positive impact on my swimming. Plus, the longer you boulder, the more you figure out what your individual strengths are. Mine are balancy problems and slab walls. A bouldering mate of mine loves overhangs (he has excellent body tension), and so on.
That’s also why I find bouldering to be quite gender-inclusive, at least from what I’ve experienced. Yes, there is the odd gang of muscle-loaded “super manly” dude-bros who need to show off in front of each other (and everyone else). But then a women will often come along and leave them mouth agape because she could do a problem they hadn’t been able to manage. There are routes for everyone: the stronger and the less strong, the more and the less supple, and the taller and the less tall. It’s very empowering. Also, by and large, it attracts an open-minded crowd that’s in it together and has decent manners. At least at my gym, the “super manly” dude-bros are far and few between.
And then there’s the mental challenge of figuring out how to approach a certain route. I love tackling stuff head-on, but here I’m learning to think before I do. Strength is precious, so you don’t want to waste it by not being able to complete a route because you got stuck somewhere and hadn’t thought about how to best place your hands and feet, balance your body, or manage a particularly long reach. (Sam blogged a while ago about how climbing seems to appeal to philosophers in particular, and I think this extends to researchers more generally.)
Finally, bouldering is a social sport. I enjoy going to the gym alone – you always end up chatting with strangers anyway and giving each other tips -, but it’s more fun in a group. We help each other through problems. We egg each other on, celebrate our victories and share our frustrations. There’s a lot of resting involved between exhausting problems, so we hang out on the mat and chat, or squint at walls together trying to figure out a good way to tackle a route. And afterwards, we have a beer together.