food · gender policing

Harley Quinn’s Fantabulously Emancipating Egg Sandwich (Guest Post)

By Quill Kukla

Love for “Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” seems to be dividing up roughly along gender lines, with women/non-men generally adoring the critically panned movie, despite its blatantly terrible editing and pacing, and the fact that it feels like it ran out of budget two thirds of the way through and was turned over to someone’s high twenty-year-old art history major niece to finish in exchange for a bag of Molly. 

What does this have to do with fitness, and the themes of this blog? Let me start by saying that by the end of the movie, I NEEDED an egg sandwich. Not just an egg sandwich, but a greasy one, with runny yolks and gooey cheese, and I would need bacon on it too if I hadn’t truly forsworn eating my pig friends. This is because a major narrative focus of the movie is Harley Quinn craving, ordering, watching being cooked, losing, and finally eating (but never paying for, of course) the world’s most appealing and beloved egg sandwich.

A couple of points are obvious. First, with Joker having ditched her, Harley is very pointedly single in this movie, and it is the sandwich, not a man, who plays a narrative role akin to a lover – the desire, seduction, meeting, loss, and re-meeting with the happy romantic ending. After decades of PhD-educated Harley reduced to a boy-crazy Joker appendage, seeing her turn her love to a sandwich is gratifying; women don’t need men! We need really good sandwiches! (Yes, nerds, I know Harley is bi and there have been women in her life too, but her primary role in the DC universe is as Joker’s sub.) Second, it is nice to see a woman who is supposed to be sexy and interesting enjoying greasy f*cking food for once. That sandwich is full of fat and salt and it looks delicious and she is there for it. 

But third and less obviously I think, the sandwich plays an unusual role in the film that bucks a major and toxic cultural trend. In my recent article, “Shame, Seduction, and Character in Food Messaging,” I argued that people – and very much especially women – are caught between two contradictory and unsustainable sets of cultural norms around eating. 

One set of norms treats eating anything other than austere, ‘healthy’ food in small quantities that don’t risk making you fat as shameful – as a transgression for which we should always feel guilty. We talk about being ‘bad’ and ‘letting’ ourselves have dessert, or of treating ourselves off limits food as a ‘reward’ for having exercised or starved ourselves for a week. Remember when Huma Abedine’s emails were subpoenaed and we found out Hillary Clinton wrote to her about being “bad” and splitting (splitting!) a crème brûlée? In this framework, all food that is not eaten for health and skinniness reasons is framed as ‘junk’ food that is inherently worthless.

The other set of norms sexualizes or, I argued, pornifies the consumption of food that is not ‘healthy.’ In this framework, hot women and ‘real’ men indulge in meat and pie, as a form of seduction and as metonymic for sex, while people who are austere about what they eat, like vegans or people who avoid gluten, are portrayed as less fun, desexualized, boring, and repressed. 

Of course, both these stories are sexist and oppressive, and they leave us, I argued, with no good way to eat. Our choices are to be transgressive and eating ‘junk,’ and hence be blamed for our weak character and insufficient self-discipline, or to strictly regulate what we eat and stick to ‘healthy’ foods, while being treated as unsexy and not sufficiently bold or pleasure-seeking. Or perhaps, finally we can get away with eating some ‘junk’ food if the performance of doing so is sexualized and porny and as long as we are skinny.

Re-enter the egg sandwich. On reflection, what I loved most about the scenes featuring it is that this sandwich broke all these rules. Harley Quinn, as the movie subtitle tells us, has been Fantabulously Emancipated. She is emancipated from her man, and very clearly emancipated from social norms more generally, as she is not at all ‘well-behaved’ in the movie. But she is also emancipated from the tyranny of our messed up diet culture, healthist culture, porn culture, and impossible eating norms.

As she tells us in voice-over, the egg sandwich is the first thing she wants after she frees herself by blowing up the chemical plant where she and Joker had their first big date. And who can blame her; it looks f*cking delicious. Her eating of it is not sexualized at all. When she finally gets to it, she chows down unceremoniously. What she is enjoying is the food, not any kind of metaphor for sexual indulgence. We see her chewing, her mouth moving, the sandwich dripping messily. How often do we see scenes of women just tucking in in movies and other mass media, aside from fat women who are being shamed or mocked? Harley does not take herself to be doing anything bad, and the sandwich is not framed as an indulgence for which she should feel guilty. It is framed as a glorious act of freedom and pleasure. It doesn’t matter whether it is ‘healthy.’ It matters that it is yummy, and that she is eating for herself, because she wants to. It matters that it is framed as a masterpiece of egg sandwich making, and not as ‘junk’ or as low quality food. It matters, I think, that she gets some guy to cook it for her too, so it is not a reward for her gendered domestic labors. 

The day after I saw the movie, I recognized how much I crave seeing healthy scenes of women just eating good things and liking them, and how very rare they are. To quote Janelle Monae, watching Harley enjoy her sandwich, you could tell she was a “free-ass motherf*cker”, and I did indeed feel fantabulously emancipated by it all. 

And now I need to try again to find a sandwich as delicious as hers was. Runny yolk, extra grease, extra cheese, just a splash of green onions. Wish me luck.

Quill Kukla is Professor of Philosophy and Senior Research Scholar in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, and also a Humboldt Scholar at Leibniz University Hannover. Their forthcoming book is entitled City Living: How Urban Dwellers and Urban Spaces Make One Another. They are also a competitive amateur boxer and powerlifter

athletes · equality · femalestrength · fitness · gender policing

Representing women in sports: we’re not there yet, but it might be getting better

As I temporarily merged with my parents’ couch over the holidays (save for the occasional jaunt outside for a run, to the pool, or to the table to eat all the festive food), I came across an article in The Guardian entitled “Powerful photographs perfectly illustrate the rise of women’s sport”. It’s an interesting article with loads of iconic pictures from the past year. If you need a fix of badass women doing badass things, I’d encourage you to head over there right now to read it. Megan Rapinoe, Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and others, they’re all there, performing incredible feats.

This is a new thing, according to the article: in the past, sports photography focused on making women look conventionally attractive and erasing certain aspects, sports, or people by not picturing them. Progress is, admittedly, slow, as the article also points out. There was the online abuse hurled at Australian footballer Tyla Harris after a photo showing her performing an awesome kick, but also depicting her crotch area, was published. The network that originally published it first withdrew it, then put it back up apologising for giving in to the trolls. Then there was the shit storm over Megan Rapinoe and the US women’s football team’s way of celebrating their World Cup victory, which Donald Trump got involved in, because Of Course He Did. And there were many more.

So things still aren’t great, but they’re getting a bit better, slowly. In part, the Guardian article noted, this is also due to more female sports photographers being around who portray women from a female viewpoint rather than a male gaze. But there aren’t enough of them – photography, for women, is apparently just as sucky a profession as many others, rife with discrimination and unfair disadvantages. And even where things are getting better… “Getty hired two women photographers on internships who are covering the women’s game around the country”, the Guardian piece notes.

Wait, what? They hired them on internships? Could they not be arsed to give them a real job? Unfortunately the article doesn’t go further into this, but it definitely gave me pause.

Le sigh. As we head into 2020, there seems to be cause for cautious optimism, but our work here, fit feminist friends, is not done.

athletes · body image · fitness · gender policing · inclusiveness · Martha's Musings · Olympics · racism · sexism · stereotypes

Women, sport and sex tests: Why Caster Semenya matters a great deal

Many years ago I had the good fortune to work with a board full of fabulous women representing a wide diversity of interests, experiences and backgrounds. One of the women had competed in the Montreal Olympics. She described for us one day what it was like to be subjected to a sex test. Her emotions were palpable, especially the anger.

In fact, we should all be angry, for the women athletes in the past whose physical embodiment was questioned and for the women athletes of today and in the future. The policing of women’s bodies, from what they wear to how they are portrayed, is widespread in all aspects of society, not just sport. However, women who excel in sport and wish to compete at the highest levels are subject to scrutiny that goes above and beyond the sort leveled at all athletes when it concerns drug enhancements. This kind of scrutiny has now been enshrined with this week’s decision from the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland in which they ruled against middle distance runner Caster Semenya’s appeal of the IAAF’s move to enforce new regulations regarding athletes differences of sexual development (DDS). In particular, the IAAF says female athletes who have higher than usual levels of testosterone must take drugs to reduce those levels to even the playing field.

Semenya’s career in track has been dogged by constant allegations that her achievements in the sport are unfairly won. Curiously, US swimmer Michael Phelps, whose body produces less lactic acid, is deemed to be exceptionally fortunate to be born with this genetic advantage.

And yet, no one is suggesting Phelps should take drugs to enable his body to produce more lactic acid so his competitors have a more equal opportunity.

We cannot forget that along with the sexism this decision against Semenya perpetuates, it is also supporting a racist assumption on how black bodies perform compared to white ones. Acclaimed tennis champion Serena Williams has been constantly challenged on her accomplishments and her body size, shape and presentation. This CNN article gives a great overview about the biases against Williams, including the assumption that her excellence erases her female identity.

The belief that Williams and Semenya are so good at what they do, they cannot possibly be women is one that has long been used to attack women who excel in sport. But it seems particularly pervasive in its use against black women. Semenya’s body naturally produces more testosterone than is usually found in women. Yet the research is unclear how natural testosterone affects performance compared to artificial hormones used to enhance performance:

“What’s clear is that there is solid evidence that men who take excessive doses of testosterone … do get a competitive advantage clearly in sports related to strength,” said Bradley Anawalt, a hormone specialist and University of Washington Medical Center’s chief of medicine.The problem, said Anawalt, is that attempts to try to quantify that competitive advantage in naturally occurring levels of the hormone are “fraught with difficulty in interpretation.”

The CAS decision was meant to clarify and instead muddied the waters even further. They upheld the IAAF decision but said they should take more time to implement. They agreed with the concept of the rule DDS athletes should reduce their testosterone, but were concerned about the effects on athlete’s bodies. They said it was fine for the IAAF to apply this rule to athletes racing under 1000 metres but athletes running longer distances were fine.

The Semenya case has implications that are far-reaching. We know women have been over-medicated, often to their detriment. We know that chemical castration has been used to manage pedophiles. But Semenya is neither depressed nor a criminal. She is an athlete performing her best with the tools she was born with.

That the IAAF and its head Sebastian Coe have created an environment in which Semenya can be neither her best or herself is untenable. I am glad Canada’s Minister for Sport has called out this decision. We need to have conversations about sexism, racism, and transphobia in sport; more importantly we need action. Follow #HandsOffCaster or #LetHerRun, among others, on Twitter; sign this petition; become informed; and make your views known and heard.

accessibility · advertising · gender policing

Dream Bigger, not “Crazier” Please Nike

We haven’t shared the new Nike women’s sports ad on the blog–much as we love almost all of it–because we’ve been nervous about the “crazy talk.” The “Dream Crazier” ad for the “Just Do It” campaign features women throughout history breaking down barriers in sports. The commercial, narrated by Serena Williams and featuring an all-female cast, shows women in sports ranging from running to tennis to boxing being celebrated for their passion. And that’s terrific, right? Mostly yes but it’s complicated.

The ad lists the ways in which women have been called crazy for wanting to participate in sports. It’s a long list. But instead of criticizing the use of crazy-talk as ableist the ad tries to take back the language of “crazy.” It urges women to be crazier.

Sometimes reclaiming language is a good thing but I am not sure it works here. Why? See my older post Let’s Stop the Crazy Talk .

It’s time to end the “crazy” talk. Why? It’s ableist. See the following, social justice and ableism.

“Disability metaphors abound in our culture, and they exist almost entirely as pejoratives. You see something wrong? Compare it to a disabled body or mind: Paralyzed. Lame. Crippled. Schizophrenic. Diseased. Sick. Want to launch an insult? The words are seemingly endless: Deaf. Dumb. Blind. Idiot. Moron. Imbecile. Crazy. Insane. Retard. Lunatic. Psycho. Spaz.

I see these terms everywhere: in comment threads on major news stories, on social justice sites, in everyday speech. These words seem so “natural” to people that they go uncorrected a great deal of the time. I tend to remark on this kind of speech wherever I see it. In some very rare places, my critique is welcome. In most places, it is not.”

What do you think of the ad? Of using “crazy” as metaphor?

Fear · femalestrength · gender policing · Guest Post · weight lifting

Watch your step (Guest post)

John getting a piggyback from Vicky

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*.

Vicky picking up a deadlift at the 2018 World Championships

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.

cycling · equality · gender policing

Heavy weight racing and gender


This bike jersey keeps popping up in my social media newsfeeds. I don’t mind the “heavy weight” label. It’s me. But it’s striking that the jersey only comes in men’s sizes.

There’s this phenomena I’ve noticed about gender and size and athleticism. I know men don’t always have it easy when it comes to size and body image. I’ve blogged lots about that. See here and here.

But sometimes big men get to own their size in a way that big women just don’t.

See Fat Lass at the Front? for one company’s efforts to extend that way of thinking to women cyclists.

body image · bras · clothing · Fear · femalestrength · feminism · gender policing · men · objectification · running

Again?! Women at Rowan University are Serena’d

This article in Odyssey about how women runners at Rowan University were forbidden from running in only their sports bras seems like it should be a spoof in The Onion. It’s real. The university’s response was half-hearted, though ultimately the no-sports-bras-in-practice policy will be rescinded.

How much longer will we be having these conversations? After the brouhaha this summer over the ridiculous outfit policing by the tennis powers (which we wrote about on this blog), causing grief to Serena Williams (Let Women Wear What They Want and Serena Williams and the multiple ways of policing black women’s bodies) and Alize Cornet (Is Tennis Trying To Win a Chauvinism/Misogyny Award?), how is it possible the university administrators at Rowan forgot? Or did the news never even reach their ears?

Every time this happens, I am grieved by the lack of respect for women and their bodies. Men are responsible for their own lack of decorum and inability to contain their impulses, not us!

A sports bra is not provocative. It is comfortable. It is practical. It makes us feel strong and capable and empowered.

Oh … maybe that is provocative … because it provokes fear?!

Do you workout in sports bra only?