Spare a Thought for Women in Highly-Gendered Sports

I have been thinking a lot lately about how sports perceived as “more for girls” are undervalued, even in sports where they dominate.

In North America, at least, the vast majority of amateur equestrians are girls and women, yet the story is much different at the elite level. Since 1964 women and men have competed together at the Olympics, but no woman has won a gold in show jumping or eventing, though almost as many women as men have won at dressage. Dressage is widely seen as the “girliest” of the disciplines.

A consequence of this may have been the undervaluing of equestrian as a “real” sport. No, the horse doesn’t do all the work; riding is intense and demanding, and it requires strength and bravery as well as athleticism, a good connection with the horse, and many many hours of hauling tack, shoveling manure, and getting 400-600 kg horses to go where you want, even when you aren’t riding. The size of the rider doesn’t seem to be a major factor; the key is how well they can manage their horse.

Other sports have also suffered from male flight (the term for men and boys being less likely to enter a domain once it becomes associated with femininity). They include cheerleading, which was a male sport as valued as football before women took it on during WWI, gymnastics, figure skating, dance and artistic (formerly synchronized) swimming.

These athletes all must all be strong and flexible; most compete in close formation so precision matters, and artistic swimmers do half of their their four-minute routines under water. Concussions and other injuries are common. But because they are women-dominated sports where costumes and make-up have a role, they are routinely mocked as not being true sports. Interestingly, all, including equestrian, are places that have traditionally been more welcoming of LGBTQ+ athletes, as well.

However, the most egregious undervaluing of women’s sport this week was at the men’s World Cup.

Soccer is not gendered at the early stages of learning the game; over 40% of all players in Canada are girls, and boys and girls play together on the same teams. As they age and become more skilled, the girls and women are relegated to a distant second place in the minds of some (check out Wikipedia to see just how little attention the women get). At the same time, the most-watched event of the 2020 Olympics in Canada was the gold medal women’s soccer game won by Canada, led by Christine Sinclair. Sinclair is the world’s all-time leading international play goal scorer among both men and women, and the second player in history to score in five World Cups (after Brazilian legend Marta).

The Canadian women have played in every women’s World Cup since 1995, reaching 4th place in 2003. They scored twice in their very first game in 1995, against England. In total, they have scored 34 goals. So when a TSN sportscaster gushed about the first goal for Canada at the men’s World Cup the “greatest moment in Canadian soccer history” while sitting beside Janine Beckie, a member of gold medal Olympic team, it’s not surprising this was her reaction:

Woman with long blonde hair and a black sweater holds a microphone while seated in a broadcasting studio. There is a crowded stadium in the background. The woman has an extremely sceptical look on her face.
Janine Beckie gives her co-host some well-deserved side-eye.

We all need to be more like Janine Beckie, every time we hear such nonsense.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She grew up watching or attempting every one of these sports, and still does some of them, so she knows just how hard they are.

body image · fitness

It’s 2020 and dad bods are in the news again

Thanks Zac Efron! His new show, Down to Earth, is all over my newsfeed (confession: I haven’t seen the show) and I read that viewers are “swooning over his facial scruff, chest hair and lack of a defined six-pack.” See Zac Efron’s ‘dad bod’ transformation on Netflix show shocks fans.

Once again, on behalf of muscular but not chiseled women everywhere with strong abs hidden under a layer of fat, I want to ask, The dad bod? Fine. But what about the mom bod? .

FWIW, Tracy also thinks it’s not exactly egalitarian: The “dad bod” thing: not fair!

And my latest “what about mom bod?” post was Would a mom bod + rescue dogs calendar sell? Why not?

I don’t think I have anything new to say.

Just once more with feeling, WHAT ABOUT THE MOM BODS?

There’s lots of love for Efron all over the internet with a special emphasis on his love of carbs! Again, that’s great. He does look pretty good. But can you imagine a woman celebrity being praised in these terms? I think we should start a #mombod trend for all the muscular not chiseled hot women out there.


Tights, leggings, and unladylike postures

Being “ladylike” has never been a strength of mine. Let me begin with a story from my youth.  My early years of school were spent with nuns as teachers in Newfoundland. Mostly I have fond memories of those nuns but not so much when it comes to judgements about clothing, decorum, etc.

We were in grade one and girls had to line up to get into the cloakroom to change into snow pants. “Change into” meant pulling them up over our tights and skirts. I saw no need for the cloak room. Just pull them up quickly. Zoom. But the nuns strongly disapproved. I was sent to the corner.

No modesty.

Another time I got into trouble for sitting astraddle my chair. You know, backwards with the back of the chair between my legs. Again, let me stress, I was wearing tights. Again, to the corner. This time for unladylike behavior.

I wish I could report that I’d reformed, that their lessons worked and that I was now only ever sitting in a ladylike fashion. Not so. The truth is, I’ve gotten worse.

The problem is that I’m wearing leggings a lot these days because of my knee brace. So even with skirts and dresses that would normally go with tights I’m often wearing leggings. The brace inevitably rips tights and then starts to cut my legs. So, if I’m wearing the brace, leggings it is.

When I’m wearing leggings I don’t worry about modesty. I stretch my legs a lot. I feel a bit like an injured super hero. But then these postures and positions begin to feel comfortable and I forget what I’m wearing. I’m in my fifties now, still worrying just a little bit what the nuns in my head might think.

Maybe I need to become friends with these nuns instead.


The ultimate body and gender, or FFS!

As you know I’ve been nagging everyone to review our book on Amazon. See Please review our book! 

Why? Well, books that have more reviews, good reviews, are more likely to appear as recommended titles for people who use the biggest of the online book retailers, Amazon. So, please do us a big favour and review our book. See Why reviews matter.

Even if you didn’t purchase your book from Amazon, your review will help ensure others find out about Fit at Mid-Life
How to review Fit at Mid-Life:
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  • Take a look at the existing reviews, and click on “Helpful” below any positive reviews you find helpful
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  • Write a few words on what you liked (or loved) about Fit at Mid-Life

Thinner! Leaner! Stronger!

One of these things is not like the other. The strongest women aren’t thinner or leaner. They’re big. It’s why there are weight classes for lifting events. But forget that.

Our book has 6 reviews now and I was starting to feel better about the book’s visibility. But then I made the mistake of seeing how many reviews TLS has. 1484. Yikes. That’s a lot.

So I was feeling kind of ticked off about that since it’s a book all about looks and thinness.

But then to add fuel to my anger the men’s version of the same book came into my view. What’s it called? “Thinner” isn’t in the title. No, it’s called Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body.

BIGGER! And it’s got 3301 reviews.

The ultimate female body is thin and lean, I guess, and the ultimate male body is big and strong. And that’s a much more mainstream popular view than feminist approaches to fitness. I guess I knew that. But it’s still depressing.


Lizards cheer me up sometimes. Here’s a cute one.

david-clode-477774-unsplashPhoto by David Clode on Unsplash. Image description: A bright green lizard on a branch against a dark background.