Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gender in the Gym


Over the years, I have noticed an interesting dynamic between strong, athletic women and athletic men who are somewhere in their early to mid fifties. For example, today I was at the gym doing back extensions and a gentlemen (roughly in his mid 50s) said to me:

“Wow, that’s a lot of weight you’re lifting”

What do you say to that? It seems like a complement…but there is something else to it. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in this situation. As he continued to gawk at me, I knew this was not the end of our exchange. It’s a back handed compliment. Just before he walked away he added:

“Yeah, well, you’ll be sore tomorrow”

There it is…I knew it. Men in this age bracket don’t know how to respond to strong women. I’m not sure if they feel that it is an attack on their manhood or if it is in some way related to the societal norms in which they were raised…but it is a common thread I have found both in the gym and on the bike. I’m sure every female cyclist has experienced the overzealous mid-fifties male bike commuter who is hell bent on beating you up that hill…and then promptly bonks at the summit.

The difficult thing is that it is disguised under a layer of congenial chivalry. Who would be irritated by a friendly complement?! So how do you respond? I am certainly not going to play the demure female role…but at the same time I’m not an angry, bra burning, feminist. On the contrary, I’m a happy person, I like my bra, and I enjoy classic femininity.

Sometimes I get the feeling that women think they have to denounce their femininity in order to be taken seriously. This only serves to further devalue the absolute beauty of feminine strength and grace. We don’t have to adopt men’s fashion in order to be heard in this world!!! For all the generations of women who have gone before and all that have yet to be born, wear that skirt, speak with a strong, clear voice and keep pumping that iron!

What does a feminist look like anyway?




18 comments:

Lorena said...

AMEN, AMEN, AMEN!!! Oh, man (or woman), I have so many stories to add to what you just so perfectly said.

Anna Kelso said...

We should start our own spin-off of "The View" for female cyclists! Is that even still on the air?

Chickin said...

Just tonight some old dude tried to challenge Sonja on the bike. Big mistake. By the way, that guy at the gym was trying to hit on you.

goat said...

I don't blame the older guys - they're probably used to getting what they want in the boardroom, then they try to do the same on the bike or with the weights, etc. - but isn't it such a blast to sock it to 'em? My favorite is to let them pass me and I act as if I'm struggling, and just as they beginning blowing up, I turn it on 110% - oh, good times.

Anna Kelso said...

Yeah, there is the flirt factor in the gym, but there always seems to be an undercurrent of jabby competitive remarks. It's an awkward position because you don't want to be rude, but by playing into it...it's like laughing at a joke you don't think is funny...you give a little piece of yourself away.

Chickin said...

You should come to my gym. The guys there only talk amongst themselves for the most part and do seem genuinely impressed when a woman comes in and can lift some actual weight. Big contrast from my old gym out in Bowie where I experienced many situations like the one you blog about. What a relief to be away from that. It's funny how the demographics of the gym can make such a big difference. By the way, that picture looks like Ashley Judd. Is it? I went to school with her.

Anna Kelso said...

Well, our gym at work is only $90/year...so I think I'll put up with the annoyance. Wow, you went to school with Ashley Judd!!! Yup, that’s her in the photo! One of my most favorite actresses!

fridrix said...

I believe the word is "demure". . . I thought you feminists could spell. Or are you trying to be an ironic womyn?

Anna Kelso said...

Nope, no irony, just a bad speller. Thanks for the heads up. I'll have words with my editor.

Anonymous said...

I sure he was just jealous.
I've seen your arms and I'm impressed!

Anonymous said...

I've seen your arms and I'm impressed. He was just jealous, I bet.
Happy Friday!

Anonymous said...

Whoops.
This is why I don't contribute to blogs.

Anna Kelso said...

I do that kind of stuff all the time. Sometimes I send the same e-mail to the DCMTB listserve 8 times...and sometimes I misspell words like "demure." Thanks for the support and thanks for your help with trainer/roller nights!

MRussell said...

What's a back extension?

What to say, "um I don't recall asking your opinion..." But that wouldn't be demure.

Found your blog via Gwadzilla. I hope you find your inferno.

Anna Kelso said...

Nice to meet you. I'll have to check out your blog.

Back extensions...hmmmm, hard to explain...here's a link:

http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/ErectorSpinae/WtBackExtension.html

Really good for improving handling on the mtb!

The inferno is still MIA, but when one door closes, another opens...I have some sweet new gloves now thanks to an anonymous donor.

Oh, and I think your suggested response might come off a little harsh. I’ll field test it and let you know.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, plenty of feminists also believe in the power of femininity. You could look into womanism or ecofeminism for examples. Some feminist burned their bras once. Not because they didn't want to wear bras, but as a symbolic gesture. I'm actually studying the way gender operates in the weight room right now, and it's very interesting. I consider myself to be a feminist, and also beleive women can be empowered and celebrate their femininity as it seems you have done. Congratulation and keep being a strong woman. And maybe look into the movement of strong women supporting other strong women called feminism. You'll still be able to wear skirts and make-up and shave your legs. I do.

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