“Lifting doesn’t make women manly.” Oh yeah? Maybe it does.
Calm. Down. I hold you to a higher standard than one of sexism, and I am about to make an argument that I believe is more empowering to women–AND MEN–than the statement in quotes I just regurgitated. But you are going to have to hang in there with me and you are going to have to keep an open mind. And the latter request is me holding you to the aforementioned higher standard, it is me giving you credit for being able to do so. So, let’s begin.
First, let’s knock out a few truths here, or what I argue to be truths, that are necessary to my argument. One: there are distinct differences in male and female lean mass distribution and the aesthetics we generally ascribe to bodies of one sex or the other based on these differences. Testosterone level differences COUPLED WITH skeletal proportion differences make for biological markers of each sex. In men, higher testosterone means greater development and mass levels in the upper body even with minimal load bearing on average. This, coupled with skeletally narrow hips and broader shoulders in the male human means that typically we associate upper body development with men. Male upper bodies look bigger because on average they literally are bigger and the skeletal differences between men and women only augment this appearance. Women who do not pursue anaerobic/resistance work have almost no physical reason to carry much upper body mass, and the species’ biological inclination to throw wider hips at its female members magnifies the illusion of larger lower body, smaller upper.
Now, I’m making a bunch of generalizations. Averages. If you really pay attention to physical variation within the human population, and maybe you never really have until you started lifting, you will notice an enormous spectrum upon which all human bodies have a place. I almost hesitate to call it a spectrum because that word really suggests two poles and to be honest, I think this is all more complicated than two poles. But let’s use the concept of spectrum because at least it leaves room for there to be gray area which is what no one really, REALLY wants to acknowledge.
Truth number two (this is something no one wants to either acknowledge or deal with or both, so this is going to be fun): Words like “manly” or “feminine” or “masculine” are subjective descriptives. What this means is that there is no solid definition of what “masculine” is or looks like and there is no solid definition of what “womanly” looks like, etc. There isn’t. If you look up masculine in the dictionary it probably says something like “having traits ascribed to the male human being” and then we can just return to the biological markers I went over in my first point. Because we’re talking about aesthetics, we are not even going to BEGIN to get into psychological and behavioral and cultural markers for feminine and masculine traits. Okay? We’re not going to go into style. We’re not going to go into different cultures and what is and isn’t considered masculine and feminine within those. Nope. We are not complicating this. Today we are talking about why lifting actually can and does make women aesthetically “manly” and why that might be okay OH MY GOD CALM DOWN I’LL GET TO IT.
So truth number three is this. If a woman lifts seriously enough and has halfway decent genetics and actually eats and just does what you do to get better at lifting THE HOPE IS that she would develop some upper body muscle, and of course lower, but if she develops upper body muscle, which WILL HAPPEN if she is doing what she’s supposed to be doing, is she not developing a thing on her body that biologically is a marker of…being male. Right? Hello? Yes? It’s harder for the woman to do this, but indeed she can and indeed suddenly she is walking around with parts of her body that are developed and biologically they don’t typically DO THAT if the human being in question is female. Listen, I know I’m using a lot of caps here but I really feel like I need to talk through what I just did very distinctly before I make my next point.
And that is this. Let’s say that you agree with my contention that upper body muscle in particular is a masculine biological trait and for women to have more upper body development means she has augmented a part of herself that places her closer to the “masculine” part of the spectrum than before she had so augmented herself–technically she is more manly, masculine now, biological-marker speaking. I mean, I just don’t know how else you can really look at this. In other words, I’m going to reassert the thing that I am not supposed to assert because it means women won’t want to lift weight now OH GOD JANIS DON’T DISEMPOWER THE WOMEN WHAT WILL WE DO NOW. Well, I say this to you: what’s really more the question here is WHY it is so bad for women to be more manly. What is really more important here is WHY this is what we need to sit here and argue about when how one looks is a single facet of the very complex, fascinating, amazing process that is resistance training. Like, let me get on my rant horse for a second here–what the actual FUCK. You’re telling me that the objection someone might have to women lifting weight is that they’re going to LOOK. A certain WAY. BECAUSE OF IT. Think about that for a second. If we were wringing our hands over someone putting on a really ill-fitting item of clothing because it was going to look like it didn’t fit I would understand the preoccupation with how something looks. But we’re talking about half of the species doing a thing that is an extremely technical, complicated activity and what we’re talking about is what it makes them LOOK LIKE. FUCK.
How is it that this is still the goddamn number one thing that we are concerned about with anything women do? Why is it that we are still making stupid memes with some woman in underwear next to an image of herself not in underwear lifting some weight and saying “look at this! Women everywhere, thou art liberated!” That is not liberation. Those are chains, and they’re being applauded.
Let me go a step further. I could go a lot of steps further on this one but I think I’m going to limit it today for this piece. But this step is going to REALLY get some people uncomfortable. I’m going to propose that it’s very comfortable to anyone within the species who is used to sexually objectifying women who don’t have significant biologically male markers to continue on doing so–it is less comfortable for this population to grapple with what it means to be attracted to women who maybe DO have more of those markers. And what does it mean, indeed? I’m going to go ahead and raise my hand and say a whole lot of nothing. I’m going to let you draw your own conclusions and think about your sexuality and think about the Kinsey scale and think about what your sense of sexuality is. Because hey, you’re allowed to be attracted to what you’re attracted to. But maybe it’s time to pull back on someone’s sexual attractiveness being the thing that is how we make arguments for what they should or shouldn’t be doing.
And that is the bottom line here. This isn’t about what is lauded as “hot.” This isn’t about what you are attracted to. It’s about the fact that we’re fighting a battle over what women’s bodies should look like, AGAIN. It’s about the fact we aren’t talking about something more productive than that. It’s about the fact that whether or not a woman falls into a very very very narrow ideal of sexual attractiveness (femininity level implied) is why she should or shouldn’t lift. Read that last sentence again. Hey ladies, lift, it doesn’t make you manly. NO. Hey ladies, lift, it might make you manly. Lift, because your body has the same joints and works mechanically the same as a man’s. And you might like it. And you might like how your body responds to it. And you might become an entirely different version of yourself as a human being with character and perseverance and dedication because of it. Lift because you want to. Walk into gyms with your head up because you have the exact same right to be there as anyone else who is paying to be there, end of story, your sexual attractiveness does not validate your activities. I started what I am doing now over six years ago. I needed to hear what I am saying now when I started. I am not discouraging women. I am telling them what to look towards to REALLY be free.