Heavy Lifting

25 Feb

by Meghan Ferguson

Let me paint a scene for y’all – it’s a weekday night, you’re at Yates and as you’re running or elliptical-ing, cursing that big lunch you had at Epi, you survey the local wildlife.  On the one side of the gym there are people doing cardio – a good mix of men and women – and then you look to the left to the weights and suddenly, it’s a sausage fest.  The weights section is filled with guys pumping iron and trying to bulk up, and there isn’t a single woman.  Maybe you’ll get the occasional woman, but in that case she’s using super light weights and isn’t there for long before crossing back to the other side.  It’s like there’s an invisible forcefield separating the two sides, and no one tries to cross it.
Our culture has decided that while men have to be jacked and have more muscles than they know what to do with, women – while being skinny and perfectly toned – cannot have muscles, or at least not very big ones.  Any women who transgress this standard do so at the risk of being called ‘un-feminine’ (ooooh, so scary), ‘butch’, or ‘dyke’.  As an athlete, and a rugger at that, I lift a lot because it’s what I have to do to stay in shape and because I straight up enjoy it, and yet when I lift to get strong many people do not recognise it as that.  My mother told me once that I shouldn’t lift too much because then my arms and legs would get too big and that’s not attractive; someone else told me that women with really muscled arms look kinda weird; I’ve also been told that obviously I’m just trying to ‘butch up’.  What I do at the gym has very little to do with my appearance or trying to fit into a stereotype, and yet society assumes that it’s the case because I’m a woman and, well, what else do we ever think about?  Even having said all this, when I do lift at Yates, every time I cross over that magic line it still feels weird, like I’m somewhere I’m not supposed to be no matter how frequently I go there and no matter how much I know what I’m doing.
On a larger scale, look at something like the Olympics, specifically weightlifting.  While I personally do not find the sport particularly riveting to watch (you’ll find me watching Rugby, Women’s Beach Volleyball, or the US Women’s soccer team), I think it’s incredible how much those people can lift and how much training went into getting there, men and women alike.  Despite my level of respect for these athletes, the rest of the world can’t quite seem to get on board and instead like to focus on women’s appearances.  For example, Sarah Robles is an Olympic lifter for the US – and a damn good one at that – but struggled to get a sponsor so she could afford to make it to London for the Olympics simply because she doesn’t look like society’s idea of an attractive woman.  Nevermind the fact that she is good at what she does and worked hard to get there, all her training and achievements are thrown out the window because of how she looks.  A super-built man does not face the same challenges, and in fact the more muscled a man is, the more acclaim he gets.  There’s a reason there’s a competition every year for the world’s strongest man and not one for women.  When men have the build of a heavy lifter, no one bats an eye because it is socially acceptable for men to look like this, because being strong equates with being more masculine.
Most, if not all, of this goes back to the whole issue of the gender binary and society’s expectations for what a “real” woman and “real” man are, and a complete lack of respect for women’s physical achievements.  As for the Yates divide, I don’t know if that is particularly unique to Georgetown because we are such a gender-normative campus, or if this is how most other gyms are, but regardless, it is still indicative of a much broader issue.  Women are strong, and we should be able to look the part too and be proud of it.

2 Responses to “Heavy Lifting”

  1. Anonymous February 25, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    “Unattractive,” “kinda weird?” They’ve obviously never had a built girl go down on them.

  2. NK February 25, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    SO true! I always loved not only lifting in Yates but also bringing 10 other rugby girls with me. People would stare, and I’d stare right back. I also personally think the weightlifting guys who do the strong man competition are REALLY odd looking. And I think built women are hot. But maybe that’s just because I’m gay🙂

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