Women and Weightlifting?

12 05 2009

A friend and ally sent us a link to a post he recently put up on his blog about women and weightlifting that asks “Are Women Oppressed in the Weight Room?” This is a topic that I have honestly not given much thought before, so I’m grateful that he brought this to my attention.

He writes:

But when we think of “strong women” and “iron ladies”, it is all about strength of character, willpower, and spirit. It’s Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir and Angela Merkel. But why is it not women like Aneta Florczyk?

It’s interesting… physical strength is an attribute that women are not supposed to have. The ideal female physique is socially constructed as thin and delicate. In “feminine” sports, female athletes tend to be small and thin even if they do have muscles – look at figure skaters, swimmers/divers, gymnasts, and dancers. Physical strength, and having big, strong muscles, just isn’t feminine.

The fact is, women are oppressed in the weight room. To even get there, a woman has to overcome the discouragement of her peers and family members, the insecurities about her femininity, the intimidation of stepping away from the elliptical machines to a part of the gym where there are a lot of big, sweaty men. When she gets there, she have to deal with the jeering and mocking of guys who hit on and patronize her, treating her like she don’t know what she’s doing, offering to “spot” her when she’d rather just be left alone. There’s a system here that keeps women weak, and by definition less “useful” than men, whether or not it was designed with that intention in the first place. What else are you going to call a society that makes it acceptable for men to be physically strong, and not women?

I hesitate to use the word “oppressed”, though… According to feminist scholar Marilyn Frye:

The root of the word “oppression” is the element “press.” The press of the crowd; pressed into military service; to press a pair of pants; printing press; press the button. Presses are used to mold things or flatten them or reduce them in bulk, sometimes to reduce them by squeezing out the gases or liquids in them. Something pressed is something caught between or among forces and barriers which are so related to each other that jointly they restrain, restrict or prevent the thing’s motion or mobility. Mold. Immobilize. Reduce.

The mundane experience of the oppressed provides another clue. One of the most characteristic and ubiquitous features of the world as experienced by oppressed people is the double bind – situations in which options are reduced to a very few and all of them expose one to penalty, censure or deprivation.

The experience of oppressed people is that the living of one’s life is confined and shaped by forces and barriers which are not accidental or occasional and hence avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in such a way as to catch one between and among them and restrict or penalize motion in any direction. It is the experience of being caged in: all avenues, in every direction, are blocked or booby trapped.

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Feminism and Womanism

12 05 2009

The discussion/debate on why people don’t identify as feminists is ages old, but it’s a topic that’s worth revisiting. There’s an older post on Oh, You’re a FEMINIST?! that addresses this, and Womanist Musings has an interesting post up today called “I Am Not a Feminist”.

The post on Oh, You’re a FEMINIST?! opens with, “My question to ya’ll: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, but doesn’t identify as a duck, is it a duck?”  She then goes on to discuss the “I’m not a feminist but…” label and lists reasons why people fail to identify as feminists:

1. “Feminism has an image problem” – Feminists are stereotyped as fat, hairy, ugly, man-hating lesbians with no sense of humor.  And with these stereotypes running around along with the whole “feminiazis” label, many women are hesitant or reluctant to identify as feminists:

Are people so scared of all the negative stereotypes and so insecure with themselves that they aren’t willing to embrace all the positives of being a self-proclaimed feminist? Identifying with something and self-labeling means that you are surrendering part of your identity to that specific group and allowing the group to define you. This is in terms of what those within the group and those not within the group want to believe of the group. As far as feminism is concerned, although many feminists realize how empowering it is to self-identify, due to the negative stereotypes associated with feminism, others chose to reject the label.

But the point is, “feminists can look and act however, it’s the beliefs and social action that count.”  This is true.  As long as people are turned off by feminism because of all the negative stereotypes associated with it, the stereotypes will continue to work their power.  It’s important for people who identify as feminists to not be afraid of or deterred by these stereotypes.

2. Younger women are afraid of the word “feminist” – In an older interview with Feministing.com founder Jessica Valenti, Valenti said, “Part of me gets so angry at younger women who are nervous about feminism because they’re afraid that boys won’t like them.”  This statement is heteronormative, but reflects “a fear that people will think you are too intense or ‘read into things too much.’ You’ll scare others (boys and girls) away because you’re constantly looking at things differently, and critically.”

Based on personal experience, I have encountered that this holds true.  I’ve had friends who’ve said things like “we can’t watch this with you here because you’ll probably get too offended”, or “you’d probably read too much into this and talk about the power dynamics or whatever instead of just enjoying it”.  On a similar note, it can be frustrating and annoying to be the token feminist in your classes or among your group of friends.  In non Women’s Studies classes I’ve taken, whenever I pipe up about feminist issues I have often witnessed eye rolls or looks of “there she goes again”.  I have even been called “the gender girl” by some people I’ve had classes with.

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Right…homosexuality is satanic…

12 05 2009

In Russia, marriage is strictly defined as a union between a man and a woman.  Russia didn’t decriminalize homosexuality until 1993, not too long ago, and homophobia is still pervasive. Russian religious/spiritual leaders say that homosexuality is a threat to the country’s “traditional values”.  In 2006, gay activists tried to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier right by the Kremlin wall and were arrested by riot police.  Last year, a gay rights activist was attacked during a small protest in Moscow right in front of uniformed police officers who just stood there watching, doing nothing.

A gay pride parade scheduled for this Saturday in Moscow was shut down, although the organizers say that it will still go on despite opposition. Mikhail Nalimov, chairman of the Union of Orthodox Christian Youth, has said that the gay pride parade is really just “an act of spiritual terrorism”.  His deputy has said that the parade is “an attempt to convert people to the gay side”.  And Mayor Yury Luzhkov has declared that the parade would be “satanic”.  (Haha, the things homophobes say!  Makes you think that they can’t be serious, but the saddest part is that they are.)

So yesterday, a lesbian couple, Irina Fedotova and Irina Shipitko, walked into a registry office in Moscow and asked for a marriage license.  Unsurprisingly they were denied (because marriage is only between a man and a woman), but the couple is not giving up.  Fedotova told  journalists, “We won’t stop in midstream,” and said that she and Shipitko planned to get married in Canada because Russia recognizes marriages registered abroad.

Fedotova and Shipitko determined not to give up.

Fedotova and Shipitko determined not to give up.

More power to them.  And I hope that the gay pride parade goes on this Saturday in Moscow as it was originally planned.

Too masculine for diet cola? Here’s Pepsi Max!

12 05 2009

Oh dear god.  Via I Blame the Patriarchy:

pepsi max

These are advertisements for Pepsi Max.  The slogans say:

“The first diet cola for men.”

“0 calories. Great taste. Welded together.”

“No gut. All glory.”

“Save the calories for bacon.”

So the take aways from this cluster of Pepsi Max ads are:

1. Men are too manly to drink diet soda, unless it’s Pepsi Max.

2. Manly men eat lots of bacon. (Gross…but that could just be me…I’m a vegetarian.)

3. Being health-conscious and worrying about one’s weight or appearance is a strictly feminine thing, which is why Pepsi Max exists – so that men can actually care about their health and appearance without being embarrassed and seeming too girly.

Twisty also makes a good point:

What’s the big whoop? Well, you can’t have a “soda for men” unless “men” are considered a class unto themselves, defined in terms of the bacon-eating, welding, glorious nukular submarine-squashing aspirations that separate them from dainty vulnerable “women.” These ads are jokey, depicting average-looking dudes, but they tacitly allude to the noxious he-man/fragile damsel dichotomy that’s been chapping actual women’s hides lo these many millennia.

True that.

No one should have to beg for a job they shouldn’t have lost in the first place

12 05 2009

During his election campaign, Obama said, “We’re spending large sums of money to kick highly qualified gays or lesbians out of our military, some of whom possess specialties like Arab-language capabilities that we desperately need.  And then just last week, the US Army discharged National Guard Lieutenant Daniel Choi, an Arabic linguist who also served in Iraq, because he came out as a gay man.  Choi is fighting his dismissal and has written a letter to Congress and to Obama imploring them not to fire him:

As an infantry officer, I am not accustomed to begging. But I beg you today: Do not fire me. Do not fire me because my soldiers are more than a unit or a fighting force – we are a family and we support each other. We should not learn that honesty and courage leads to punishment and insult. Their professionalism should not be rewarded with losing their leader. I understand if you must fire me, but please do not discredit and insult my soldiers for their professionalism.

When I was commissioned I was told that I serve at the pleasure of the President. I hope I have not displeased anyone by my honesty. I love my job. I want to deploy and continue to serve with the unit I respect and admire. I want to continue to serve our country because of everything it stands for.

Please do not wait to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Please do not fire me.

This is a heartbreaking letter that really demonstrates the human consequences of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Imagine Choi’s position… He was and still is committed to his (former) job and wants to continue serving with his unit, which he calls “a family” that supports each other.  The only reason he was discharged is because he openly came out about being gay.  That is not sufficient grounds to fire a qualified, dedicated, good worker.

Meanwhile, back in January Army officer Sandy Tsao also came out to her superiors as a lesbian and wrote to Obama saying, “I do hope, Mr. President, that you will help us to win the war against prejudice.”  In May, she received a handwritten response from him:


Obama wrote, “I am committed to changing our current policy.  Although it will take some time to complete (partly because it is under Congressional action.)  I intend to fulfill my commitment!”  While I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Obama, the “it will take some time to complete” stuff is frustrating.  Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should be a top priority that should be taken care of sooner rather than later.