By Barton Tanner
This is always going to be a potentially controversial topic to write about, but as you would all be aware, I never really shy away from telling you what I think. Being the feminist warrior that I am, I think the recognition of inherent social inequalities are incredibly important to discuss. I will start by saying, boys, I haven’t forgotten about you in this wrap and I think it is just as important for us to believe and fight for these equalities, for society to move down a more educated and egalitarian path, everyone needs to want to be involved and engaged.
In Evo we are lucky enough to have a group of incredibly strong, determined women from all wakes of life, moving along the path of health and wellbeing. As a business we tend to attract people who are continually striving to become more engaged human beings in all areas. It just fits with the model, you don’t get up at the crack of dawn to run around a park and do lots of burpees, if you’re not engaged with your progression as a person in all capacities. When I am looking at areas that I believe need change, I will always first look inward and ask; “what responsibility for change can I take and what influence on this change can I have?” We are incredibly powerful people and there is nothing out of reach for us to change. So, for me the first fight for equality starts with the fitness industry and what cultural standards are being set here. So what is my big claim?
My big claim is that the physiological disparity between Males and Females in the world of strength is NOWHERE near as big as we think. In fact, only on the extremities of the bell curve should we be seeing big differences in strength between males and females. For the general population, females should be as strong as and in far more cases than we actually see, stronger than their male counterparts. So why is this not the case? There are many layers too this and I don’t think I have time to write a thesis on it now, so instead I will be doing a 2 part blog which will cover 5 categories being; image, learned behaviors, the language of fitness, poor comparison examples and aggressive role modeling.
Unfortunately, the fitness industry as it stands, does not encourage women to be strong. The first image of physical strength and prowess in our society is often related big ‘Arnold’ biceps. Understandably, this is not appealing for many people, male or female. I love the saying, “get strong not big”, meaning focus on overall strength and capacity rather than aesthetics. Firstly, I find it fascinating that our society’s definition of female beauty tends to idealize the small, child like female figure. With many models in fashion magazines being very small and they fear putting on muscle mass with their training. Even when they do have incredibly muscular bodies, they are thrown into clothing that completely destroys the function and capacity of their bodies. This is seen when comparing male bodybuilders who are barefoot on stage, to female body builders who are in high heels. In this fear, the fitness industry correlates girls lifting weights or doing heavy kettlebell work etc, with the image of body builders. In my time as a trainer, it is incredible how many conversations I have had with women wanting to tone up but not put on muscle like a bodybuilder. This is incredibly challenging as the term ‘Toning’ comes from a phase in a body builders training program where they start to shape their muscles ready to be shown in competition. So by definition they are actually trying to gain muscle mass, it is just in proportion to certain targeted areas.
Next is our learned behaviours or monkey see, monkey do. For all of us this battle links back to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the simple fact that the female brain develops quicker than the male brain and they come to understand this lifestyle earlier. Essentially, females develop into functional social beings several years before males. When you look at a preschool playground, everyone is running, jumping, rolling, falling and playing together. Not only is their imagination unlocking the world of play, it is also helping develop the human body for what it is going to take on over the next 90 odd years. There is no real concern for the social construct of gender, they are just doing what the human body is designed to do – play through movement and have fun. If we are to fast forward to our early teen years and look at what is happening in the playground. You will start to see the correlation of ‘boys being boys’ – playing rugby or soccer or fighting on the oval – but why are girls (and obviously this is not all girls) not engaging in the same capacity. The female brain matures faster than the male brain. In this maturing process from an earlier age they understand what is being asked of them in the school environment. We are told by our teachers, if you can sit still and quiet you are a better student, where if you have energy to burn and want to get up any time within the 6 hours you are hyperactive and a bad student. So as girls generally come to understand this earlier than boys, they are missing out on these physically formative years of movement in regards to strength. The jumping around becomes less, they don’t play with movement as much outside of sport time and become more perceptive of the media’s around them, defining what is lady like and what isn’t. As you are going through puberty many of your hormonal processes are being set, additionally, our movement patterns are being set. If you engage with what society wants with you, ‘to sit still’, then we see a lot of underdeveloped muscles. I should mention this is more apparent with all children now and certainly isn’t isolated to females, it is definitely a growing concern.
So am I really just saying we should all move more? YES!
The incredible thing about what we do in Evo, is that we are continually looking past these stereotypes and perceptions. I am always blown away that everyone is down at training chasing the same thing, wellness, a positive start to the day and community based training. Together as a community we push past the barriers of perceived limitations and in doing so we can inspire others to step out of these ‘social norms’. It is in this place, where you are no longer carrying the expectations of the world around you, as you walk around in this lightened state, rather than mindlessly following the path set before you, you can start to build your own way. In doing so you are liberating those around you to feel strong enough to do the same…