By Barton Tanner
A week ago I wrote part one of this edition looking at the way in which we hold females in training. In part one we tackled the idea that the physiological difference between males and females was not as exaggerated in strength and fitness as some may have you believe. I touched on the ideas that it is the images of what it is to be fit for a female and their learned behaviours that often add to these physical disparities. Additionally, females developing younger than males means they understand the social expectation of a sedentary lifestyle and behavioural expectations, so they come to engage with the effects of these at an earlier point.
The next thing that I want to touch on is simply that excellence breeds excellence. We know that if you want to become the best at anything, you have to go find the people who are currently the best and surround yourself in their excellence. One of the main things that happens for you when you live in this world is that the language used never leaves any option other than achievement. Yet, the language we use in exercise really leaves very little excellence to be aspired to for many females. This is everywhere! Going to an all boys school, it was from a very early age that I learned that push ups on your knees were ‘girls push ups’. As a young impressionable teen, this was incredibly motivating for me to learn how to do push ups on my toes. Yet, for a girl at the same age, who already has a greater understanding of the nuances of the world, the message is clear. You don’t strive for upper body pushing strength because you’re a girl and girls push ups are not as physically demanding. I have even seen examples of this at my gym where they are so proud of the amount girls there punching out chin ups. Yet the language is not consistent with this message of strong women. Whilst doing an Olympic lifting set the coach was calling the 15kg bar a girls bar and the 20kg bar a mens bar. He was correct in saying these are what they are called in the sport, but it is important to stop for a second and ask; what expectation is that language setting? That boys (who may not be ready to lift that 5 extra kg) have to take the heavier bar and push their limits, where the girls get an option out. When you think about it, really this language of saying girls are weaker or can’t have as strong upper body strength, is actually creating that reality.
So why then do you generally see stronger men than you do women?
This all comes down to people not comparing apples with apples. If you want to look at an example where males and females true physical differences are evident, then look at sports such as gymnastics or netball. My friend’s sister is a gymnast and when training together she was doing chin up sets of 100 reps, compared to my sets of 10… literally ten times the upper body strength and this was consistent in pretty much every area. When you’re comparing male gymnasts and female gymnasts, you start to see that both posses incredible strength. Both have been trained since they were 5 or 6 and both have been encouraged to be strong. The sport still has events that only males do, but this would be a great place to start comparing what is possible, rather than accepting that there is a difference. Just a quick point of reminder that I am not saying that there is NO difference physically between males and females – I am saying that the social image of fitness, the understanding of behavioural expectations, the language of fitness and not having good comparisons to go off, are not providing equal opportunity as we are literally measuring males and females on different scales.
How does this change?
Simple – aggressive role modelling! It is all of our responsibility to stamp the language of weakness out of people when they say it. It is all of our responsibility to not think about someones sex when measuring their capability. So when you’re at training, irrelevant of who your partnered with, push them to make their strength and movement goals. It is always amazing at training to see people take heavier weights than they think they can use and smashing it out. Secondly, in our role modelling, we need to be celebrating the achievements of females in sport. If you walk around your office and ask simple questions like; who won the female netball world cup? Who won the female soccer world cup? Which female won gold at the Olympics for the 100m sprint? Or why are female tennis players paid so much less than males? In our society, we do not celebrate the success of females as much as we do the males. So by starting to pay attention to these achievements, we are going to open the eyes of younger generations both male and female. The boys will start to see the value and worth of women in sport and not just as spectators or presenters. The females will actually see there are many women out there living this aggressive role modelling and are doing things that are inspiring for all people regardless of gender.
To finish, I thought it was appropriate to celebrate one of these huge achievements. Pace Athletic staff member Jess Carroll won outright the Northburn 100km running race. She finished the race in 13hrs 23min, and this was 44min ahead of the next person to cross the line!