This writing is from the blog Lady’s guide to Existence. It is a feminist blog discussing discussing women’s rights and sexual politics.This post is relevant to here, seeing as it is a frequent topic in regards to sports performance and physiology. The topic of physical strength is mentioned in feminists circles and does generate controversy. For a longtime women were taught that they were biologically and physically inferior. This has been disproved by medicine and physiology. Sexual dimorphism is a reality, but some feminists refuse to acknowledge this biological fact. The author unlike other feminists, uses reason to answer the question can women be as strong as men? Although it is a lucid response there are some flaws on certain points.
It is true that on average men have more physical strength, there are women who can be strong. The author is cognizant of this. Yet, she fails to realize that people do have a problem with women of immense power. She states “Now, I don’t think anyone on the planet would have difficulty with the fact that SOME women out there are indeed stronger than SOME men out there are,” but truth is many do. People still hold on to the notion that strength is a male only attribute.Strong women are viewed as unfeminine or ugly by some. If its not those extreme hatreds, they are viewed as an anomaly.The author mentions physique athlete Diana Lin Bailey as an example of how women can develop strength. She even mentions her Youtube channel.Frequent visitors of the channel can clearly notice the sexist comments on her videos. Common phrases are “she looks like a man” or “women should not do this” represent that people do have a problem with physically strong women.
Men who have a narrow definition of beauty or insecure make these comments. Some women even engage in the ostracism as well. Others make these comments due to their prejudices. It is clear that society is not accepting of women who deviate from traditional gender roles. Sex differences have been used as a justification to discriminate against women. Even if women meet qualifications for physically demanding jobs, they still face discrimination in the military, law enforcement, construction, and sports. Full acceptance has not been fully achieved as the author suggests.
The author takes issue with the idea that any woman can become stronger. She explains in the second paragraph : “There are actually people out there who argue that ANY woman, with effort, can become as strong or stronger than ANY man, no matter what their biological or hormonal disadvantages may be.” Men and women are different, but one should not regard variation as a disadvantage. Women do respond well to weight training and certainly can be stronger than the average man. She is correct that a man that follows a similar training regimen will be stronger. However this next point is questionable : ” I wholeheartedly disagree with this notion that on the whole, women’s bodies are capable of attaining the strength that men’s bodies attain, and I don’t think it has anything to do with my clearly nonexistent belief that women are weak little vaginas, destined to a life of struggling to open jars of pickles and weeping.” The fact is being female does not limit you from becoming strong.Traditional strength training has been proven through exercise physiology studies to increase women’s muscular strength. Low velocity routines do not produce the same result.Lifting heavy loads with few repetitions dramatically increases strength. However, the low intensity group in these studies showed more improvement in muscular endurance. The difference with women is that it takes them longer to build strength. Estrogen allows for a higher level of body fat. Muscular women would still retain more body fat as compared to men.This would mean less total type II muscle fiber to generate bursts of power. She even admits when you compare various individuals results are different. A man who does not train would find it difficult to challenge a woman in strength who weigh lifts intensely.
Oddly, the author reverses some earlier points by saying “There are several biological reasons why women’s physiques are not built for strength the way men’s are.” This is only a half truth. One need to remember that the influence genetics in body type. A woman with a naturally mesomorphic body would have more potential for strength than a male of ectomorphic or endomorphic body type. Another aspect of this is that strength levels do change depending on certain stages of the human life cycle. Boys and girls are equal in terms of body strength. When puberty happens boys will develop more muscle and bone mass, due to the greater production of testosterone. The total amount does not determine strength level, but the amount of free testosterone. This refers to testosterone that is not bound by sex hormone binding globulin or nonspecific proteins. This not the only factor in strength. Myostatin regulates the growth of muscle tissue and it has been discovered having lower levels of this particular protein will allow an individual to build more muscle.
As men age their testosterone level lowers. Gradually some of the muscle mass the developed during puberty will disappear. So this natural “advantage” does not seem permanent over a lifetime. Besides biology being a reason for differences in physical strength, sociological factors have to be considered. Women at a young age are not encouraged to be physically active. Women have developed a distorted body image from the mass media that presents a slim body as the only form of beauty. Women’s fitness magazines mostly discuss diets and weight loss rather than weight training. Men’s magazines encourage males to go to the weigh room and become as massive as possible.One should wonder why women’s total participation in sport is still lower than males .The reality is that sex prejudice still has a major influence on certain behaviors. The disparity would not be as wide if particular barriers were removed. Biology, endocrinology, and physiology only account for part of the explanation. There is an element of learned weakness that women have to overcome. The author describes it best with this sentence : ” we have been told our entire lives that women are not as physically strong as men, especially in the upper body.” If you discourage young girls in certain endeavors, they will not attempt to aim for something higher. Having no confidence will negatively effect women all their lives. There has been progress, but problems still remain.
The reason some feminists seem to be offended by the physical strength difference is they believe it endorses notions of male superiority. Physical strength is hardly evidence of biological superiority. Women can gain strength, but will not gain the same amount of muscular hypertrophy. This bothers particular feminists who basically believe that men and women should be in a hostile contest in all areas of life. It is not about equality, but women who seek to be above or “superior” to men. At least for now, women as a whole are lagging in the physical strength competition. This is irksome to this faction of feminists. The author even empathizes with this stance in the last paragraph:
“So why does this matter, anyway? Isn’t it just a major downer to have to admit that women are almost always physically weaker than men? Well, sure, a little bit. But come on, ladies. We have a lot going for us. We live longer. More of us go to college. So what if we can’t throw around gigantic chunks of iron the same way our decidedly hairier counterparts can? It’s okay to admit that there are physical differences between men and women. It doesn’t mean that women aren’t as good as men. It doesn’t mean we don’t deserve respect at the gym, on the field, in the ring or anywhere else. It means we’re not as strong. That’s all it means. It’s not sexist to say that women can’t lift as much as men; it’s true. Being a strong woman doesn’t mean making up lies to support your conclusion. You can be a feminist and still acknowledge what is fact.”
It should not be a “downer” that on average men are stronger. The author seems to forget that the term average does not mean all. Considering women have to work harder to become strong makes it more impressive. Athletic ability is not natural to every man.Few men fall into the he-man archetype that was part of traditional images of masculinity.
The myth that the female body is by nature frail has slowly unraveled.So the feminist anger is misguided. It is not sexist to say on average men have more strength ( specifically in the upper body, in the lower body women are closer), but when you say women are weak it is. This debate becomes at times a ludicrous school yard squabble. This should not be a battle of the sexes contest to determine who’s “superior.” The author lists what ladies have “going for them” which does not seem necessary. The truth is women have been “throwing chucks of iron” as she says earlier than people think. Strong women acts were popular in circuses and in vaudeville during the 19th to mid 20th century. Sadly, these athletic women had limited venues to display their physical prowess. Women involved in such rigorous activity certainly will not be “always weaker than men.”
I do not know which “lies” feminists promote, but is clear that some do not accept facts. As much as feminists hate to admit it, it is rare that the physically strongest woman will be stronger than the strongest male. The conclusion should not be one of biological determinism. The author suggests that efforts at improving women’s physical fitness are futile due to hormones. Training and environment can reverse some of the gap in physical strength. There should be other considerations as well. Women’s participation in sport and intense physical activity is relatively new. It is still uncertain the limits of female physical capability. The answer to the question “can women be as strong as men?” depends on the individuals you are comparing. As a whole women would not be stronger, but among sections or groups it could be possible.
Ohio University. “Best Bet For Boosting Brawn In Women Is Traditional Strength Training.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 May 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080520210700.htm>.
Chee, Rosie. “Breaking The Myth – Women Who Lift Heavy Will Look Like Men!”Bodybuilding.com. N.p., 31 July 2014. Web. 12 July 2015.