The Conversation : Why Do We Find Muscular Women So Perplexing (2014)

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Why Are Muscular Women Perplexing

The topic of body image has  been discussed before on women’s sports sites. Rarely, is it discussed on mainstream media outlets or digital platforms . The Conversation breaks the tradition by reporting subjects not discussed by other news organizations. Muscular women and accomplished female athletes can either induce feelings of shock, confusion, disgust, or in extreme cases hatred. The question asked in the title is more so  rhetorical. Sexism,prejudice,  misogyny, and double standards are the reasons  why muscular women are viewed as strange or anomalies. There is irrational fears of the other or people that are different. Society even reacts negatively to people who do not share the same opinions or thoughts. This article explores aspects of both sociology, sex politics, and human behavior. Even women who have become prominent in the sports world still face a high amount of disrespect and sexist abuse. While the article focuses on the negative aspects of culture surrounding  strong women, it forgets that there is a level of support. Fans are also harshly ostracized for their support. This only shows how conformity stifles free thought and control behavior in a strict fashion. The views expressed by some may even be implanted at an early age, which explains why it is difficult to understand other perspectives. Change or discovery never came by people doing the same things or thinking alike. The muscular woman may have a deeper meaning about women’s growing power both socially and the wider society.

         The argument is that women of such physical strength and development are “unnatural.” Women somehow when they gain such strength lose their femininity. While this is false, it should be realized that gender roles are based on a culture and society in which people live. Biological sex is a product of millions of years of human evolution. The muscular woman in the context of gender roles disrupts the traditional views of “real men” and “real women.” As stated in the text ”     It challenges the assumption that all men are big, strong and powerful and that all women are smaller, weaker and dependent.” The female athlete  not only challenges this notion; they completely make it a fabrication. There is a female athlete that goes a step further developing the body to its highest degree: female bodybuilders. Muscular strength has for a longtime been associated with masculinity. Many men do not fit this narrow paradigm of the ideal masculine image. To a degree men are not as pressured to look a certain way, however that may be changing. Young men are now suffering from muscle dysmorphia in a manner that parallels women’s body image issues. Women who seek to challenge body image conformity are faced with more harassment and unwanted commentary. The muscular woman may induce fear in some.

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Although such a fear may seem comedic or just illogical, it is rooted in the unknowns of women attaining huge amounts of power. When women obtained suffrage, there was a fear that their new found right was going to be used to harm men. The argument of against women entering the workforce was that they would take away jobs from men. Basically, there was a paranoid fear of female take over. The accusation was that feminists did not want equality, rather a society that benefited women only. These were conspiracy theories, yet there are some men who see women’s participation in sports in the same manner.Women’s entry into politics, science, and business has caused a reaction from certain men who believe men should have all the power in society. Seeing as it is difficult to stop women’s rise some resort to controlling certain activities. Sports seem to remain a space in which men want absolute dominance. Physical strength was seen as a marker of male superiority over females, but seeing as women can be strong it calls into question the sense of masculine identity. The breadwinner and head of house hold role has gradually been broken down by neoliberal capitalism, unemployment, and changes in family structure. Physical activity, sports, and exercise may have become a space in which men can cope with an undefined role and the decay of society. The reaction could  result in unhealthy behavior which could include more hostility directed at women or projecting through acts of extreme violence. There is more to being a man than looking like Hercules. Sadly, men may not be able to explore alternatives while women still have to challenge a stereotypical gender role expectation. The muscular woman does not fit into such culturally accepted notions of what women should be.

           Double standards and prejudice  are so ingrained in relation to the sexes, few recognize the problem with it. Bodybuilding was seen as a male sport, but it is for everyone. Women have presented physiques that are both unique and have a new aesthetic. Men who are athletes get respect, yet women receive scorn : “muscular women are often accused of taking steroids, being deviant, sexually confused or deliberately trying to offend others.” These accusations reveal prejudice not only about female athletes, but women in general. The prejudice directed at women is that they are less capable, over emotional, and are only fit to be mothers. When women  go out of  the domestic role, then somehow that is a violation of the natural order.

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There is of course nothing natural about women being in a subordinate position or being second class citizens. It can be fair to say that the look may not be to one’s taste. The issue is that people may value women only for their appearance or sexual capital. Insults and pure abuse are directed at them: ” they’re frequently told they’re unattractive, man-haters, selfish mothers or transvestites.” The double standard is apparent seeing as men never have to confront these harsh comments. Praise or condemnation is determined by one’s sex. Prejudice does not only come from the uninformed or uneducated; even the most progressive minded people have bias they rarely acknowledge. Some may say they respect a woman’s right to do what they want.However, the articulation of their opinions do not reflect that. Women when participating in certain fields may either reach a class ceiling or regulated to a structural limitation. Women have shown the can be great bodybuilders in what incorrectly is called a male sport. The IFBB made fitness and figure competition to as a way to regulate the muscular appearance of women. The Conversation explains“Femininity is linked to a female body that is slender, neat and sexually attractive. Because the muscular female form is so challenging, sports such as body sculpting use femininity as a buffer to counter the fact that women also have muscle. (We don’t judge male bodybuilders on their masculinity, their “maleness”.).”While there were attempts to halt women’s development and progress they only thing these new classes did was get more women involved. The bikini division was the latest addition, which has drawn controversy. That is even going to change. The physique division has transformed itself into a lightweight female bodybuilding competition.  All these achievements from women in sports one would think that acceptance would come with it.

           The question asked is there a problem? There is, yet it needs to be correctly identified. Muscles on women’s bodies is not the issue and its not femininity. It is the more insidious sexism and misogyny that shapes the public’s views and culture. Femininity is viewed as a characteristic that is one dimensional. There is no reason to think that strength, power, and independence cannot coexist with femininity. If the boundaries of restricted space are to be broken, then it should be acknowledged that femininity is not a culprit. The only alternative would be to either completely condemn it or favor some form of gender neutral ideology. Doing this is basically saying if women resemble men more, they can achieve equality. That is not a solution nor is it practical. Sexism preaches a doctrine that men are superior to women. Men are just better is the philosophy, which has a basis in the false notion they are biologically stronger. When a woman demonstrates physical strength it discredits men’s monopoly on it. The hatred of women stems from the idea that they are manipulative, need to be controlled, or if they get power will abuse it. Women gaining strength has not resulted in a matriarchy.

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Seeing as women have made a rapid rise in sports, there is little basis to refer to them as inferiors. The sexist and misogynists become vexed, because their psuedoscientific explanations are discredited.   There are ideas still spread among laymen. Besides cultural attitudes, one should examine the structural problems related to sports institutions. The unequal pay, limited sports coverage, or limited platforms to compete remain barriers to women in sports. The lack of female coaches and sports teams owners only exposes a larger sex segregation in the sports world. Attitudes must change along with institutions. If not women will be subject to a secondary role or have limited visibility.

     Since the publication of this article, there has been a change in thought. There are fans who support women’s athletic endeavors. There are also male fans who not only are interested in women’s athletic accomplishments, but the new version of female beauty that has emerged from intense training. Although some would condemn this as sexual objectification, this goes beyond mere desire; it is admiration. Male fans may marvel of the sight of a woman’s impressive physique. The reality is a muscular physique on a woman can be just as attractive as a smaller or larger one. The text incorrectly calls fitness and figure competition body sculpting. The term is one of mass marketing in fitness which encourages women to lift weights. The concept is that if it was called weightlifting women would reject it due to it having a masculine association. Exercise can be done by both men and women. When a person lifts a weight that is bodybuilding, which in a sense is sculpting the flesh to look a certain way.

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There were muscular women in the past. Strongwomen, acrobats, and street performers were women who showed developed musculature. They were limited by their time seeing as women had few platforms to compete or develop their physiques to the maximum. Within half a century the modern professional sports woman presented a body that was stronger and bigger than ever before. This is a unique event in history that few observers take notice of. Women created an entirely new aesthetic body mage. The reason why some may find this perplexing is due to the fact the image is new . People either fear or are puzzled by what they do not understand. There are women who still focus  on weight loss   and thinness as a goal. Other have experienced a paradigm shift wanting to improve their athletic performance and get stronger. Such bodies on bodybuilding stages and Olympic podiums would not have been conceivable 112  years ago. It will take some time for people to get used to a woman of such physical power. It is not clear how this evolution of women’s physicality will progress. Women’s bodies and what they are capable of will be the subject of much discussion in the field of gender studies.

The Conversation : Why Do We Find Muscular Women So Perplexing (2014)

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