Cheerleader Anna Watson: Dark Side of Female Muscle Worship Fantasies

Cheerleader Anna Watson: Dark Side of Female Muscle Worship Fantasies

This article written by Ewan Palmer for the International Business Times is an example of media sensationalism and subtle moral panic. Anna Watson was a cheerleader and student at the University of Georgia  who received media attention for having an impressively muscular physique. The media called her “the strongest cheerleader in America.” While there was some positive publicity, there were also detractors who were more vociferous. The media often casts activities or groups it has limited understanding of  as either deviant, freakish, or unnatural. Prejudice and conformist attitudes are enforced through a medium that should inform the  public. The subject of women and physical strength becomes a controversial subject.  There still are many people who have a problem with women having muscular physiques. Female muscle and its subculture is something that can easily be misunderstood. Palmer’s article gives the mainstream audience only one section of a larger subculture. Followers and the culture that has emerged are regulated to a “dark side.” The fact that it is referred to that demonstrates the degree of closed minded convictions prevalent in society. Anything that does not conform to the mainstream standard is designated abhorrent. Female muscle fandom is far from being deviant. Palmer admits ”  the idea that some men may find this woman sexually attractive may not be the most unusual concept, especially when you consider some of the darker and grotesque sexual fetishes.”  This however is still presented as abnormal. Female worship fantasies are not unusual; they are another form of sexual expression. The fandom is a larger community than one might think and it goes beyond mere imagined fetish.

           The fandom the exists in this community can be divided into several categories. Schomes who love the most muscular women, fans who are dedicated to the sport, and the person who like the look of muscle on women. There are factions that have different perspectives on aesthetics. The casual female muscle fan may prefer a woman who does not have immense size, but a small amount of shape. Other may like a in between a figure or physique athlete size. The schmoes like the largest women, but this does not mean they would disapprove of women of other muscular levels. Palmer’s analysis does not include this classification within the community. If there is to be a description of the subculture one has to describe the community. Athletes would have to be included in this analysis. Women are not just passive objects in this subculture; they built it. The sport of female bodybuilding emerged in the 1970s and by the 1980s was gaining mainstream exposure. Female muscle fans emerged along with the growing female bodybuilding subculture. Women’s impressive athletic performance in the sport attracted fans and notoriety. Rachel Mclish, Corey Everson, Lenda Murray, Kim Chizevsky, and Iris Kyle became some of the best bodybuilders winning the famed Ms.Olympia titles.

Women changed the fitness culture in a radical way. They demonstrated that women can be strong and that weightlifting as well as muscular development was in their physical capability. Being strong was not longer considered gender inappropriate.  Athletes who were in the industry realized that they had to have some business skills to compete and support themselves. There have been recent setbacks for the bodybuilding category. However, the idea of the muscular woman has spread. It was first promoted by these athletes in small circles and now it has reached the mainstream. Women are becoming more interested in weightlifting and crossfit either for recreation or professional competition. Even though the number of traditional bodybuilding competitions has decreased in number the other categories of fitness, figure, bikini, and physique have emerged. This probably is the best time to be a female muscle fan. This is not happening only in the United States, but in other nations. The women involved in the sport are driven by the desire to succeed and the confidence it gives them. The athlete’s time is spent training and having periods of recovery. Besides that it could involve business activities with supplement companies or their own enterprises. The community is close between fans and athletes seeing as the sport is small. There exists a symbiotic relationship between the factions of fans and the athletes.

           The clinical terms that the author does use to describe female muscle fans properly is cratolagnia and   sthenolagnia. These terms describe arousal from the muscles or demonstrations of strength. This does not mean that every female muscle fan has this fetish. Arousal may come for other reason and they could simply just be fans of the female bodybuilding sport. It just seems more likely that men with cratolagnia and stenolagnia would gravitate to the culture.

Being a fetishist and a fan are two different things. It is possible to be both. This culture and fandom of female strength has many branches. Liking the muscular body type could just be another preference.It is rare that someone claims that a person has a thin woman fetish. There are different ways people display their sexual expression. Sexual fetishes are a part of this. The problem is society has a distorted view about human sexuality. Either there is an obsession projected through various media including film and television or the extreme puritan conservatism of the past. Sexuality and the urges that are associated with it are a part of life. The unusual aspect about it is that people are afraid to discuss or explore such topics. There still remains debate on whether or not to teach sex education in public schools.  Sexology are attempting to educate people about this part of human nature. Muscle worship certainly would not be classified as a mental disorder, but in the article it implies it. This is nothing more than a part of bigger culture.

       The article fails to mention the a large part of female muscle fandom is mixed and session  wrestling. Relevant to athletes session wrestling provides funding opportunities for their endeavors. Female bodybuilders wrestle men for a certain fee sometimes costing up to $500 or more for one hour. It is bizarre that the article does not mention session wrestling as part of the female muscle fandom. There is a difference between mixed and session wrestling. Session wrestling refers to a wrestler or bodybuilder providing a wrestling event for a fee. Mixed wrestling refers to a wrestling match between a man and a woman. There are clubs and leagues that women and men are a part of in which they gather to wrestle. Mixed wrestlers or session wrestlers are not always bodybuilders, but the origins of these activities is rooted in the subculture. Mixed wrestling predates session wrestling, but wrestling mostly became part of the culture due to Kay Baxter and Bill Wick. Wick,  former wrestler himself   would film tapes with Kay his wife wrestling one another. He then got Kay to wrestle other men and started selling videos than other companies emerged. The rise of the internet also saw the expansion of mixed wrestling to a wider and global audience. Some athletes may devote most of their time to doing sessions, because the amount of pay is better than winning a contest.

The motivation for women is part finance and business related. Yet, that is not the complete story. Women also get a thrill from this. There is a level of enjoyment and fun they may get from physically dominating men in a way.  There is to an extent role reversal in which women take charge. Men according to a patriarchal society are suppose to be the strong ones, but this has changed to an extent. Women are more involved in politics, science, and finance so it would only make sense the next step would be to enter the sports world.  Women who have weight trained and built muscle have often stated that it has been an empowering experience. They gain a new sense of self and confidence which they translate into other areas of life. To an extent they define their own paradigm of beauty. The reason why women do mixed or session wrestling is that it gives them a sense of power normally deprived of them in their daily lives. There could another reason for this activity that is more simple. It could just be frivolous fun for both men and women. The act of simple play is something that is left behind in childhood. Here in such an environment adults can play around like children again. Work or family responsibilities can be forgotten for a brief period. Mixed wrestling has been mentioned in the mainstream and it may have more devotees than previously thought.

         Another important element of female muscle fandom is photography. Pictures and photographs are an essential part of the female muscle fandom. Fans love to collect photo sets of their favorite athletes. Photographers who may struggle to sell their photos have an supportive market with this base. Pictures can range from contests shots, candid photos, or other environments. This is more of the artistic aspect of the female muscle fandom. While dedicated collectors like the professional photographs rare images are also sought after. Other times fans will take clippings from magazines.

While photographs can vary, there are some common themes. Standard poses are common such as front double biceps, lat spreads, or side chest. Sometimes these photographs have women posing in a manner that would be seen in magazines appealing to a male gaze. The majority consumers of such materials will be men, which explains the sometimes suggestive nature of photographs. Nude photographs can either be artistically presented or more lascivious in nature.

There is also photographs that focus on specific areas of the body. It could either be the biceps, glutes, or legs. Themes that are recurring are either women in sport, doing some job, or a depiction of strength feats.The themes that are most common are women posing as cops, construction workers, boxing, or lifting weights in the gym. Lifting weights photographs make more sense compared to the other themes in photographs. Sometimes there are also women who are posing as a nurse, which is an overused theme in magazines of a certain caliber.

Fans join websites to pay for photo sets of their favorite athletes and competitors. This is not as the author says ” the timid world of female bodybuilding.” This a much larger following. There would be no questions raised at all if these photographs contained pictures of women one sees in regular magazines. The common misconception is that female muscle fans would reject women of different body types. This is not true, there tastes could be very diverse.

Photography is an art form and when athletes are presented in a such a medium fans have more respect for it. There also is an growing industry of fitness modeling. Athletic apparel companies want to market to a female demographic  and they want women who look the part.Some athletes start their own business producing clothing for other athletes. Collectors of photographs are similar to how fans of baseball would collect cards. The difference now is that this process is digital based. The traditional print magazine is in decline and the internet shall be the wave of the future. Female muscle fans will not have to go buy a magazine to see photos. There is now an instant access to photographs, that allows collectors to gain more.

        Female muscle growth is a large part of  female muscle fandom. Ewan Palmer makes it seem as if its the only dimension. It should be clarified what are the specific denotations. There is a female bodybuilding subculture which revolves around sports activities. The female muscle fandom is a subculture in which female bodybuilding falls under but is broader in the regard that it celebrates all women who are strong or muscular. Palmer states :  “Female Muscle Growth (FMG) goes outside the usual attraction of female bodybuilders and extends into a sexual fetish involving fantasy woman with obscene and unnaturally sized muscles.” What one considers obscene or unnatural is relative. While this is the fetish element, it is an artistic expression. Stories and artwork feature muscular women, but may not always be female muscle growth. Some artwork either is fan art depicting female cartoon characters as muscular or original characters produced by the artists. Art can be controversial, extreme, or imaginative and that is what makes it great. It seems that the muscular female body also threatens people on paper and canvasses as well.

The writing and stories also can very, but normally follow a simple formula. A woman who is either abnormally weak either gains physical strength by magical or scientific means and proceeds to use it in a forceful way. The woman can either be a protagonist or antagonist. A majority of the time women are the protagonists. The artwork can be paintings, drawings, computer generated images, or mixed media. The most popular format for FMG is comic based art. This subculture is very audiovisual based. Renditions can range from a realistic portraiture to cartoon like. The comics that are made by FMG artists could either be action based or comedic. Palmer is correct that “far removed from the mainstream – you will not be able to find these works of fiction in any local library or bookstore.” Such artistic renditions or writings were never meant to be mainstream. The mainstream sometimes adopts elements of a subculture then popularizes it for a wider audience. Some subcultures are just too small to be taken to the mainstream. It is highly unlikely that FMG will go mainstream, because it may appear to be too strange for a conformist public. Most female muscle fans my not want it to go mainstream simply because when a subculture does this it loses something. That close community evaporates and is replaced with capitalist hyper-consumerism.

          Videos are a pillar of the material culture of female muscle fandom. Websites offer exclusive content of women posing, doing strength feats, or being interviewed. Fans also collect videos of their favorite athletes as well. This also ties into the mixed wrestling element.  Sites like Scissorvixens and Utopia Entertainment feature videos of muscular women wrestling men. These feature women of various muscular levels. During the golden age of female bodybuilding it was broadcast on television. ESPN or NBC would show contests, but by the late 1990s this was beginning to end. However, the internet and specifically the rise of video streaming gave the muscular woman more exposure. Not only that, to a wider global audience. Fans began sharing videos and becoming more connected to one another across the world.

The female muscle  fandom and subculture seems best suited for the online environment. The types of videos fans like are either ones showing a contest, individual posing videos, or one of a more muscle worship related nature. During the early years of female bodybuilding such videos had to ordered in the back of magazines or bought from another person. Bill Wick mailed the videos he filmed from his house to individual buyers. Now a buyers can make online purchases. Many websites devoted to female muscle also provide news and coverage of contests that is lacking in mainstream fitness publication. There is the challenge of online piracy, but this does not stop people from making the legal purchase of copyrighted material. Hardcore fans pay membership fees to various websites just to add to their personal collections.

Athletes also produce videos of their own on their personal sites. There they can charge fans for exclusive content. Seeing as the mainstream fitness industry has either ignored or abandoned them they are now free to act as their own gatekeepers. Without the middle channel of  corporate gatekeepers athletes can manage their own image and have funds go directly to them. Videos also hold another significance. They are historical documentation of female strength. Many fans want to preserve videos considering women like this are rare. The unique nature of such women is what attracts attention. Videos are also for fun and pure entertainment value. There do exist videos of an erotic nature, but that is not the only content that exists. The female muscle fandom subculture seems to have branches. Palmer makes it seem as if it is only one thing. Subcultures can be more complex even when they appear to be simple. There is a set of activities, language or terminology, both material and non-material culture.

           Female muscle has come to the mainstream. It may not be the actual female muscle fandom, but its presenting its self in different ways. Women athletes in other sports are displaying stronger looking physiques compared to the past. Women are involved in many sports that get television coverage such as weightlifting, professional wrestling, basketball, track and field as well as crossfit. There has also been an impact on women who are not athletes. Some are joining gyms and using weights like their male counterparts.

Although they are not specifically training to get large muscles, they have a degree of noticeable strength and tone from their regimen. The female athlete is here and here to stay. Everyone is not accepting. The traditional notions about gender and what a woman should look like are still present. Body shaming seems to be a modern phenomenon of Western culture obsessed with looks and youth. Women who do not fit a weaker sex stereotype are either designated as unfeminine or unattractive. These feelings are the psychological projections of a misogynist culture that only values women for their looks or how they can be used by men. This also harms men who support women who fit this different paradigm of body image. The fans of female muscle are either depicted by the mainstream as deviants, perverts, or eccentrics. Ostracism is designed to marginalize groups that do not follow the status quo by shunning them from the wider society. Women who challenge sexist stereotypes or cultural mores are often subjected to this treatment. Even societies that consider themselves progressive, the idea of a woman having too much physical or social power creates a level of trepidation or anger. The fact the article refers to elements of the female muscle fandom as a “dark side” only illustrates how narrow minded readers and reporters can be against something that is not part of standard societal convention. It seems it will take more time for society to accept people have different  preferences   and that women have the right to look like however they want. As long as a fantasy does not cause harm to anyone it really is not a problem. Society does have many vicious elements, but female muscle fantasies are not one of them.

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Cheerleader Anna Watson: Dark Side of Female Muscle Worship Fantasies

Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women

Prior to crossfit or bodybuilding muscular women did exist. There were women involved in physical culture in the past, but there stories were not told. Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women reveals to readers an unknown history of women’s sports and physical culture between the years of 1800 to 1980. David L. Chapman and Patricia Vertinsky  wrote this monograph. The primary source material contains images, cartoons, and magazines that Chapman had collected over the years. Physically strong women have existed prior to the 19th century, yet this book gathers evidence of their participation in strength feats and physical culture. Chapman spent 30 years collecting these images. His interest in muscular women really started late in life. It was 1987 when he began to do research into women’s involvement in fitness and bodybuilding. Chapman being a writer for numerous bodybuilding magazines was able to meet bodybuilders of the golden age era. He met Abbye Stockton and realized this was an interesting development that emerged among women, especially in a period in which their rights were limited. Another athlete that sparked further interest in this rarely studied element in sports history was Laurie Fierstein. She was a bodybuilder who also was the curator for the New Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit “Picturing the Modern Amazon.”  Chapman was invited to lecture at the museum discussing the iconography of the strongwoman in art and photography. Fierstien gave Chapman more insight into what motivates women to compete and push their bodies to the physical maximum. His discussions with Stockton and Fierstien led to some questions. These questions pondered how women struggled in the past in the physical fitness culture and the meaning of femininity. Female muscularity was more controversial in the past than in the 21st century. There has been a cultural shift, even though the more narrow minded attitudes still are present. The rise of the female mesomorph is a story of  advancement and repression. It can go in cycles. Through images and primary source material Chapman shows how sex politics and sports interacted. The muscular woman can mean many things to people : they can be seen as beautiful to others, threatening, or abnormal.

             The introduction describes the mixed feelings and messages that the muscular women gets from observers and proposes its main thesis . Negative reactions were worse in the past. Outlets for athletic competition were not widespread for women. The only place the strongwoman could display their talents was in variety show stages or vaudeville performance. Circuses also provided another platform.

venuswithbiceps  The text and information mostly focuses on women’s physical fitness participation in Europe and America. It is not known in other areas of the globe if women participated in some form of physical culture. Today it is not a surprise to see a female athlete or a woman who engages in rigorous exercise. More women are competing in the Olympics and in numerous sports compared to a century ago. The are presenting highly developed physiques. The impressive aspect of this is that such improvements are enhanced by new training techniques and pharmaceutical means. Chapman states in the introduction : “with the advent of steroids, hormones, supplements, and other artificial growth stimulants female muscularity has multiplied exponentially, and as female bodies transform themselves into something bigger, bolder, and different from what had been idolized in the past, the same old uncertainties and sexual ambiguities keep society bubbling away with loud,but hardly new controversies.” Women have pushed their bodies in athletic competition to new heights. This is not solely the work of performance enhancing drugs or supplements from a GNC store. Exercise physiology has in the past decades began to seriously examine women athletes. Most studies were done on men and it is clear the physiology is different in regards to sex. Having more resources and information at their disposal, women can enhance their athletic performance in an efficient manner. Old myths about women’s bodies and capabilities have been discarded. Even with these developments, the sexist and misogynist convictions still remain.

There are the common statements echoed by those who believe that certain activities are unladylike. The idea of the “mannish woman” was present in the past to an even more extreme degree. Patrica Vertinsky co-author of the monograph is a professor of  history with a focus on physical education, fitness, and physical culture. Throughout the text she describes this sexist prejudice as a way to dehumanize and undermine women’s accomplishments. There is an over reaction to female muscularity that does not happen with men. Women have to live with double standards and this is just another item on the list. This double standard and ostracism is nothing new to the female athlete. This is the primary foundation of the monograph’s thesis. The muscular woman had a presence in certain venues and in popular culture. The image presented of the muscular woman had influenced certain perceptions. Most were negative projecting anti-woman sentiment or homophobic feelings. The text describes this prejudice : ” over the last 100 years the image of the strong, confident, muscular woman has been the object of derision.”  The portrayal is either sexy dominatrix, sexless mannequin, or sideshow freak in the words of the thesis. However, it is a recent phenomenon that women of such as body were either placed into one dimensional images being presented to the public as monstrosities, lesbian man haters, beautiful living statues or sex objects. Such ideas are based off of hatreds either against women or people of different sexual orientations. It does not represent reality. Just like any other women their experiences vary vastly depending on class, ethnicity, and nationality.

The monograph also states that women had to fight ( and still continue) to reclaim the image and perceptions of the muscular woman. The reason negative attitudes were so pervasive about muscular women or female athletes was that men were producing certain images and ideas distorting public opinion. while the thesis is cogent, there are some debatable proclamations made in the introduction.

          The introduction claims that “sports as we know them were invented in England.” This is not true. All around the globe, various peoples had some form of sport. Sport dates back to ancient civilization. Women were also participants. The Greeks, Minoans, and Egyptians had sporting activities. It has been theorized that sport has its origins in military training. It may have also had a religious significance considering some Greeks had games revolving around the worship of gods or goddesses. Africa had a longtime tradition of wrestling among its peoples. The Diola, Yala, and the Njabi had women wrestlers. The Diola were known to use wrestling as a way to have arranged marriages. The male champion wrestler would marry the female champion wrestler. The issue with such a statement made by Chapman is that it excludes other non-European  civilizations. Doing so presents an ethnocentric perspective of  history, which is extremely limited. Examining the female muscularity phenomenon from a larger international perspective adds to support to the argument. Women were active participants in CuJu during the Song to Qing  dynasty in China. Amerindian peoples were also involved in stickball and footraces. Although met with the same ostracism as seen today, the female athlete is certainly nothing new.

This should have been expressed better in the text. Modern professional sports began in the West , but the sporting tradition had international roots. This should be obvious to any sports historian. Yet, this is a relatively new field of study and the study of the female mesomorph more so. When the industrial revolution occurred labor habits changed, including what was done during leisure time. It can also be disputed that in the words of  Chapman : ” in an age when machines became stronger and more efficient than their human operators, it became necessary to measure one’s peers in another way, and for many physically minded people, athletic competition was the answer- at least for men.” There had already been a system in which people measured one another and that was by class. Most civilizations throughout history have functioned on a pyramid structure with a ruling class controlling the majority. There is a pyramid structure present in democratic societies, which threatens the system itself. Sports provided the working class a brief escape from the agony of economic exploitation. It was more than just the physically minded people seeking an outlet, it was an a stress reducer in a world that was not changing for the better. Chapman should have done more research in this regard to sports history.

           David Chapman does describe the hysteria surrounding women engaging in physical culture. These objections to women’s participation came from religious organizations and traditionalists. The 19th century moralists condemned women’s advancement in any aspect of life saying too much education or exercise would harm women. They used religion as a cover to justify the control of women. They were challenged by others who believed that at least some exercise and education was good for women. Calisthenics, dancing, and rhythmical drills became acceptable in the 1800s for women. Yet, it was still advised not to take it too far. This language is similar to attitudes in the contemporary fitness atmosphere. Women are told often not to get “too big” or “cross the line.”

The physically active woman caused fear in some men and the muscular woman even more so. A strictly conservative society had a level of fear in regards to women’s bodies and sexuality during the Victorian Age. This is why the popular imagery of muscular women was either contradictory, confused, or negative. Men did not know what to make of or how to understand these women. Chapman explains that the reason there are not more photographs of muscular women prior to 1980 was due to moral codes about exposure of the female body. A woman could not simply have her torso exposed during the Victorian Age. Swimsuits were even generating an outcry. This even continued into the early 20th century in which Bernarr Macfadden was arrested in 1905 for holding a women’s physique contest at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The founder of Physical Culture magazine was one of the early advocates of women getting exercise beyond just improvement of figure. To traditionalists and religious advocates exposure of the female body was immoral. Women could be arrested for wearing a bikini in some US states. This was also a crime in Australia, Italy, and  on some French beaches up until the mid -20th century.  The moralists of the past would most likely be more shocked by the bodies and exposure of them are in the 21st century.

There were also arguments that muscle was bad for women’s health. The idea was that women would destroy their reproductive system and this had no basis in biomedical fact. There also an argument that was based purely on aesthetics. Muscles were “unfeminine” and would “unsex” a woman. Such claims represented gender bias and a desire for strict gender roles. Another reason muscular women in popular media may have been rare at the time was that many were not ready to see them. This may explain why producers of various forms of content did not put them in their works. Women who were muscular also may have not been willing to display such physiques for fear of ridicule. Chapman explains that even muscular women who posed for photographs did so in a glamour shot format, rather than the physique posing. The truth is that the glamour element has been a part of women’s posing and physique photograph. While female bodybuilders and physique athletes pose traditionally on stage, they pose differently in individual photographs. The glamour element is there combined with traditional physique posing.

The co-author should remember that bodybuilding was in its infancy, so women probably would not have posed in the same way as modern bodybuilders. To say the early photographs of muscular women are not authentic  physique pictures lacks cogency. It would be ludicrous to say women bodybuilders  who are not flexing in their off stage pictures are not authentic. There was a process of evolution in terms of presentation of the muscular form. The image of the muscular woman was getting wider exposure  compared to other periods of history.

              The female body as the book explains was susceptible to various fads and changes in beauty standards. Just like styles of hair and dress changed, so did ideas about the feminine body ideal. The ideal of the hour glass shape was enforced by the rise of the corset. The came the concept of the S shape as a beauty standard. Bustles were worn by women to enhance the female backside. During the late 19th century there was a paradigm shift in regards to women and exercise. There was the concept that they should do it to improve appearance. The few muscular women in these societies were pioneering such an idea. One of the ways photographers and artists avoided controversy about muscular women was to have them presented in a living statue pose. This would show that they are not a threat to male viewers and that there was no lascivious intentions in its production. This small movement of women into physical culture seemed to expand between the years of 1900 to 1914.

4366315_f1024 There are more images from this period of strongwomen. The reason for this had to do with the increased popularity of circuses, fairs, music halls, and vaudeville stages  .When World War I broke out, this stopped many entertainment venues from functioning especially in major war zones of  Europe. The rise of other mediums like radio and television also contributed to the end of the old forms of entertainment. Muscular women then lost mainstream exposure to an extent.  The strange part of this is that the muscular woman some how got separated from mainstream sports culture. Women getting involved in cycling, archery, and croquet during the 19th century. However women were still be held back at the Olympics Games. Strongwomen were athletes with out a place to compete or show their skills. Their training techniques would later be used by female athletes in various sports from the 20th century and beyond. If it were not for them, such sports and physiques on women would not exist. The real shift came after World War II with Abbye Stockton who demonstrated there was no contradiction between muscles and femininity.

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   She revealed an impressive musculature, which at the time was not considered gender appropriate. Chapman revealed that female acrobats and trapeze artists  had more room to navigate in terms of the world of muscularity. The atmosphere of circus performance was more open and therefore less strict. David Chapman referred to it as a “hidden world of female strength.” There was once more a change in beauty standards. There was the diversification of the female form based on particular models in the fitness community. A firm female figure was preferred. This would eventually lead to a more muscular female body. It is not a surprise that female bodybuilding emerged during the 1970s at an important time of women’s liberation. The excellent part  of Venus With Biceps is that  was not afraid to discuss feminist hypocrisy in relation to the muscular woman. The feminist positions on beauty standards are often filled with contradiction and sometimes illogical conclusions. Chapman states that feminists harbor suspicions of muscular women as ” either beauty queens in disguise or that women physique athletes are simply trying to become alternate or inferior versions of men.” The falsehood of feminism is that they believe in a sisterhood and support all women. This simply is not the case when examined from class and race lines. They criticize beauty standards, but continue to support it by being large consumers of fashion and make-up products.

Chapman’s rebuttal to feminist claims is that a beauty pageant just reinforces one standard of beauty, while the physique athlete is developing another image based on individual convictions rather than cultural norms. The ludicrous claim that women are trying to be like men is nothing more than a recycled statement made by sexists, they claim to be fighting. If anything the muscular woman represents a feminist symbol. It shows that women can be strong and be successful in  once male dominated domain. The only reason that a feminist would think that a muscular woman would be imitating men is that strength is a male only attribute. That is incorrect as the female athlete has demonstrated. Men have used the ridiculous argument that because they are stronger they have a right to rule over women. When arguments of biological inferiority are proven mendacious, detractors resort to ostracism. There is a reason for such extreme reaction as Chapman articulates : “physically powerful and heavily muscled women have always been upsetting to the status quo because they reversed the “natural” dominance of the male.” Feminists should be their natural allies. The problem with such monographs is that they normally fall into preaching feminist rhetoric, rather than being a work of academic research. Venus With Biceps avoids this blunder , but occasionally  the illogical feminist reasoning emerges. Beauty standards have changed throughout history,but i may be the first time in which women are developing their own concept of aesthetics.

         The monograph also provides readers with an essay “Muscularity and the Female Body.”  Patricia Vertinsky shares her knowledge of sports history and the female body. Traditionally muscularity was associated with male power and beauty. Women were associated with weakness and frailty. This did not represent reality. Many notions of the body were based on pseudoscience and eugenics. The female body according to Vertinsky’s essay was cast as biologically inferior and designed for passive nurturing. From this emerged the concept of “natural bodies.”  Women’s bodies according to this concept were not meant to be strong. Men were the strong ones. Some scholars link this concept of muscularity and masculinity to the rise of modern celebrity culture and sports. It roots are much earlier according to Vertinsky going back to ancient Greek civilization. This association is more of a Western phenomenon and it can be seen in the art of the Greeks. Iconography shows that the ancient Greeks valued the muscular form as an aesthetic ideal  and this European tradition continued through the ages. Sculptors such as Polykleitos and Praxiteles created their works based on proportions that were numerical based systems  with an emphasis on symmetry. Beauty had been conceptualized as a mathematical quantity.

The female form has been depicted as soft in most Western artworks. The female bodybuilder presents another model of the female body not seen in a iconographical context.  

This was the harbinger to antropometry  and pseudoscientific biological racism. There was some contribution to credible fields such as physical anthropology. The idea of muscular man and soft curvy woman was a product of ancient Greek art and was sustained by pseudoscience of the 19th and 20th century. Women and men have various body types so the idea of “natural bodies” had no scientific basis. Crainometry, phrenology, physiognomy, and comparative anatomy believed that physical characteristics could describe the character, behavior, and intellect of a person. Unproven claims by pseudoscience were used to enforce much held prejudices about race, class, and gender. This would have devastating consequences during World War II when countries like Nazi Germany used eugenics to justify mass murder. Relevant to the discussion of women’s bodies it was believed that their main purpose in life was to produce babies. Other theories suggested that women were just too frail for physical activity. When strong women showed this was not truth they cast as anomalies. People would rather cling to mendacious beliefs rather than accept people who are different. Some theories were so bizarre, even for the eugenicists themselves William Sheldon began a system of body classification that equated body type to personality.

The three somatotypes as described by William Sheldon. Mesomorph, ectomorph, and endomorph are still terms used today in fitness terminology. 

The terms ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph were developed from his theories. Being a psychologist it it was obvious that there is not correlation between body type and personality. What his ideas and theories were suggesting that the mesomorphic body was a superior type and such individuals would run the world. This thinking has racist overtones similar to Hitler’s concept of a master race. His book The Atlas of Men (1954)   featured anthropometrical measurements of men proclaiming what were the superior body measurements. There was to be another book that would have been called The Atlas of Women , but Sheldon never finished it. Although his theories were not credible he got significant funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and his ideas were adopted by physical education departments in the US.  Barbara Honeyman Heath an assistant to Sheldon was gathering data and photographs for The Atlas of Women. She would work with numerous physical education departments who wanted to see women improve posture ,health,  and fitness. Heath came to the conclusion that these methods and ideas were fraudulent then repudiated Sheldon. She would later work with Margaret Mead using the somatotype system while studying the peoples of Papua New Guinea. This tale of junk science and prejudice reveals how perceptions of women’s bodies are based on distortions. The “natural bodies” were based on ideals that were not grounded in reality. When this was applied to health and beauty it was to the detriment of women.

            Beauty during this period of eugenics became associated with health. These two concepts are not related, but became linked together. Beauty can have various means or paradigms depending on who is asked to describe it. It varies among cultures, individuals, and societies. One can be healthy and not meet the societal standards of beauty. What the muscular woman does is define a new form of beauty. The problem with Vertinsky’s essay in the second portion is that it uses Naomi Wolf’s theory of the beauty myth. This has numerous flaws. The text states “Wolf attributed the rise of photography an important historical role in disseminating models of idealized femininity and beauty where the female body was expected to look dramatically different from that of a man.” Photography was not responsible for women’s poor image. It was the product of a society that valued women only as reproductive units or instruments for sex. The images of female beauty being weighed cruelly on women can be debatable as well. Unlike arranged marriage, employment discrimination, or lack of access to education no one is forcing women to focus on their appearance. Women buy and sell make-up, hair care products, and are more focused on fashion.

Women profit off of other women having insecurities about their bodies, yet feminists never acknowledge this. Men they state are the ones who promote the beauty myth. The problem is that Wolf’s analysis and claims ignore the fact women have a choice in the contemporary period; the woman of the Victorian Age did not have such a luxury. The issue also revolves around the fact many women have low self-esteem, which leads them down a path of body obsession. This makes women and girls with such issues of self perception more vulnerable to certain images propagated through various types of media. Victorian Age women were more restricted in most areas of life. Areas such as medicine, fashion, and beauty ideals were used to justify women’s subordination to men. The corset was an example of this subordination. This type of clothing was designed to squeeze a woman’s waist to make it appear smaller. Like most clothing for women during this time period it was designed to restrict movement. It was believed that women should not overexert themselves. Physicians were convinced that physical weakness was a woman’s natural state.   There was another camp that emerged in this debate about the female body. Women should at least have some health conditioning for childbirth. Women involved in some form of physical activity would not harm the as some health reformers ensured. Catherine  Beecher was one of the early advocates for women getting exercise. This was not for the purpose of appearance, rather a eugenic purpose in mind. The major shift came when women wanted their physical exercise to become more than just for the basis of appearance.

        As Victorian prudishness disappeared women began to become more in touch with their independence. During the late 19th century cycling became a popular pastime for women. The beauty concept developed the notion that women needed exercise for their beauty. Body ideals began to fluctuate. The Gibson girl was the voluptuous type. When the 20th century arrived the flapper depicted a thinner female body. The rise of film and popular entertainment venues presented the public with new images of the female body. The muscular woman actually did have a venue in popular entertainment.

 From Corsets to bicep curls, it seems women have gone through a political, social, and physical transformation. 

Circuses, music halls, and vaudeville was a popular form of entertainment during the late 19th to early 20th century. Strongwomen performed in these venues. There were instances in which strongwomen gathered a following. Charmion was a trapeze artist who was filmed in Thomas Edison’s short film “Trapeze Disrobing Act .” The 1901 short film demonstrated that men were getting interested in the a strong female physique. Women were performing strength feats just like the men. This was the period in which modern bodybuilding was being developed. Eugen Sandow and Bernarr Macfadden were pioneers in physical culture and modern bodybuilding.  To them the built physique had to be displayed on a stage. However, the new physical culture movement did receive backlash from medical professionals and physical educators. They though developing muscles to a high degree would reduce body efficiency and pose a health risk. This was not true and advocates of physical culture challenged such claims. Macfadden was revolutionary in the sense he advocated exercise and strength for women. He once stated that “there can be no beauty without muscles.”  Physical Culture magazine was read by both men and women. The magazine would reach sales of  over a million copies by 1955. There was another shift in the body ideal for women. The new woman was athletically active. Charlotte Perkins Gilman feminist, novelist,  and sociologist advocated that women have full control of the bodies, which included developing themselves physically. Her 1915 novel  Herland  emphasized this idea through a book in which women lived independently, were self-sufficient, and were active physically. This was a work of utopian feminist fiction in which men did not exist and the characters resembled the amazons of ancient Greek myth.

The fitness culture has a long history. One of the ways ideas were spread were through magazines and this continues to some degree today. Internet publications are now overtaking traditional print media. 

William  Blaikie produced a popular book called How To Get Strong and How to Stay So. This work of physical education was advocating that women and girls train to build strength so they can maintain good health. It seems some were not seeing a conflict in relation to muscularity and the female body. Vertinsky then explains that during the interwar years some still saw the contradiction between a strong body and femininity. The press was harsh in particular in the criticism of women. Much of it was either sexist or homophobic. While the author does not focus on the fact that non-white female athletes had to deal with both racism and sexism. African American women athletes were normally ignored by the mainstream American press. The text should have mentioned this more in a wider context, because it only focuses on the experiences of mostly white or European women. This limits the scholarship. Women were by the 1930s becoming more vsible in the sports world, yet there were objections to them. Most were based on their appearance. Athletes such as Babe Didrikson  were described as “muscle molls”  meaning they were manly or unfeminine. Women’s strength is often condemned when it is not needed, but in times of peril it becomes a necessity. During World War II women had to take the jobs of men fighting overseas, which required manual labor. Women had to be strong so that the war effort was successful.

After the war, there was a sharp turn in conservatism in terms of women’s roles. Women were expected to return to the domestic sphere. This was happening when Pudgy Stockton was making a larger impact on women’s fitness, which would not be realized until later in the century.   She popularized the idea that women could lift weights and still remain feminine. The odd contrast was that the ideal of beauty was shifting back to a slimmer body type. Vertinsky  cites the rise of the fashion industry, weight loss industry, and even toys like Barbie as a reason for the shift back. It could also metaphorically symbolize some men’s desire to control women and maintain the status quo. Stockton and the women who were inspired by her began to find an alternative. Lisa Lyon would be inspired to build her body and she would later become one of female bodybuilding’s first pioneers. This came from looking at photographs of Stockton.

The essay does do a great job of explaining how body image conformity was and continues to used against women. Yet, incorporating the beauty myth concept into such an argument  makes it lack credibility. Niomi Wolf’s theories and ideas have either been contradictory or at worst not entirely accurate. There is a tendency for feminism to cast all men as oppressors; this seems strongest in modern day third wave feminist rhetoric in academic analysis. The reality is that no one is forcing women to submit to body image pressure like women are forced into marriage or particular economic sectors. Feminism is often uncertain or contradictory on the analysis of the female athlete or muscular woman. It shifts between praise or scorn. Sometimes it takes an extreme route of the notion that women should just enter areas for the sake of  being antagonistic to men. These ideological conflicts can not be solved with a simple answer. The essay does provides a lucid explanation in regards to the connection between sexism, eugenics, health, and beauty. Yet, the small amount of feminist rhetoric weakens that strength of an otherwise rational argument. The  Patrica Vertinsky’s analysis provides also an clear synopsis of the history  in terms of were the muscular woman fits in a wider historical context.

      The rest of the monograph proceeds to show primary source material starting in a chronological manner. The muscular women of the past had more of a struggle supporting themselves with their athletic talents alone. Some professional women made a living being street performers. Strongmen did not have it better and would often work with strongwomen to increase audience attraction. Such performance acts could be seen in carnivals, fairs, and theater houses. Although the strong woman acts are considered to be a development of the 1800s, it is possible that it began earlier. The book in the first chapter shows five engravings from 1783 that depict women performing strength feats. They show women from Leipzig, Germany doing strength feat acts with anvils and horses. There is a possibility that these act were done by means of chicanery or the product of someone’s imagination.  These women could have been real people, but is clear that the strength feats are exaggerated. Strongwomen predate the rise of physical culture and heath fitness fadism in the 19th century. They benefited from this phenomenon. While health professionals were just beginning to embrace lifting exercises, strongwomen were doing this for a century. From the visual materials that remain, their are names of the foremothers of iron. The earliest documented name is that of Elsie Luftmann. She was known to do cannonball juggling acts and lift large weights. Luftmann toured mostly in central Europe.

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There could have been more strongwomen active, but Elsie Serafin Luftman  is the only name so far remembered from that era in the early 19th century. This illustration is dated at 1830.

Although it seems that this was the activity of mostly European and American women, women of other ethnic groups were involved. Miss Lala  was a African Polish strongwoman born in 1858. She was also an acrobat, trapeze artist, and did other stunts . She became are very popular strongwoman in Germany, France, and much of Europe. This was not unusual. There had been an African presence in Europe for quite sometime. Her real name Anna Olga Brown and she was active through the 1870s to 1890s. Little is known about the rest of her life.  What is remembered is that she would perform iron jaw acts. Allegedly she would hold a cannon with her teeth as a strength feat. This may be another trick that circus acts would do. However, the other acts she would do were genuine.

strong woman
Miss Lala was so popular that she was the subject of the painting “Miss La La At The Cirque Fernando”  by Edward Degas in 1879.

 The era was known for producing many posters and visuals advertising strongwomen. The graphic art is a delight to look at for a reader. Graphic design is often under appreciated, but has a major impact on culture and visual arts. The most important element in terms of history is that it leaves primary source material.

 Changes and transformations can be documented. This allows scholars to see possible patterns in ideas or commonly held perspectives. Women staring in the 1830s began as strongwomen and by the 19th century were becoming professionals in this profession. They were doing this in an atmosphere that was hostile to women’s advancement or freedom. The reason women may have had more room to navigate this field was because it did not prove to be a threat to the social and political order. As long as this was just simple entertainment with no definite statements on sex politics, there were no repercussions for women involved. While strength and brawn were essential to their acts women were still constrained by social mores about gender roles. Even successful strongwomen like Athleta would do the most to cover up their bodies. The reason was not to be a threat to male members of the audience . Another reason was that it would have been considered inappropriate at the time for women to expose or display their bodies in a particular manner. Some women were willing to challenge  that. Frances Rheinlander  who was know as Athelda was known to do poses that are common on bodybuilding stages today.

Women also had trepidation about displaying such musculature. The fear of looking masculine or violating gender norms was a challenge.  Then came another paradigm shift. Strength was no longer seen as harming a women’s feminine qualities. Strongwomen themselves began to present an image of strong and beautiful woman. Louise Leers, Kate Roberts, and Katie Sandwina ushered in a golden age of strongwoman performance. This as between the 1890s to early 20th century. Audiences were amused and fascinated with women who could lift object twice their own weight.

 There were interruptions that occurred that brought the golden age of strongwomen acts to a period of hiatus. World War I devastated the world order. The world came back to a sense of normalcy to a degree, but by 1929 the Great Depression hit. The 1920s did still have strongwomen performing yet that period of  prosperity did not last. Muscular women obviously existed prior to the 1800s. The text merely shows that they were not documented until that century. The monograph also clarifies that not every muscular woman was  a circus performer or professional strongwoman.

    The following chapter “pumping wood” reveals a fascinating change in terms of women and fitness. Regular women and female athletes wanted to build muscular strength for the purpose of just staying in shape. Early women’s physical culture literature discouraged exercise, due to the concept of the frailty myth. There was the mainstream conviction that women just did not have the physical constitution for strenuous exercise. A consensus was later reach that women needed at least some form of physical activity for their health. Calisthenics and working out with wooden dumbells was advised. Regular women’s motivation for working out was different from that of the athlete or professional strongwoman. The goal was not to build a strong physique, rather maintain health. Many health conditions at the time that were plaguing women were related to the corset. These tight garments could dislodge organs and pinch the lungs.

Just like today every woman who goes to the gym does not have the same fitness goals in mind. 

The chapter contains illustrations from newspaper articles showing women how to do proper exercises from Harper’s Weekly . Women would eventually discard their corsets so that they could have more free movement during an exercise session. Women could join exercise clubs, but this was extremely rare. Women interest in exercise and physical culture did spark a backlash. Even though women were few in number in physical culture, social conservatives and sexists condemn women’s participation. The muscular woman was made into an object of ridicule and contempt. The text has printed a series of valentines cards which mock female athletes from 1900. These were known as vinegar valentines and normally ostracized groups of people the producers found unappealing. Postcards would also ostracize athletic women and women who decided to engage in physical culture.

sexist postcard
This postcard dated  1905 states that women should not waste time on exercise. Postcards and valentines normally depicted the female athlete as vain, ignorant, or egotistical.
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This is a booklet from 1900 produced by Lydia Pinkham Company . It features a woman doing a double biceps pose. The Pinkham Company booklet is a demonstration of positive depictions of the female athlete at the time.

Chapman explains that many times men did not know what to make of the muscular female. One method to deal with such a different concept of womanhood was to insult and shun a woman who did not meet societal gender expectations. All the depictions were not negative. Magazines as this chapter demonstrates sometimes had women on the cover. Fitness, exercise, and sport were at onetime considered male only activities. Women gradually entered the world of fitness culture. Women during this period also used Indian clubs and took up cycling. There was a new woman emerging that was more independent and was no longer willing to be regulated to the domestic sphere. As women were demanding voting rights on both sides of the Atlantic men were becoming threatened. This explains the exaggerated reactions to women engaging in sports and physical culture. There are complaints today that female athletes and fitness personalities do not get enough coverage, but during this period of 1900 to 1914, it was rare that women were present on magazine covers. Sometimes there were cases they were visible regardless of public reaction. Booklets also appeared giving advice on women’s health. Women who were seeking heath improvement rather than athleticism or physical development. The following chapter notes several paradigms that emerged.

       The chapter ” Pursuing The Healthy Life” demonstrates how rapidly body ideals changed. The hourglass figure went out of vogue in favor of the s shape. The Roaring Twenties saw  the rise of a woman with more independence. This was not equally distributed among the various classes and ethnic groups of America. Women did obtain the vote, but African American, Native American, and Asian Americans still had to struggle for equal voting rights. Women who were of the upper class had more time for leisure and sport. The fitness world at this time was developing a space for women. Health and beauty clubs would emerge in the US. The taboo about women in exercise had been lifted. There were some problems in this new paradigm. Mass media and popular culture of the era encourage exercise  for women for the sole purpose of making them look attractive to a particular standard. There were multiple models of the female body presented. There was the tomboyish flapper, the traditional lithe woman, and the female athlete. Although female athletes  of the interwar period  were training just for there sport, they did develop impressive strength. Alice Marble and  Babe Dickerson Zaharias were making women’s sports notable to the public, with their magnificent performances.

The public was at least to an extent getting used to the idea women could play sports or be involved in fitness culture. Advocates such as Mary Bagot Stack established the Women’s League of Health and Beauty in 1930 to encourage women to be physically active. This was one example of many clubs that emerged in both Britain and the US. Women there would practice gymnastics, dance, and calisthenics. The reason such organizations did not generate condemnation was they stayed in line with traditional gender roles. Women were not seeking to be athletes or build their muscles. Lifting weights was not part of the exercise regimen. There were women still around in the 1930s will to display a female body with muscular development. Ivy Russell was a weightlifter and wrestler who developed an impressive physique. She was born in the British Empire and many historians of  bodybuilding consider her to be the first woman to create such a physique. This can be disputed, because there may have been others yet she was probably    the first to enjoy displaying such muscular strength.

The muscular woman and the female athlete in general got limited exposure. Ivy Russell was willing to flex her muscles during a period when that was inappropriate for women. Many photographs of muscular women from the 1800s to mid-20th century show them not flexing their muscles to prevent challenging gender role boundaries.Even women with significant development were discouraged from doing so. This does not cause issues when women athletes flex today. Russell was a foreshadowing of what was to come by the late 20th century.

 There seems to be a cycle of advancement and backlash. There was some room for negotiation  to an extent in society. Women began taking advice from other women rather than the majority male medical professionals, who had limited understanding of women’s bodies. There was a fitness culture developing, but it put emphasis on machines that in the contemporary period would seem ludicrous. Weight reduction machines were popular forms of exercise equipment and the shake weights of their day. Vibration belt machines were common in gyms promising users they could lose huge amounts of weight.

contraption9
Women using vibrating belt machines in the 1920s.

The rise of modern consumer culture also produced fitness fads. As women had more free time , it was only natural that it was occupied with such leisure activities. Some fitness fads even evolved into movements. The Life Reform Movement which developed in Switzerland and Germany advocated humankind’s return to nature by embracing healthy living, fitness, a return to nature, and an embrace of sexual liberation including nudism. This movement was more of a reaction to a rapidly industrialized and technological world as well as the rejection of the traditional conservatism of Europe. This movement spread throughout Europe and embrace outdoor physical activity.  It was at its height between the 1920s and 1930s. It was prohibited in Germany when the Nazis came to power.  There was one element that remained in the totalitarian state: the embrace of physical activity and naturism. The Nazis believed good health would make the nation stronger and produce better Aryans. Nazis and the Fascists did not encourage physical  exercise for women’s sake, but rather to make them fit mothers who would produce future soldiers. Italy was more more advance in this project, because there had been a long history of women being involved in exercise there.

Propaganda
This magazine from Fascist Italy was encouraging women to exercise so that they could be better mothers. The totalitarian fascist governments wanted large populations that so that they could build large armies.

The coming of global conflict in 1939 brought about social and political changes. Women were just like in World War I asked to contribute to the war effort by working while the men went off to battle. There was also a pop culture transformation as well. The idea of  physical strong women appeared in comic books such as Wonder Woman and Sheena. When fascism was defeated women were forced from their jobs in factories. The 1950s gave way to more social and political conservatism.

          There were a number of strongwomen and athletes becoming notable during the wartime era. Dorcas Lehman, Relna Brewer, and Pudgy Stockton.The 1940s was a time in which even women who played other sports were popular. The All American Girls Professional Ball League became popular with the public. With males being drafted and fighting in the war, many teams were losing their star athletes. Owners formed this baseball team with women and it filled stadiums. Women’s professional baseball existed from 1943 to 1954 in America. Sadly, it ended for women when men came home and owners no longer promoted it. Attendance dropped and this meant the end of women in professional baseball.  Some women were actively trying to make sports, fitness, and weightlifting appeal to women. Siegmund Klein a major figure in fitness at the time was opposed to women using his gym. The famous strongman and bodybuilder was convinced that athleticism was a male only affair. He was soon changed his position when he realized women could be great customers to his gym establishment in New York. Some men were getting used to the idea women could be strong.

Stockton
Pudgy Stockton poses with  her husband Les Stockton.  These two athletes were known to do various strength feats on Muscle Beach in California.

 The monograph does  provide a great explanation why Stockton was important. She participated in the first women’s weightlifting meet in 1947. It was held in Los Angeles and had various weight classes. This was a significant step in the history  of female physical strength. Stockton also became an advocate for women writing in Strength and Health  promoting the idea women could lift and still be feminine. The texts also mentions women’s professional wrestling was emerging in the mid-1940s to early 1950s. The book contains a photograph of Mildred Burke and the Fabulous Moolah who were the harbingers of women’s professional wrestling. While there was some progress for women in fitness and sports culture, after the war there was a return to traditional gender roles.

The 1950s saw a return to tradition. All of a sudden women being strong and flexing their muscles was no longer considered acceptable once more. Venus With Biceps describes the period between 1950 to the mid-1970s as a time in which muscular women disappeared. They literally did not vanish, but their mainstream exposure was gone. This also could be seen in the fitness culture in which magazine merely put women on the cover not for their athletic feats, rather a decoration. This was a major reversal in terms of women’s progress in a male dominated arena. Gone were the days of  strongwomen having mainstream platforms. This would be temporary, because another change would happen in the form of second wave feminism.

strongwoman

There have been muscular women as long as there have been strong men. During this period of limited exposure photographers would seek out trapeze artists, acrobats, and  aerialists during the 1940s and 1950s to document female muscle. Although these women had athletic potential they had no outlet or platform to display it. Two decades would have to pass until the most radical stage of this transformation would come.

         The last two chapters explain the shift to just mere figure improvement to the development of muscular strength. This process would result in the creation of modern day female bodybuilding. Muscular women had been excluded from magazines, gymnasiums, and other public venues  during the nadir period of the mid-20th century. The problem with Venus With Biceps is that it misses on crucial point in this historical discourse. Title IX was pivotal in the increase of women in athletics. That legislation gave many girls the opportunity to play sports and go on to be champions in both national and international competition. Many female bodybuilders of today got their start in other sports before coming on stage. This is a vital link that binds the fitness culture to the sports world. Lifting weights was once thought to harm athletic performance. When this was proven false athletes from various sports began weight training and seeing their performance improve. During the 1950s the only way women could get close to bodybuilding culture was to be in a beauty pageant. It was common at the time to have beauty attached to them. Men objected to this they did not want to be seen as male counterparts to beauty queens. The feminist revolution of the 1960s and 1970s did give women more freedom in terms of employment, education, and reproductive rights. Sports was a low priority compared to more pressing issues. All this political and cultural change was happening during a period when women were entering the sports world en mass. The first female bodybuilding competition would be held in 1977 under the auspice of Henry McGhee. This was not a beauty pageant; women were judged on their muscular development. Following this  Doris Barrilleaux began running contests of her own.  Female muscularity would be pushed to new heights with the arrival of various contests.

Rachel Mclish would go on to become the first Ms.Olympia in 1980. The last photograph is of her in the book. The way it is organized and written readers can see how over the past two centuries women’s athletic physicality developed. The general public who were exposed to this may have thought this was a new phenomenon. Those with a knowledge of the historical background would understand it is a much longer tradition. The difference in the late 20th century was that women were pushing their bodies to the physical maximum. The strongwomen of the past were not making muscular development their goal. The women of the late 20th to 21st century involved in fitness were seeking their highest level of development. The author notes as more contests opened the more muscular women became and the more they appeared.

There was an evolution in the female physique on stage with women becoming more muscular than people thought was possible. Lisa Lyon although she only competed one time was a contributor to the early version of female bodybuilding. She won the World’s Women Bodybuilding Championship in 1979. Like Pudgy Stockton she was prompting the idea of women’s bodybuilding and weightlifting to women. She was inspired by Stockton. The monograph mentions the early pioneers, but is curious it does not mention the later champions like Cory Everson, Lenda Murray, or Iris Kyle. It makes it seem as if the evolution stopped at 1980. While readers would obviously know that there are muscular women in existence and are active in sports new comers may be confused.

       This journey into female strength and muscularity is not over. The author states that the female body was altered to a higher degree with performance enhancing drugs. Drugs have been a part of sports for a longtime, but that is not the only contributor to the new physique presented. Women became serious about training and more competitive as competitions grew. There was another shift in consciousness. It was acceptable for women to have a certain level of  fitness or even tone, just as long as it was not “too much.”  Such descriptions of what is excessive are relative and opinion based. It can be disputed that the claim as Chapman articulates ” unfortunately, the introduction of drugs has meant that once again, many people regard female bodybuilders as freaks.” Prior to the existence of performance enhancing drugs this attitude was present as the earlier chapters of the book demonstrate. This is not based on drug use or the side effects, but on sexist prejudice and a narrow definition of what a woman should be. The reason people have not gotten used to the idea of a muscular woman is that society hates women with power. The oppressive structures can be removed, yet the hateful attitudes still remain within a society.

There has been a distortion about women’s bodies. The difference now is that they are beginning to reject to particular societal beauty standards. There is an irony that the monograph articulates. It has been close to 200 years of the public appearance of the female muscular form and people still cling to the idea it is not proper.  Although Venus With Biceps does not discuss other developments much has happened since its 2010 release. The last Ms.Olympia was held in 2014. This was a major blow to female bodybuilding, but it was brief. The Rising Phoenix Competition became a replacement when the IFBB terminated the Ms.Olympia. This does not resemble the nadir period of the 1950s to 1970s. More women are competing in physique sports such as figure, fitness, physique, and bikini. The female bodybuilding category although struggling has not phased out completely. Former athletes such as Lenda Murray continue to promote and hold contests for athletes.

The women continue to survive in the bodybuilding culture despite various obstacles. The biggest change has been aided by technology. Women who are fit, but do not compete are active on social media and are seen by millions of internet users across the globe. Compared to the past two centuries, it is easier to find material related to or focusing on muscular women. There are women who are active in professional sports to a larger degree compared to the 19th and 20th century. Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women is a great documentation in regards to a rarely studied element of women’s sports history.   This primary source material is perfect for anyone doing research or wanting to learn more. The monograph’s analysis related to particular subjects can be debated. Not mentioning Title IX seems to be a flaw in the book’s historical discourse. These minor imperfections do not effect the overall presentation. These photographs, advertisements, and visual art show that the muscular female did exist and was part of the pop culture consciousness. Although the same negative attitudes remain, many now see there is no contradiction between strength and femininity. It may take another 200 years for the majority to accept such an idea. The wonderful part about the contemporary period is that there are more strong and muscular women compared to the past.   Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women is a must have book for fans of history, female muscle, and sports. It is unknown what this evolution in women’s physique will become, but there is past documentation that its has been occurring for some time.

Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women

The Sociological Factors That Effect Women’s Athletic Performance

It is obvious that there are reasons for differences in athletic performance between the sexes. The first one is biological. Sexual dimorphism does have an effect on athletic performance.  There are some sports physiologists who claim this is the sole reason for the difference in performance. The problem is that this ignores sociological factors that could effect women. There are many issues that the male athlete will never have to confront. The challenge of gender bias and concepts of femininity still hound women in this profession. Access to equal training and talent development is limited. At an early age women are not taught to be physically skillful. Economic factors also play a role in how much time women can devote to sport. There have been instances in which women have been banned from a particular sport when they upset the gender norm order. It has only been recently that women have been allowed to compete on a professional level. The fact is performance has both biological and sociological factors working in conjunction. Biological determinism fails to realize this and reduces everything solely to the genes. The other end of the spectrum focuses on environment. It is not one or the other, but both. Examining the sociological factors reveals legacies of discrimination and lack of opportunity. While these challenges have been addressed, they are still present and effect women’s athletic performance.  Sociological factors cannot be ignored, even though they are not immediately detectable.

      Body image has at some point effected women’s lives. The ideal  standard of  beauty is obsessive over the image of  thin body type. Even female athletes are not immune from this social and cultural pressure. Fear of violating the dated gender norm hinders women’s chances for improved performance. The trepidation of getting too muscular holds women back. Femininity has been defined in terms of delicateness or frailty. Muscle, strength, power, and skill were traditionally thought to be male only. This is not true, but when women display this they are criticized as being masculine or unfeminine. Skill and a level of aggression is necessary in sport, yet these attributes are praised in men. Women are forced to sometimes walk a tight rope in terms of body image, even though they have sculpted impressive physiques. There is subtle message of being toned, but not too muscular. Women’s bodies vary in size and shape depending on the sport they play so it is strange that their remains body image conformity. This also projects itself in eating disorders, which female athletes are also susceptible to. Some female athletes will not train as hard for fear of becoming more muscular. Weight training can dramatically improve performance, but some female athletes avoid it to prevent becoming muscular. It should be understood that women come in all shapes and sizes. The athletic body is not always a muscular one. It could larger or lithe.

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The modern fitness industry does not help with improving body image. Most marketing is directed at weight loss and diets. It does not emphasize other workout routines in a serious manner in men’s magazines. There is an emphasis on tone for women and building strength for men. There has been a shift which has emerged from a movement against body shaming. Yet, this movement seems to be solely focused on women who are “curvy.” There is also a movement in the fitness community that believes “strong is the new skinny.” The problem with these movements is that they could just be swapping another body image conformity standard with another. The only solution to this is for women themselves to define what version of beauty is acceptable, rather than having it dictated to them. Body image seems to be a tool in which women are controlled. Female athletes violate this standard, by offering an alternative. It becomes a threat, because it challenges the old convictions about women’s roles and false notions of biological inferiority.

There are men who see a strong woman as a threat or an aberration. This to a great extent is influenced by mass media representations that people are exposed to during childhood and adulthood. If one image is presented as how all women should be, this creates a level of prejudice against people who do not fit such a paradigm.  Women who are very muscular have to deal with negative  commentary form the public and the media. Serena Williams has been attacked unjustly about her body built form hours on the tennis court. Female bodybuilders are also attacked and ostracized for large musculature. They have the largest musculature of all causing trepidation in some.  Such behavior shows that body shaming is a bullying tactic to isolate women who do not submit to the cultural body ideals.  Body image goes beyond just having a preference is is linked to sexist attitudes.

 Women in sports and their supporters believe that there is no contradiction between women’s muscular strength and femininity. There is not a contradiction, but it demonstrates who limited a woman can be defined in a sociological context. Body image pressure continues to be a persistent problem that could harm women’s athletic performance. Competition is just not a physical task, but a mental one. Stress and an uninviting atmosphere can cause issues. Men do not have to deal with such body image pressure in the sports world.

        Barriers exist for women in terms of sexist discrimination and misogyny. When one views sporting events, one question that comes up is why are there not more female athletes? This relates back to socioeconomic status, cultural attitudes, and how girls are raised. There could be talented women out there would just do not have the opportunity to compete. There are nations that still view women as being merely property or just wives and mothers. There roles should not extend outside the domestic sphere. Culturally, girls are not taught physical skills like boys are. One of the bonding experiences between a father and son is  teaching is child how to throw. Rarely do fathers do this with their daughters. Rough and tumble play is not considered appropriate for girls. This has changed in some countries. The US passed Title IX, which in many ways changed the way girls and women viewed physical activity. It is not strange for a girl to show interest in or want to play a sport. There is a gap in the amount of physical skills taught to girls. Physical education may to an extent be watered down for girls. The fitness targets and exercises are lower for girls, even when the physiological changes from puberty have not occurred. That means their ate no distinct physical advantages so sex segregated physical education classes would make no sense. This indicates their is a bias, but a process of socialization into  cultural based gender norms. Women when examined in the context of the history of physical education were not expected to play games or sports in the same manner. The female model was to be less competitive and more of moderate level of activity. Women should not in this pedagogy of physical education not strain themselves or become competitive.

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A physical education class with female students from 1956 shows students listening to the teacher’s directions. Women who did have talent would have limited opportunities at this time to participate in professional sports or be a part of fitness culture.

   Girls in other countries may get the least amount of schooling, which explains some of the gender inequality globally. Obviously, not being school means they would not have physical education. Some countries have only just begun to offer it to girls. Saudi Arabia has done so as part of its Vision 2030 program. Conservative cultural convictions prevent women from becoming active participants in sports and fitness. Socioeconomic barriers also hinder both sexes. Poverty means less resources to participate in sports that require more equipment or related materials. Playing sports is a leisure activity, which is out of reach for the working poor. This doe not mean a person can not work their way to competitive ranks, but it shows how class has a major impact on life even in a society in which social mobility can be attainable. Women have been a part of sports since the ancient world. Women athletes have been documented in Ancient Greek civilization and indications of female participation in Ancient Egyptian civilization.

 Women faced the same type of prejudiced attitudes and sometimes to an even larger extreme. Women were banned from watching the Olympic games and could be executed if they attempted to do so in ancient Greece. Even if women were athletes, there has been a long tradition of  prohibiting or excluding women from sport. To say that the female athlete is an anomaly or a new phenomenon is incorrect. The peculiar dynamic is why sex discrimination has persisted for so long. While the numbers of women in sports are still lower compared to men, there has been a dramatic increase in total of women athletes. Sex discrimination exposes itself in a number of ways through unequal pay or limited media coverage. Another problem is just not having a venue or platform to compete. There are no professional  leagues for women’s baseball or limited opportunities for women’s tackle football. There are some sports that remain limited for women. because the opportunity is not there.

Women have never  been welcomed in sport and there is a culture of misogyny. To a more closed minded individual sports should be male only and women athletes are by nature “abnormal.”  Women who perform at high levels are either accused of being mannish or having their sexuality questioned. This mix of homophobia and hetero sexism discourages women from being active in sport. The culture of exclusion  is designed to alienate people of different sexual orientations, races, or religions. This type of  exclusion does not only seek alienate, but erase history. It is common in sports historiography and entertainment to ignore non-white peoples. When discussing sports history the discourse mainly focuses on a Western narrative excluding other areas of the globe. China during the Ming dynasty had women as players in Cuju. The Nuba peoples of Sudan have a long tradition of wrestling dating back to the ancient world.

 There have been women athletes all over the world. It is just now they have more venues to compete both at the amateur and professional level. There is a reason why women’s numbers are lower in sports and it is not always unintentional. Women traditionally were expected to give up personal ambitions for the sake of motherhood and marriage. Women had to present themselves as being lady like in the context of a conservative culture. This meant being passive, demure, and responding to male demands. Sports involve a level of confidence and assertiveness that at one time was seen as male only. This has changed over the years as more women challenge ridged gender roles. Sexism extends to a homophobia as well. Women who play sports well are often have their sexuality attacked. They are accused of being lesbians or masculine, because the wider culture has narrow definitions of what men and women can be. Simultaneously people of different sexual orientations are excluded and ostracized. Racism also intersects with exclusionary behavior. Normally white is considered the default presentation in media of the athlete. It ignore the fact that different races and women are part of the sports world. Black, Asian, and South American women have to deal with not only the burden of sexism, but race prejudice. White women do not have to deal with such a challenge. There are social as well as cultural barriers, but there are also institutional challenges.

           Sex verification tests are an example of  institutional barriers harming women’s athletic performance. These tests are given to women and not men which demonstrates a double standard. Slowly they have been eliminated, however they have remained in the form of testing testosterone levels. Women who are deemed to have “too much” testosterone in their system are expected to take hormone therapy to reach what is considered an acceptable level. There is a problem with this. The first is that if a woman’s natural level just happens to be high that just an advantage unique to her physiology. The other possibility is that the athlete in question is either using a performance enhancing substance, which can be tested for. The other case relates to a condition known as hyperandronism in which high levels of testosterone are produced in the body. This condition is rare occurring in about at least 5% to 10% of women. The regulation in regards to unique physiology demonstrates the  IAAF  is uncomfortable with women competing in sports. It was not until 1992 that the IAAF ended sex testing. Sex verification tests have for most of their existence been unscientific. They do not account for genetic variation among women and fail to understand the nature of intersex people. The IOC and IAAF  claim sex testing is done to protect women form men posing as women in contests. To date their has been few men captured posing as a woman in the Olympics.  The only case of this was Dora Ratjen  in the 1936 Olympics.  Dora was actually a man in disguise hoping that he could win more medals for Nazi Germany. Sex verification became more prevalent when women got more involved in sports. International athletics officials standardized gender testing by having athletes present themselves in nude parades. Female athletes would be examine by doctors (specifically their genitalia)  for male organs. This was a violation of privacy and then another test was created that examined chromosomes. This also created complications because human genetics and sex are more complicated than thought. The ruling on testosterone levels is another means of policing gender in sports. A natural physical advantage should not exclude women from sport. The argument is about fairness, however women with such advantage are discouraged form competing. Caster Semneya and Dutee Chand were either forced to take sex verification tests or be banned from competition.

 After legal action, both athletes were able to return to competition. They have talent and a natural advantage, so there is no reason to exclude them based on endocrinology. Detractors claim that they are not “real” women and if they compete it is unfair to other athletes. If it were true that their bodies were more male like, then their performances would match that of male track athletes. They do not seeing as they still have women’s physiques in the structural and physiological sense. Wider pelvises, smaller hearts, and lungs means that their performances would not match a male track athlete. This exposes the problem with sex verification tests. Gender is a social construction and used in this context sex verification is in a pseudoscientific manner is defining what a proper woman should be. Biological sex is the product of millions of years of human evolution with genes interacting with the environment by means of natural and sex selection. The genetics of women can vary. The only purpose of sex verification is to create an uncomfortable atmosphere for women and humiliate them. It is impossible to ban women from sport, but there are mechanisms at the institutional level to stop progress.Sex verification tests are a symbol of that problem.

        One challenge involves the science of exercise physiology. The problem is that most studies focus on male athletes, yet there are few done on female athletes as a whole. When women want to train seriously for a sport, they have limited information. Methods and techniques are still debated. Women are obviously physiologically different from men and in some case may have to have a training regimen adjusted to meet there physical fitness targets. It may still be more to discover about women’s full physical capabilities. There are few women in the exercise sciences and kinesiology , which exacerbates the the issue of lack of information. Sports medicine is slow to catch up in the study of effective training for female athletes. There has to be consideration in terms of endocrinology, the musculoskeletal structure, and metabolism. These vary between men and women including between an individual’s unique physiology. Studies have shown that carbohydrate loading may not have the same effect on women as it does on men. According to a study conducted by the University of Massey at the Institute of Food, Nutrition, and Human Health women utilize only half of the carbohydrates in their muscles. The experiment was examining recovery after exercise having subjects engage in cycling. The results were different for men and women, but this was only one study produced in 2010. There needs to be more done with female athletes, rather than using males as the default for exercise science investigation. Doing so can help discard incorrect myths about women’s performance during menstruation, physical capability, and biomechanics.

       Access to training facilities is also critical to performance. Gyms or tracks are beneficial to an athlete trying to maintain fitness and improve performance. Women were for a long time denied access to particular fitness facilities. The reason the Soviet Union’s women athletes  were outperforming the US in 1956 was  because they provided them with training facilities. The only schools at the university level that did that in America was the Historically black colleges such as Howard University and Hampton University. It was not until Title IX did women in the US get access to gyms and training space. Normally when women entered these spaces they were faced wit intimidation and common sexist prejudice. This is also tied to class. Women who are in a lower socioeconomic bracket do not have the same opportunities to enjoy sports activities. A gym membership can be expensive. The cost to compete depending on what sport can be immense. The income of the female athlete is lower and many may have to have several jobs just to keep playing the sport they love. The financial struggle may cause some to quit. Access to particular facilities could be a problem coming from a country with limited resources. Nations that are unstable, war torn, or economically unstable put women in horrible situations. While biology, anatomy, and physiology demonstrate whay there is a difference in athletic performance, sociological factors are also important. Barriers and discrimination or conservative cultural attitudes still hold women back in sports. Once these issues are challenged, women can truly excel.

 

References

 Reynolds, Gretchen. “Phys Ed: What Exercise Science Doesn’t Know About Women.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 June 2010, well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/30/phys-ed-what-exercise-science-doesnt-know-about-women/.

Markula, Pirkko. “Is There Feminine Muscularity?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 29 Mar. 2017, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fit-femininity/201703/is-there-feminine-muscularity.

Markula, Pirkko. “Muscle Tone Is Sexy, But You Don’t Want To Look Too Buff.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 12 Nov. 2016, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fit-femininity/201611/muscle-tone-is-sexy-you-don-t-want-look-too-buff.

Padawer, Ruth. “The Humiliating Practice of Sex-Testing Female Athletes.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 June 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/magazine/the-humiliating-practice-of-sex-testing-female-athletes.html.

East, Susie. “Should a Woman’s Testosterone Level Matter in Sports?” CNN, Cable News Network, 12 Aug. 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/12/health/testosterone-and-hyperandrogenism-in-female-athletes/index.html.

The Sociological Factors That Effect Women’s Athletic Performance

Girls’ Participation in Physical Education Why Girls are Disengaged in P.E & School Sport

It is no secret that girls do disengage in P.E. and they are gender based reasons. At this age women are starting to develop issues with their bodies. Girls may not be engaged for reasons of peer pressure and gender role stereotypes. This could have implications on women’s health in the future. If girls have a negative view of physical activity in youth, health habits may not be conducted in adulthood. Health risks such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and diabetes could be problems later in life. To avoid these some level of moderate exercise should be done. There also is the issue about femininity and physical activity that still remains dated. Physical skill and prowess continues to not be viewed as feminine, but gradually these attitudes are changing. This clip from 2011 shows the Ysgol Maesteg school in the UK promoting fitness week. Their intent was to change girls’ attitudes  in regards to P.E. and hopefully participate in sport.

Girls’ Participation in Physical Education Why Girls are Disengaged in P.E & School Sport

Kate on Sports : Women and Muscle

Kate on Sports was a vlog that was active between 2006 to 2008 that was produced in association with Zennie62 and Sports Business Simulations. Kate Scott was giving her analysis on women’s sports and sports in general. These few videos are of interest, because it is so rare that women give such opinions in regards to women in sports. One particular video that she made was “women and muscle.” This was the best one of the few videos she made before she became a sportscaster for KNBR. However, it does have some problems. There are particular points that should be noted, although the overall argument is cogent. The six minute video explores topics such as body image, Title IX, and what does the new found physical strength of the female athlete mean. The camera operator poses a perspective that society is at a juncture in which sports women have muscle, but are not comfortable with it. The question then emerges what is wrong with women having muscle? The video proceeds to tackle these questions and Kate Scott provides those answers.

        There was a claim in the video without Title IX, this look would not have existed. However, anyone with knowledge of women’s sports history would know that is not entirely correct.  Muscular women existed prior to Title IX. They were either regulated to circus performers, vaudeville acts, or beach boardwalk acts. There was no competitive outlet for their skills and talents due to cultural mores as well as sex discrimination. The documented evidence of muscular women can be seen in photographs. Acrobats, circus strong women, and performers were present in the 19th and early 20th century. Katie Sandwina was known for her feats of strength involving barbells and lifting men overhead. Joan Rhodes also would follow in this tradition of the strong woman act. Out of this emerge a weightlifter culture, which is bigger today in terms of popularity. Crossfit and Olympic weightlifting would not be at the same status, if it were not for the strong women and strong men of the previous two centuries.

Another case at least in art, was how Michelangelo depicted muscular women in his art during the Italian Renaissance. There are vary rare cases in which muscular women are depicted in art history. This does not mean that women were not athletes. Artifacts and artwork discovered from ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Minoan civilization reveal that the female athlete is hardly a modern phenomenon. Women participated in footraces, wrestling, bull leaping, and javelin. The difference is the amount of opportunity women have and the access to fitness facilities.   While there were women of considerable natural strength, there were no opportunities to develop it further. The women of the past either had to struggle around sex, race, and class barriers. These are still present factors, but there is more awareness and willingness to resist such aberrations of society. To say that Title IX magically produced women athletes would be false. There is a long history record of women in sports.

 There are countries in which Title IX does not exist and yet female athletes still emerge. What Title IX did in the US was allow for more female athletes to emerge and enhance their physical skills. Tackling discrimination was the major obstacle that had to be confronted. The reality was that Title IX was not specifically for sports, but part of the Education Amendments of 1972 addressing sex disparities in education. School programs were examined and it was reveal that girls were getting the least resources for sports activities. If  the schools did not adhere to federal policy, they would not receive funds from the US government. The girls who benefited from this would go on to become Olympic athletes or just your average fit woman. This female mesomorph as a paradigm owes much of existence to Abbye Stockton and Lisa Lyon. They actively trained not just for improving physical skill, but to add muscle to their bodies. This was something during their time periods, which was considered unacceptable for women.

   During Stockton’s time in the 1940s she had to battle both prejudice and myths about women and weightlifting. There were myths that said it would cause women to become infertile or harm themselves. Lisa Lyon had to struggle to compete in newly formed bodybuilding competitions, which were limited in number and had less support in the 1970s. These women contributed to overturning the notion that the female body is not designed for strength. The unfortunate aspect was that the women of the past did not benefit from legislative assistance prior to Title IX. As a public health measure it should not be under estimated. Women started to get more involved in exercise, fitness, and sports rather than just for the purpose of weight loss. The analysis is limited, due to the fact that women are competing in sports globally at higher levels. The Olympics, All Africa Games, Pan- American Games, and Asian Games show women athletes from all around the world.

Kate’s and her associate’s perspective only examines this phenomenon from a Western ( specifically American ) perspective. The physically strong woman has become a small, but growing development in the sports world. Confining it to the US would certainly be incorrect.

      This discussion inevitably goes into body image and beauty standards. For decades a tin body type has been idolized to the extent that cases of bulimia, anorexia, and obsessive dieting  have become a normal part of some women’s lives. This has been challenged with an emphasis on a curvy and larger body type as Kate reveals. The muscular body type in this obsession with appearance falls in an undefined place. There is some moderate acceptance for women with some muscle ( “tone”), yet a level of hostility to women who develop their musculature to the highest levels. Female bodybuilders not only are strong, they project a powerful image. This causes either reactions of disgust, lust, or support. Society has concepts of what a woman should be and being powerful both physically or mentally is not a part of that in the traditional view of gender roles. The recent ideal of the female body was to be considered frail and thin, not one of muscle. The muscular woman challenges this belief, by presenting another version of beauty.

According to their version of aesthetics, they are  molding flesh into a living statue. The rise of crossfit and weightlifting as a popular activity has improved the image of women with muscle.  This has been to a limited extent. There is a problem that comes with mainstreaming a subculture. It becomes too common place and loses it unique value, which made it great in the first place. There were women and men who liked the muscular look prior to this sudden mainstream trend. There is also another problem with the new “strong is the new skinny” conviction. Could it be than one unrealistic standard is being replaced by another? It would be hard to imagine in the future that women would be attempting en mass to obtain such physiques. Maybe the best result of this is that women decide for themselves what is a suitable look for them, rather than having society or mass media dictate it to them. Women who are muscular should not be afraid to call themselves muscular. The term toned has been used to mainstream the idea of women having muscle in the fitness industry. The fact is women have muscles and this can be developed to certain degrees. Societies that impose strict limitations on how women should look or  behave expose the level of male dominance and misogyny. Individuals should be free to do as they please as long as it does not harm other people. Why should a woman have to spend her time reaching a societal beauty standard? It would be better to form one to your personal preference.

        kate also acknowledges that their are men who enjoy the appearance of the physically strong woman. She does mention that women have it hard being muscular, but she does not realize male fans and supporters are also ostracized.  This mostly comes from the closed minded, people of conservative thought, sexists, or anyone who cannot tolerate anything different. It is understandable that such a pursuit would just not be someone’s preference, but there is no excuse for vituperation and vitriol. Male fans either are presented as fetishists, eccentrics, and predators. Liking muscular women is no different from liking thin women, larger women, or any other women. At no time will one ever hear the phrase ” you have a skinny woman fetish.”  Another misconception is that fans of female muscle only like this type of woman. Male fans could have numerous body type preferences. Men have a hard time too, even struggling with the fact they find this attractive. Stereotypes and popular prejudices surround fans as well as athletes. These attitudes reflect a level of narrow mindedness in regards to traditional roles in what a woman should be. Female muscle fans may not even prefer the same levels of muscularity. There are some who like a sleeker body, a mid range level, and the more hypermuscular physique. It should be understood within fitness, there are varying degrees of muscularity on women. Even within the bodybuilding sports there is fitness, figure, bikini, physique, and traditional bodybuilding.

There has evolved a wide range in which female muscle fans can choose to follow. kate also mentions that it is uncertain in which direction the muscular appearance will go. At the time of this video many elements of women’s sports were changing. Women’s MMA was just on the rise and crossfit was in its prototypical stage. While traditional bodybuilding for women was struggling, more divisions emerged which included figure, bikini, and physique. The look of the athletic female is evolving, but in different branches. Athletes do not all look the same. The way their body looks depends on both genetics and the specific sport they compete in. Athletic women  could be muscular, some could be thin and other women could be larger in body type.

As for direction, the images presented are going in multiple pathways. Each one presents a radically different notion about what a woman can achieve and be. There are advocates that want to see the female muscular image be pushed to a higher level and other who state that i has gone too far. Kate even says “she’s not a fan of the ones that can brake you over their knee.” Some fans even say some women have “crossed the line” or are “too much.” These accusations lack cogency. If one is part of the bodybuilding sports it is about sculpting the body. However, it is not solely about size. Shape, conditioning, and symmetry are critical elements that must be balanced on a physique. These should be the only legitimate criticisms directed at women in terms of physique sports. There seems to be a level of movement to the mainstream, but there are some elements that will remain subcultural. The mixed and session wrestling element will remain underground. Although harmless, it is too eccentric to find a mainstream audience. I has been present since female bodybuilding’s early years and will not disappear anytime soon.

It seems hardcore support for the larger muscular women will remain in the realm of subculture. This does not mean that in the distant future that the athletic body type will not gain some level of acceptance in the future. Women’s fitness culture has become something unique between its fans and competitors. Merely ignoring how fans play a role leaves out something critical. The less venues for fans to consume, means a large untapped market. The corporate gatekeepers of the fitness industry should recognize this and capitalize on this niche market. The internet and specifically social media has been helpful at exposing the image of the muscular woman to a wider global audience. So, it could be possible in time it will gain a larger following.

         Upon close examination, an answer can be extrapolated from the initial question. There is nothing wrong with women having muscle; it is that people’s limited views of what a woman should look like and be create objections. These beliefs are based on unrealistic beauty standards, subtle misogyny,   and the belief that women should be controlled. This control does not merely extend to what a woman can do with her life, but her own body. More extreme cases include the restriction of reproductive rights, abortion, and birth control. One method to control women was to control their bodies. Symbolically, the muscular woman challenges the notion of female frailty and weakness with an image of strength. This comes into conflict with schemata that was develop from culture or media in regards to attitudes about women. If a society only values for women for how they look or solely their reproductive capacities, women who deviate from this cultural norm will be outcasts. Unrealistic beauty standards idolize one body type over all others, which could cause mental distress and self-esteem issues in young women. This desire for an unhealthy level of thinness effects both physical and mental health. Besides anorexia or bulimia, women could put themselves at risk for osteoporosis if not receiving proper nutrition. This system wraps into a subtle misogyny which only views women as sex objects and not people. Women who refuse to follow this system set an example for others to change this defect in cultural mores. Thankfully, their has been slow change. However, some will have to adjust. Some men may just not be used to seeing women with such strength in their daily lives.

 The woman with muscle is a rarity, but not some anomaly. One of the least credible arguments against women developing strength and muscle is that it is “unnatural.” Humanity has discovered many ways to alter the body through surgery, medicine, nutrition, and one day extensive genetic engineering. We have reached a point in which our biology can be manipulated possibly leading to transhumanism. Nature can be very unpredictable in the evolutionary process, so calling something “unnatural” would be scientifically inaccurate. Genetics, nutrition, and environment can change the appearance of human populations. A muscular woman is no more “unnatural” than a tall person, short person, or thin person. Organisms thrive on genetic diversity, which is why human beings are the dominant species on the planet.  Calling such women “unnatural” is just another way to either exclude or marginalize women who are different. Another argument from detractors   is one of a beauty standard. This is relative according to who you ask and varies from culture to culture. These athletes do not do this for the approval or pleasure of men. Yet, this seems like a foreign concept to many. Although the muscular woman is not completely accepted, but is leading an unnoticed revolution.

Kate on Sports : Women and Muscle

Wrong To Be Strong? Understanding the Double Standards and Criticisms in Regards to the Muscular Woman

Women are often criticized and put under extra scrutiny for their appearance. Some face more ostracism than others. The muscular woman creates many responses from men and women, but a majority are vituperative in nature. These are not just attacks from men, but other women. While we all have different aesthetic preferences certain statements made by detractors are spiteful. Statements that a woman “looks like a man” or “she’s ugly” represent a bullying nature of body image conformity. Female athletes are even criticized for being “too muscular.” This is hilarious in a way considering one would expect that from their vigorous physical activities. There are roots of these negative criticisms and double standards. The first possible explanation is that people react to negatively to things they do not understand. A more vicious explanation is based on misogynist beliefs. A more common explanation is that beauty standards vary. However, the majority do not understand this. The obvious double standards have there roots in patriarchy, sexism, and discrimination.  Traditional attitudes persist, even though women have advanced.

       The first double standard is the issue of body image. The contemporary Western standard of beauty for a woman is the slim body type. Men are encouraged to aim for another unrealistic goal of being as muscular as possible. These two paradigms represent stereotypical gender identities. The weak woman and the strong man. This has had negative repercussions on men and women. Women are more likely to develop eating disorders and distorted self image. Men are not immune either, risking the the use of anabolic steroids or other performance enhancing drugs to improve their physique. Athletes are not the majority users of steroids, but men seeking a fast solution to weight loss. This is opposite of what many would assume. Some women are no longer embracing a thin look and instead want to build strength. There are women who even take this a step further by maximizing their total muscle mass as a goal. Yet, even women in the fitness industry who are supportive of weight training reject a muscular body type for women. They constantly reassure women “they will not bulk up.” This fear of looking male is unfounded, due to the fact virilization only occurs with long term steroid abuse. Not all women are the same and others may develop muscle easier. Normally, these women point to the female bodybuilder as what a woman should not be. This is disrespectful and adds to an already sexist culture. Men can be as physically powerful as they want to be, but for women it is not acceptable. Even the criticism  “these women are too bulky”  lacks cogency. The term bulky is a colloquial term to mean huge,  but the muscular woman does not fall under that term. They have lean body mass.

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The women that appear on stage appear to be enormous. The reality is that their limited body fat makes it appear as if they are bigger. Normally depending if there are weight classes, women come into contest weighing less. Tomoko Kanda competes at a weight of 156 pounds. Colette normally competed at a weight of  145 pounds. These weights are not large amounts . The average man would weigh more without such training, but not be as strong. The “bulky” argument seems to fall apart. When these women are clothed you probably would not know they have these powerful bodies.

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The objection is routed in the belief that women should not participate in certain activities. Sports was seen a solely a male domain and no place for women. Physical strength was something thought to be natural to men only, but women proved that wrong. Many times there are some  feminists who place the blame solely on men. There are women who also show a level of repulsion at the sight of the muscular woman. There arguments are along the same lines of their male counterparts, but there is a difference. They compare them in relation to their body by suggesting  “why would any woman want that much muscle?” or ” I would not want that for myself .”  No one is forcing the woman who criticizes a muscular physique to become that way. Yet, this same detractor will not hesitate to starve themselves into a size zero. There has developed in the past decades the size acceptance movement that challenges a society trying to distort women’s body image. This small movement does not extend its hand to the muscular or athletic woman. They face more repudiation and negativity  from many people. There are also problems with the size acceptance movement. What is considered “plus sized” is not large at all. Decades ago they would have been considered average women.

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To the left, the woman in the pink bikini is considered a plus sized model. She is not even large, but a woman with curves. The woman on the right is not huge either, but would be considered “too big” for regular modeling. 

The fashion industry’s obsession with thinness has made people think that curvy women have a weight problem. This size acceptance movement seems like another hash tag trend that will be replaced by another. Critics claim that it is encouraging obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle. A counter argument can be make when examining the amount of sugar and high fructose corn syrup food sold in grocery stores. The power of advertisement is more than enough encouragement with every last fast food chain producing commercials for television. Women liking their bodies is not encouraging an unhealthy condition. The only way that can be determined is by a doctor or medical professional, not by just looking at a person’s body.

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Magazines that claim to promote health are adding to distorted body image. Most of the women’s magazines are focused on weight loss or being as thin as possible. The men’s magazines feature men of  extreme muscular physique. These body sizes are probably not attainable for most people, but their is a motive behind it. By subconsciously tampering with people’s  insecurity it will get them to buy magazines. The hope of the buyer is that they will some day look like the person on the cover. This induces more consumption of the magazine. Traditionally, sports and fitness magazines focused on training, athlete interviews, and events. Now  the emphasis seems to be focusing on a particular standard of beauty Body image is developed by the media and the materials that are consumed b y the society.

       The negative criticism of the muscular woman is rooted in dated beauty standards. These standards vary from culture to culture. The West values a thin and almost emaciated form of the female body. For cultures of the East and global South a much softer and fuller female body has been valued. The lugubrious aspect of this is that few people are accepting of other forms of beauty. Women spend much of their time putting on make-up,  adding accessories, and doing other forms of ornamentation to adhere to cultural beauty standards. These standards have changed overtime in the West. One of the places that caused this trend was the fashion industry and Hollywood films. Leslie Lawson ( known as Twiggy)  was a model in the 1960s who popularized the extremely thin body. She was so thin her body almost resembled a prepubescent boy. This had been the standard since and it has had dire consequences. There has been an increase in the amount of eating disorders among women. Hollywood film stars followed this trend, seeing as they would wear some of the most expensive cloths. The factor of increasing obesity rates and a mass media inducing insecurity only complicates the situation of the muscular woman .She can either be classified within this rigid and closed mined system as an anomaly or a new paradigm.

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Twiggy was a model from the 1960s.  

There is a new fitness zeigiest known as “strong is the new skinny.” Then again this has its limitations. While accepts the concept women can be physically fit and strong in appearance, it does not promote women being as physically developed as possible. Being “too muscular”  is still not acceptable to the majority of society. The traditional feminine ideal is to appear as frail as possible to be attractive. Women have challenged this in another way embracing natural curves rather than an emaciated appearance.While larger women are gaining acceptance, the muscular women are still a bizarre concept to many. What women of this appearance need is something similar to fat acceptance. The fat acceptance movement has been criticized as promoting an unhealthy lifestyle or being frivolous. Doubtless of what people perceive, that movement allowed larger and overweight individuals to view themselves in a different light. Having acceptance of ones self and developing consciousness can challenge the status quo in regards to certain issues . May be a muscular acceptance movement will have to emerge to counter negative public reaction.

       There also exists a more vicious reason for harsh ostracism of the muscular woman .Sexism and misogyny are also factors in negative attitudes. There has been a belief that women’s bodies had to be controlled. Women were not only controlled by legal and social barriers, but through domination of their bodies. This explains why reproductive rights have become so important to women’s freedom. Access to birth control and abortion allowed women’s rights to advance to new heights. When women have control of their bodies and can change the appearance of them, male domination is challenged. Strict gender roles dictate that man is leader and woman has to be a servant. A firm  system of patriarchy  puts man as sole authority.This at times was not always as oppressive, but none the less took subtlety  offensive paternalistic overtones. Women needed to be protected because they were too weak mentally and physically to survive on their own. Men were strong and brave and therefore were women’s protectors. This by definition in terms of law  was known as protectionism stating women had to be shielded from life’s cruelties.This justification was used to discriminate against women in various occupations and educational institutions. Many top ivy league universities were resistant to admit women on this principle. Also, it was used as an excuse women were too physically weak to engage in sports and it would damage their health. False information and pseudoscientic beliefs about women’s bodies became prevalent, but were discredited.  When women gained more power men began to feel threatened. Sports was considered a male only domain, but by the late 20th century that was changing. Women began displaying more powerful physiques and were no longer ashamed of them. This overturned the long held conviction that women were weak and child like. The strict gender role binaries had been breached and misogynistic backlash occurred. This was tied to another form of intolerance when athletic and muscular women were accused of being lesbians. Sports has a long history of homophobia and women of a different sexuality had to deal with sexism as well. Racism has never disappeared either. Serena Williams, one of the greatest tennis champions has not only been criticized unfairly because of race, but her appearance. Sports writers have said ” her body is built like a man’s and that’s why she wins matches.”This follows a long tradition of disparaging African Americans in the US and degrading women.

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There is nothing “mannish” about her.

   These negative comments are not only uttered in traditional media, but over social media. Social media has exposed the vast amount of hate that exists in people. Video sites are even infested with hateful commentary  that is either racist, sexist, homophobic, or prejudice against a particular religious faith. While this new media format is great at connecting fans, it also opened a platform for unsavory individuals. Besides standing up for reproductive rights, women who change there bodies to this extent are making a revolutionary statement. Men do not have sole ownership of physical strength and women can control their bodies.

         Harsh criticism is not always hateful, but comes from fear of the unknown . Muscular women are rare. Even very muscular men are few compared to the entire population. The muscular woman simply is something that many in the general public are not used to. There are certain reactions that are evoked by first time observers. One is that of being perplexed. Seeing some one who does not fit common standards can be difficult for people to comprehend. It challenges personal schemas. Everyone has a general model or opinion in regards to certain groups. When the group does not fit into that schema it creates conflict. Media and cultural images of how certain groups should be create a horrid cycle of stereotypes and myths. The woman who does not fit the frailty stereotype, then induces a negative or confused reaction from people who’s only knowledge is presented by surrounding factors. More extreme reactions are disgust. Shunning or excluding  people who deviate from the standard of conformity are common in most societies.

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Another reaction to the muscular woman is fear. This is just as irrational as the vitriolic behavior by some detractors. Common phrases like “she is scary” or ” I would not talk to her because she would beat me up” are repeated ad nauseum. There is the idea that the strong woman would naturally be aggressive toward men. This ludicrous assumption has no basis in fact. Women who are involved in sport have husbands, partners,  or boyfriends. Many have families and they are a support  structure when pressure and stress becomes high. Some women credit their boyfriends for getting them involved in fitness. This bully and “man hater” image seems to be a psychological projection of certain individuals. There are men who think that if women get some power they will use it to harm men as a form of revenge for past injustices. No such thing will ever happen. Equality does not mean you have a desire to harm other people. The other reactions to physically strong women are either curiosity or lust. Curiosity is not a negative trait. It is the strong desire to discover or find out about something unknown. The muscular woman becomes a curiosity to people who are more open minded. It was not uncommon to see women athletes or muscular women being interviewed on day time talk shows. Jenny Jones and Montel Williams  had female bodybuilders on their programs from time to time. Reactions from a studio audience varied. Sometimes it could negative, positive, or changing some people previous conceptions. This shows exposure and help deal with prejudice and misunderstanding. There has been a zietgeist among fitness circles that “strong is the new skinny.” This new concept forms a another paradigm of beauty trying to challenge the old one. the comes to the reaction to the muscular woman as something to lusted over. This poses a problem. While its great that there are men who find different types of women attractive, there is the problem of sexual objectification.

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The muscular woman or athlete then becomes fetish object under a new part of the “sex sells” ideology. This is questionable because it seems to be reliant on dated sexist convictions of the past. Some wonder if the “strong is the new skinny” motto is replacing one unrealistic beauty standard with another. This debate seems to have no definite answer. These are just a few reactions that the muscular female physique can generate.

          Everyone has a different opinion and perspective on certain matters. This unique look may not be people’s ideal. People have the right to there opinion, but that does not give them a right to be rude, obnoxious, or vituperative. Women with a muscular physique face insults and ridicule from a closed minded public. It was worse in the past when women were just entering professional sports. Gradual progress has been made, with women themselves defining what is beautiful. Although not the majority some women actively pursue muscle and strength. Women are displaying more powerful physiques in athletic competition. Women are discovering the joys of lifting  and a doing it as a recreational activity. The phenomenon seems to be spreading. There are also a growing number of male admirers who enjoy various types of women’s physiques. Strength once considered a masculine trait has now become neutral in gender description. Women no longer have to be weak to be considered feminine.  Body image continues to be an issue for many women with the influence of media and advertisement. Yet, an alternative has emerged. It is unclear whether  this a temporary fad or a genuine paradigm shift. Only as time progresses will the result of women’s new fascinating with strength be known. From what is observed now, it is no longer wrong to be strong.

Wrong To Be Strong? Understanding the Double Standards and Criticisms in Regards to the Muscular Woman

The Stigma of Being a Male Fan

It is true that female athletes face more ostracism than their male counterparts. There is that challenge of navigating an environment that stigmatizes women for enter a male dominated sphere. Women athletes are not alone in this stigma. Fans of women’s sports also face a level of harsh criticism. Male fans in particular are specifically targeted. There are certain stereotypical paradigms that people place male fans into. The first is the image of the fetishist, who does not care about an athlete’s performance, but her physical appearance and how she can best fit into intimate fantasies of the fan. Another image is a person who enjoys activities that are considered uninteresting. This actually is more sinister than it appears. There is the notion that women’s sports are not as exciting as the men’s events and anyone who watches must be dull. Besides these stereotypes, men who are specifically fans of the muscular and athletic female body also receive vituperation. Detractors question their sexuality and manhood. Some are so extreme they even question the status of the male fan’s mental health. While these claims seem ludicrous by detractors, these negative images still persist.

The image of the fetishist  is one of the most negative of the male fan. This is a person who is obsessed with the appearance of the woman athlete’s body and engages in some form of sexual objectification. This type does not care about the athlete’s performance. The sole focus is on her looks. This attitude can not be blamed solely on a few people, but a corporate business model. There is the old marketing motto of “sex sells.” Magazines, advertisements, movies, and television fetishize the female body. It is done so much that the woman no longer is deemed human, but an accessory  or object. This intersection of sexism and corporate avarice does serious harm. It directs attention away from the athlete’s accomplishments and talent, which should be the focus. The second problem is that it furthers the fetishist stereotype of the male fan. Not all men judge women solely on their appearance.

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These covers present  the women not as sex objects,  but as skilled professionals.

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This cover is borderline lascivious. 

There are male fans who do value the performance of the top professional female athletes. The big issue seems to be cultural attitudes and business practices.The male fan is stuck between these conflicts.

         The most frustrating stereotype is the image of the boring person. There is a horrid idea that women’s sports cannot be entertaining or exciting as the men’s events. This double standard only represents people’s negative convictions about women. Male fans of  women’s sports are often compared to people who are stamp collectors or bird watchers. These activities are considered “boring” to many people in a modern post-industrial technological society. These activities are not boring, it just has not developed a level of popular faddism. These activities are enjoyable to particular individuals, but not at a massive level. Women’s sports are still a niche market. It is possible that with more media coverage and funding it can expand its audience. Die hard fans could be the harbingers to a popular faddism craze. Baseball was once considered America’s favorite pastime. Gradually, football eclipsed it in terms of popularity. People have all sorts of interests and hobbies. Trying to declare what is or is not quality entertainment is an attempt to impose cultural conformity. Calling male fans of women’s sports boring is baseless. Even more ludicrous is that people still hold the belief that women’s sports are not as good.

         Male fans also face another challenge. Men who love the aesthetic of the muscular and athletic female  body are harshly criticized by detractors. Accusations of latent homosexuality are directed at supporters. This lacks logic, because women with muscle are still women. This also represents a extreme intolerance against people of different sexual orientations. The manner in which it  is expressed is an insult, but it would not be if a person was gay. Closed minded behavior such as this reveals more severe ills of society. Another attack is on the masculinity of the male fan. The question posed is “what type of man would be with a woman like that?” or “what type of pathetic man would want to be with woman stronger than him?” Traditionalists hold that strength is male only and any man who likes a strong woman is less masculine. The idea is that man has full control of the woman in all respects. Physical domination is just one area of that control. There are men who do not see it as an aberration, but a positive attribute. There is beauty in a highly developed female form.

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Few can appreciate the aesthetics of the muscular female body. 

The majority of people cannot see the beauty in it. Then there is another aspect. Male fans who like the muscular woman are seen as “abnormal.” Society erroneously believes that this admiration is connected to an obsessive sexual fetish. The male fan is put into a one dimensional box of either being a deviant or pervert. The facts are different. Supporters are not strange or abnormal, but come from different walks of life. The rise of the internet allowed larger exposure of women involved in strength sports. Personal websites of athletes do receive large amounts of traffic. This proves that there are people who do like the look, but a precise number is ambiguous. Some male fans in the face of this opposition hide their love of the muscular woman. The internet to an extent provides anonymity, which frees them from societal pressure to conform. It is odd with the rise of body acceptance for larger women rejects  the unhealthy anorexic body, while acceptance is not extended to the muscular woman. There is some progress in which some muscle is tolerable to a degree on a woman. Yet, the hyper-muscular  woman induces  fear, hatred, and repudiation in the gender traditionalists. The male fans also have difficulty being labeled a social misfit.

     Female athletes have to deal with societal and cultural  pressures  that their male counterparts do not have to consider. There are also challenges for the advocates and male fans who want to see women’s sports flourish. Negative criticisms are a reflection of people who particular biases and reject any form of change. The idea that women could be successful in a male dominated area is irksome to thoughs who believe in strict gender roles .  The male fan is trapped in between a conformist block and their own values. Others may condemn particular view points, but have proven wrong years later. It was once believed that the Earth was the center of the universe, until proven false. Eventually women in sports and their fans will be accepted, but that will be many years from now.

The Stigma of Being a Male Fan