Beth Skwarecki : Worrying About Bulky Muscles on Women Is Some Sexist Bull****

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Worrying About Women Getting Bulky is Sexist

For too long the fear of women getting bulky has held them back from athletic potential. Even though “bulkiness” or “long lean muscles” is not a reality of exercise science. There is obviously sexism related to this. Man are told they can become strong. Women are told they can tone or worse they may see improvement at all. Beth Skwarecki explains why this acceptable form of sexism still remains. Not only is it prejudiced and biased there is no scientific credibility. Women have just as much right to develop their bodies athletically and physically. The idea that femininity should be equated with weakness or inferiority must be challenged. Women no matter what they look like are subject to ostracism. The stunning part is that other women also insult women who look different. Skwarecki describes  the tightrope in which a female athlete walks. It is one between a new image of woman, but not upsetting the status quo. All women are not immune from this. Former First Lady  Michelle Obama was criticized for her arm strength. Female athlete are criticized for being “too big .” Convention needs to be overthrown. Women or others do not have anything to fear from the rise of physically powerful women. It is time for people to accept that others are different and they are not going anywhere.

         There is sexual dimorphism  between male and female bodies, however the muscular system is not radically different. Women have the same muscles in relation to anatomical structure. Lifting weights with a certain level of intensity can induce muscular hypertrophy. If consistent enough then a change can be noticeable. At one time it was thought exercise for women was either bad for their health or they are incapable of having any form of physical prowess. The frailty myth and the weaker sex stereotype still persists in the minds of many.  Beth Skwarecki even explains if a woman looks “too feminine” the assumption is that she has no physical ability. Women can be stronger than they look. Genetics,diet, training method are factors in how strong a person can get. The error was that women were once thought as biologically  inferior. Casual exercisers and professional female athletes demonstrate that women’s bodies are capable of increasing physical fitness. Some refuse to accept this saying it is not natural for female bodies to have this level of muscle and strength.

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Most of what people eat or use is not natural. Human bodies have been altered by changes in the environment, chemical exposure, food, and drugs. Knowledge of science has enabled humanity to manipulate its own biology. Human phenotypes are diverse. We have different skin color, height, weight , and body size. The unfortunate part about people is that they are prejudiced and stereotype. Women are subjected to harsh criticism about their appearance not just by men, but other women. The female body has been subject to scrutiny and women are now rejecting these social pressures. Biological sexism still remains. There never was a femininity or muscularity tight rope. This was imposed by a society that could not handle the idea that women could be physically powerful. Women are now developing their bodies, but a coded fitness language emerged to police the idea of what is acceptable.

           Bulky and toned are terms that are directed at women. Long and lean are a new addition   to this terminology. These terms are not facts of exercise science rather descriptions of appearance. Bulky has been used as a pejorative for women and a compliment for men. According to Skwarecki ” generally what people mean when they say ‘I don’t want to get bulky,’ they’re referring to the look where you have a good amount of muscle on your frame but you also have a good amount of fat covering it.” The first idea that comes to women’s minds is the female bodybuilder. It should be noted while these women have significant levels of muscle, they weigh less than they appear. The reason women look so big is due to the fact they reduced fat levels so much that their muscles look extra exaggerated. Training for years, diets, and supplementation produces bodies like that. Bulky is not even a good description.

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A bodybuilder must have a balance between size, shape, definition, and conditioning. Simply being big is not going to win a contest. The objective is to create an aesthetically pleasing physique in the tradition of sculpture. Few can appreciate this bodybuilding aesthetic.  Women have created with the sport a new paradigm of beauty. It combines a dynamic strength with a feminine softness. The reason it causes shock or confusion is for the first time in history women have develop their bodies to a physical maximum. When viewed from this perspective bulky may not be such a pejorative. It only means an athlete is getting closer to their goal.Maybe its time to take full ownership of the term.

       The term toned also provides a level of confusion. The word tone is actually a term that refers to tension on a muscle at rest. That means that even the most muscular woman is toned . The colloquial use means a look in which carries some muscle on the body. A product of marketing, it was used as a way to sell weightlifting to women. The issue is that the gender specific terminology plays on sexist beliefs. The first one is that women are weaklings so serious workouts are not for them. They need low intensity or simple exercises, because their bodies not designed for it. The second is that power and strength cannot be feminine. Strong women have a following among some male fans of women’s sports. The modern female athlete has successfully combined power and grace into one physical form. Tone even as a general term is so arbitrary. Certain women could be  in the middle of a female bodybuilder and toned physique. There exists no term for that.

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The idea of the toned woman ,who has some definition.
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Some women have more muscle that is beyond what is considered toned.Yet, they are not so big that they would be called bulky.
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This is the image of a  bulky woman with higher levels of muscular density

   Some critics are vocal about what they consider too much. This is a matter of opinion and personal taste. What could be extreme to one person, maybe tolerable to another.Frankly, the criticisms seem baseless considering women are not doing this for male approval. The demand that all women should appeal to a individual male’s preference is unreasonable, Double standards continue and the lugubrious part is that few see the sexism in it. When a woman lifts weights, she is building muscle. Toning just seems like a condescending term directed at women.Thankfully, women are embracing sports and strength sports more so than they ever have in the past. The fitness phenomenon is not just regulated to professional female athletes, but the casual female gym goer.

        Beth Skwarecki poses an important question. What do you call a woman who just works out ? Some women just love to be active without plans to compete. It is a fun hobby. The stereotypical image is that women are only into fad diets or if they do exercise it’s just cardio.When women take their fitness and sports seriously it becomes a controversy. Men do not face these dilemmas, because it seen as natural for them. Sports, exercise, and fitness are activities that can be enjoyed by everyone. Women were either excluded based on the idea they were too weak, had no skill, or would harm themselves. Strength and physical prowess was not part of femininity in the traditionalist  viewpoint. Besides backward thinking, there has always been a fear about women attaining too much power. Physical strength was thought to be the sole domain of men, that women could never enter. When skilled female athletes emerged, so did more sexism that did not want to see the gender role status quo dismantled.

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A postcard from the 1900s shows an athletic woman boxing. This is a depiction of fear of a physically capable woman.
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Another postcard criticizing women in sports and involvement in physical culture.  Here it highlights the idea of female ineptitude.
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How sad that very little has changed. What makes this woman a freak ? This magazine was published at the beginning of the 21st century. One would think people would have become more open minded.

Women’s demand for basic rights and freedom could not be stopped. While society’s laws and social system changes, people’s attitudes do not. Many will cling to their sexism,no matter how much society progresses. Battles are still being  waged for equal pay and reproductive rights.  The American women’s soccer team continues to fight for better pay even though they have won multiple Women’s World Cups. Women can at least have access to gyms and sports, but this still is not happening in every nation. Certain countries violate women’s basic human rights to an egregious degree. It is time for the world to have a dramatic change in thought about women’s roles and what they are capable of.

        Women should not have to worry about what happens to their bodies when they weight train. Getting muscular should not be considered an awful thing. Weight training can improve musculoskeletal health and protect the circulatory system. Lifting could also be an effective method of weight management. Certainly only positive developments can come from such a training regimen if done properly. That means consuming enough  calories to fuel workouts and the sufficient amount of protein to maintain muscular hypertrophy. There still is considerable debate on whether a person can lose fat and build muscle simultaneously. These responses to exercise stimuli are two different results. Depending on the fitness goal a personal trainer,  dietitian, or nutritionist can be consulted. Prior to this consult your doctor or physician about embarking on an exercise regimen. People just need to accept that women’s bodies vary in appearance. Muscular women should not be treated as some anomaly or aberration. People will be judged no matter what.Just because an activity does not fit into your personal opinion does not invalidate it. There are men who object to women in strength sports, but they will not stop anytime soon. It is refreshing g to hear    Beth Skwarecki  embrace women with muscle. Normally, women in the fitness industry favor simple weight loss for women rather than functional fitness. Just remember bulk is beautiful.

Beth Skwarecki : Worrying About Bulky Muscles on Women Is Some Sexist Bull****

ABC News : The Secret World of Women’s Bodybuilding (2001)

 

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The Secret World of Female Bodybuilding  

ABC News produced an article discussing female bodybuilding in 2001 called “The Secret World of Female Bodybuilding.” Most female bodybuilding fans know that mainstream media does not tend to be fair to the sport or unbiased. This is not just directed at female bodybuilding mainstream media has this problem with other subcultures or things they simply do not understand. Back then, there was more trust in media. The corporate model of news has destroyed mainstream media credibility. So much so, few viewers even trust it anymore. Opinions become more important than facts. One narrative is presented as correct. Bias, favoritism, and at an extreme prejudice is actively promoted on TV and radio. The repeal of the fairness doctrine in 1987 has only caused a wider partisan divide. The internet has become a large source of information. However, the rise of fake news is a growing concern. Alternative media seeks to remedy this problem. It comes under attack from the mainstream media as being “conspiracy theory.” To be truly media literate, one must look at various sources of information. Doing this and using critical thinking skills allows a person not to be manipulated by bias or misinformation. The interesting aspect about this ABC News article is that it presents female bodybuilding as an oddity. While one can see that it does not favor women doing this, it does at least gets some statements from athletes. The writing fails the test of objectivity.  Female bodybuilding is presented as a consuming, dangerous, and sexual subculture. Anyone with more knowledge and familiarity of the sport knows that is not the reality.

       The sport can be intensive in its level of dedication. Being consuming is just part of achieving skill. No one ever says to a painter stop making  too much artwork. A boss at a company never says to their workers stop working so hard. A musician or singer has to practice vigorously  to have a quality performance.  It should be no surprise that female bodybuilders train hard to build a certain type of physique. The problem with the ABC news Article is that it gets most of its information from Katie Arnoldi. She is the author of chemical Chemical Pink a novel that explores the female bodybuilding subculture. The novel was reliant on common stereotypes in the subculture and the woman getting abused theme. This was not a positive representation of the sport and one would think it was written by a detractor. Arnoldi was actually a bodybuilder herself competing in a few competitions. She has some credibility, yet the bias becomes clear in her statements.

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Katie Arnoldi 

She compares the dedicated drive to an obsession. The only time an activity becomes an obsession is it hinders functioning and daily life. Many female bodybuilders have careers outside their sport to support their competition costs. The image of hulking woman just pumping iron in a gym is not entirely true. The ABC News claim only demonstrates more of a moral panic ” Arnoldi started bodybuilding when she was 33 to get back in shape after the birth of her second child.” The story takes another turn as if something horrible happened “But what started out as an innocent exercise plan quickly turned into an obsession as she fell deeper and deeper into the bodybuilding subculture.” Katie Arnoldi never used drugs or did sessions. These things are not as awful as a person would think. Arnoldi  did neither of those this so the worst thing that happened is that she just got in shape. Too much dedication can cause burn out or strip the fun right out of an enjoyable activity. Sports are by nature competitive. Women are competitive, yet this is seen as being obsessive to a society that prefers women to limit themselves. Professional bodybuilding takes intense energy, planning, and training. It also takes much mental strength to deal with the highs and lows with fierce competition. The unfortunate part is that most people cannot appreciate the diligence and the aesthetic being created.

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The image may not be to everyone’s taste. That does not mean should not follow certain pursuits or seek male approval. The article would take a different tone, if it was interviewing men. There is sex bias here, because women are being viewed as freaks or oddities. They are not getting respect as professional athletes. Objective journalism is a endangered species. Here the ABC news report already has decided what it should think about women’s bodybuilding. A person ignorant of the sport would already be easily influenced, because they are discreetly being told what to think. Women’s bodybuilding is given a negative image and readers are being influenced to feel that way.

            The voices in support of the sport are not even present. There is only one comment from Yvette Williams. Lesa Lewis provides a counterargument. The only other female bodybuilder that makes commentary was  Mimi D’Attomo. At the time she was retired from competition. If this article wanted to have more of a balanced view they would have at least interviewed women who were still in competition. Her story was about wanting to win so badly that she resorted to anabolic androgenic steroids  and diuretics. Competing for three years she took a mixture of drugs. Bodybuilding cannot be blamed for what appears to be an addictive behavior. Competing is not like being an alcoholic. Some people may be biologically and psychologically vulnerable to addictive behavior. Mimi D’Attomo may have been one of those individuals. This cannot be proven, but there was something else at work.

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Mimi D’Attomo.

 The constant desire to win makes people do dangerous acts. Society and our culture tells us to constantly strive for success or be the best. This one vision of success or constantly pushing yourself to unhealthy levels has devastating consequences. Mimi D’Attomo just realized that going to extremes to enhance the body was not worth it. A success and win at all costs culture can harm mental and physical health. One can be competitive with out being addictive in behavior.

          Performance enhancing drugs are part of every sport. Bodybuilding is more open about use. Women face more scrutiny for their use of  AAS. There are many myths and unknowns about steroids. The most obvious myth is that women cannot build muscle without them. There are drug tested shows that have women with significant muscle. Women who do not even compete can have mesomorphic body types. Women can build muscle without the use of steroids. Simply taking steroids is no going to make an athlete a champion. To say it is impossible to make it on stage without drugs is not correct. Certain supplements could be better or just as good. Creatine has become popular for this reason. The public has an odd relation with drugs. The general view is that there are “good” drugs and there are “bad” drugs. Any substance can be made illegal for whatever reason. Prohibition proved how arbitrary drug law is. Alcohol and cigarettes have killed more people than steroids, but these drugs are legal. Even more ridiculous is the fact that marijuana is illegal. This was not done to protect public health rather increase profits for private prisons. Steroids only became a schedule three banned substance in 1990. Objections to them or women using has nothing to do with health effects. It more so has to do with appearance. The biggest objections about women’s use is that it will destroy their beauty. The fact is that depending on the dose, type, and how long the drug was used determines the side effects. Virilization can happen to women who use steroids while others do not see any changes. It is not entirely certain if id does effect the ability to get pregnant or not. The use of steroids should not be considered a moral panic or concern.   Compared to the lives lost in the drug trade or the prison industrial complex it is insignificant. The opioid   crisis was the product of corrupt pharmaceutical industry, yet there is limited action against such entities. This is not endorsement of steroids or the use of them. It is the realization that how people feel about drugs can change over time.

         Free societies can have aspects of being puritanical. When it comes to human sexual nature there is a taboo. Drugs are called the dark part of the sport. It is not called that as much as session wrestling. Katie Arnoldi describes it as rich men taking advantage of women for sexual thrill. She claimed that many rich men were sponsoring women in competing in exchange for sessions. Session wrestling is very misunderstood. There are men who like muscular so much they want to get close. This is obviously is part of a fetish. There is more to it. Seeing as muscular women are a rare sight see one up close becomes a treat. Not all meetings are session wrestling. Muscle worship is the least physical activity in which clients feel a woman’s muscles.

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Men paying women to wrestle is not the weirdest activity have done. The image presented is something sleazy . if anything it is more comedic than some form of exploitation of women. If anything the women are exploiting the men paying for sessions. Hardcore fans of female bodybuilding called schmoes do not see it as such. Just like the women themselves they are subject to stereotypes. The view is that they are either socially inept, sexual predators, nerds, or hyper obsessed fans. These men come from various ethnic, religious, racial, and national backgrounds. There are also men who are fans of muscular women in general. They do not have to be a female bodybuilder per se. People objecting to sessions is fine. The strange part is criticizing men and women who enjoy it. For some women this finances their competing expenses and more. The IFBB does not give women enough prize money, promotion, or sponsorship so they had to go into business for themselves. While money related issues may force some women to do this so they can compete, it is not impossible to say that some enjoy it. Women may have the same feelings of arousal wrestling a man. Some women may like the idea there are many men they can just physically overpower. Sessions are not all about being sexual. There are some that are serious about wrestling. Matches can be competitive or semi-competitive. Semi-competitive are preferred because both the wrestler and client want to avoid injury.  As long as no one is hurt or being abused there is nothing wrong with session wrestling. Detractors equate this to prostitution. That comparison lacks cogency. Sex really is not a part of sessions. The major point is women overpowering the client and showing her strength.

         Bodybuilding does have benefits for women. Athletes report having higher body confidence and body satisfaction. Lesa Lewis quoted in the article said ”  I love the competitive part.” Lesa also said that it allowed her to travel to different places. A psychological change happens in women making them feel more powerful. It cannot be denied that the image of the muscular woman is an empowering one. Women were told they were the weaker sex  or inferiors. That concept literally is crushed.

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The new image of female athleticism is a more forceful and powerful . There are more traditional minded people or those who have become disillusioned  who object. The media which ideally is suppose to tell the public truthfully about people, events, and activities. That cannot be possible in a world full of media giants. Only a few corporations own news outlets. This explains why one narrative and perspective is presented in print and broadcast. People cannot detect bias or distortions if they do not have other sources of information. ABC News did not really explore the health benefits from a consistent exercise regimen. Besides maintaining bone and muscle health weightlifting could protect the circulatory system. Women need to be more involved in exercise, sports, and fitness.  Women have lower levels of physical activity compared to men, which could have an effect on their health. The prevention of chronic illness is important seeing as women will live longer than men on average.  The women of bodybuilding dared to defy cultural expectations. The media instead of questioning the status quo has become its enforcer. Other subcultures have been targeted. Video games, animation, or other forms of popular entertainment has been subject to corporate media distortion.

      Sensationalism gets viewers and helps struggling newspapers. This may explain why the article took  the approach that it did. Instead of doing an objective analysis of the sport a one sided presentation was discussed. The illusion of objectivity was a few statements from only two competing athletes. There is a reason why prejudice, panic, or misinformation spreads so rapidly. The internet and digital media provides some hope. The traditional media may disparage or condemn it. It is the wave of the future and there is a generational divide. Older consumers of media either prefer a newspaper or TV broadcast. Younger consumers are going for digital media and internet based journalism. Arnoldi expresses no one is making the women get involved in fitness culture. It is there choice so what is so terrible about that? If you think that women can be responsible adults and make their own choices this should be no problem. Women taking up bodybuilding or getting into fitness culture is not the worst thing that has happened to them. The ABC report makes it seem like it is. High quality investigative journalism examines an activity, person, or event with great detail. This was not utilized in the report. The ABC News report may be useful  for historical preservation purposes. Using it for unbiased information on the sport is not. Much has changed since 2001. The sport has expanded to include various divisions. The Ms.Olympia ended in 2014, yet revived in 2020. Crossfit has become a popular fitness craze. Thanks to the internet the female muscle fandom has grown bigger than ever. The same stubborn arguments remain despite a devoted fandom and changes in opinion. Will the muscular woman ever find acceptance among the general public ? That is difficult to answer. The media has a huge influence over people’s opinions. If the media presentation changes people may shift their perspective.

 

ABC News : The Secret World of Women’s Bodybuilding (2001)

Feministing: Women in Sports- Why Can’t Women Compete With Men ?

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Why Can’t Women Compete Against Men in Sports?

Feministing was an online community website that discussing women’s rights and ideology. It ran from 2010 to 2020 covering topics from politics, popular culture, and contemporary issues. The online community was targeted at a younger demographic. The site also encourage grassroots activism. Users could also contribute to the community blog. There was one short post that by Vicky Chatwin that is of interest. A simple question is proposed : why can’t women compete against men in sports ? The author even notes the most obvious reason. The impact of sexual dimorphism influences physical fitness capacity. There are obviously exceptions and cases of overlap. Chatwin’s argument is that by having women’s leagues this constitutes sex segregation. The second case is that it is denying women equal opportunity. Then there are some feminists who think that sex differences are nothing more than sociological constructions. Biology is not a sociological construction, yet third wave feminists want to dispute known facts about sexual dimorphism. Women can compete in mixed competitions if they have the skill and physicality to do so.  Having women’s divisions is not discriminatory nor is it excluding women.

          The most elite women in sports would not be able to physically challenge the elite men. Physical strength differences and body size give men in advantage. Sports such as boxing, weightlifting, or powerlifting require certain amounts of muscular strength. Studies have shown that women may have advantages in muscular endurance and oxygen utilization.  It has been theorized that women may have an edge when it comes to running in marathons. Sprinting which requires more muscular strength, women do not perform the same as men. Depending on the sport, there is a different level of skill and fitness required to master it. The skills of tennis differ from that of soccer. Being just strong and fast does not automatically make a person a great athlete. Men have more muscle and bone mass making their physical fitness capacity higher than women on the same training regimen. Women’s bodies can experience muscular hypertrophy, but not to the same degree as a man. This is related to endocrine function and the amount of natural strength prior to exercise. If men have more muscle to start off with training adds to their strength.

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Pelvis shape, lung and heart size have an effect on total running speed.
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On average men weigh more and are taller.
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Women’s records at the highest level reach the 250 kg range.

Women still retain more fat mass in comparison to their male counterparts. The structure of male and female bodies differs. Men have broader shoulders and more upper body strength. Women have wider pelvises. That makes running speed slower.  Heart and lung size are smaller in women which effects VO2max. Accounting for body size, women weigh less. These sex differences in physiology and anatomy would make it hard for the vast majority of elite female athletes to keep up with males on their level. This would mean there would be fewer women competing in sports being a part of men’s divisions. Chatwin states ”   I know the usual arguments – men are bigger and stronger, it’s not fair to women – but how true is this?” in the opening paragraph. She then provides a personal anecdote that she has seen women who beat men easily at sports. Oddly, She does not mention which ones. The biological factor is a big one when discussing sports performance. There is truth to this up to a certain age. Women competing with men in sports also raises safety concerns.

     Women competing with men in sports raises safety concerns. If male bodies are bigger and stronger, women could get seriously injured. Contact sports from this perspective would be difficult for women to compete with men in.   For younger children its not an issue because their bodies have finished developing. Boys and girls can compete in mixed competition. The physical changes brought about by puberty is what causes the strength gap. Women’s skeletons and muscles do grow, but they do not experience the dramatic strength spurts of men.  Around age 13, the strength gap appears between the sexes. This is why it is ludicrous to keep girls off of boys sports teams. Boys and girls between the ages of 1 to 12 have no difference in physical fitness capacity. What some third wave feminist fail to realize is just how wide the difference in physicality can be after the physiological changes during puberty. The average man has more strength compared to the average woman. A woman how trains seriously can either attain the strength of a man who does not train or be close to it. The strongest trained male could possibly be stronger than most  women.

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Samantha Gordon plays football at age nine. At this stage she would have no trouble competing with boys, because puberty has not effected the musculoskeletal system.
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This really is not much of surprise if a person has a basic understanding of anatomy.
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Women have to train harder to attain a certain physical fitness level. Even with all this effort the results are not the same.

Rugby, football, ice hockey, mixed martial arts, wrestling, lacrosse, and roller derby are sports that involved huge amounts of body force.  If women if at their highest level of fitness can have the strength of an average man or slightly above, the risk for injury could be higher. Boxing would be impossible for women to compete with men considering the difference in upper body strength. The only way such matches in contact sports to work is if men were restricted from using their full physical force. All sports are not contact based. Race car driving or equestrian sport does not reliant on muscle power. Semi-contact sports may see a few women able to compete.

       Having women’s sports divisions does not constitute sex segregation. Unlike Jim Crow America and apartheid South Africa these governance systems were designed to oppress. It was not only to control a population based on because of their race, it was also to isolate them from the wider society. Women’s divisions and sports teams are the opposite. They allow more women to compete. The differences in speed and physical strength between the sexes is the reason there is separation. Looking beyond sex, this is why their are weight classes between athletes. Boxing does this with lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight athletes. Wrestling also has weight classes. This is not segregation of smaller athletes, rather giving them a platform to compete. Otherwise, the biggest and strongest people would always dominate sports. The separation is more of a matter of weight class. This does not mean smaller athletes or women are inferior. It is an attempt to make competition fair. The only way discrimination could occur is if a skilled female player is qualified to play on a men’s team is denied. If a woman can handle the physical demands and has the talent, there is no legitimate reason to deny her an opportunity to play.

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Stephanie Labbe was banned from playing on the Canadian men’s soccer team. This would be an example of discrimination.
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Clearly a weight advantage requires different divisions.
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Overlap is possible depending on the woman’s physiology.

There also is another counter argument to this. If women can compete on men’s teams then can men play on women’s teams ? The question becomes complex if one wants to make competition fair. The reality is that competition is not completely fair because each person may have a unique physical advantage. If a person is devoted to full equality, then it should function the same for both sexes. Title IX ensures that girls get access to sports in schools and few states have restrictions on boys playing on girls teams in America. There are no restrictions on women competing in men’s divisions in the Olympics. The only restriction is the ruling on the amount of testosterone a woman’s body produces. This ruling has been debated and criticized in terms of its scientific foundation. Such a ruling must be discarded altogether, considering athletes cannot help the way they were naturally born. Women’s teams are not an example of sex segregating, rather an expansion of women’s participation in sport.

    Women have already competed with men in sports. Mixed sport is more of an integrated model of  competition. Tennis, badminton.  korfball. mixed pairs bodybuilding,  and swimming  have done pioneered this. Pairs of men and women compete in what is a perfect example of inclusion. This should be what third wave feminists support.  Power feminists however take a less harmonious approach. Competing with men is not about equality, rather they just want to attain more power.Some want all the power and influence in particular areas. This does not appeal to the majority of women who rather see men as their equals and partners. Excessive girl power has become more confrontational, rather than celebrating women’s achievements.

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Mixed sports may become more prevalent in the future. Mixed relays are going to make a debut at the Olympics. This seems like a significant development in terms of promoting equal exposure of athletes regardless of sex.  The third wave feminist narrative as men being all antagonist falls apart, when some men see women’s participation as a positive development. The biggest problem for women in sports is not that they are in separate leagues. Unequal pay, lack of media exposure, and sex prejudice are the biggest concerns.

       There is nothing really stopping certain female athletes from competing with men. Sports organizations can ban them from doing so. This is an obvious act of sex discrimination. There are cases in which girls have to compete with boys seeing as there are no girls teams in certain schools. Wrestling and football have some girls playing with boys in elementary and middle school. Their competitive years could end by high school seeing as boys are experiencing the increase in fitness capacity from puberty. Girls would not be able to keep up seeing as they do not make significant strength gains. The only solution would be to build a girls team, so female athletes could continue to compete. If women had to try out for teams with mostly males, it would reduce the total number of women competing. It could be done with sports that do not require an immense amount of brute strength. Race car driving, equestrian sport, gymnastics, and marathon running could be sports in which women could compete directly. Certainly, there are women who can compete with men. The system that is place is more about placing athletes in a weight class, rather than their sex. The growth of more women’s teams or leagues is not hindering women. It enables them to be on a competitive platform.

Feministing: Women in Sports- Why Can’t Women Compete With Men ?

Daily Mail: Bodybuilders More Likely To Be Sexist (2012 )

Bodybuilders More Likely to be Sexist

The University of Westminster carried out a survey in 2012 asking male bodybuilders their opinions in regards to sex relations. It was published in the journal The Psychology of Men and Masculinity. Certain questions and statements were asked and the conclusion was that bodybuilders were more sexist. This seems like a gross exaggerated generalization. However, it does reveal that there are some sexist conviction present in sports and fitness culture. The men surveyed were probably ones who agreed with a more strict view of gender roles and a position that women’s freedom should be limited.   The men who were serious into muscle building activities were more likely to agree with positions such as ” I  feel women flirt with men just to tease or hurt them.” Drinking they found was an unattractive habit for women. They also believed that the only attractive women were thin ones and appearance is the only important thing a woman should achieve. What such men are doing is making themselves into hyper-masculine stereotypes. The more the desire for a muscular body the study found, the more sexist attitudes the men had. This study has multiple problems, but it has legitimate points. While it is known that stereotypical images or ideas are harmful to women, rarely is it discussed the harm of gender stereotypes on men. The study also has one major flaw is that it did not explore other areas of the bodybuilding and fitness subculture. Women were not surveyed who are active in the sport. The unfortunate aspect about this survey is that they assume that only men engage in bodybuilding activities. Someone just reading this article without prior knowledge would have a major distortion about a person’s motivation for being in the sport or what it is.

              The survey is limited. Women who compete or lift for recreation were not even mentioned. If this study wanted to make a point about sexism, it would have asked how women are treated in the gyms, sport, and general public in the survey. Many times women are met with hostility from their male counterparts. This is not just from individuals, but institutions or other public spheres. Female bodybuilders have very few contests to compete in and sponsorships   are limited. The IFBB has cancelled the Ms. Olympia and Ms. International contest. This represents the institutional discrimination in the sport. On a more personal level, women may be deterred from using certain facilities of gyms. Women who were bodybuilding in the past often described how they were either prevented from getting access to the weight rooms or pressured into going into the more “feminine” exercise session classes such as aerobics. Today there is a level of defacto  sex segregation  in gyms with mostly men in weight rooms or women running on treadmills. Women are constantly warned “not to get too big” or “don’t look too strong.” There are a portion of men who feel that women should not have any involvement is sports or fitness at all.

The survey seemed to forget that women are bodybuilders too. 

The general public’s reaction can vary. while all reactions are not negative, many have sexist overtones. They can range from “women should not look like this” or “they look like men.” Such vituperation also involves homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, exposing other biases and forms of intolerance. Mainly, these more negative reactions are from people who think women should not do the same activities men do or have the same rights.  It would make more sense to ask how the muscular men treat their strong female colleagues. It most likely would follow similar ostracism that comes from the general public. It would be interesting to see what the female version of this survey would produce. Could muscular women have feelings of misandry? This term refers to prejudice or hatred of men. Often women who engage in strength sports or bodybuilding are criticized as invaders in a traditionally male domain. They are not there for the love of the sport, they just come to promote gender antagonism with men.  Radical feminists promoted the position of being antagonistic to men while simultaneously competing with in all spheres of life. The majority of the second wave feminists just wanted legal and political equality, while the third wave feminists of the present adopted some of the radical feminist ideas. It dubious that women get involved in the sport to gain power to abuse men in some way. Most women who compete have either been serious athletes in other sports or started lifting then decided to compete. That does not mean women would not hold some misandry, but the idea of women “invading” male spaces seems ludicrous. Without examining these elements the study has limitations.

              The sample size of the study was too small. Those interviewed were based in the UK and were white males. The problem with that is that white males are not the standard for all of humanity. Men and women are active in fitness who have various ethnic, religious, class, and cultural backgrounds. The study solely focused on white males. There is also a bias in terms of national origin. These were mostly white British males who took the survey.

Excluding or ignoring other men of various backgrounds makes the study seem limited. This presents a very stereotypical image of the bodybuilding and fitness world. Fitness and bodybuilding has become an international phenomenon in which competitors from all over the world compete in IFBB contests.  This sample may also just demonstrate that white males have more of a sense of entitlement. If a white supremacist society favors Europeans over other groups, it is no wonder they would hold oppressive beliefs. Now, it is possible that other ethnic groups would hold oppressive views of women. Many countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America lag behind in terms of gender equality. A more reliable survey would have to be taken by men in various gyms and possibly in numerous countries to make such a claim that bodybuilders or men into bodybuilding are more sexist. There are many reasons why men and women would participate in such exercise or sports activities. This survey cannot be completely dismissed, because it exposes a major problem of  sexist macho culture and female behavior than enables it indirectly.

        The bodybuilding sport and weightlifting activities have a sexist macho culture. It emphasizes stereotypical masculine image of the stoic, powerful, and unfeeling strongman. A large portion of the sexist macho culture disparages women,while simultaneous putting emphasis on sexual conquest. A real man in this bizarre subculture brags about how many women they have had sexual relations with. What creates this unhealthy mode of thought are the misogynistic nature of society. A sex obsessed culture that objectifies women creates this behavior. Then their is the element of female behavior that enable this cycle. The survey reveals the relationship status of the men. The majority were single men ( 38.5% ), there were men who were dating (31.2 %), and others were married ( 23.9%) . The higher portion of  single men with negative beliefs about women and their obsessive muscle building activities indicates a long history of female rejection. Getting a relationship or getting married is harder for men, simply based on the fact women may be more hyper-selective in their choices. As unfortunate as this may be women are attracted to men of power doubtless of their ethical character. There can be multiple forms of status either financial or based on appearance. The society has taught women to either choose a man with either muscles of money.

Serenea    AAM

The men with the most resources and power are normally going to have the most women. Despite claims women just want nice men this does not seem to reflect their courtship or marriage choices. 

This may encourage men to behave in an unhealthy way. The obsessive drive for status could result in extreme stress and heath issues. Men may be forced into archetypes such as the rich playboy or the hyper-masculine he-man. As much as third wave feminists condemn what they refer to as toxic masculinity, a large portion of women find such attributes attractive. The nice guy may actually finish last in this competition.This also puts women at risk for being trapped in potentially abusive or dangerous relationships. Men who do not fit these images of powerful man may either be more frustrated or attempt to emulate  a narrow paradigm of masculine identity. Knowing that women may find these stereotypical attributes attractive, this may induce men to get obsessive about muscle building activities.  To blame men solely for such behavior would not be fair. Women have also contributed to this unfortunate phenomenon. Sexist macho culture is a relic of the past, when traditional gender roles were rigidly followed. It promotes absolute male authority in society, family, and the wider public sphere. Feminism challenged women’s secondary status and decades later women find themselves in more positions of power. This has not only caused anger in some men, but also a question of masculine identity. If male power was to be natural why is it that women can be powerful too? While women have become a larger presence in the workforce and public life, it was thought sports and the realm of physical power women could not penetrate. Yet, they did and it generates vituperative responses.

The sexist macho culture does not accept strong women, because it believes women should be controlled. A muscular woman just reminds men with such negative attitudes that women are as capable as they are. There is the feeling that women have invaded male spaces and it has produced certain reactions. A sexist man may have a problem with having a female boss and project  their frustration in the sexist macho culture of the gym.Society does not give men an opportunity to expose their vulnerability or possible depression. The moment a man does that sexist rhetoric is directed at them. Men who cannot cope are either called “sissies” “fags” “pussies” or “wimps.” The most ludicrous response to to men who are struggling psychologically is to “man up.”  Pressure is also coming from a more gender antagonistic based third wave feminism. This group does not want equality, rather favors a female centered society in all aspects of life. They merely want to replace patriarchy with matriarchy. Men who do not hold sexist beliefs are even targets of the new form of radical feminism.  This also explains the rise of men’s rights, MGTOW, and incels. Men who feel isolated or rejected by society and large numbers of women have turned to extreme misogyny. It does not solely have to do with the fault of society or personal prejudice. Extreme third wave feminism is a catalyst as well as the unintended shifts in sex politics. The sexist macho culture must be challenged in the sports world. It should be accepted that women can be strong and men can sometimes cry. A healthy regulation of emotions will promote better mental and physical health.

        The mass media may also share the blame for this distorted view of body image and behavior. The concept of the ideal male body has changed overtime to one that looks more muscular.While it can be seen who body image conformity harms women, this phenomenon is ignored when discussing men. The consumption of television and social media are contributors to much of the body image dissatisfaction.

popular social media icons
Social media has allowed for higher rates of image and entertainment consumption.
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TV is another medium in which people see ideal body images. 

 The study focused on the gender dynamics change as well as the change in media consumption.   Viren Swarmi researcher on this study stated ”  we’re also arguing that those oppressive beliefs directed at women also have an impact on men’s own body images, specifically their drive for muscularity…” which is only part of this story. The producers of fitness and bodybuilding materials want people to buy their products. Many advertisements either work on people’s desires or target individuals with low self-esteem relative to their appearance. Men and women having negative feelings about their bodies are more willing to spend a significant amount for improving their image.The image obsession fits into a gender role script. Men are strong, women are weak. Even though this does not represent reality it such gender role scripts are shown through print and digital media.

dating-buff
The image of the muscular man and thin woman have been promoted as the primary body ideals.

Women face higher rates of bulima and anorexia, however men are now having another psychological disorder known as muscle dysmorphia. Similar to anorexia or bulima, this psychological disorder is when a person thinks they do not have enough muscle and become obsessed with becoming more muscular to an unhealthy degree.This may even encourage men to use a number of anabolic androgenic steroids to achieve a particular physique. Men and women can suffer from anyone of these body image or eating disorders, but the sex difference in rates reveals much about the culture.  Men and women have different idealized bodies relative to the gender role script. Man is supposed to be powerful and dominating, while women are passive. Psychology has shown that such body images disorders are mental conditions, which require therapy. It has only been recently that scholars have moved away from the concept of body images issues being a female only problem. The consumption of media does have an influence on behavior. Children are more susceptible to media. Boys raised in a society in which women are not valued, are going to carry such views into adulthood. Boys seeing stereotypical images of males will most likely imitate certain behaviors. Girls who see images that present women as less than human are going to internalize negative images. There has to be a change in the way girls and boys are raised. Simultaneously. there also needs to be more discretion in regards to what media is consumed. Men and women must be conscious of the materials they watch or consume and what they expose their children to.

       This study only reveals a small portion of gender bias and sexism in fitness culture. The mistake is that its conclusion is too general. It states that bodybuilders are more sexist. Men do not need to be bodybuilders to hold anti-woman beliefs. Religious institutions and business still hold sexist convictions in their organizations. There are many place in the world in which women do not have access to employment or education. Women’s reproductive rights are either under attack in the US, Ireland, or Argentina. Yemen still engages in the practice of child brides. Obviously, women’s oppression or social circumstance cannot be the cause of a small group of men. It is attributed to a large power structure that is legitimized by supremacist beliefs. Casting muscle men as nasty brutes seems to fit a narrative of the past. William Sheldon’s concept of constitutional psychology basically stated the personality type could be determined by somatotype.  Mesomorphs were the more aggressive and violent type. This seems to subtly suggested in the study. The pugnacious jock image is a label that is placed on men who are highly involved in fitness. The only way to  vanquish negative images or stereotypes is through reform. It is time that the fitness world relinquish its sexist mach culture in favor of a more open atmosphere. Masculine identity must be more than just a one dimensional stereotype. This study although used a good method of survey, still has bias. Men working out does not always relate to low self-esteem or a pathological hatred of women. Some do this for fun, serious athletic competition, or it is a dedicated hobby.

Daily Mail: Bodybuilders More Likely To Be Sexist (2012 )

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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