Kate on Sports was a vlog that was active between 2006 to 2008 that was produced in association with Zennie62 and Sports Business Simulations. Kate Scott was giving her analysis on women’s sports and sports in general. These few videos are of interest, because it is so rare that women give such opinions in regards to women in sports. One particular video that she made was “women and muscle.” This was the best one of the few videos she made before she became a sportscaster for KNBR. However, it does have some problems. There are particular points that should be noted, although the overall argument is cogent. The six minute video explores topics such as body image, Title IX, and what does the new found physical strength of the female athlete mean. The camera operator poses a perspective that society is at a juncture in which sports women have muscle, but are not comfortable with it. The question then emerges what is wrong with women having muscle? The video proceeds to tackle these questions and Kate Scott provides those answers.
There was a claim in the video without Title IX, this look would not have existed. However, anyone with knowledge of women’s sports history would know that is not entirely correct. Muscular women existed prior to Title IX. They were either regulated to circus performers, vaudeville acts, or beach boardwalk acts. There was no competitive outlet for their skills and talents due to cultural mores as well as sex discrimination. The documented evidence of muscular women can be seen in photographs. Acrobats, circus strong women, and performers were present in the 19th and early 20th century. Katie Sandwina was known for her feats of strength involving barbells and lifting men overhead. Joan Rhodes also would follow in this tradition of the strong woman act. Out of this emerge a weightlifter culture, which is bigger today in terms of popularity. Crossfit and Olympic weightlifting would not be at the same status, if it were not for the strong women and strong men of the previous two centuries.
Another case at least in art, was how Michelangelo depicted muscular women in his art during the Italian Renaissance. There are vary rare cases in which muscular women are depicted in art history. This does not mean that women were not athletes. Artifacts and artwork discovered from ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Minoan civilization reveal that the female athlete is hardly a modern phenomenon. Women participated in footraces, wrestling, bull leaping, and javelin. The difference is the amount of opportunity women have and the access to fitness facilities. While there were women of considerable natural strength, there were no opportunities to develop it further. The women of the past either had to struggle around sex, race, and class barriers. These are still present factors, but there is more awareness and willingness to resist such aberrations of society. To say that Title IX magically produced women athletes would be false. There is a long history record of women in sports.
There are countries in which Title IX does not exist and yet female athletes still emerge. What Title IX did in the US was allow for more female athletes to emerge and enhance their physical skills. Tackling discrimination was the major obstacle that had to be confronted. The reality was that Title IX was not specifically for sports, but part of the Education Amendments of 1972 addressing sex disparities in education. School programs were examined and it was reveal that girls were getting the least resources for sports activities. If the schools did not adhere to federal policy, they would not receive funds from the US government. The girls who benefited from this would go on to become Olympic athletes or just your average fit woman. This female mesomorph as a paradigm owes much of existence to Abbye Stockton and Lisa Lyon. They actively trained not just for improving physical skill, but to add muscle to their bodies. This was something during their time periods, which was considered unacceptable for women.
During Stockton’s time in the 1940s she had to battle both prejudice and myths about women and weightlifting. There were myths that said it would cause women to become infertile or harm themselves. Lisa Lyon had to struggle to compete in newly formed bodybuilding competitions, which were limited in number and had less support in the 1970s. These women contributed to overturning the notion that the female body is not designed for strength. The unfortunate aspect was that the women of the past did not benefit from legislative assistance prior to Title IX. As a public health measure it should not be under estimated. Women started to get more involved in exercise, fitness, and sports rather than just for the purpose of weight loss. The analysis is limited, due to the fact that women are competing in sports globally at higher levels. The Olympics, All Africa Games, Pan- American Games, and Asian Games show women athletes from all around the world.
Kate’s and her associate’s perspective only examines this phenomenon from a Western ( specifically American ) perspective. The physically strong woman has become a small, but growing development in the sports world. Confining it to the US would certainly be incorrect.
This discussion inevitably goes into body image and beauty standards. For decades a tin body type has been idolized to the extent that cases of bulimia, anorexia, and obsessive dieting have become a normal part of some women’s lives. This has been challenged with an emphasis on a curvy and larger body type as Kate reveals. The muscular body type in this obsession with appearance falls in an undefined place. There is some moderate acceptance for women with some muscle ( “tone”), yet a level of hostility to women who develop their musculature to the highest levels. Female bodybuilders not only are strong, they project a powerful image. This causes either reactions of disgust, lust, or support. Society has concepts of what a woman should be and being powerful both physically or mentally is not a part of that in the traditional view of gender roles. The recent ideal of the female body was to be considered frail and thin, not one of muscle. The muscular woman challenges this belief, by presenting another version of beauty.
According to their version of aesthetics, they are molding flesh into a living statue. The rise of crossfit and weightlifting as a popular activity has improved the image of women with muscle. This has been to a limited extent. There is a problem that comes with mainstreaming a subculture. It becomes too common place and loses it unique value, which made it great in the first place. There were women and men who liked the muscular look prior to this sudden mainstream trend. There is also another problem with the new “strong is the new skinny” conviction. Could it be than one unrealistic standard is being replaced by another? It would be hard to imagine in the future that women would be attempting en mass to obtain such physiques. Maybe the best result of this is that women decide for themselves what is a suitable look for them, rather than having society or mass media dictate it to them. Women who are muscular should not be afraid to call themselves muscular. The term toned has been used to mainstream the idea of women having muscle in the fitness industry. The fact is women have muscles and this can be developed to certain degrees. Societies that impose strict limitations on how women should look or behave expose the level of male dominance and misogyny. Individuals should be free to do as they please as long as it does not harm other people. Why should a woman have to spend her time reaching a societal beauty standard? It would be better to form one to your personal preference.
kate also acknowledges that their are men who enjoy the appearance of the physically strong woman. She does mention that women have it hard being muscular, but she does not realize male fans and supporters are also ostracized. This mostly comes from the closed minded, people of conservative thought, sexists, or anyone who cannot tolerate anything different. It is understandable that such a pursuit would just not be someone’s preference, but there is no excuse for vituperation and vitriol. Male fans either are presented as fetishists, eccentrics, and predators. Liking muscular women is no different from liking thin women, larger women, or any other women. At no time will one ever hear the phrase ” you have a skinny woman fetish.” Another misconception is that fans of female muscle only like this type of woman. Male fans could have numerous body type preferences. Men have a hard time too, even struggling with the fact they find this attractive. Stereotypes and popular prejudices surround fans as well as athletes. These attitudes reflect a level of narrow mindedness in regards to traditional roles in what a woman should be. Female muscle fans may not even prefer the same levels of muscularity. There are some who like a sleeker body, a mid range level, and the more hypermuscular physique. It should be understood within fitness, there are varying degrees of muscularity on women. Even within the bodybuilding sports there is fitness, figure, bikini, physique, and traditional bodybuilding.
There has evolved a wide range in which female muscle fans can choose to follow. kate also mentions that it is uncertain in which direction the muscular appearance will go. At the time of this video many elements of women’s sports were changing. Women’s MMA was just on the rise and crossfit was in its prototypical stage. While traditional bodybuilding for women was struggling, more divisions emerged which included figure, bikini, and physique. The look of the athletic female is evolving, but in different branches. Athletes do not all look the same. The way their body looks depends on both genetics and the specific sport they compete in. Athletic women could be muscular, some could be thin and other women could be larger in body type.
As for direction, the images presented are going in multiple pathways. Each one presents a radically different notion about what a woman can achieve and be. There are advocates that want to see the female muscular image be pushed to a higher level and other who state that i has gone too far. Kate even says “she’s not a fan of the ones that can brake you over their knee.” Some fans even say some women have “crossed the line” or are “too much.” These accusations lack cogency. If one is part of the bodybuilding sports it is about sculpting the body. However, it is not solely about size. Shape, conditioning, and symmetry are critical elements that must be balanced on a physique. These should be the only legitimate criticisms directed at women in terms of physique sports. There seems to be a level of movement to the mainstream, but there are some elements that will remain subcultural. The mixed and session wrestling element will remain underground. Although harmless, it is too eccentric to find a mainstream audience. I has been present since female bodybuilding’s early years and will not disappear anytime soon.
It seems hardcore support for the larger muscular women will remain in the realm of subculture. This does not mean that in the distant future that the athletic body type will not gain some level of acceptance in the future. Women’s fitness culture has become something unique between its fans and competitors. Merely ignoring how fans play a role leaves out something critical. The less venues for fans to consume, means a large untapped market. The corporate gatekeepers of the fitness industry should recognize this and capitalize on this niche market. The internet and specifically social media has been helpful at exposing the image of the muscular woman to a wider global audience. So, it could be possible in time it will gain a larger following.
Upon close examination, an answer can be extrapolated from the initial question. There is nothing wrong with women having muscle; it is that people’s limited views of what a woman should look like and be create objections. These beliefs are based on unrealistic beauty standards, subtle misogyny, and the belief that women should be controlled. This control does not merely extend to what a woman can do with her life, but her own body. More extreme cases include the restriction of reproductive rights, abortion, and birth control. One method to control women was to control their bodies. Symbolically, the muscular woman challenges the notion of female frailty and weakness with an image of strength. This comes into conflict with schemata that was develop from culture or media in regards to attitudes about women. If a society only values for women for how they look or solely their reproductive capacities, women who deviate from this cultural norm will be outcasts. Unrealistic beauty standards idolize one body type over all others, which could cause mental distress and self-esteem issues in young women. This desire for an unhealthy level of thinness effects both physical and mental health. Besides anorexia or bulimia, women could put themselves at risk for osteoporosis if not receiving proper nutrition. This system wraps into a subtle misogyny which only views women as sex objects and not people. Women who refuse to follow this system set an example for others to change this defect in cultural mores. Thankfully, their has been slow change. However, some will have to adjust. Some men may just not be used to seeing women with such strength in their daily lives.
The woman with muscle is a rarity, but not some anomaly. One of the least credible arguments against women developing strength and muscle is that it is “unnatural.” Humanity has discovered many ways to alter the body through surgery, medicine, nutrition, and one day extensive genetic engineering. We have reached a point in which our biology can be manipulated possibly leading to transhumanism. Nature can be very unpredictable in the evolutionary process, so calling something “unnatural” would be scientifically inaccurate. Genetics, nutrition, and environment can change the appearance of human populations. A muscular woman is no more “unnatural” than a tall person, short person, or thin person. Organisms thrive on genetic diversity, which is why human beings are the dominant species on the planet. Calling such women “unnatural” is just another way to either exclude or marginalize women who are different. Another argument from detractors is one of a beauty standard. This is relative according to who you ask and varies from culture to culture. These athletes do not do this for the approval or pleasure of men. Yet, this seems like a foreign concept to many. Although the muscular woman is not completely accepted, but is leading an unnoticed revolution.