My Journey with Gender Schema in the sport that inspires so many to “Push the Boundaries of Expectation”
After being asked “What drives you to be an active individual?” in the Athlete of the Month Interview I have been jonesing to follow up on my response. When I answered the question I realized that I don’t do CrossFit only to get stronger, healthier and compete, but also to promote the evolution of everyday females in fitness. And while I am nowhere near being the heaviest lifter, the most flexible gymnast or the fastest runner, I think that my sheer participation in the sport of CrossFit has allowed me to realize the issues of gender stereotyping, as well as the ability I have to change it.
I have struggled with being able to find a voice and an outlet to profess my insight on feminism and CrossFit because I thought that in order to create something meaningful I needed to start a program or club. I thought that in order to deliver a message or idea you had to have a huge group of people with lots of campaigning and support. From my standpoint as a teenager at CrossFit Northlake, I did not realize that the simplest method can also be the most effective. That’s why I decided to sit down at my computer and write to the community of people who have inspired me to be confident as not only a female in CrossFit, but also a female in general. My goal in writing this to CFN is to get the feelings, words and ideas out of my head that I have been eager to share with someone for a long time. I am a 16 year old girl with limited experience in the world, the things I write come from the little interaction I have had with these matters. Everything I say should be taken with a grain of salt because the individuals who are (hopefully still) reading this know a lot more about the image and expectations of females in today’s society and athletic world than I do!
So the first time I can remember being so passionate about this platform of women in sports, was the beginning of this school year when the school started hanging up posters for Powderpuff. For those who don’t know what Powderpuff is, it’s essentially a series of football practices (maybe 3-4 weeks) which lead up to a single football game, and it’s only for girls. Boys are asked to sign up to be cheerleaders, and at my school they dress up in pink tutus, wear girls’ Nike running shorts and put their hair up in pig tails. When my friends started asking me to play I declined. I personally feel like the game is an attempt to portray “role reversal”, showing that girls playing football and guys being cheerleaders on the sideline is a one month ordeal, a silly game, a joke. And maybe some of you participated in Powderpuff when you were in high school, as a cheerleader or a player, just know that this is my opinion and I am in no way meaning to offend anyone. The point is that after a couple of weeks of friends bugging me to play and asking me why I wouldn’t sign up, I blew up at the lunch table attempting to explain how I felt about the match. After my rant all I can remember is the girl sitting across from me saying “Girls aren’t supposed to play football. Girls aren’t strong enough, they would get hurt.”
So my question is “Why do teenagers (and society in general) not think that girls should actively participate in things like football and weightlifting?” and I think that the main reason for it is a lack of EXPOSURE. When I was growing up I never saw girls playing football or lifting weights. Thinking about it now, I never saw girls playing any sport other than cheerleading when I turned on the TV. When I watched movies the girls who had big muscles, deep voices or were interested in “boy things” were ridiculed. A similar type of mockery was placed on boys who did not excel in sports like football, basketball or baseball. So here we begin to see that by placing a gender in a box of characteristics, colors and activities which they are expected to like and dislike we start to create these stereotypes. When looking on TV, there are no females playing football. Does that mean that women can’t play football? Does that mean they shouldn’t?
There’s something I learned in my Theory of Knowledge class called the “is-ought problem” which states that just because something is a certain way in the world, doesn’t mean that’s the way it ought to be. Just because females aren’t seen in football, doesn’t mean that’s the way it ought to be! When girls are young they typically aren’t put in football. They grow up seeing only boys in football, so when we don’t see a single girl playing, why would we be eager to join? Why would we ever think that football isn’t only a sport for boys? And these questions I’m asking don’t have to be applied directly to football, the same goes for women in weightlifting, other sports and even certain career areas. So what I think it takes for these barriers to be broken are courageous individuals to recognize that there is a problem in the way a group is being portrayed. That is how CrossFit women have changed the image of fitness. Competitors like Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, Sam Briggs and Katrin Davidsdottir post videos on their social media accounts every day of their PR’s and new gymnastics skills. They show their accomplishments with no shame. However, for me, it’s seeing all the strong women at our box that inspire me to have confidence in publicly lifting my heaviest weights and increasing my pull and push up volume. This exposure to strong women in CrossFit is what made me feel secure in my position as a female in fitness. It’s the exposure of seeing strong individuals who are fearless in what they do that gives young kids (or 16 year olds) the inspiration to become their own strong person. And I’m not saying strong individuals are exclusively athletes. I think that with more young girls being able to witness strong women in action, we can eliminate these stereotypes of frailty and weakness. Creating this image is what drives me to have a voice in CrossFit, whether it’s for CrossFit kids or my friends at school.
To conclude this (novel) I wanted to recognize the fact that while women have won the large battle for their rights, now there are the small issues to overcome, which sometimes are the hardest. I still hear offhand comments today, such as, “you can’t let a girl beat you”, “that’s impressive… for a girl”, or “you throw/run like a girl”. It’s these tiny things that people say without even thinking about it that affect the image of females the most. If I grew up always hearing that I wasn’t good enough to “compete with the guys” or that boys would always be better than me, I don’t think I would’ve been encouraged to try CrossFit or push myself harder in swimming. It’s discouraging to hear the terms “like a girl” or “as a girl” used as an insult. So I guess my point is we should never discourage strength in girls. We should expose girls to strong, inspirational women who are not afraid to step outside of the boundaries and stereotypes put upon females. We should expose ourselves to strong, inspirational women! We should be strong, inspirational women! Because I am tired of being told that girls “aren’t strong enough” and I think you should too.