I saw this a little ago on Instagram. I’m going to leave out who posted it, because I wouldn't want them to feel like I was coming down on them personally, but I am going to come down on it (i.e. the message it sends, not the messenger) like a ton of bricks (no, not bike-run workouts, those heavy things we build houses with).
The image and message is far from unique, as I’ve seen others like it. The intended message is that women should lift weights, that strong is the new skinny, it’s sexy, and strength training is not the sole dominion of men. Great, I can get on board with that. The problem? It’s basically a put-down of the ‘Dude’ mentioned, which if you’re a male reader, means YOU.
So if I squat (or bench-press, or whatever) less than some arbitrary woman, I should feel bad? Sure, as a man, I enjoy a predilection for greater muscle density, less body fat, longer limbs and greater height. ON AVERAGE, that is. Still, I fully expect that a woman who spends more time working out and chasing a strength goal will achieve it before me or the next guy, who doesn't make it as big a priority - it’s only fair, and there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
In triathlon, being passed by a woman is sometimes referred to as being “chicked”... and it’s always bugged me. Why is it weird for a woman to pass me? Anyone who’s faster will pass me, and those who have done more work should be faster. Yet it’s still treated as some kind of anomaly, to the point where I've read of female athletes complaining about how men stubbornly refuse to be passed by them, and flaunt safety rules and guidelines to keep it from happening to them. Usually when I read of such incidents, I write them off on a minority of insecure idiots (the men in the story) or low-grade paranoia (on the part of the female athlete) but I’m starting to wonder if isn’t that egalitarian after all.
Not everybody joins the gym to lose weight. There are people who have always been built like broom handles, and might want to change that. Skinny-Fat, ectomorphs, the names and labels aren't important, but if you’re making people feel bad about their current level of strength, you’re not Fat-shaming, you’re Weak-Shaming.
I want you to read about a blend (blogger-friend) Hank, who has a series on the Huffington Post. He had started a weight-loss journey, mostly by using an elliptical and treadmill at home, and kept this up for several months, never venturing outdoors, never mind setting foot in a gym, because he was afraid the reaction a “stay-puff fatty boom boom invading their sacred hall” would garner. If fear of what has been dubbed ‘fat-shaming’ can keep someone who is overweight from entering a gym and exploring a new way to exercise, can’t we expect the same consequences of ‘weak-shaming’ for someone with a little less muscle?
Maybe you’re thinking “Boo-hoo for the skinny guys”, or that men have been the dishers of this kind of thing for long enough that being on the taking side of it is no big deal. And yet, “Dude She Squats More Than You” and messages like it are a two-pronged attack. Not only is the attempt to prop up female strength training being done on the back of someone weaker, it reinforces the idea that a woman who lifts is some kind of anomaly, and the natural order of things must be ‘Strong Man/Weak Woman’. I remember there used to be a show called “What Will They Think Of Next” that dealt mostly with inventions, and offered us a glimpse of the future. Some academics had figured out that the differences in physical performance between men and women would thin out in the twenty-first century (accompanied by a cartoon of a Wonder-Woman like amazon tackling a mugger). Guess what time it is now? The future is now.
I want women to keep on getting stronger - keep lifting, keep jumping, whatever it takes, just like us men. Just remember, if your message doesn't lift others, you’re a weakling to me.