So there’s this… gym rhetoric.
It’s sexist rhetoric. And it’s enabled by well-meaning people who still don’t get the actual problem, which is gender boundary transgression.
Here’s some history.
I was a fat kid. Or, you know, I was a pudgy kid and then I was a kind of pudgy teenager who was somewhat physically active and I’ve always been really strong. Just my physiology or something, who knows.
About the time Becca and I got married I’d kind of gotten my head together and also not, about my weight and food and she and I lost some weight, and around that time I started running. Which, actually, I hate. I hate running. I hate running and it sits very often in the same place in my brain that dieting does, of “good” and “virtue” and also
Bullshit, running. But I was running and lost more weight and everyone praised me for being skinny and what I was was actually really cardiovascularly fit and while I hated running I loved the activity and moreso I loved the prowess. So I swam, and biked, and ran, and worked towards triathlons and also joined the Milpitas firefighter academy program and started trying to become a full time paid firefighter.
Firefighting changed everything I believed about myself, my body and my weight. Being fit from running did me no good at all in fire, where I was failing physical agility tests because
1. I wasn’t strong enough
2. I didn’t believe in myself and didn’t believe I could do the job because I was fat/a woman/some other thing
3. I wasn’t mentally strong enough because of one and two.
Those three things meant that even if I managed to somehow pass an agility test (it happened a few times), I failed the process because an oral board panel and paid personnel know when you don’t believe you can do the job even when you’ve passed all the tests and the words coming out of your mouth are “I WILL BE THE BEST FIREFIGHTER SINCE SMOKEY THE GODDAMNED BEAR.”
Colossally. I failed in hundreds of small ways and I failed in the larger sense and then I spent about a half a decade kicking myself for it. Then I took up hockey.
Okay, okay, I’m getting to the point.
My point is, if I had played hockey and lifted weights seriously back then, I would have learned a lot more about myself, about my breaking points, I would have developed both the critical physical strength but the even more critical mental strength necessary to both get the job and do the job.
Watch this. Watch this woman not give up. Watch her not accept failure. Watch not her physical toughness, but her mental fortitude.
Think about “femininity” with me for a second and tell me why it is that it’s wrong when we rush to reassure women who are resisting weight lifting with this phrase.
“Don’t worry. You won’t bulk up.”
No, seriously, what?
You just told me “be as good as a male firefighter but you can’t look like one.”
First of all, yeah. Women who lift don’t bulk. Generally, we are not wired to put on massive amounts of muscle and to do it we’d have to change our hormones and body chemistry.
But there’s a deeper thing going on here.
I have to compete in a male space while not looking like a man. This is the most important thing of all the things.
And even people who lift say it. And it’s bullshit, actually. What if… we stopped worrying about maintaining this small=feminine thing at all? What if we just said “hey, I’m going to freaking work out and lift and be badass?”
And that was it?
When I started passing firefighter agilities I was around twenty pounds heavier than when I’d started fire. I’d mostly stopped running, and instead I was doing things like this to work out:
Just like that, with a hose like that, in front of my house. My neighbors thought I was out of my fucking mind but that’s how you train for an agility, by doing the stuff in the agility. Plus teaching your brain, “no, you can actually do this evolution. Knock that whiny self-doubt shit off.”
At the time, I had stopped thinking about body. I’d stopped thinking about weight. Fuck my weight. Fuck thin. Fuck “petite,” I just wanted to have whatever it was going to take to pass the fucking agilities and get the firefighter job. I did chinups on a chinup bar over the bedroom door. I hoisted a bag full of weights by a rope up the back of the high school bleachers. I squeezed a squeeze-grip in my truck at traffic lights.
It wasn’t enough. All that. Wasn’t enough.
Now, I know. Hockey and weights have made a difference and I’m pretty sure that with some focused work, at 43 and 180 some-odd pounds at 5’4″, I could get on deck and pass an agility test without much trouble.
Size no longer factors into it. I lift and I think power, I think muscle. I think a size of myself that is beyond size, where someday I will deadlift more than my own weight and the physics of “feminine” cease to matter.
Worse things can happen to a woman than to look like a man.
That’s what I’m saying.
Worse things can happen.
In my head, I’m enormous.