"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Monday, May 11, 2009

My Antifeminist Childhood: "Girl Push-ups" Edition


It's common knowledge that push-ups can be made a bit more manageable by assuming the position pictured above and resting your weight on your knees instead of up on your toes. The term "modified push-ups" is used by many workout websites, shows, and videos to describe this exercise, but who hasn't more frequently heard them called, simply, "girl push-ups"?

"Girl push-ups" is what they were called in every single gym class I was in as a kid, anyway. By both the teachers and the students. The teachers let us know that girls were welcome to do our push-ups on our knees, while boys had to do "real" push-ups. I remember looking around and feeling intensely sorry for boys who obviously couldn't keep up with the more athletic guys but weren't given the option to do the exercise that was more manageable and comfortable for them. Meanwhile, there were always a few athletic girls who could have easily done their push-ups while up on their toes.

Designating exercise guidelines by gender rather than by ability promoted the message that ALL girls are weaker than ALL boys. ALL the time. Any exceptions to that rule were just that -- exceptional. Girls who could do "real push-ups" were considered super strong, and therefore not girly, while boys who could not were considered super weak, and therefore not manly. (Ever notice how the opposite of "girly" in this scenario is "manly"? "Boyish" doesn't quite work when one is trying terribly hard to prove one's masculine strength.)

I don't know how push-ups are handled in phys ed classes today, but I can't imagine that push-ups on one's knees have lost their reputation as "girl push-ups". I can only hope that requirements of what exercises are required are no longer explicitly based in gender. Maybe I'm just being optimistic, though.


plumpdumpling said...

Even if boys had been given the option, do you think they would've taken it?

And because they obviously wouldn't have (except if they were unpopular and didn't care about embarrassing themselves), do you think that's a product of society or a product of innate competitiveness?

Tracey said...

Society all the way. Even if there is some sort of innate competitiveness that is somehow only possessed by boys (which I highly, highly doubt), it wouldn't translate into homophobic teasing and berating that it does if we didn't live in such a sexist society.

Do you disagree?

plumpdumpling said...

You don't imagine that boys are highly influenced in that area by testosterone?

I totally agree that society is driving most of it, but it seems like something innate could have started it.

Nanella said...

Plump, if you can provide the scientific evidence that testosterone is linked to competitiveness (and I already know you can't, because such a link has not been proven), then feel free to posit gender essentialist arguments. It may "seem like" there is an innate contributing factor, but since that perception is entirely dependent on personal and societal gender bias, such an argument comes across as poking sharp pointy sticks at the feminists rather than an intellectually honest query. Any feminist worth her salt can tell you that, thanks to rigid gender expectations and cultural conditioning, female competitiveness largely manifests as a Who's The Fairest of Them All? game. It would be lazy, fallacious thinking to base an assumption that men are more competitive than women on examples that are stereotypically male. Not to mention insulting.

Nanella said...

Excellent blog, by the way! I agree wholeheartedly that gendering physical activity is very problematic. (Gendering anything is problematic, of course.) Little boys are taught that the worst thing in the world is to be associated with anything girly (in our lovely homophobic patriarchy of a society), and so I imagine that loads of boys who would've rather done the modified push-up were prevented from doing so out of fear of being labeled a "girl". I can't blame them, as I would've felt the same if in their gym shoes.

Devon said...

I agree 100percent with this and I'm male so not only "feminism worth her salt" but also a high school boy in sociology

Devon said...

I agree 100percent with this and I'm male so not only "feminism worth her salt" but also a high school boy in sociology

Unknown said...

Women on average have way less testosterone than me the highest amount of push-ups performed by men is 10460 while women are at around 360 for the strongest it's common knowledge women don't have a high upper body mass it's not sexism it's the truth and no ones teasing them about it when I was 14 I could get 400 in almost 10 minutes that not because I trained on it I almost never trained I just burned testosterone while most 14 year old women can barely do 2 I'm not sexist it's just the truth