The things that will be said in this series of posts will make generalizations about both men and women. In no way am I condoning stereotypes or holding stereotype mindsets about people. There are sociological trends within femininity and masculinity within our culture, and those are the trends, along with my own personal experiences, that I am basing this post off of. While it is important to always recognize each human as their own, full self, it’s also important for us, as a scientific community, to track those trends in order to make positive changes within our culture. While some of these may be true to you, others will not be. The same is true for men who read this post: some of these statements about masculinity may not ring true in your own life, while others may. Please continue to evaluate each human as their own selves and not based on any stereotypes or even trends within a society.
Most of us have heard of male privilege. Weather we believe it exists or not, it does. I don’t know how many of us stop to think about female privilege. For example, we are often taught about how to work through our emotions such as sadness and given the freedom to express those more openly than men are. This is a privilege that we, as women, have in our society. As a rather outspoken and firm believer in feminism, some people may be surprised that I fight so hard to speak to both sides about understanding the privileges that we both have, however, any social equality cannot be reached without both sides coming together and actually listening to the other’s side. The other part of this, however, is that we, as women, often think of these things as disadvantages when we’re in the gym, and quite frankly, they’ve always given me a pretty large step up over men who should have been able to thump me in the first round of sparing. That is, when I’ve recognized them as tools, and grown and utilized them.
A large part of personal growth in the boxing gym comes from not complaining and instead being able to change your mindset about your circumstances—especially when it comes to the large amount of difficulties and hardships women currently face in boxing gyms. For example, when my teammates were told to run 2 miles each day, they simply picked the time they felt like, laced up some shoes, popped in headphones, and went for a run. For me, I needed to perfectly time each run with the safest part of the day, vary all of my routes, make sure I kept my eyes peeled at all times for dangerous people, push a very used double umbrella stroller with a combined weight of 100lbs of very wiggly, complaining children and keep my pace high while constantly giving them snacks, picking up toys, and singing songs with them. When we were in the gym, I had to literally strap my son on my back or to my ankle with a jump rope, or to constantly pull our little family back together and meet their needs while never dropping my pace (or a glove) and hearing all directions. These things used to really get under my skin when I’d hear the guys talk about how much easier girls have it because they just have to get in the ring with other girls and how it was easy for women to run because that’s like, all women do for fitness, right? But it was hard for them because they hate it.
But then I changed how I thought about each of these things as I started to see really odd (but very positive!) results in my boxing. I had quite an advantage, I came to realize, in the ring with all of that stroller work. As it turns out, that thing is basically like sprints pushing a sled. And my legs, back, and core may look soft and womanly, but trust me, they're made of freaking steel from doing everything with a wiggly baby and then toddler on my back. ...And at the end of the day, all the conditioning is only as good as the results for us in the ring, right? Well, turns out, the thing I’d thought of as a disadvantage was a huge advantage in the ring. I was freakishly strong for my weight class and while speed has NEVER been my strong suit, keeping up with the women and men in my weight class on speed was a huge, huge achievement for me that came from pushing those wiggly, singing kids. Over the next few weeks I want us to change our way of thinking about some of the things that I most often hear from both men and women are deficits to women in the ring. Instead of thinking of them as bad things, lets work our way through all the positives we actually have in the ring from those “bad” things.
What other things are typically thought of as disadvantages in the gym as women? We'll hit about five things that we're often told as women are reasons we can't fight or won't be taken seriously. This week we're going to talk about the fact that
"Female" Workouts are Seen as Weak: You may be saying to yourself, okay, so, what? Our “privilege” is that we’ve got nothing left to loose? Yeah, that’s true. Your masculinity isn’t on the line every time that you step in the gym. People won’t say that you are less of a woman because you couldn’t beat up that man that had 20 pounds on you as well as experience and reach. So you’re not going to have days where you have to leave the gym feeling like a large chunk of your identity (the fact that you are a woman) is now in question because you had a bad or off day. …But you’ll have to have your femininity questioned pretty much every time you have a good day and do beat the breaks off that man with experience, reach, and weight on you, so I really feel like that one is a toss up.
No, what I’m getting at is that no type of workout, skill, or technique to help you in the ring is “off limits” to you. You can lift now (thanks feminism!). But you can also do a Jane Fonda workout and yoga too without having your manhood questioned. You probably have some years behind you, actually, where those types of more “feminine” workouts were all that you really felt very comfortable doing until you stretched your ideas of what were okay, or even good, for the female body. Especially as I went through grad school with all different sports’ coaches, it was a huge privilege that I felt like I could equally learn as much for my boxers from the women who taught dance, gymnastics, and track as I could from the football coach that let me come in during his lifting sessions to see in person what he was working on with his guys—which, fyi, has been the most helpful in conditioning my women, not my men. Do you know what I’ve learned (from a learning mindset, not from my coaching program) actually has the most in common with MMA conditioning even more so than boxing conditioning? Pole Dancers. Yep. And it was because I wasn’t limited in what types of exercise would make me feel too masculine (or if I were a man, too feminine) to even try, hear, and see them with open (and educated) eyes for what they were worth, adapt them if necessary, and then work them into our sets here.
That mindset, that privilege of freedom to move easily between all types of movements and exercises without giving a second thought to my femininity while doing them allows me to have strength and endurance levels of men much bigger than me—who should, technically, be able to lift more than me—and yet to have agility and speed that far surpasses theirs.
So with any of these privileges that we’re discussing in this series, it’s always our responsibility to pass that privilege along to others. In our case, we’re talking about female privilege, so we have to pass it along to our male counterparts. I know we don’t always want to do that if we don’t have a lot of men doing the same with their privilege that are surrounding us, but nothing will ever change if we all keep that mindset. So how do we pass this along and bring us all together? Well, I’ve been doing specialized conditioning for pro men boxers and MMA fighters since I started Lions Den. Sometimes, they know that I’m working more feminine movements into their workouts. But a lot of times, I do my best to not overwhelm them with that fact. When they do some of the pole movements that I’ve worked in, they do it on their pull up bar, adapted to the movements that complement their weak spot, and they grunt their way through it in ways that masculinity is not questioned. Is it right to cater to their masculinity and not push them to open their minds and “just deal with it” if it’s helping them? I say yes. I believe in slowly opening up their hearts and minds to the ideas of our equality. We’re already talking about men who professionally fight for a living and are taking conditioning advice for said fighting from a female conditioning coach.
They’re already doing their best to work towards equality. Shoving it down their throats is only going to be hurtful, not helpful. Eventually, after they’ve seen results, they’ll figure out in different ways what we’ve been using. By then, they’ll already see it’s not the what they thought, so they wont reject what will help them. If you aren’t in a position to pass along your privilege, it’s still important that you’re fully tapping into it and embracing it for your own game. What tools do you have from past workout lives that could be really upping your game in the ring? Some of the fighters that I've worked with have completely lost certain types of movements within their bodies from overworking one area and under working another. Whole areas of movement! Whole directions that they can no longer move in! All because masculinity has restricted or stopped them from feeling okay to walk into a yoga studio or to buy that Jane Fonda workout for hips and butts. Don't be afraid to be your whole self that needs some yoga, some lifting, and even, if you're feeling adventurous, some pole dancing.