An exercise in saying the wrong thing

I know the man responsible will probably never see this, but I need to write it out anyway for my own processing.

For context: A few weeks ago, someone I hadn’t spoken with for over a year got in touch, and we started chatting. The usual rubbish, how are you, how’s work, what have you been up to (how I detest small talk).  Then, in response to him asking if I need to workout considering all the dancing I do, I said I probably don’t need to, but I love having muscles.

And then he sent this:

Muscle shaming

Translated for the sake of clarity, “not too big muscles, I hope; A pretty woman with a toned body is sexy. A pretty woman with big muscles is not.”

First and foremost, this is creepy. as. hell.  He hopes. He hopes, about my body. He wants my body to remain sexy at all time for his benefit. Scuze me while I try to stop my skin crawling right off me.

But it’s also infuriating, I read it and I was instantly shaking with anger. The suggestion that only ‘pretty’ women can be sexy. Because of course there’s only one definition of pretty and/or sexy.

The suggestion that well-muscled women are not sexy in any way, to anyone.

But most of all, the assumption that any of that would be a motivating factor for me. As if I would immediately sell off all my kettlebells and weights because heaven forbid I not be considered sexy. As if the entire point and purpose of my life is to be attractive.

 

So I called him out. Something along the lines of “nuts to sexy. I love my big muscles and that’s the only opinion in the world that counts”. (Actual quote lost when I deleted everything, just barely resisting the urge to set the phone on fire.)

And he sent me this:

“I wasn’t talking about you, I like the way you look. I meant like this. This isn’t sexy body-builder

Face, meet palm.

Of course he wasn’t talking about me, what with me not being a woman and all.

Of course the fact he wasn’t talking about me makes it perfectly fine for him to say that this woman is womaning wrong because she doesn’t turn him on. Dear lord, I can’t believe I just had to type that sentence.

 

By that point I was rage-shaking so badly I could barely type, and dithering between trying to get him to understand and just blocking him. In my hopeless optimism I went with giving him a chance to stop digging, with roughly the following points:

  1. Comparing me to another woman is not a compliment. Ever.
  2. ‘You meet my definition of the correct way to be a woman’ is not a compliment, or an okay thing to say in general because…
  3. If there were a correct way for me to be a woman, it would be defined by me, always me, and only me. But…
  4. There is no ‘correct’, nor indeed ‘incorrect’, way to be a woman.
  5. I’m not here for your sex drive. Ew.

 

He said I was being over-sensitive.

Then I blocked him.

 

A few people have said he had a point – they don’t find super-muscly women attractive either. But that was not what he said.

“I don’t find muscly women attractive” is a point. One I really couldn’t care any less about when it comes to other people’s thoughts on my body, but a point nonetheless.

“Muscly women are not sexy”  is not a point, it’s a sweeping generalisation that says his worldview is the only true worldview and there is no possible dimension in which anyone could find muscly women attractive.

And “you shouldn’t get too muscly because I don’t find that sexy” is so far from a valid point, that I can’t quite believe I had to type that sentence either.

I’m not angry that he doesn’t think muscles are sexy. Everyone has opinions and they’re entitled to them.  I’m angry that he tried to impose his opinion on me and assumed I seriously care whether he finds me sexy, and then dismissed me as over-sensitive for being creeped out and offended by that assumption.

I wish I had blocked him sooner and saved myself the adrenaline stress.

 

A microscopic part of me is hoping he will have thought about my points and realised his mistake. But the realist in me knows fullwell he probably rolled his eyes, muttered something about my time of the month, and carried on his creepy way.

 

In case anyone is wondering, the right response sounds a bit like this:

“I’m sorry I offended you. Thank you for taking the time to point it out and explain it to me, which you are absolutely not required to do. I’m taking your points on board and I’ll try to do better next time.”

But to be honest just “I’m sorry” would have done, rather than doubling down and mansplaining his sexism to me.

Manly muscles

Everyone has probably heard about athletes like Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey being called manly or masculine for having some pretty built muscles.

My initial reaction to this was rage, which is why I didn’t blog immediately. It’s difficult to put words into a sensible order when there’s a mini Hulk smashing round in my brain. But I gave her some rescue remedy and she’s currently working on some deep breathing techniques so hopefully I can keep the fury to a minimum. Here goes…

Dear muscle-shamers,

First up, having muscles doesn’t make you look like a man. It makes you look like a human being.

What, you think men move around using their muscles but women are powered by pink glitter?

I’m sitting up in this chair, moving my arms and hands to type and edit this post. I’m breathing, blinking when I need to, last time I checked I had a pulse and right now my breakfast will be slowly digesting. All through the magical power of lady-muscles. Otherwise knows as muscles.

I see what you’re doing. I remember the youtube video in which a mum told her little girl to eat a banana so she could grow up strong. The 4-year-old replied “I don’t want to be strong, I’m a girl. I will have a husband who will be strong for me.” I may have cried a little bit.

That’s exactly what you long-live-the-patriarchy men want, isn’t it? An entire sex made to believe that we should be less, that we are less, so you can feel you are more. You get to be the strong ones, you get to be in charge, while we are soft, weak and pliant.

And if any woman dares to step outside the box you’ve made for us, you try to beat her back by attacking the very essence of who she is: a woman with muscles is no longer a woman.

Actually you don’t have to. You’ve got this idea so ingrained that other women will beat her down for you.

And you’ve done the job so very well. I’ve been called every variation of ‘crazy’ because I do strength training. I’ve had complete strangers walk up to me while I’m lifting weights and tell me to go easy because I “don’t want to get too bulky”. I’ve heard female friends say they want to try a bootcamp class, but never have because they don’t want to “get muscles” (seriously, pink glitter?) from it. And look at all the backlash these incredible, talented women get because being brilliant at what they do means they have some serious guns.

It’s oppression, pure and simple. Hidden in plain sight as yet another thing that ‘everybody knows’.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a rebel but I’m rebelling the heck against this. I am a woman (I may have mentioned before), and I am not made any less of a woman by the fact that my deltoids are visible. Or the fact that I regularly swing 20kg of iron around my head for funsies. Or that it’s my dream to one day live somewhere with enough space for my own barbell and plates. I could go on.

And on.

I bet you didn’t think exercise could be a tool for breaking down your beloved patriarchy. I’ll be honest, I didn’t. Before this I was just building my muscles up because I love to see the definition and I love feeling strong. But as of right now I’m also building my muscles up to prove that muscular does not equal manly, to be a living example of strength and power and femininity all rolled into one.

You can hold onto your ridiculous stereotype of the weak woman if that makes you happy, but kindly keep it to yourself. I’m too busy working on pull-ups to listen anyway.

Your ideas are old, tired, and just plain wrong, and I’m not buying them.

Most sincerely,

A strong woman.