Gender does not Equal Strength

Books are my potato chips. My french fries, my buffalo hot wings.

Not only do I devour them at an incredible rate, but I really and truly cannot have just one. Going to a bookstore – especially one filled with used books, their pages holding the remnants of other people’s thoughts eternally captured in an underline or comment – is more dangerous for me than a kid in a candy store. A vortex will appear, time will swallow me up, and I will emerge hours later, hair sticking on end, grasping a minimum of three books to my chest.

This made for some fun times moving, as a combination of a few gigantic boxes with a lack of motivation led to all of my books being packed into maybe three and a half boxes. Lots of squatting, grunting, and stumbling ensued.

Despite all attempts to prove my strength, every time I’ve moved I’ve heard some variation on the phrase “that’s too heavy – let one of the boys handle that!” As if every boy on the planet possessed a supernatural strength that almost a year of weightlifting at the gym has yet to impart to my poor girlish frame.

While that phrase did fly around a bit last weekend – the intentions were good, my feelings were not hurt – the weekend began with something a little different:

“Just like a dead lift!”

We were moving an old couch of Brett’s into the U-Haul and I adamantly positioned myself at one end of it, determined to prove my strength early on. I expected to meet with a host of excuses, someone telling me to step aside. Instead, I heard those words. Those magical words infused with faith not in my gender, but in my muscles.
And it was, in fact, just like a dead lift. Knees bent, back straight, up I lifted, up the couch went. No strained backs. Nothing dropped on toes.

Yesterday at the gym, however, there was almost a catastrophe. I was benching next to a strapping young fellow who was obviously trying to pick up one of the gym’s female workers. She was around 5’4″ with brunette hair and big doe eyes, slim and cute as a button. He asked her to spot him on reclined bench, threw a few weights on the bar, and pumped out half a dozen reps without so much as breaking a sweat. Good for him, I thought as he chatted her up, asking about the beginning of her Spring Break (starting tomorrow) and the nature of her job. Swiftly he loaded on a few more weights (good move, I silently encouraged) and completed another seemingly effortless set.

Then the girl said something that made me cringe.

“Sorry,” she began, “I’m not so good at this.”

“I bet you’re strong,” he countered. Unbeknownst to him, with those words, I became his official cheerleader.

“Well there’s only one guy on rounds right now, the rest are girls, so yeah, they teach us how to do this but none of us could really help much.”

Thank god I was resting between sets, otherwise I might just have dropped the bar.

Girl, I thought, he just complimented you and you spat, not only in his face, but the collective face of all girls – strong or not – alike!

Can we stop this girl-as-weak myth? Please? We don’t need to brag about our strength, but let’s at least move out of the nineteenth century.

I’m proud as hell of being a girl, don’t get me wrong. I would never wish my sex or gender to be erased. On warm days there’s nothing I love more than wearing a dress or skirt and showing off my inordinately long legs. But strength has little to do with sex or gender. Yes, as a generalization, men are able to pack on muscle quicker and easier than me, than women in general. But that does not mean that all men are stronger than me, or that all men are stronger than all women. I am just as strong and able as many men out there. In fact, there are quite a few I’m probably stronger than.

Either way, all discussions of the strength-sex connection aside, judgments on physical ability should be just that – judgments of physical ability. Regardless of what I look like, my height, weight, color of my skin, whatever, don’t tell me I can’t do something based on my appearances. And for heaven’s sake don’t lump me into a stereotyped ideal of femininity whose main characteristic seems to rest on weakness. I know my abilities, I know I am able. I know I am strong.

Additionally, there are different types of strength. We all encounter different heavy, burdening forces that challenge various parts of our physical beings – including the brain! What makes you feel strong? How can you prove your individual strength?

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