Crossfit, Women and other Sports

You Handstand like a Boy….Oh…

A common adage heard throughout childhood: “You throw like a girl.”

“No one, male or female, throws like a girl. They either throw like someone who has had ample instruction on how to properly throw, or like someone who has not.”

Rick Paulas from sums this up nicely. It’s absurd that imagined social constructs are lifted from society and placed onto young girls, thus discouraging them from sports before they can see what women can do in sports.

The adage that we probably all heard as a kid has drastic implications: what does it mean to throw like a girl? Could “girl” be replaced with other nouns? How might that change the power of the sentence? Throw like…_____? Imputing race would be atrocious. Cultural references, too, abhorring. Imbecile? Idiot, moron, freak? Isn’t that what we’re saying? But the phrase isn’t amplified to much degree in society. It maintains social ideals for boys and girls which were based off of incorrect biological assessments in the 1920s: a “medical report was a reaffirmation…of constitutional overstrain…By compounding the social with the biological, the discourse of the report shared the ruling class’s moral concern for social progress and national welfare” (Hargreaves 7). Women in sports used to be unheard of.

But women can be hurt, injured. Their bodies can’t handle it. They shouldn’t be exerting themselves. They must “conserve [the body’s] energy for the great work before it”  (Elliot-Lynn).

So from the time girls are born they should be stowed away to be protected? Sports are dangerous but being a kid isn’t?

Obviously, times have changed and women’s participation in sports, as it went long unrecognized, broke those “biological limitations.”

Instruction, too, has to be incorporated (for the most part, some people do have natural talents) for anyone to become skilled at something.

Take, for instance, handstands. Typically sequestered within gymnastics–often considered a sport appropriate for girls–handstands require flexibility and strength: motor skills are needed to balance the inverted body stacked over the shoulders, and the shoulders have to be flexible and strong enough to support the weight. Since girls are seen as “more” flexible than boys, couldn’t girls torment each other in the gym? You handstand like a boy. Sounds ridiculous, of course.

A handstand is a good example, I think, of a somewhat standard form of fitness that is also able to strip itself of typical constructions of gender upon the body. Gender expectations collapse within it as it requires a “masculine” trait of strength (to hold the body up) and a “feminine” trait of flexibility (to invert the body). This combination of gender “traits” creates a “gender-neutral” movement at the same time as it removes gender performance from the body. Many men can do handstands, even handstand push ups (whether free or kipping against a wall), and handstand walks. Oh, and women can, too.

The 2013 CrossFit games had a handstand walk as a part of its final event. The walk not only strips itself of gender, it even warps our common views of how the body moves. Watching people handstand walk can be strange; we don’t see the body move like this every day. The lower body is on top, and the legs often bob this way and that. The handstand walkers move their “feet” in stiff, awkward movements. The walk itself demonstrates the skill needed to maintain a handstand and the strength to mobilize the body in that position. The handstand walk is a movement that is strange to be in, and strange to watch. And that’s what I think has the chance to change the representations of the body and how gender is created out of it.

Once we realize that the body doesn’t have to move according to strict, rigid demands of gender (women are graceful, men are strong) I think we can begin to move past gender (inequality) within sports.


Hargreaves, Jennifer. “Olympic Women: a Struggle for Recognition” Women and Sports in the United States. Eds. Jean O’Reilly and Susan K. Cahn. Lebanon: Northeastern University Press, 2007. 3-15. Print.


11 thoughts on “You Handstand like a Boy….Oh…

  1. Umm, science has proven it. Girls do throw like girls, and it’s different than boys. Due to differently shaped hip bones men can twist at the waist much further than girls and return to normal positioning with much more force. Males throw from the waist. Females use much more arm and leg motion. Even with proper training and form, females just can’t throw like boys. It’s not sexism, it’s the biological difference in hip shapes.

    • At first I was excited to see a post from such a username as “genderneutrallanguage” but it’s the typical response to an issue like this. So what is your comment supposed to prove to me? Should boys then subject each other to “well, it’s a biological difference in hip shape” as a way to demean each other and girls? Human bodies are all different. I’m sure there are boys out there with less developed hips or who have scoliosis which limits them from throwing a ball with such force as manly men can do, but that doesn’t mean I’m saying they can’t throw better than girls. Does biological “difference” make it so the body cannot change, ever? In Dudley A. Sargent’s article (he’s an M.D. just so you know), “Are Athletics Making Girls Masculine?” he explores how the human body changes when subjected to different forms of exercise. Thus, he proves that females can become “masculine” through different forms of exercise (skating and canoeing, which develop broad shoulders and muscular chests) just as men can become more “feminine” (rowing and tennis which broaden the hips). (By the way, this isn’t even considering the medical technology that we have that have the ability to manipulate the body.) Hip shapes change; they narrow or broaden. Bodies change; they gain or lose muscle. People can change; they become fit or they don’t. (I am not saying that women become men through learning how to throw a ball.) To deny that the human body changes and to support sexism with “science” is to not analyze and critique anything the world presents to us. (If I wanted to do that, I would just make a blog to brag about how women are just so much better than men at endurance running and use “science” to prove it and start a revolution for girls to think they are better than boys, creating demeaning language to reaffirm it: “You’re endurance running is like a boy’s.” I think you’d agree with me; this is absurd.) My blog’s purpose is to think about how bodies are viewed and how they are gendered, and subsequently how sports are created based on these expectations, which can supposedly be backed up with science. But I don’t care about science. I don’t care if boys can throw harder than girls because of conveniently shaped hips (or, more likely, that they were given the time, experience, and instruction to improve their throwing ability). They probably can, and that’s why they are provided with tee ball, Little League teams, and the MLB, and billions of dollars to support the sport. But baseball isn’t everything, nor is throwing just a ball. I care about how these institutions are viewed. Science, like sports, uses discourse to limit the human body, ummm, I mean half of the population’s bodies. All I wanted to propose was a new way of thinking about the body, incorporating both types of men and women’s “biological” strengths, if that’s how we’re supposed to look at it.

      • Based on the bones,not the muscles, the bones, males and females have different capabilities when it comes to throwing things. Muscles do change, bones don’t.

        When you start denying things like boys are better at throwing. When you claim that there are no differences between the sexes. You put yourself in the anti-science camp with the anti-vacine people the birthers the climate denialists, the people trying to ‘fix’ gay the young earth creationinsts and many other nut jobs.

        You are “pray away the gay” of gender equality.

      • When you first commented, I gave you the benefit of the doubt before I replied by not visiting your blog site. Only after I posted did I look into your posts, and then I realized the person with whom I was dealing (troll). All I can say in regard to that is your hypocrisy amuses me. I like how an “anti-feminist” is pooling me, a person who has been arguing for the inclusion and support of women (and other bodies) in sports, into groups that are indeed anti-feminist, thus extremely exclusive of women.
        Aside from that, again, you completely miss the point of my post. I suppose I will have to reiterate for a third time. My post is not trying to compare, using science, the throwing power between men and women; instead it was exploring the social meaning behind that phrase and suggesting new ways of thinking about the body. Further, I argue that sports need to take women seriously, even if men are supposedly stronger than them, it doesn’t mean they should be excluded from it. I am not arguing that men and women are the exact same in every muscle and bone (and not even every man has carbon copies of bone shapes, like spines, because a 6’4 tall man will be different from a 5’11 tall man or even 5’4 man, and to think so is ridiculous, and it’s ridiculous that you think this is what I’m saying). If anything, believing that men and women can reach the same potential would make me a liberal-minded person, not what you want to label me as. I do not know how you think it’s appropriate to slander me in a post that is the complete opposite of what I’m arguing. I do not even bring up the aspect of sexuality within sports, but if I did it would not be anything near what you’re claiming. But seeing how this has been going, the next thing I know, your response will include something about how straight people are better at throwing a ball than gay people. I’m sure you have the science to back that up. Meanwhile, I’m going to be discussing aspects of sports that allow all types of bodies to compete, no matter their race, gender, sexuality class, or ability. Hardly a nut-job’s desire.

      • First women and feminism are not the same thing. Many women are not feminists and many feminists are male. Believing that feminism is hateful sexist bigotry says nothing at all about my views toward women. Feminism and women are not the same thing.

        The biological differences between gay and straight, black or white, is somewhere between trivial and non-exsistant. There are very real very significant biological differences between women and men. So stop putting words in my mouth.

        I understand that you are trying to talk about the social connotations of the phrase “You throw like a girl”. Given that boys and girls do throw notably differently and that it’s girls that do not throw as well, it is perfectly reasonable to use this phrase.

        “You throw like a girl” is an accurate description, backed up with many studies. No, the studies on how to improve prefromance of Olympians are not sexist, they just are not designed to support feminist non-sense.

        Trying to claim that ability is not a real factor in what level you compete at as an individual is a nut jub’s desire.

      • I am one to know that feminism is not synonymous with women. bell hooks, all the way back in 1984, defines it as a “necessary struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination.” Adrienne Rich also said thirty years ago, “[it is a] wedge driven into all other radical thought, can open out the structures of resistance, unbind the imagination, connect what’s been dangerously disconnected.” Eli Claire, more recently, contextualizes feminism within a broader intersectionality: “what I really want is for all the many gendered possibilities in the word to be, not normal, but rather profoundly ordinary and familiar.” Cynthia Enloe proposes a need for a “feminist curiosity” which “is not a passive endeavor. It is not a quiet intellectual pastime. It is intellectual, but it takes stamina.”
        Any of these definitions works for me, but I prefer them all as definitions of feminism because they do not settle with easy answers. Making women equal with men is too broad and it does not construct a coherent end goal. As hooks explains, “Since men are not equals in white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal class structure, which men do women want to be equal to?” All of these theorists are hard-working in their thinking and presentation of ideas; they realize feminism is not about proving that women are the exact same as men (or else we would all be women or men, pretty simple). Instead, it targets the social institutions and discourses that shape opportunities and provide rewards for one minor category of human beings, which hooks identifies already. But if it was science that was truly allowing this to happen, we would be stuck in the early 1900s, which is the opposite of progress.
        Anti-feminism is easy because it allows for easy answers. I’m not satisfied with easy answers. To spout off about scientific studies is a lazy way to hide behind difficult questions. I turn again to my example from a previous post: if I wanted to use science to prove the offhanded ways in which women are better than men, I would make the blog as such. Instead, I am narrowing in on sports, and why people, like you, are so uncomfortable with seeing women competing in them. Since men throw a ball better than women, then why are women out there, competing in sports, throwing the ball anyway? Because they aren’t satisfied with those easy answers either.
        Aside from that, it seems then you are only sticking around on this post to point out that the childish phrase (used by children, strangely enough) is “perfectly reasonable” to say. I disagree. Instead it is “perfectly” unreasonable. You say I am trying to claim that ability is not a real factor, but that is not true. That is what you are doing. You are claiming that able-bodied men are the only factor in sports. That is exactly what I am arguing against in this post. Sports are targeted towards and provided for one specific identity. American popular sports, which I am concentrating on, are exclusive of nearly every other ability provided by human beings aside from able-bodied, middle class (mostly white) males. Hence, why I bring in the topic of CrossFit, which, as a fitness program, is inclusive of any and all bodies, whether they can throw a ball or not.

      • When talking about ball throwing. You are just whining. Men throw balls better. End of story. Identifying it as true is trivial. Identifying it as true is not some vast conspiracy by all men to keep all women oppressed. It is identifying a basic biological fact.

        What you are trying to do is create a hierarchy of human value based on what men do better and only on what men do better. This is in pursute of “The Patriarchy” so that you have something to fight.

        I won’t dispute Hooks in saying that feminism is a “necessary struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination.”. I would only add that feminism is an ideology of domination and is counter productive to it’s own ends.

      • Your constant reiterations about the fact that men throw balls better simply express excessive anxieties about women and others’ bodies, abled and disabled, in sports and competition, especially when nowhere in these responses have I argued with you about this “fact.” I do not concern myself with conspiracies. I concern myself with the social implications of what it means to use biology as a way to not just make others inferior but to keep others off the playing field. That is domination, and that is wrong. It is also boring. Using biology as evidence to bring the abilities of humans to a standstill is selfish and lazy. Sports should be about, not just teamwork, but about doing the best of one’s ability, and finding the courage to push past it, even if biology puts itself forward as an obstacle.
        This anxiety you have to convince me about biology means that feminism is eradicating the domination, as hooks says, of the perfect competing biological male that you’re talking about, rather than having to resort to legitimizing the inclusion of other identities. And if feminism means the domination of eradicating, not just sexist, but also “race and class oppression,” as hooks says, so that all identities can be on the playing field, or more simply just be able to throw a ball without being demeaned for it, then I’m sure these political thinkers wouldn’t mind it.
        Further, I encourage you to keep pointing out the logical fallacies of your own argument. I quite enjoy where you say that I’m trying to “create a hierarchy of human value based on what men do better” but is actually, incredibly, what you’re determined to do thus far, and use your biology and science to sustain it. I seek to find men and women and anyone or anything else that is not satisfied with being “better” than anyone. I want to see those individuals make the best of themselves.

  2. Tyler Kesler says:

    On average it is true that men throw a ball faster than women (though there are very impressive outliers like Ila Borders and Jennie Finch). I’m skeptical whether differences in the hip bones have much to do with it. Robert K. Adair, in “The Physics of Baseball,” emphasizes that there are many complex factors in the transfer of energy from the body to the ball, citing in particular the elasticity of arm tendons.

    Both men and women can throw a ball faster than chimpanzees, which have far greater strength than humans but only throw around 20 mph. Throwing a ball is a physiologically intricate skill and one shouldn’t attach too much importance to it.

    Thanks, Ms. Westerlind, for your essay! Speaking as an athletic male who has always found handstands grueling and was embarrassed to see how effortlessly lots of girls and women can do them, you made me feel a little bit better about myself. “Hey, that wasn’t too bad — for a guy!”

    • Tyler, thanks so much for your thoughts! I bet you could tell that I also was skeptical on that point about hip bones. I won’t deny that on average men throw better than women; to do otherwise would be ignorant, although I hope we can agree that there are hundreds of thousands of women (and men, too, of course) out there who were not encouraged to be any better at throwing a ball. Who knows the potential that every person could have if they were encouraged to play new and different sports!

      I very much enjoy your comparison of chimpanzees to humans in this matter as well. That was something I had not considered during the writing of my essay!

      Keep at it on those handstands! I, on the other hand, have not been in the gym for a few long months due to a recent surgery so my handstand practice has been reduced to nil. I also am quite envious of those who can so easily pick up this movement. It’s so uncomfortable! The head rush alone I can barely tolerate.

      I have to say thanks again for your comment! I was excited to see that these writings still are read even though my posting has been dormant long since my class assignment ended.


  3. Tyler Kesler says:

    Thanks for your response!

    I’m surprised to hear that this site came about as a class assignment. It seems very professional. I hope you’ve recovered well from your surgery. (A lot of people try to come back too fast and reinjure themselves.)

    Thank you for your encouragement, but I personally seem to have very little handstand talent. My problem is not the head rush, it’s a complete lack of balance (and smashing a leg against the furniture when I topple over)!

    I think your key point is that men and women should be encouraged to strive for excellence, regardless of whether someone somewhere might be better at whatever they’re doing (and someone always is), and we should appreciate their accomplishments. When I was in high school–ages ago–I was a shot putter on our track and field team, and we had a female shot putter on the team who was top 5 in the state. Could she throw the same shot put farther than guys who outweighed her by 100 pounds? Of course not. But she had perfect technique, and all of us would gather around to study her form when she got into the circle during practices, to try to learn about shifting weight, timing, using leg muscles during the throw, etc. Everyone from the coach on down had nothing but respect for how that girl threw.

    A recent article you might enjoy, about Ashima Shiraishi, recently appeared in the Guardian here:

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