Controversies in CrossFit, Crossfit, Women and other Sports

CrossFit and Pregnancy

Kat Grosshaupt, from the Huffington Post, writes, “Wow. There’s been a lot of backlash lately regarding CrossFitting and pregnancy. Funny how one picture or one article can start a wildfire. It’s like that with anything, really. Especially things that are misunderstood or where there is a lot of fear or resistance to changing the norm.”

CrossFit has received a lot of backlash for its emergence into popular culture. One major “issue” in CrossFit that everyone wants to cash in their opinion on: pregnancy. Google images for CrossFit and pregnancy and hundreds of results are provided; pregnant women in all stages of pregnancy are doing muscle ups, overhead squats, bench press. The reaction to these images have been like what Grosshaupt said, a wildfire.

Keri Lynn Ford, a personal trainer, takes a firm stance against CrossFit during pregnancy in another article for the Huffington Post, though not necessarily exercise in general. Her argument for this is her assumption that the majority of the population are not elite CrossFitters, which is probably true, but at the same time, it is good to keep in mind that everyone is responsible for how they exercise. (Additionally, much of CrossFit’s movements can and are performed all the time in globo gyms already. It’s not just a unique CrossFit exercise.) At the same time, of course, women should refer to their care providers for advice or guidance on their exercise routine, but as pointed out in Ellison’s story, most practitioners encourage some form of exercise if the person was active before pregnancy. Common sense is needed when it comes to exercising. Most people who workout are adults, and they can make their own modifications to exercises when they feel it is needed. In a workout, pregnant women might substitute burpees for a different exercise that can still provide them active, healthy movements. Instead of providing advice for how women could obtain a healthy fitness level during pregnancy–compared to not exercising at all, and gaining too much weight, which can be just as potentially harmful–Ford seems to cross off CrossFit entirely as an outlet for exercise for pregnant women.

Not just personal trainers are lamenting about the “irresponsibility” of pregnant moms’ exercise. Lea-Ann Ellison received biting backlash, in yet another Huff Post article, for posting photos that show her dedication to health during her pregnancy. Instead of receiving support for her attention to her health, people criticized her about her potential as a mother: “If anything happens to your baby due to your stupidity, I hope you’ll be able to handle your guilt. Pregnancy is NOT the time to be taking stupid risks.” However, Ellison didn’t back down; instead of taking the harsh comments personally, she rose above them. If anything, the comments showed her that people are uncomfortable with things they haven’t seen. Just like Grosshaupt was saying, people fear change to the norm. And so far the norm has been that pregnant women pretty much turn invisible when it comes to exercise, as if they float away into a bubble of absolute protection and “health” that involves remaining far away from the gyms when exercise is mentioned. In theory about the body, women’s bodies are seen as abnormal and ill. Menstruation is viewed negatively as a sickness that takes hold of female bodies, in order to prepare them for their later medical emergencies like pregnancy. In other philosophies about the body, the medical institution is seen as treating the birthing female body as one that is unnatural and one that has to be treated, or fixed. Of course, many pregnancies can have things go wrong, but as Grosshaupt points out, “Birth is normal. It’s not a medical emergency waiting to happen.” Additionally, in her defense of exercise–and CrossFit–for pregnant women, she contends, “Moms have a monumental responsibility to their growing baby(ies) to provide them with the best environment possible: air, water, quality food, and exercise. It is irresponsible to lay around and use pregnancy as an excuse to eat crappy food and lay on the couch for 9 months.” Her claim is strong, but her point is straightforward: pregnant women can exercise, but they have to be smart about it.

But this backlash has an obvious root to it for me. Pregnant women further exaggerate the gender norms placed onto women. Obviously pregnant bodies are gendered by the way that women are seen as mothers, but further, pregnant bodies are gendered in the way that pregnant women are seen as weak but also as immobile, for the “sake” of their child. Women have typically been seen as frail and weak, hence the slow adjustment to women within sports. CrossFit as well as pregnancy makes this view of women explode. The backlash is a reaction of “fear,” as Grosshaupt believes, to women performing athletically. Since women are not “supposed” to be athletic, seeing them in CrossFit upsets gender expectations. Pregnant women in CrossFiit only amplifies this anxiety. As Judith Lorber explains, “gender is such a familiar part of daily life that it usually takes a deliberate disruption of our expectations of how women and men are supposed to act to pay attention to how it is produced.” Additionally, “a sex category becomes a gender status.” Female means woman means potential, or eventual, mother.

CrossFit already receives a lot of attention, and backlash, in social and popular mediums. This controversy further adds to what I think is the core anxiety: seeing women, whose gender connotes an absolute aversion to athletics, performing to the best of their ability, no matter what condition they’re in.