This is one of my favorite videos that captures and emphasizes the values of CrossFit. Not only does it exude the awesomeness that is slow motion, it also demonstrates at the same time feminine and masculine qualities found within typical gender expectations of sports. I’ve described in an earlier post how feminine sports like gymnastics emphasize skill and grace and masculine sports emphasize strength and precision. Here, I think the video shows the meshing of these two qualities. And not even in this video, but in the movement of the Olympic lift, performed by men and women, these qualities of strength and grace are demonstrated. Here is where CrossFit is challenging men and women to make the best of themselves, and to be feminine and masculine as they do it. The movement doesn’t have to remain within the elite sport of Olympic weightlifting. It can be instructed, with caution and guidance, to everyone. The limitations of people’s fitness based on gender will be dismantled.

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.

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.

Women and other Sports

Violence and how to be sexy about it

This article I found after bouncing through other links about men in sports, trying to find social implications of gender upon sports. What’s interesting here is that the Lingerie Football League (LFL) was originally all for show: pretty ladies not knowing how to play football. Apparently that wasn’t working. Men didn’t want to watch women playing football if they didn’t know how, even if they were staggeringly gorgeous. Hmm, sex appeal doesn’t last? Interesting. LFL changed their strategy. How can “women’s” football still be sexy and have the violence from men’s football? Have pretty ladies beating the shit out of each other.

Contact sports are exciting, up to a certain point. Movies like Cinderella Man and Warrior still manage to pull my heartstrings even though men are killing each other to get money from the show. Aside from the melodrama, contact sports can be extremely dangerous too. This article delves into that as well as the unfortunate truth that these women aren’t paid–additionally, many are dropped because they make “lifestyle” changes, like actually living a life: marriage, children, just plain additional obligations.

Again I turn to my first interrogative question: what is “sport”? The more I see the glaring holes of gender and inequality within them the harder it becomes for me to keep a hold onto social definitions of sports. The original LFL shows that sports aren’t entertaining when people aren’t trained in the sport (what a surprise), but even then these institutions think society needs more. Pretty women thrown into a game they’ve never played is, well, boring. The other extreme is to throw experienced, pretty women into a dangerous contact sport. Sexy and violent: isn’t this too much? Why can’t we ever seem to escape these binaries? Can sports ever escape violence and focus upon individual skill and ability? Can “women’s” sports ever be taken seriously–why do women have to do so much to prove themselves: be sporty, be violent, be sexy. For women to enter this aggressive realm of football, they have to exaggerate those masculine qualities. Well, never so much that they become better than men, that is.

People, Theory, Women and other Sports

The Perfect Female Shape?

This post caught my eyes a few days ago because it provides a stunning array of the female body under different levels of conditioning. Truly, this collage shows us the capability of the human body to adapt to what it is given. The women here are tall and short, slender and graceful, powerful and strong. Their sports are different: the skills, the demands. Their bodies are different: the facticity, the achievements. What no one can deny is that they are all athletes, and the beauty is in what they can do.

People, Theory

“The female athletic body was and remains suspicious because of both its apparent masculinization and its position as a border case that challenges the normalized feminine and masculine body.” – Cheryl L. Cole

My initial thoughts about my first post on this blog, “What is Sport, What is Beauty,” had me primarily focused upon the latter part of the title: beauty. I had not quite realized why I included the first question, “what is sport?” I’ve had time to rethink my reasons for the title of the post, and I realized that our society throws the word “sport” around so easily. But what does it mean? Just as the narrator in the video from the first post challenges athletes to define beauty rather than describe it, I believe we need to think about the definition of sports rather than its descriptions. If we focus on its descriptions, we will be caught up in our expectations and assumptions of what sports are: something that men do, something that men are good at–something that women shouldn’t do and who wouldn’t be good at it. Instead, we should turn to scholars like Cheryl L. Cole for the definition of sport: “a discursive construct that organizes multiple practices…that intersect with and produce multiple bodies…embedded in normalizing technologies…and consumer culture” (6). In other words, Cole defines sports as an institution that is a crossroad for intersectionality. Sports involves bodies and technologies that have to be privileged in other ways along with gender; good gymnasts have the class privilege of being able to afford to go to practice, as an example. In a similar vein, primarily able-bodied people are expected to participate in sports; or, rather, that disabled people cannot.

“Sport” is a word that our consumer culture throws around all too easily. Football comes to mind, maybe baseball. Soccer, if we push it out of national boundaries. Primarily, those athletes we are discussing are men. There are those who will argue that men are “just” biologically better at athletics. It makes sense, then, how the anxiety about women in sports arises. When a culture nourishes one sex with these expected “traits,” it becomes abnormal, wrong, threatening, even, when other genders approach it. Women in athletics make our society uneasy. These women are doing something they “shouldn’t” be doing. Instead of becoming the matchsticks in magazines, they are becoming strong (stronger), like men. Something becomes physically wrong with them; they are imposters. They are trying to “be” like men. The focus of sport moves away from dedication and discipline and entertainment and to demands of biological determination. These people rely on the descriptions of sports rather than definitions–it’s easier to say that sports are for men because our culture lets men make them up. Cole reminds us of what sports really are: a construct, not biology.

Above quotes are from Cole’s article “Resisting the Canon: Feminist Cultural Studies, Sport, and Technologies of the Body,” in Women, Sport, and Culture, edited by Susan Birrell and Cheryl L. Cole (1994).

“The female ath…