On turning forty, getting fit, and fitting in

One year ago today feminist philosopher Rebecca Kukla posted to Facebook about her loathing of the activities required to be fit.

“Exercising regularly and not eating stuff takes a whole hella lot of time, and I resent the shit out of it, frankly. I have no quasi-protestant pretentions that there is some weird sort of virtue in doing this. There is not. It’s self-regarding in a totally uninteresting sense. And it makes me cranky.”

Today she guest posts at Fit, Feminist, and (Almost) Fifty about being wrong, about discovering boxing and power lifting, and about the role gender norms play in limiting the athletic choices for women.

“I now see this as a vivid example of how gender norms can limit our imagination, both through inculcating shame and through stifling creativity. When I was shown a few powerlifts in the gym, I discovered serendipitously that I love exercise when – and only when – it is a testosterone-driven outlet for aggression in a yoga-pants-free environment.”

Read the rest here.

17 thoughts on “On turning forty, getting fit, and fitting in

  1. Rebecca, I wonder, though whether you’re also engaging in gender stereotyping by categorizing things like power-lifting as “a testosterone-driven outlet for aggression in a yoga-pants-free environment.”

    What do you think? It seems to me that you’re perpetuating the very thing you’re criticizing.

  2. Rachel: well, I think that the testosterone thing is literal. And it is hard to avoid recognizing some things as masculine and some as feminine, even if not essentially so … there has to be some way of articulating that a masculine or feminine x feels right to us, appeals to us, makes us uncomfortable, etc., otherwise we can’t say anything about our gender identities at all. While I think there is zero generalizable normative significance to this, the clothing, rhythm, movement, etc. of female-dominated exercise spaces and ‘femininized’ activities is just deeply, unmanageably uncomfortable for me. Does every woman exercise like that? Obviously not, since I am the one talking. But for whatever reason I need *literal* testosterone engagement when I exercise and I basically need the look, feel, and even the smell of male bodies and masculinzed movements in order to feel engaged and comfortable.

    And yeah I find yoga pants pretty nauseating. Can’t help it; just do.

  3. Oh also, to be clear, surely not ALL powerlifting (or boxing) is in a yoga pants free environment, so that wasn’t the claim. But I seek out male-dominated gyms that are free of yoga pants.

  4. Rebecca, I found your post really fascinating– while you’ve felt shame over your preference for male-dominated activities, when I was younger I felt shame over my preference for female-dominated activities. When I was in high school, I was on the school basketball team, danced ballet, and kick boxed. Ballet was definitely my favorite of the three, but it was always the last thing I mentioned if anyone asked about what athletics I was involved in. Now, I shameless love yoga pants, but it is interesting.

  5. Here’s one of my worries: some women don’t really produce *any* testosterone, so it can’t be true in the literal sense you mean. So…

    I just really bristle at gender being connected to either of the two sex hormones.

    I really prefer speaking of things, as you did in your follow-up, and philodria in her comment, in terms of male- or female-dominated spaces or activities.

  6. Hmm. Not sure the referent of your ‘it’ there but it is not obvious to me that there is overlap between the (small) set of people who produce little to no testosterone and the set of competitive powerlifters, especially since my understanding is that weight lifting increases testosterone. I don’t know the science behind it well enough to go to the mat for an opinion on this, but your ‘it can’t be true’ seems hasty.

  7. It seems to me that you are substituting the words “yoga pants” for the word “women”. “But I seek out male-dominated gyms that are free of yoga pants.” So, if the men in your gym started wearing yoga pants (there are many men who do yoga and thus wear yoga pants), you’d change gyms? If power lifting becomes very popular among women (and certainly strength training is becoming more popular among women), and suddenly lots of women started coming to your gym, but weren’t wearing yoga pants, would you change gyms?

    If you don’t want to exercise around women, no problem, but don’t refer to women as “yoga pants”.

  8. No I most certainly was not calling women ‘yoga pants’. That’s a bizarre charge. There were two points there, and throughout the post: one is about who is working out and the other is about the activities being done. These are connected but not the same. And I was very very careful in the post to point out that these are non-normative preferences.

    If my gym started running a lot of yoga classes of whatever gender makeup yes, I would probably change gyms, not because that would be an inherent deal-breaker but because it is almost unimaginable that it wouldn’t track other atmosphere changes that wouldn’t be what I was looking for in a gym. Likewise if my gym became heavily female-dominated I would likely want to change gyms. Two separate though not thoroughly independent points.

    Separately from any of that deep stuff, I really hate yoga pants. I do not hate women. So, by the indiscernability of identicals…

  9. I think the sort of thing Rebecca describes herself as feeling is actually fascinating. What’s going on? Is it really directly about gender or is it more of an associative thing that might occur in all sorts of different contexts.

    [Apologies, Merry. I realized after I wrote the rant below that you might not have meant your comment as an intrusive interpretation.]

    May I also confess that I am violently allergic to comments such as “What you really mean is…”, “It seems to me you are substituting,” and the like. EVERYTHING we are learning suggests strongly that we are not very good at understanding each other, especially in the sort of contexts the net gives us where cues are minimal.

    We live in a culture infected with a Freudian confidence that we can see into each other’s minds – often better than the one with the mind. I cannot tell you how sad it is that we thus impose our views on others, and see us all only through a glass darkly.

  10. Interestingly, strength training, including weightlifting, is especially important for women, especially as we get older. In addition to strengthening bones, and being a form of physical exercise where one can continually improve, and thus get stronger, I find it confidence boosting. Oh, it’s also addictive, which I think Rebecca’s post suggests.

  11. I’m confused.

    “Likewise if my gym became heavily female-dominated I would likely want to change gyms.”

    You would want to change gyms . . . why? Because it became *female-dominated*? Or are you assuming that IF a gym becomes heavily female-dominated, it wouldn’t be as “testosterone-driven” as you’d like? If all of the females were engaging in “testosterone-driven” activities (lifting, boxing, and the like), then you’d be okay with the gym? Or you would still change gyms even if it were dominated by females engaged in “testosterone-driven” activities?

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