"It would be better if you had a penis"

Yes, that is a real quote from my son…it’s a long story.

Anyway, after writing and discussing last week’s blog with people it occurred to me that female athletes seem to be more likely to downplay themselves.  I had the opportunity to chat about the confidence/humility balance with a multiple-Games competitor and she mentioned that it was something that had impacted her as well.  I started thinking about women in sports specifically and women in general and how we socialize our boys and girls to behave- I would say girls are often expected to be more reserved and gracious and less aggressive and assertive than males.

This socialization makes us into a different breed of athlete than men are.  Of course men and women are different and that’s great, I just hate to think that the way we’ve been socialized could get in the way of being fully self-confident athletes and proudly claiming our athleticism.  Many doors are open to women athletes both at the collegiate and professional levels, but there seems to be more drama involved with women’s athletics than exists on the men’s side.  When I was in college there was always talk about women athlete’s sexual orientation, especially those who played certain sports.  Then we have things like the lingerie football league, which, from everything I gather is made up of some women who are legit athletes, but why do they have to play half naked to draw an audience?  Hide your children, this video represents numerous things I have problem with.   

Ok, Crossfitters are half naked too, but you get my point.  The reference above is just one example, there are plenty of others, like the pole dancing fitness classes and such.  Although our athletes are at times scantily clad, overall the Crossfit community does so much that advances women in sport.  First, we are teaching our kids through words and action that women are athletes.  The family friendly atmosphere that’s created in our boxes facilitates this.  I have yet to visit a box that doesn’t welcome kids. Crossfit children have the opportunity to regularly see women working hard, sweating, and picking up barbells, which sets the stage for these kids to expect women to be athletes and capable of performing physical tasks.  My personal experience is that my son could not care less about me competing in Crossfit (although he is a Cherie Chan fan), but I know it’s all rubbing off on him.  I’ve caught him checking out my arms and then respond by showing me his muscles.  He apparently thinks I’m infinitely strong because he can see me carrying 200 pounds of groceries up three flights of stairs and still ask, “will you carry me?”  He has named his Lego people things like “Push-up” and “Burpee”.  He regularly sees strong women of every shape, size and age doing real work and I love that!  Perhaps he is a budding feminist (despite the previous quote).   I’ve even heard him refer to God as “Her”.  But I digress.  Even without delving into the fantastic program that is Crossfit Kids, just by being around it our kids are being indoctrinated with Crossfit culture and one of our beliefs is that women are strong, capable athletes.

Crossfit women are the shiznit

Crossfit is also providing a platform for women to make an impact on the business side of athletics.  There are many strong female affiliate owners, headquarters trainers, coaches, Crossfit media personnel and entrepreneurs in a variety of Crossfit related endeavors from equipment, to apparel to non-profit organizations.  Totally inspiring!  I don’t know what kind of female presence there is within the headquarters leadership.  I would be curious to know that, as well as what the numbers look like gender-wise with affiliate ownership, who’s getting certed, etc.  (Maybe if I were a real writer I would research it and try to find out). 

I have heard, however, that male Crossfit athletes are a bigger spectator draw.  I was surprised to hear that, it never occurred to me, but there’s some evidence it may be true.  For example, I think there are more male sponsored athletes than female.  Also in the Games final the men competed last so maybe that was the “main event”.  Do you guys think male Crossfitters more exciting to watch?  Are they more inspiring?  Are both equally entertaining?  Just curious…

Crossfit guys are cool, too

I think it’s very meaningful that the prize money at the Games is the same across the board.  You don’t see that in every sport.  Achieving parity is not a given- Fortune 500 Companies, the Government, educational institutions and other sports can’t seem to do it, but perhaps as a new and developing sport/industry Crossfit can.

Oh, and stay tuned, we’ll be tackling race and class soon so as to complete the requisite race, class and gender trifecta.

“I can kill the spider above my bed/although it’s hard because I’m scared.”- Jill Scott

Author: Elisabeth Akinwale

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  • I love this. As someone who is an athlete for the first time at 28 years old…these are all new feelings I honestly never thought I would have. I believe that we are not only showing Children all of those positive things but maybe it is sinking in to our minds and hearts as well. I have to say…I think the women were the main event this year!

  • Thanks for pointing that out Kelsey! How empowering is it?! I know I’ve worked out side by side with girls who’ve NEVER picked a weight up before, and frankly they may never have if their option was to go into a male dominated weight room at a typical gym- it’s not always the most welcoming.

  • So much good stuff in this blog post. I immediately noticed that the purses for the winners of the CF games this summer were equal and thought that was great. I think that is a very clear message of how CF HQ views all CF athletes.

    I know other sports, for example professional tennis has had issues with inequitable prize purses between genders.

    I know my husband and I both, and most CF people I know, enjoy watching the women CF events equally – someone has to go last – maybe next year it will be the women?

    My personal experiences with CF is that women are treated very equally in the box- which I also think is great. We put our own barbells together, put our own weights back, etc. And the coaches have not cut any of the women any slack because they’re women. I’m curious to know if any women have had a different experience.

    • Exactly Erin, tennis was one of the prime suspects I thought of, too. About the Games finale, it very well could have been coincidence that the men went last as we alternated back and forth throughout the weekend. I honestly don’t know what, if any, calculated planning was behind that.

      I absolultely feel that women are treated farily/equally at our box. Just last night my coach had me carry a sled that needed to be transported down some stairs and to another space. I tell you, chivalry is dead 😉

  • This was great Elisabeth, I like the topics you write on, they’re very different and thought provoking. As a Crossfitter, I try to sell Crossfit to women and a consistent response I get is: I don’t want all those muscles, I want to keep my body soft and feminine. My reaction is: you’re crazy, these women are sexy, you don’t get it, you just have to try it. Unfortunately, they don’t and they consider us (Crossfitters) nuts and to be a part of a cult. They simply don’t want to watch it. On the other hand, my boys are a different story; I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because most of them have a competitive sports background. In any event, my male friends are quick to watch both the men and women, but my women friends – not so much.

    Reading this was good and it hit on some good points; nice job. However, as a black male Crossfitter, without kids, I am very anxious to read your post on race and class. Keep up the good work and keep’em coming.

    • It’s interesting LaMarr, I guess the aesthetic aspect is SO subjective. I have always liked muscles, when I was in high school I had a picture of track star Gail Devers in my journal because I wanted to look like her. CF has just reinforced those feelings for me. The other day I drove by a Victoria’s Secret and the first thing that went through my mind looking at the model pictured was, “man, she looks soft and weak.” Not to judge/cut anyone down, that’s just what came through my head.

      But beyond aethetics I think it’s important to consider what our bodies can DO. Especially for women! Being able to move, lift, jump, whatever is a gift. Our bodies aren’t created so we can just sit around and look pretty.

      Personally I think you can look strong AND feminine- they aren’t mutually exclusive. Being a woman doesn’t mean you can’t wreck sh*t, too.

    • I couldn’t wait to show my girls the Games on ESPN. They’ve been to the gym with me a few times and they’ll do burpees with me in the living room but I wanted them to see our top athletes, especially the female athletes in action. But I have to say I was a little disappointed by their (11 years old and 6 years old) reactions. My oldest was like they have too many muscles. My youngest was more interested in why they ladies were lifting weights in their bathing suits.

      I’m not sure where it starts amongst our young girls, that athletic, fit and sometimes muscular women aren’t also extremely good looking and desirable. My reaction was to emphasize the alternative: weak, cellulite-y, flabby, skinny-fatty. I’m not sure why that is appealing vs. strong, lean, shapely. I’d be interested to know if some of the fit women that read this blog ever had any internal battle with their body image.

      • Haha, “lifting weights in their bathing suits”! Honestly, it sounds like the girls need to be around Crossfit more! 🙂

        Regarding your second paragraph, I think it all comes down to the dominant beauty standards promoted by mass media/society/”The Man”. Thin build, European features, long hair, you know the deal. Think about what they see in a setting as seemingly benign as the grocery store line. What are the images of beauty they are being sold day in and day out, year after year?

        I have definitely had struggles with self image whether based on my height, thickness, hair, etc. As their dad you can play such a powerful role in shaping their self image, but I really feel like it’s a war against what they’re learning daily when they’re out in the world. How much money is made in the diet/weightloss, hair and make-up industries because people feel insecure about themselves?

  • I know in our household we view both the men’s and ladies’ events with equal enthusiasm. This is a new phenomenon for me and points to the greatness of CrossFit. We all do the work, we all cheer for each other, regardless of age, gender, background, race, etc. When I look at the leader board I see times first and names second. Only then do I realize that I got beat by a 25-year old, an ex-semi pro athlete, a mom or in growing frequency my wife.

    • I totally agree Dean, love your insights! That’s a cool thing about CF competitions and training is having men and women doing the same workouts side by side and like you said, who knows who’s going to finish a given workout first.

  • Let me start out by saying WOW!!! CF athletes are incredible, and that crosses gender lines. I believe the main reason why there is a disparity in fund allocation comes down to who puts rumps in seats. Women athletes make less do to the fact they are not as supported by their own gender, as the male athletes are. Males are more likely to watch, and partake in sports. Therefore, males are the main targets of advertisers. Thus the male athlete can demand more.

  • This is such a well written, thought provoking and intelligent blog. I would like to share this if you don’t mind. As a mom, I consistently think about how my kids are processing information and how experiences are shaping them. I think Crossfitting and Crossfit Kids are definitely positive experiences. We watch the Games all the time and although they consistently look for number 41, they are in awe at all of the athletic performances especially the women.

    • Thanks Joy, of course, share far and wide I love getting other people’s perspective as well. Totally agree, all this exposure is shaping them and overall there are fewer images of strong women athletes readily available. Come to think of it some of us grown ups could use some shaping too- reshaping the standards for what makes a woman beautiful.

  • While I don’t subscribe to this feeling, one idea as to why the male athletes are a bigger spectator draw is simply that more men do CrossFit than women (I’m assuming that’s true) and therefore prefer watching men compete because they are able to compare the athlete’s performance more accurately to their own? For example, if I’m watching the CF Games and they are doing a 1RM Snatch event, it’s easier for me to compare the incredible abilities of the dudes because I’m a dude. I’m able to say, “Ok, that guy just snatched XXX and I snatch YYY. That’s crazy”.

  • I think that’s really valid Jim. I’ve had that exact conversation with The Man In Charge with me saying I don’t even know what a good snatch is, for example, for a male Games athlete. So I can’t watch and immediately know something was amazing (actually it all seems amazing to me, but that’s beside the point). With the female numbers, of course I know. Ok, so now I want more stats, what was the gender breakdown of Games spectators so we can see if there are more guys.

  • However, can the reverse be said for gymnastics and figure skating? I personally would much rather watch women gymnastics and figure skating over their male counterparts. In those two industries do women tend to make more money? The only male viewed sport that I can see a even split right down the middle is auto racing. However, very few women do it. Danica is making a lot more money than proven male drivers. But, I sure that is marketing. None the less, the girl does have skills behind the wheel. I have a love hate relationship with Danica. I root for her to lose because I don’t care much for her attitude.But, I do root for her to win, because people doubt her abilities because shes a woman. So basically I root for her to finish any where from 6-10th.
    I can agree with Jim when it comes down to guys comparing their abilities to top male athletes. Even though Top female athletes would hurt most male feelings.

    • I think the reverse CAN be said for gymanstics and figure skating. I bet many boys/men are ridiculed for participating in sports that don’t epitomize “male” characteristics. Moreso with figure skating, I think people do give male gymnasts respect because they’re strong as hell- a very male thing to be.

  • This is a great post and very thought provoking. Being a long time ballerina and dancer, I was constantly defending myself as an athlete to all of my peers who always said that dancing wasn’t a sport. It was frustrating because most of those people weren’t in half of the shape I was in. Now that I Crossfit I find that I am getting more recognition for being an athlete and it is empowering. Finally, some respect. I have still come up against some criticism in the looks department in the sense that many of those same peers don’t think women should be so muscular. But I love the fact that I have muscle definition in my arms and legs and I am happy that the public’s opinion of women and women athletes has changed. I hope that this forward progress continues as more women are entering the arena.

    • Hey Christina! I think you bring up such an interesting topic in itself, with the sport vs. art element. You cannot tell me dancers are not athletes, and have you ever seen a really nice Oly lift? That’s damn sure a work of art.

      You also hit the nail on the head, because what it comes down to in the end is that YOU feel empowered and YOU good in your stronger body and enjoy being an athlete. When it comes to CF, I believe in it enough that I really don’t care what anyone says about it or my body that’s developed from CF. You can’t please everyone, but it’s nice to get positive reinforcement and recognition sometimes too!

  • I’ve tried writing this comment three times now, and it just keeps getting longer. So please take this condensed version in the spirit that it’s given, coming from a guy who loves strong and muscular women, and who wants to spare you all the dissertation in favor of respecting your time and stirring up the pot sooner than later.

    So here goes:

    I don’t think woman’s sports will compete with men’s for popular attention until women start making up their own games and forcing everyone to play by their rules. As it is, athletics is dominated by events and games that play to men’s strengths, as it were. Take basketball. Despite the fact that women compete voraciously against each other and the games can be compelling in themselves, the difference in the quality of play in the aggregate makes the competition for time and money negligible. Nothing but politics would make an honest person say that given the choice they would rather watch the Sky than the Bulls. The game was, simply put, designed to be played by people more like Carlos Boozer than Sylvia Fowles.

    I’m on a college campus right now, and I can tell you from the obvious numbers: women are going to dominate and rule the next several generations. I wonder if that means the sports landscape will change, too, or will it remain a vestige of male domination? I don’t know, but unless women either re-invent the sports we watch or something made for women comes to the fore, I think the latter might happen. If so, maybe sports will become less important.

    The other alternative, and as Crossfitters we’re living examples of this, is to have men and women play (or at least practice) together. I think ideally there’s greater gender equity (and mutual interest) in a game like ours, or like tennis, because men and women are more often in the same arenas and on the same teams. We WOD together and we get to know each other’s numbers, and the affiliate teams are co-ed. We better appreciate each other’s accomplishments and we learn from one another. Then we stick around to cheer each other on.

    Ugh. I meant not to ramble. Sorry. I go proudly snatch a women’s rx weight now.

    • Now you’ve got me thinking Dana. Do you think the difference in watching men and women CF is similar to the difference in basketball?

      Regarding women’s impending world domination- although it’s great to see increasing numbers of women on college campuses, I’m not sure how it will translate into a changed “real world” presence. More numbers doesn’t mean we’ll find ourselves in leadership roles in increased numbers.

      Given your observations about the awesome-ness that comes from all of us WODing together, I would love to know if you have any thoughts on women’s only Crossfit classes.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts Dana!

      • Elisabeth, I love your genuine curiosity about what everyone thinks!
        By the way, good counter/follow up regarding that awesomeness (you hyphenated it!) of wodding together point.
        I have a few thoughts on the WO classes. First of all, I actually didn’t think it was fair to men to single women out and give them their own class. I know plenty of men who were/are intimidated by CF women and won’t give our co-ed classes a chance b/c of that! Also, I’ve always been one of those girls who loved running (not literally) with the boys so for me, a co-ed class was the way to go. HOWEVER, there are plenty of different types of women out there and from what I have heard/read, the WO classes are so successful b/c it has introduced so many more women to CF than just the co-ed classes would have. Therefore, I am definitely all about having WO classes. Should there be MO classes too? Some days, I definitely feel like there should be so I can get some of my friends into our gym!

      • 1.) I don’t even see the differences in Crossfit any more. I know that the weights and heights are different, but I think we internalize the effort to such an extent that it’s what we see in the competitions instead of the raw numbers. That men & women are separated out in the Games seems counterproductive to me. They don’t do it in marathons.

        2.) It’s not the raw numbers alone that suggest the shift; it’s that women are dominating awards at the college and post-grad levels and that they’re getting hired at a rate of nearly two-to-one and laid off at a fraction of the rate, too. Once our parents’ generation starts moving aside the change will be dramatic, in terms of leadership and participation. Men are just jello-y, confused dumbasses right now, for the most part.

        3.) I don’t like the Women’s Only classes at all except insofar as it’s a huge boon to business. Most guys will never admit to this, but it’s hurtful. It’s insulting. To call someone intimidating is to call them brutish and, possibly, violent. It’s to say that men are louts, plain and simple. Imagine if we did this with all the bigotries that we’re trying to overcome. Can you imagine the ugly variations on “___ Only Class.” I don’t blame the box for responding to demand; I blame the women who choose segregation and giving in to their fears or biases and do it in the name of “sisterhood” or whatever.

  • I have to confess I skimmed most of the comments but reading your posts week after week, I really am blown away by how eloquently you approach difficult topics. I don’t write well… mostly b/c I’m exposed to numbers all day and I guess I always feel like the stuff I say isn’t really going to matter but I digress.
    I did a little more than skim through Dana’s post and I agree with him. Now, no doubt, watching women inspires me and I have a lot to do to be anything near as amazing. However, I like watching men’s professional sports, a lot, more so than women’s professional sports (um, almost never). They go faster, higher, further, … I mean, I just took a look at my favourite athletes on my FB page… all men.
    BUT Dana has a real good point about CF having greater gender equity. Actually, when I think of my favourite CF athletes, Annie Thorsdottir ranks right up there. I heart Pat Barber. And you! I actually think in the CF world, I watch for both men and women athletes. And I never even thought about that until just now! No wonder I love being a part of this community!
    I don’t think Dana rambled. I am TOTALLY rambling.
    Thanks Elisabeth!

  • Donna, of course what you have to say matters. I hope I never come across as if I think I have the answers or my opinions matter more than anyone elses. With Crossfit specifically, I’m so new, I’m hoping people will shed light for me. I just think it’s fun to share thoughts and hear other people’s opinions.

    Ok, so men can jump higher, lift more, go faster? Well women can grow human beings and then sustain human life with nurishment produced from their body. So there 😉
    I totally acknowledge, embrace and love that men and women are different, but is it possible for us to be equally appreciated for our talents?

    We know separate but equal doesn’t work, does different but equal work?

    • Come on Elisabeth! You never come across that way! I’m just happy someone will listen to me 😉
      Agreed agreed. Of course women are awesome in ways men aren’t. I’m just saying that when I watch basketball, I love watching like ridiculous Vince Carter dunks or how Chris Paul handles the ball (I grew up in Canada so I know more about the NBA than college sports). I think men do appreciate our talents… they just don’t gush about it publicly 🙂
      I don’t really like the word equal b/c it needs context that is often forgotten… we’re not equal physically, psychologically… but we can accept and embrace our differences equally, yes!

      • Ok, these comments are getting all intermingled. Oh well.

        @ Donna, no doubt, I love watching men in uniforms doing cool stuff, and I get what you’re saying.

        Equal doesn’t mean “same” to me. Maybe I should look it up. I actually thought alot about the word equal when I became a parent and started really analyzing the mother/father roles. Equally essential, but different skills sets and demands. To me it’s like comparing Victoria Falls and the Grand Canyon- equally wonderous yet completely different.

    • The Pregnancy Games. I don’t know what it would be, would never speculate about what events would constitute the sport in a public forum, but i can tell you that I would definitely prefer to watch that over a Jazz/Trailblazers game any day.

  • @ Donna, is awesome-ness not hyphenated? Is it even a word? LOL

    I think the reasons I always end up feeling ambivalent about women’s only classes are at least two fold. One, I spent numerous years in dingy, smelly weight-rooms with lots of men and frequently being the only woman. I guess in some way by ignoring the looks and holding my own I felt like I was fighting for us to have a seat at a table. Saying that the weight-room is not man’s domain and there’s no reason for a woman to be intimidated. By designating a separate class I feel it could be giving life to the notion that there’s something to be intimidated by. That we are indeed the weaker sex and need separate accommodations. I think that is why I continue to kind of cringe behind the whole concept. However I realize my visceral reaction does not account for the reality that some people ARE intimidated, even if they “shouldn’t” be.

    The second reason kind of goes back to Dana’s comments about us all working together side by side. Is having a separate class the spirit of Crossfit? Not really, in the way I conceptualize it, but obviously there are countless perspectives on that. I personally feel like I’m missing out by not working out side by side with those women.

    Regarding the men’s only, I believe it’s out at Games and Rogue athlete Kate Rawlings’ box Coca Crossfit they have a men’s class affectionately referred to as the “cock pit” or some such thing. I’d be in favor of implementing such a program solely to be able to use a name like that.

  • It was interesting reading the posts. I attend the WOC classes and basically started due to the Groupon. Not because I was intimidated of working alongside males or not being able to give into any fears. It was affordable and then I got hooked, but I am required to continue with the WOC or else I would try the co-ed classes.

  • E.D.,

    Thanks for chiming in. I have personally never heard a single gender class participant state that they’re intimidated, etc. I’ve just had other people raise that as a reason for single gender class. I don’t know the ACTUAL stated objective for having separation. I know our box started the class along with the Groupon, but we’re not the only box that does women only/men only.

    If you had been presented a co-ed Groupon offer do you think you would have been just as likely to sign up?

  • I should admit I’m only speculating about people’s reasons. That it’s cheaper/easier is as good a reason as any to join.

  • I find female Games competitors more inspiring because I’m constantly in awe of the weight they’re moving, which is unheard of in most other sports. It shifts the way I think about female athletes. I also like watching them because, well, they’re hot and I’m a straight male.

    More people do watch the guys compete for the same reasons we prefer watching the open athletes over the masters. They’re bigger, faster, stronger. I’m not judging the rightness or wrongness of that, but it’s there.

  • Thank Drywall for bringing me over to check you out here… Now I have a new person to root for at the Games. Great work in the American Open, I have worked with and am friends with Caine and Coard Wilkes who took 2 nd and 1st in the 105+ and 90 weight classes. Great kids and lifters!

    Good luck and nice work keepin’ it real! (yes, please insert a Dave Chappelle voice there)

  • Elizabeth,
    I was blown away by your performances in regionals this year — way to make an entrance! (I know, I know, it wasn’t an entrance for all those who already knew how amazing you are; but I only got clued in a few weeks ago; I was out of the loop. I’m sure as hell aware now!) Congratulations on your success, and godspeed you continue.

    Now pardon me, I’m a geek, and I’m trying to be delicate here: You use the word “socialization” very readily. No hesitation, it’s uncontroversial: “This socialization makes us into a different breed of athlete than men are.”

    …what’s the history of this idea, “socialization”?

    What does evolutionary biology suggest about the origin of behavioral and ability differences?
    What about sociological data, cross-cultural studies? Do we see different performances — both athletic, and non-athletic — in countries, linguistic groups, cultures, where women are “socialized” differently?

    And just so we’re absolutely clear here: Do you believe that women’s behaviors, men’s behaviors, and the attendant cultures around sports (and entertainment), are caused by beliefs? (If we’re buying into late-19th century package deals like Marxism, shall we include Organs of Power and Authority — so we could get something like “patriarchal institutions socialize women to be weaker: socially, psychologically, personally — more docile, more obedient, more modest…” So maybe it’s not just “beliefs” but actual power structures.)

    Would you be willing to entertain the idea that both the beliefs, and the behaviors, have separate, prior causes… that they’re correlates to some other explanatory factor? That maybe the “socialization” isn’t an indivisible primary, but has its own explanatory factors?

    Are you seeing the data that shows this “socialization” process actually occurs in every culture, and across all times and levels of technological and economic development?

    I can recommend some articles and books that I believe explore these questions much more productively than the rather outdated academic canon has, if you’re at all interested. I hope you don’t mind the long geek-out in your blog. If you’re ever in Arizona (you should visit Summer Krasinski at Anvil Athletics, she’s amazing and I think you’d love her), come to Hammer CrossFit, we’ve got a great box and seriously creative programming and equipment.

    #1 recommendation: Steven Pinker, _The Blank Slate_… unravels the long-popular belief that the human mind is a blank slate which our cultures program. This would be sufficient, but it’s only a singular snowflake in an avalanche of data.