A singularly positive aspect about being in a Crossfit space–like the one at Crossfit South Brooklyn, which, in point of fact, is the only one I’ve ever spent any time in–is the many opportunities that arise to see strong women in action. Women can deadlift, squat, clean and jerk, run fast, do muscle-ups, pull-ups–you name it, they can do it. Many women lifters at my gym are among the most technically proficient in the major lifts; to watch them execute these lifts properly is a genuinely aesthetic and awe-inspiring experience. (I wonder if there is something interesting to be said here about the seemingly greater ability of women to internalize coaching cues about technical lifts. Do men, perhaps, resist coaching cues more, convinced that they can figure it out by themselves?)
So Crossfit, whatever its merits as a fitness training program–and debates about that have provoked some wonderfully informative discussions–has at least ensured the creation of a space where stereotypes about women being weak go to die. Anyone that spends sufficient time at Crossfit South Brooklyn will see women indulge in feats of athletic ability that are wonderfully disruptive to any reductive, long-held opinions about the athletic incompetence of women. But stereotypes of ‘women can’t lift’ are not just held by men, they are very frequently entertained by women themselves. So witnessing ‘Crossfit women’ may provide a salutary lesson to women too that dominant, culturally transmitted and reinforced, conceptions of what you might be capable of are very often mistaken.
Here on the gym floor, the lifting platform, under the pull-up bar, too, are spaces thus, where men can learn valuable lessons in humility and in assessing how confident they may be about their masculinity. After all, if women around you are faster, stronger, more limber than you, then what kind of man are you? Are you–to deploy a particularly ugly word sometimes thrown around by men in gyms–just a ‘pussy’? An educational moment for a male Crossfitter presents itself when he looks at the specifications–or prescription–for the assigned workout of the day, and realizes he can ‘only’ do a weight that is just above or sometimes even below the prescribed weight for women. I have had many moments like these, and it was a little galling, so well had I internalized the spoon-fed mantra of reassurance, “At least I’m stronger than any girl out there!” But often, that simply does not happen. There are women, constantly, around me, that, shall we say, kick my ass. And to have to deal with that is a wonderfully educative experience.
But there is an opportunity here to be seized, if one insists on making comparisons. As my friend Malcolm said to me as I agonized over what weight to choose for a workout, secretly not wanting to dip below the ‘ladies prescribed weight’: “Remember, if you can do what a strong woman does, you’re pretty damn fit!”
So there you have it, guys, this is what I really want to be: a strong woman.