Crossfit, Women, and ‘Tough Titsday’: A Woman’s Perspective

I have often blogged on Crossfit here in these pages. In large part that is because I genuinely enjoy my experiences at Crossfit South Brooklyn (CFSBK), a very unique and distinctive space in which to work out and pursue the ever-elusive objective of being mens sana in corpore sano. It is also because I find a fitness phenomenon an interesting context within which to think about–among other things–the issues of masculinity, militarism, sexism, and misogyny. So, I’ve blogged here on Crossfit and strong women, the question of Crossfit’s relationship to the military, and for a long time, have wanted to write something on whether Crossfit provides a female-friendly space.

That last post will get written soon, but for the time being there is this: yesterday Jezebel ran a blog post that accused Crossfit South Brooklyn of sexism and/or misogyny.  I found the charge baseless, and so did many of the other folks that work out with me. Crossfit South Brooklyn, for its part, posted a rejoinder here. (The comments are worth reading to get a broad perspective on all the issues raised by the article and CFSBK’s response.)

My wife–who works out at CFSBK like me–and has participated in the Tough Titsday program and meet, was moved to email me the following:

If anyone could take something good and misread it completely, it is cheap and frivolous publications like Jezebel. That article, loaded with preconceived notions of what Crossfit is, and armed with the rantings of a single, incredibly imperceptive female visitor to the gym, actually does a great deal to strengthen a misogynistic view of women in its attempt to “expose” Crossfit South Brooklyn’s imagined affront by naming its female-centered strength training course and competition “Tough Titsday”.

As someone who has both participated in the course and who has done quite a bit of strength training at Crossfit, I find the article itself insulting. First, it is clear that the author, Ms. Katie J.M. Baker, could not be bothered finding out anything about the institution she seeks to criticize. Although each Crossfit affiliate is its own entity with cultures varying widely depending on the coaching staff and the location, Baker chooses to assume all participants and Crossfit gyms are some sort of stereotypical “bro-fest.” And despite the fact that the Tough Titsday class was actually created by an incredibly forward thinking and badass woman as a way to encourage other women, many whom were initially intimidated by heavy weightlifting, to get on the platform, Baker insists on creating her own imaginary universe, one where the “douchey bros” in the gym simply decided to form a class for us, their harem girls, in which they could sit around and comment on our tits or something. It insinuates that the women that participate in this course are perhaps too dumb or self-effacing to realize that they are being insulted. Perhaps Jezebel imagines us as a bunch of air-headed sorority girls all too happy to be on display at the meat market.

Well, Ms. Baker may get her rocks off with her fantasies, but if she took a couple minutes to get off her lazy ass and do some real journalism, she would have found out that I share the platform with female economists, philosophers, prosecutors, stand-up comedians, teachers, mothers, and other genuinely impressive women who find strength in each other’s companionship and are motivated by one another’s accomplishments. And, unlike our disgruntled visitor, we think the name is funny.

This is not to say that we are unaware of sexism. Context is everything. If you don’t believe me, think about this joke: three women go for a job interview, one with a degree in economics, one with a law degree, and one with 10 years experience. Who gets the job? Answer: the one with the biggest tits. Told by a 40-year old white man, the joke is crass and offensive, but told by a 40-year old woman, it becomes social commentary. Without placing CFSBK and its Tough Titsday training program and meet, in the context of what it is– a gym attracting a wide array of people of different backgrounds, genders, and body types–and refusing to find out what type of community is being created, the article misleads and misinforms. It seems too obvious to have to point out, but because programs like Tough Titsday go out of their way to promote women’s strength, the context renders the name inoffensive.

As a woman and a feminist, I begrudge Jezebel for carelessly demonizing something that gives myself, and many other women at our gym, strength and confidence. But frankly, I don’t really have time to get too bothered over half-baked writing like that in Jezebel, I’m too busy kicking ass on the platform and in the courtroom, and playing with my beautiful 4-month old daughter.

16 thoughts on “Crossfit, Women, and ‘Tough Titsday’: A Woman’s Perspective

  1. Katie J.M. Baker and Jezebel offer a fine case-study in how “content” works in the post-journalism world. Ms. Baker is someone presumably without credentials as a journalist. Or she doesn’t feel the need to mention them on her web site. Without credentials, or training, she is free to throw journalistic practices and ethics out the window. She needs only ten minutes for one phone call (to only one party in the story) and another ten to type and edit. Obviously, this model works well for Jezebel. Jezebel is in the online ad delivery business. By driving the cost of content creation to zero, they maximize profit. As long as there are people drugged or bored enough to read their garbage, this “shovelware” business is sustainable. Once the system spits out its story, Ms. Baker can pretend she’s a writer and Jezebel can pay her peanuts for the privilege.

  2. Noor- yes.
    Samir- I love the introductory paragraph. The idea that Noor emailed this to you makes me think of Jon and Abigail or another couple of years ago, sharing their impassioned, political views via post. Power couple indeed.
    Jezebel- joke.

  3. Just my opinion…..It is a rude and tacky name. I’m a professional woman, have been a member of Crossfit in 2 different states and have never encountered a WOD or any workout w/such a tacky name. I’m not a prude by any means, but I believe in manners/proper social etiquette. I probably would not have said anything, but I would’ve thought, tacky/classless folks.

  4. The context and personal experience with which we perceive our world is wholly unique to everyone. In the context of Crossfit, it seems so easy to portray “Tough Titsday” as vulgar, sexist and misogynistic. Its simply a unique way to market a class to women and encourage them to participate. If it offends you, you won’t join.

    But in other contexts, similar marketing techniques are accepted by these same people who mock “Tough Titsday.”

    For instance, in this context so many women are seemingly outraged, but in the context of breast cancer research and fundraising, promoting health and well-being of women, similar methods to market are deemed appropriate and celebrated and even worn on t-shirts by my grandmother and her golden girls down in Florida. (note, grandma would also rock a “Tough Titsday” shirt if provided). If the below slogans offend you, you will not give to the cause…but will you attack the foundation for doing something different to get the word out to promote women’s health? i highly doubt it. (Use of word “Ta-tas”) (slogan, “i love boobies” and “loving boobies since 2000”) (the “Feel Your Boobies Foundation”)

    1. Interestingly, Save The Tatas has come under considerable fire from both advocates and survivors for implying that breast cancer is only noteworthy insofar as they threaten a woman’s physical assets – i.e. that it is the breasts that are worth saving, not the woman herself, which is pretty much the definition of objectifying. It’s demeaning to women who have had to undergo mastectomy in their personal battle against cancer (Does that mean they’ve now lost? That they are no longer worthy of saving?) and generally objectifying.

      The issue with all of these is, as it often is, whether the context of the organization frames it as a “male gaze” thing or a “female empowerment” thing. Feel Your Boobies might seem immensely gross if it came from a fratty douchebro context, but coming form other survivors as a reminder to conduct regular mammograms and practice how to check up on your own body, it can be empowering and effective. Similarly, “Tough Titsday” might be objectifying in Baker’s hypothetical fantasy world, but in the real world where it comprises smart and accomplished women joining together to encourage each other in seeking a healthy lifestyle, it’s anything but.

      Context absolutely matters, and this response discussing the context of Tough Titsday was excellent, but not every “edgy” name or idea is well thought out, and not all of them particularly have a context beyond titillation. (Pun sort-of-but-not-really intended.)

  5. In my opinion it doesn’t matter if it’s created by a woman or man, the context is going to be the same. The name is immature and in no way fits with what the program is. When I first heard about it, I never would’ve guessed it was a women’s training program, but rather some sort of silly/stupid thing people do like Opposite Day or Talk Like a Pirate Day. If I was thinking of joining a Crossfit gym, the name would keep me away from the gym in question simply because it doesn’t sound like something a serious training facility would use and if I was going to do an exercise program where my progress was largely based on someone else being the trainer, I want them to be serious and motivated, not some non-serious jokester, especially with something like Crossfit that requires a good trainer to prevent injuries. If I was an existing member of a gym and they added a program with that name, I would not consider joining it and very well would consider looking for a new gym. That may or may not actually be the case of this program, but the name alone is going to make me feel that way.

    As for the name “Tough Titsday,” it likely came from the phrase “tough tits,” which is an immature way of saying “too bad,” and adding the word day to make up a fake word didn’t change the way I interpret it upon first seeing it. Even ignoring the existing phrase, the name doesn’t exactly make me think of strong women, it makes me think of people objectifying women as it sounds like the name is referring to women as tits and is trying to make them “tough.” I can’t see the name appealing to many women to the point that those who wouldn’t join with a more standard name would join because of it being called Tough Titsday, although I could see men wanting to join a gym with a program by that name, which might be the real reason the name was thought up.

    Going back to the joke you mention being told by a 40 year old white man or woman, to me the context for either is the same, changing the teller of the joke changes absolutely nothing and to assume it does is sexist. If someone I didn’t know well told me that joke I would assume it was, and the person by extention, crass and offensive. I would only consider it social commentary if I knew the person and how they act and think, or if the joke was surrounded by other comments to suggest that it was intended as social commentary. The gender, race, and age of the person plays no role in any way for how I would take it.

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