Gender, Sex and Strength

Spread the word–I want to hold a Guinness Book of World Records event in Tennessee. The current documented world record for the largest drag performance was only 73 performers. Let’s create an enormous street event with thousands of folks in drag. They can’t arrest all of us!

You can hardly miss that the latest vulnerable population under attack by the rich, right-wing minority ruling class in the United States are trans kids and drag performers. They made a wrong move, overstepped people’s actual desires, by overturning the imperfect reproductive equality provided by Roe vs. Wade, and so they want to distract us from their lack of ideas and cynical attempts to maintain power with a new bugaboo–folks whose genitalia may not match their gender expression or identity.

Sadly, I struggle to know how to influence national politics (although I think my world record drag performance/protest is a brilliant idea!), but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to do the work to continue to push for more equality and equity in the lifting space. From my experience, the lifting community at large has a lot of work to do to create genuinely inclusive spaces, although there are a few bright spots online like Eat, Train, Progress, and I’ve heard tales of queer and women-owned gyms that create amazing cultures of inclusion. It is far more the norm for online spaces to fail to protect women and other underrepresented populations, and for content creators to assume their audience is primarily, and most importantly, young, cis-gendered males.

However, there are a few resources out there that can help us have a more nuanced conversation about the cross-section between gender, sex and strength, and I’d like to highlight them today.

Shades of Gray: Sex, Gender, and Fairness in Sport, Barbell Medicine

Far and away, this is the best resource I’ve seen discussing the medical and practical points taking on the controversy against trans athletes in sport. I’m lucky enough to live and work in Oregon, where the state health education standards require us to teach about the amazing diversity of humanity and the importance of treating everyone with respect. This article helped to give me more answers when some of my kids push back and parrot anti-trans comments during those lessons. And I love how this article points out the pointlessness of the “leveling the playing field” strawman argument, which always reminds me of reading Harrison Bergeron in middle school.

If you’re interested in hearing a trans strength athlete discuss their own experiences, Iron Culture interviewed Alex Tilinca last year. My thoughts on inclusion have continued to evolve since this original discussion, and I welcome continued discussion of how we can create a more inclusive and truly welcoming athletic space for anyone who wishes to participate.

Where Are All The Female Participants In Strength, Hypertrophy, And Supplement Research?, Stronger by Science.

Women are woefully underrepresented in strength research, and thanks to this analysis by Greg Nuckols, we have even more corroborating evidence showing how deeply underrepresented they are. I got a bit annoyed with Greg when he first discussed this research, saying something like we shouldn’t interpret this lack of representation as sexism, as the researchers aren’t intentionally excluding women out of mal intent. I wanted to pull Greg aside and give him a speech about the differences between intent and impact. However, even with that misunderstanding, I appreciate Greg’s ongoing efforts to analyze and consider sex differences in research–helping us identify where it matters and where it doesn’t. For example, women are often excluded due to concerns that menstrual cycle variations introduce too much variation in the data. However, other discussions, including some new research by Lauren Colenso-Semple, fail to show a significant impact of menstrual cycles on strength, reducing the excuses even further.

And if you’re interested in understanding the depth to which females and other non-men are excluded in data in most fields of study, you can get some insight listening to this interview with Caroline Criado Perez with Dr. Hazel Wallace at The Food Medic. Criado Perez’ book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men is definitely going on my to-read list.

Moving on to something less analytical and more for the heartstrings, we have this ABC story entitled Bev Francis: The Strongest Woman in the World. Bev Francis came of age when women and girls were excluded from most sports. She became a world-class track athlete, powerlifter and bodybuilder. I’m both frustrated and fascinated by Bev’s story, and I wish I could sit down with her and talk with her about her experience with the interplay between bodies, muscle, gender and identity. She shares in the article the desire not to be labeled or pinned down, and I’m very sympathetic to that feeling. My ultimate preference would be to be able to show up however I feel inclined on any day of the week and not have it matter, not be a subject of labels or limits, and to just be myself, authentic and unbounded by other people’s rules or expectations. I have a feeling that Bev would agree with me.

Want to shout out your favorite inclusive online or real-world lifting space? Read, watch or listen to anything good lately that looks at the interplay of sex, gender, and strength? I’d love to hear from you below!

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