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Women and weights: Don’t hate on me because I’m strong

April 12, 2012 – 8:57 AM


By Mariah Philips

After an hour-long 6 a.m. lift, I can feel my hands shaking, residual adrenaline pumping through my veins. Sweat trickles down the side of my temple. My muscles are limp from exhaustion.  But the most prominent thing I feel when I walk out of the weight room is pride, satisfaction in the exertion I have just put forth. It is empowering to feel strong.

Being strong – lifting in particular – has been important to my growth as a college softball player and because I’m at Wellesley College, lifting happens in an all-women’s weight room.

But elsewhere, in co-ed weight rooms, there’s an unspoken edge: As a woman, you are not free to lift without being judged. I have been the girl with the 40-pound dumbbells, standing beside the man lifting less – and feeling a wash of shame. I’m an athlete. I need to be strong. Yet, I catch the glances and the scrutiny by male and female members of the gym. What’s more, I hear the same stress expressed by other female athletes (including one who has a planned apology: “Sorry, I’m a man.”)

It may now be OK for women to be strong. But how strong? Why does it remain socially prickly for women to lift large amounts of weight? Why must women struggle to preserve socially condoned images of femininity while they try to honor an athletic identity that challenges those gender norms?

This unspoken weight room phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by sports psychologists.

“Essentially it can be felt as a threat to the male’s self-image to lift next to females,” says Dr. Amy Baltzell, Coordinator of the Sport Psychology Specialization at Boston University. “And then for some women, it can feel like a struggle between their athletic goals and how they perceive they should be compared to males.  This, too, can cause a discomfort in the weight room for the female athlete.”

Athletes need to lift, whether you are a 300-pound lineman, a 140-pound wrestler — or a 140-pound field hockey player. It ‘s time to grab the steel (or the med ball) and leave gender expectations and stereotypes out of it.


Softball player Jen Migliore lifts/photo by Alex Hatem

  1. 4 Responses to “Women and weights: Don’t hate on me because I’m strong”

  2. Great post Mariah! Very well articulated article. Personally, I have always been one of the few girls who wanted to bulk up because although having a toothpick like figure might be great for being a model you get no respect in the world of sports. Comparing the weights you lift to the men around you is kind of a fun activity in the gym but you are absolutely right in asking the question – what amount of visible strength is socially acceptable?

    By Courtney on Apr 12, 2012

  3. Well said and really strong points Mariah.

    By Rob on Apr 12, 2012

  4. I think if women need to pump iron to feel good about themselves they should totally go for it. That said, if you ladies think guys are getting intimidated or amazed by this type of activity you don’t really get it.

    It isn’t about hate. It’s about indifference.

    By Bern on Apr 13, 2012

  5. I can totally relate to this. Being an athlete, myself, and lifting weights in a co-ed weight room isn’t always fun. I play volleyball and our team is required to lift twice a week as a team. At the same time our team is lifting is usually the same time the football players are doing their individual lifts. When we’re doing deadlifts or pull-ups we get crazy looks. Looks like “What are they doing here?” I even overheard a guy “whisper” to his friend, “They’re volleyball players, what are they doing lifting?” A lot of people look down on volleyball as a sport. I hate that! On top of women sports being looked down in general. Volleyball is NOT an easy sport. And what’s it to them? If we want to lift weights and be strong why can’t we? We don’t give them looks or anything while they workout? Our weight room has two sides to it. One side is the Cardio room, where we have treadmills, elliptical machines, and a few bikes. The other side is the “weight room,” where all the heavy weights are. When I’m in the weight room I usually pay a visit to both sides, but the majority of the female population only workout in the cardio room. I feel a lot of segregation when I go in the weight room and I hate it.

    By Bianca' on Apr 14, 2012

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