Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Feminists and Upper Body Strength

Speaking of feminist friends, did you know that once upon a time, my own feminism was called into question? It's true! A former lover once quipped, "You? Oh, I never thought you were a feminist. I mean, you always said things when we were moving like, 'Let's get a bunch of menfolk to help with the heavy stuff.' "

It' true - I have the upper body strength of a gnat, and (now) a bad back to boot, so moving heavy objects isn't my strong suit. I also reside in an income bracket where professional moving help is mostly out of the question, so it's to the friend-and-family bank I go when it's time to uproot house and home. Once I even had to relocate a piano twice in a matter of a few months, and you bet I activated my strapping-young-man phone tree for that odious task.

Aforementioned former flame took me to task not for my twig-like arms, but for my choice of genders to help. "Let's get a bunch of menfolk to help," not "Let's get a bunch of nonspecifically-gendered suckers to help." Clearly, I was in the wrong.

But still. I often find myself turning to the Y chromosome for help lifting heavy things, or for walks home in unfamiliar and/or dark/shadowy nabes. It's ingrained behavior that's reinforced and rewarded - even among my progressive peer group. But does it negate my feminism bona fides more than the makeup I wear most days? The makeup is a concession to the patriarchy - one that helps me to fit in at work, among other things - and so is the moving help. They're comparable concessions, certainly. And like a nudist that puts on pants to avoid arrest, putting on makeup to avoid ostracism is hardly a punishable offense. But asking for moving help from men only? Definitely wrong. So ladies, next time I move, you'll be getting a call.


  1. I.. your unique and dear friend in the southern part of the state has learned the most effective way to change her tire once its gone flat.

    I simply roll up my sleeves, pull a new tire from the trunk, drag out the appropriate devices and then hang my head in utter confusion. Within a few moments I am rescued by a daring and adorable member of the opposite sex and Whala!!!... Tire Changed..

    Women can do everything that men can do!

  2. I have a lot of upper-body strength, and I enjoy using it, so I am often asked to help people move. So, sometimes when people specify male gender for volunteers to do X, when X is a heavy physical task I am able and willing to perform, it does bug me, but I usually just shrug and volunteer anyway. People who know me soon get the idea that it's not only men who can do those things, even if it might still be mostly men.

    But I wouldn't consider it a seriously anti-feminist thing to say you want a man to help you ... not unless you'd refuse to accept a woman's help, because that'd be insulting. (I am happy that you're moving away from that, though --- if nothing else, it expands the pool of people you can ask to help you move!)

  3. A big part of the reason why I often only thought to ask for male help was because a) many of my closest friends (ie the types of friends that would actually show up to help if asked) were men; and b) it's often just easier to get boys to help carry things because they feel it's expected of them socially. Which is definitely not to say it's right; that would be like saying women should wear skirts and have lots of babies because it's expected of them. Or something.

    But more importantly, this heavy-lifting help of yours... do you live nearby? Just kidding! Ahem.

  4. Great post. I too have the upper body strength of a gnat, and I have to admit that I let my husband do the heavy lifting around the house. My hubby is a stay-at-home dad--he takes care of our three boys and I'm the one who earns the salary--but he's admitted that he actually likes it when I ask him to open jars. I think it makes him feel needed. Of course I still consider myself a feminist, even though I take advantage of his stronger muscles. :) But I sometimes see us fall into sex role stereotypes like this and cringe. On the other hand, I think it's pretty cool that our sons see their mom going out to work and their dad staying home (and doing all the cooking on weekdays).

  5. Thanks for your comment, Marie! I've had the same response from menfolk your husband gave - boys often puff out their chests just a teensy bit when asked to do stereotypically manly things, like open jars or carry heavy things or squish a bug or something. It's kind of cute, which is why I don't always feel so bad asking for this kind of help, particularly when I actually need it.

    I remember when I lived alone, and one night, could not for the life of me get a jar of spaghetti sauce open. There was nothing else for dinner, and I hemmed and hawed a great deal before finally conceding, and trotting over to a neighbor's apartment to ask for it to be opened. The day was saved and spaghetti was had, but I still remember how bad I felt about having to ask for help for such a simple thing. My neighbor, on the other hand, probably felt useful and benevolent, being able to help out his pathetic, weak-armed neighbor.

  6. Picking up heavy things is primarily about the strength in the legs and back. Most people who train strength, regardless of gender, don't train this properly. How many guys do you see doing endless amounts of curls in the gym? Their arms will get big, but they won't be strong. Spend time deadlifting and squatting and you will be able to help people move their furniture.



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