Amongst the joy, glory and pride of our Team GB wins over the past twelve days, there is one disheartening theme which continues to rear its ugly head – no pun intended.
‘She’s quite pretty, for a rower.’
‘If she weren’t so muscular, I would definitely fancy her.’
‘Her arms/legs/shoulders *insert pretty much any body part here* are too masculine.’
These inspired comments are just a small selection of the ignorance I have been subject to while watching this year’s Olympic games with friends (soon to be acquaintances, most likely). It has to be said that most of these comments came from straight men. It would seem that – in order to be attractive – women cannot have any muscle definition, and to be admired is surely the only reason that the female athletes are gracing our screens, right? How dare they not have skinny frames, huge boobs and false eyelashes! Clearly, they are men.
I first became aware that these attitudes were pretty widespread and not just the product of my mate’s BBQ-fuelled displays of ‘masculinity’ after ‘Girl Power: Going for Gold’ aired on BBC1 as part of a series about British Olympians. The documentary featured – among others – Zoe Smith, an 18 year old weightlifter set to represent Britain in the games. After the documentary aired on TV, Smith received a barrage of Twitter abuse saying that she looked like a ‘lesbian’ and a ‘man’. One Twitter user wrote, ‘I wouldn’t even look at you I’d think you was a bloke and so would 9 out 10 lads… piss off back to the kitchen and make your boyfriend a sandwich he’s hungry’. The words of a cultural genius, you’ll agree.
Smith wrote an incredibly thoughtful, articulate response on her blog; in her position, my own response would have contained so many expletives it would have been unreadable. Smith stated, ‘We don’t lift weights in order to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that. What makes them think that we even WANT them to find us attractive? If you do, thanks very much, we’re flattered. But if you don’t, why do you really need to voice this opinion in the first place, and what makes you think we actually give a toss that you, personally, do not find us attractive? What do you want us to do? Shall we stop weightlifting, amend our diet in order to completely get rid of our ‘manly’ muscles, and become housewives in the sheer hope that one day you will look more favourably upon us and we might actually have a shot with you?! Cause you are clearly the kindest, most attractive type of man to grace the earth with your presence.’
‘Oh but wait, you aren’t. This may be shocking to you, but we actually would rather be attractive to people who aren’t closed-minded and ignorant. Crazy, eh?! We, as any women with an ounce of self-confidence would, prefer our men to be confident enough in themselves to not feel emasculated by the fact that we aren’t weak and feeble.’
Isn’t it a good thing that Smith and her fellow athletes don’t give a toss about what these people think? If they did, we wouldn’t have many female Olympians who have contributed significantly to the medals table, in the form of Jessica Ennis, Rebecca Adlington and Victoria Pendleton to mention a few. This only could have happened after the hours/days/weeks/months/years of training that they have put in to become the best in their field. The result of which is, of course, a muscular frame.
The fundamental – and incorrect – assumption is that muscular women are not attractive, therefore for women to be attractive they cannot look strong. This is a dated, worrying misconception and can surely only be the product of an insecure man-child who feels threatened by strong women. My bet would be that the only muscle definition Smith’s trolls have is on their right forearm. Of course, comments are being made about male athletes’ physiques, but they are generally very positive, and I certainly haven’t heard anyone comment that any of the guys look too feminine.
‘Do you reckon she has been tested to make sure she isn’t a man?’, one friend asked about a female weightlifter, while resting his beer can on his belly and picking crisp crumbs out of his facial hair.
‘Are you saying that because she is very muscular?’, I asked.
‘Yes’, came the reply.
After considering whether my next statement would cost me a friendship, I decided to risk it. ‘Huh. So, since there isn’t the slightest hint of muscle beneath your Primark best, could I get you tested to make sure that you aren’t a woman?’
Case closed. He’s still my friend, and a little more open-minded.
Featured image courtesy of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.