I’m a woman and I’m confused: I love CrossFit even though, according to the dominant theories on women and competition, I should not. CrossFit, with its quasi-military culture, posting of standings, and inherent performance-oriented hierarchy should make me want to run screaming in the other direction toward some scrapbooking club or, at least, a nail salon. (Lucky for me, I don’t like either place. In fact, I’d rather have my nails pulled out than endure another vacuous conversation centering on hair or nails or whether somebody’s butt looks big in a pair of jeans.) CrossFit is a competitive beast. We grunt, lift heavy weights, talk about “snatches” and, when someone fails to meet our standards, we call them the pejorative term for a kitty. I’m not certain this is what our grandmothers would call “normal” behavior for women.
So, I should not like it and yet I do: am I an oddity? Are all CrossFit women oddities? Kathleen J. DeBoer reminds us in Gender and Competition that “The very reason that scorekeeping is so important to men makes it disruptive to women. For men, the score tells them where they stand in relation to others playing the game, whether they are ahead or behind in the pecking order. They are more comfortable with this knowledge than without it. The opposite is true for women. Scorekeeping segregates people into winners and losers, thus disrupting the connections of their network. This segregation produces anxiety.” Is DeBoer right? Am I supposed to have anxiety? Did I miss this lesson in the fifth grade when they showed us that “special” movie on our bodies? How come nobody told me I was supposed to fret about a good “Helen” time?
Or, maybe, women are competitive but many of us just deny it. A few years ago, at a tiny mountain bike triathlon in California, I walked into the lake behind a group of female athletes waiting for the start and listened, stunned, at the nervous chit chat that peppered the air: “Well, we’re not competitive like the men anyhow. None of us . . . Although, did you see that one woman with the muscles and the wetsuit in the parking lot? She looked competitive. She was kind of scary.” Oops. I would have hidden but there’s no place to duck when you’re standing knee-deep in a lake wearing a sleeveless wetsuit with entry numbers etched in Sharpie ink on your “guns”. But then, why should I have hidden? We all had signed up for a TRIATHLON, for God’s sake! One sport wasn’t enough for us; we wanted to be good at three! And then we’re going to claim that we’re not competitive?
Who’s fooling themselves here?Women have a competitive streak: a big one. It’s just not usually socially acceptable to admit it. A woman might say, “Oh, I’m not competitive” in the gym but then she goes home and bitches about her boss, or her girlfriends, or her spouse behind their backs. That’s competition but it’s just not posted on a whiteboard for the world to see. Perhaps we’d be a healthier gender, psychologically speaking, if we channeled a bit more aggression into sports and less into our personal lives. Maybe CrossFit is even more important to women than we thought. Maybe besides developing our muscles, we’re developing our humanity. Because we don’t want to end up like my old mountain bike riding partner, who vehemently maintained that she was not competitive; that is, as long as she was beating me. Once I killed her on the trail, she killed our friendship. It seems competition was okay only as long as she won. That’s not evolved, that’s pathetic.So, along comes CrossFit, which not only encourages women to embrace their competitive nature but almost demands it. And we do roar in our workouts and afterwards, but then, on the message boards and in the daily Comments section, we are still mostly silent. I have yet to teach CrossFit to a woman and have her hate it. Sure, women hate the workouts while they’re in the middle of them. (Don’t we all? In a strange way, CrossFit is kind of similar to childbirth in that you find yourself in a place of indescribable pain, all the while saying to yourself: I knew this was going to hurt! What the hell was I thinking? Why did I agree to do this? ARGGGGH! PUSSSSHHHHHHHHH!)
Yet, while 80% of my female clients visit the main site, fewer read the Daily Comments or the message boards, and 0% posts anything.To be certain, CrossFit has some very public female faces: Nicole Carroll, Annie Sakamoto, Eva Twardokens, etc. But let us not confuse the CrossFit elite or the videos with the rank-and-file female membership of our affiliates and all those other women out there doing CrossFit on their own. One is public and heard; the other is private and relatively silent. We have some female voices on the message boards but they are few when you compare them to the sheer numbers of men posting.So, what’s this all mean? Would we be a better community if we had more female voices on the boards? Without a doubt. Differing perspectives add to the conversation. A community is the sum of its members; not the sum of half of its members. So, CrossFit women, speak up! Stomp that conventional “women don’t like competition” malarkey under your Chuck Taylors and tell me what you’ve done today. Inspire me in the way that Nicole and Annie and Eva inspire us all. Ask and answer questions on the CrossFit message boards or use the Daily Comments to post your “Eva” time and, by doing so, dare me to beat it! CrossFit Women, let me hear you roar!
By: Lisbeth Darsh of Crossfit Watertown