Thursday, February 18, 2010

Women and exercise

Three months ago, I began an exercise program to combat my 3 years of insomnia, my secretary ass and because I convinced myself that I have Mitral Valve Prolapse (exercise is the only thing that helps).

My company has a small gym on the premises, now I use it daily. Work-friend and I used to go to lunch sometimes or stroll downtown but I started working out on my lunch break instead.

“I can’t work out at work.” Work-friend explains when I ask her why she doesn’t come along. “I would have to take a shower then redo my hair and make-up. That would take almost an hour and it would just be too much time.” She complains about the hazards of “secretary ass” too but because of gender requirements she “can’t” exercise.

Then another coworker (overweight) walks up and joins the conversation. She agrees. The trouble it would take to reapply her make-up, redo her listless, difficult hair and unsweat-ify herself are too much. They both admit these are excuses to avoid working out, but what if they’re not just excuses?

Today while on the treadmill, I looked around the gym. Four guys sweating and grunting and huffing along. All enjoying sports center and completely oblivious of the fact that they hop in the shower, hop out and their hairstyle isn’t ever scrutinized at work. Their make-up never mentioned. Their non-interesting clothes choices regarded as normal or not ever regarded at all.

Women who wear make-up to work earn 20-30 times more, so that’s an undeniable incentive to conform to these gender norms. Hair and clothes choices are constantly scrutinized. I've noticed at work when I adhere more to a gender norm than I usually do (i.e. wear a dress, heels or make-up); people comment on it. Men are more likely to comment on "big" things like a dress or outfit, women notice little things like a necklace or make-up change.

But by this pressure to adhere to gender stereotypes, are women kept separate from their bodies? Do most American women never enjoy the amazing athletic possibilities of their muscels because they are wasting energy on trying to force their bodies to fit a societal idealization of beauty? I know feminists have been talking about this for forever but it really hit me today as I was sweating along with four guys in a gym which is a "company perk" in a company which employs more women than men.

Go throw the football with your daughter please, mister.

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