Where Feminism Has Failed Women
By Bill Dobbins
The progress that women, primarily in western culture, have made since the latter half of the 19th century is amazing. This is especially evident when you look at the status of women in parts of the world that have not gone through this evolutionary change.
At one point women couldn’t own property. They could vote. They were the property of their husbands. Consider the folk song:
“Hatd is the fortune of of all woman kind. She’s always controlled, she always confined. Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife. A slave to her husband the rest of her life.”
Women got the vote. They started being elected to political office. Women scientists were permitted to receive the Nobel Prize. Female became banks and lawyers and CEOs of corporations. They could aspire to be general ands military fighter pilots. They became celebrated in athletics and many sports for women became more popular than the same sport for men. In the 1950s and 1960s we saw a more organized movement to further the progress of women across the board that was called “feminism.” This effort and struggle is still going on and gradually chipping away at the remaining artificial cultural restrictions on females, working for example to achieve equal pay for equal work.
But in the 1970s this movement totally hit the wall, failed to continue to support women and in fact became a part of the problem instead of the solution. The issue? Women developing their muscles for essentially aesthetic purposes, a pursuit hitherto received as the exclusive province of men. That is, the cultural phenomenon that is bodybuilding for women, and the other categories of female bodybuilding that have evolved in the years since.
Understand, it is NOT the idea of muscles on women per se. Throughout history, most people have been peasant farmers, about half of those have been women and those trying to survive and thrive as a farmer have to depend on the strength of their bodies. Especially back in the days before mechanized farm machinery. Nobody ever criticized farm wives because they could plow behind a mule, haul water or chop wood.
Nor is the opposition based on women getting big and strong. For more than 30 years we’ve seen well publicized weightlifting (and then powerlifting) competition for women. Some of the bigger women involved have been very beefy but since their bodies were developed in pursuit of sports performance and not aesthetics they haven’t gotten much that much criticism because of their body conformation or looks.
Of course, the idea that building muscle with weight training has long been suspect as being somehow unnatural. My father was a national high school track champion and he told me coaches back then did not want their athletes working with weights. Look at the story line in Rocky IV and you see Drago training with all the latest high tech equipment while Rocky is out in the woods chopping wood and pulling sleds. Athletes across the board train with weights nowadays. But, again, they are working to improve sports performance, not their looks, and the public is much more appreciative of this.
But when it comes to public appreciation, while our culture is somewhat accepting of the muscles of male bodybuilders – after decades of muscle movies, Steve Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone and others) the opposition to bodybuilding for women has continued to grow and get stronger. Pioneers like Lisa Lyon, Rachel McLish and Cory Everson were all that big and muscular compared to the top pro bodybuilders today. They were considered “cute” and got a lot of media attention. Even features in Playboy and work in TV and movies. Contests like the IFBB Ms. Olympia and Arnold’s Ms. Internatonal were successful and well attended. The women were frequently published in the major bodybuilding magazines.
But while everybody loves kittens, many don’t like cats. So when the women continued to get bigger and more muscular, as is what happens which genetically gifted athletes train hard and long enough, the opposition to them continued to increase as well. This opposition frequently took the form of obvious and explicit gender discrimination emanating from the governing federations themselves – in the form of rules that would not have been tolerated in any other sport and may not have actually been legal. Can you imagine a rule in bodybuilding for men stating that competitors couldn’t be “too big” or “too muscular?” Such a rule was issued by IFBB President Ben Weider in a set of “guidelines” written in 2000.
This debacle has continued until at this point the IFBB no longer includes bodybuilding for women in the Olympia Weekend nor does the Arnold Sport Festival include female bodybuilding. Pole dancing, yes. Ballroom dancing, of course. Cheerleading, naturally. But not the sport of “bodybuilding” for women, even though this is actually included in the name of the organization.
My question at this point is this: Where are the feminists when a fundamental right of women to control their own bodies is being challenged? Why are they not opposing such an obvious case of institutional gender discrimination and disrespect for the rights of women to excel to the maximum when it comes to the aesthetic development of their own bodies? Why hasn’t the National Organization for Women come to the aid of women with aesthetic muscle? What about the Feminist Majority Foundation, a champion of gender equity in athletics and sports? Has this subject been deal with by The Feminist Wire? Anybody else speaking up for the rights of women in sport?
Actually, the fact that feminism has so terribly failed to support women with aesthetically developed muscles shows how important and deeply fundamental this subject is. It illustrates how strong people hold on to their deep beliefs about gender morphology, femininity, sexual identity and the place of women in our culture. We have seen feminism make progress as well as civil rights for many groups including African Americans, gays, lesbians and now transsexuals. Gay marriage and adoption are now practically commonplace.
And yet the opposition continues to women developing their muscles for aesthetic purposes. When you stop to think about it, how very strange is this? What does the culture find so terribly strange about women building big, full, shapely and defined muscle? Some believe women are against this because they are made so insecure by seeing such wonderful bodies. It is thought men who are attracted to women with muscles may unconsciously fear they are really homosexual. Who know? It is easy enough to suppose.
But the bottom line is that gender discrimination in sport is WRONG no matter what the reason for it might be. Organizations, universities, sanctioning bodies or whoever might be in charge of sport should not engage in or allow rules and procedures that discriminated against females. There is probably a law against this or, if there isn’t, there should be.
Here is a statement from NOW:
“We, men and women who hereby constitute ourselves as the National Organization for Women, believe that the time has come for a new movement toward true equality for all women in America, and toward a fully equal partnership of the sexes, as part of the world-wide revolution of human rights now taking place within and beyond our national borders.”
Where does it say about they are for true equality from women…unless they decide they want to build and develop their muscles for primarily aesthetic purposes? Maybe NOW out to go back and reread their own Statement of Purpose.