In my last post, I talked about some of the concerns I had with the overall way CrossFit works, particularly the question of who is able to access and/or use the services it provides. Today, I want to talk about something that is much more personally troubling to me: the sexism that seems to be an undercurrent to much of the main CrossFit media. My letter is addressed to Greg Glassman, one of the founders, but I invite anyone who is a part of the CrossFit community and who comes across this post to consider whether they are contributing to the issues I raise. For those who aren’t part of that community, I invite you to read along and come to your own decision about what is going on here.
I’ve been a CrossFitter for a little over a month now, following a very scaled WOD as faithfully as I can given the equipment available to me. I’m grateful to you for the free service you provide with your website, especially all of the videos. The are so information-packed that just by watching them I began to develop an awareness of how my body works, which even yoga and dance classes had never previously made clear to me. If that had been all I gained from CrossFit, I would happily share the news with those around me. And to be certain, I’ve already gained far more than that.
But in these videos, I’ve also begun to see a disturbing trend, one that makes me reluctant to set foot in a CrossFit facility despite the fact that I know a visit to an affiliate would be hugely helpful for me. The trend I refer to is one that equates masculinity with strength and femininity with weakness. Surely I don’t need to explain to you why this is a problem, when you have worked closely with so many strong and amazing women while developing CrossFit. Yet this trend persists in many places.
I have yet to come across any direct references to women as weak in CrossFit videos, for which I am grateful. Too many women, I think, have avoided fitness endeavors in the past because they fear being mocked for taking on weightlifting, etc at scalings appropriate for their fitness levels. The only direct reference to women that slightly troubles me is the way men’s and women’s records are sometimes tracked separately. Perhaps I just don’t understand the rationale behind this. Is it because of differences in body weight? The CrossFit Total rankings don’t seem to indicate this – equal body weights have different standards. Perhaps because of the way muscles develop in men and women? Or perhaps just different expectations? I would love to see some explanation of this somewhere, but that’s somewhat beside the point.
What’s much more troubling to me is when male CrossFitters are “motivated” by framing them as feminine if they fail to perform. This ranges from the very subtle to the blatant. On one end of the spectrum is putting a man who is new to CrossFit against Nicole or one of the other iconic CrossFit women in an overhead squat competition to convince them CrossFit is more effective than their current program. (I am unfortunately unable to find the video in which a man commented about this afterwards.) Why not find a man of similar age and/or body weight, if you were following the division seen in other rankings like the CFT? It seems to me that the implicit reason is that being beaten by a woman will be a bigger hit to a man’s ego. This may in fact be true, but it depends on the reinforcement of the sexist idea that a “real” man should be stronger than a woman. CrossFit can do better than this.
Closer to the other end of the spectrum are things like this affiliate video, which contains 4 different references to “defending masculinity” (plus several more about defending “reputation” or “name”, which without any other context amount to the same thing) in the space of less than 6 minutes. Meanwhile, the woman who breaks the female gym record twice and, I would guess, could have done it again if necessary, seems to fade in importance behind the implied humiliation of her competitors. I felt embarrassed for her – she was doing her best in the front squat, not trying to bring down a family’s masculinity. Surely men and women can compete in CrossFit without this sort of baggage.
The most disturbing example of this for me, however, was the one that came from your own mouth in this video (wmv,mov). Really, is “pussy” the best word you can come up with for that situation? How about wimp, weakling, loser… you get the idea. There are many insults that can have motivating power without equating a woman’s sexuality with weakness.
And speaking of a woman’s sexuality, if you haven’t seen it already, I would like to recommend you read my post here in which I commented on my dismay with the objectification of CrossFit women on the blog. I would also like to echo some of the other posters in asking why that particular photo was chosen, if the form in the photo is sub-par. Surely there are other pictures of powerful women with good form. If the reason this one was chosen was because of the prominence of her breasts, shame on you. As I said there, this tacit acceptance of those sorts of comments can seem like approval. When it is combined with the use of femininity as an insult, I begin to wonder if CrossFit is a safe place for me to pursue my goal of improved performance. I believe CrossFit can do better.
P.S. If your first response to this was something to the effect of “But it wasn’t intended that way!”, I highly encourage you to read Melissa’s post here, which talks about how sexism is an objective reality, not a question of intent.
ETA: I tried to add another comment to the post I mentioned above, and was informed that my comment had been held for approval by the blog administrator. Given that that was more than 24 hours ago, it’s possible that the comment won’t ever show up. So for those coming from the CrossFit site, I’m reproducing it here.
“I’m not naive enough to think that anyone here would listen to me if I simply told them to “just shut up about the boobs already”. That’s why my point has always been that the accumulation of comments contributes to an overall hostile environment. I would however invite anyone who made those sorts of comments to consider how they would feel if strangers made those sorts of comments about their mother, wife, or daughter – not to mention how their mother, wife, or daughter would feel. Then I would remind you that the woman in this picture is someone’s daughter, and possibly someone’s wife and mother too.
I cannot stop anyone from making comments, though I can ask them to reconsider their motivations for doing so. As I said before, I am not speaking for CrossFit as a whole any more than anyone else has.
My point has always been aimed at those who care about the public image of CrossFit. If you truly don’t care, that’s your issue. But keep in mind that every time you work out with a CrossFit shirt on, or tell someone about CrossFit, you are representing CrossFit for the people you interact with. When you post here, you are contributing to the overall impression of CrossFitters as a group that a visitor to the site can see. If a person comes here and sees that a fair number of CrossFitters think that “yay boobies” is an important part of CrossFit, they may decide to go elsewhere. And if you care about CrossFit as a whole, that should matter to you – even if it’s to recognize that “we just don’t want those people here”.
The only response I want from CrossFit HQ is better choice of pictures in the future. I of course recognize that they are free to make their own choices on the matter. But the choice on their part to post pictures like this concerns me, because there doesn’t seem to be a good explanation for choosing this particular picture out of all the ones in the video. If the goal was to show the strength of CrossFit women, dozens of others would have served that purpose. If it was to show “the sexy side of CrossFit”, why not put up the picture of the woman in fishnets – a picture that is obviously taken and submitted with that goal in mind? As others have commented, this picture does not seem to show off good form – and if the goal is to show exertion, not form, other pictures would have done so just as well.
The message that this picture (with the man in the background who at least appears to be staring at the woman), and the accompanying comments which could easily have been anticipated given past experience, send is this: If you come to CrossFit, and the sexual parts of your body happen to catch someone’s eye while you are working out, people will evaluate them in public spaces and their behavior will not be discouraged by CrossFit. I find that to be a very troublesome message.”
Edit, part 2: My comment appears to be up now.