My wife could beat me up: a note on women and muscles

Thanks to the Carnival of the Feminists, I found this wonderful post from Liz on women and weight-lifting.  Liz is 52, and she lifts big weights.  Her post — illustrated with photos —  begins with a humorous anecdote about the fear her muscles and her strength engendered in one particular young woman.

Liz notes that men tend to respond in one of two ways, by either belittling her muscles or fetishizing them.  Women, on the other hand, often seem to become either defensive or reluctantly admiring; few of either sex express unabashed appreciation.  Liz, however, makes it clear that her own weight-lifting experience is a passionately feminist one.   Her muscles (all achieved naturally, without anabolic steroids) are outer manifestations of her own inner power and strength.  And while she makes it clear that she doesn’t believe that feminists must lift or work out, she clearly embraces the cultural subversiveness of becoming a strong, muscular 50-something woman.

In response, The Happy Feminist "weighs in" with her own experience:

Here’s the thing.  I want to be as physically strong and fit as I can be.  Due to severe time constraints in my life at the moment, that’s not very strong or fit, unfortunately.  But one day I would love to be as strong as the woman (Liz) who wrote the post linked above.  It’s not about besting men (although that’s potentially a fun side benefit), and it’s not about trying to conform to some societal standard of attractiveness.  It’s about trying to be as physically capable as possible.  Being physically capable has to be viewed as a good thing for everyone, doesn’t it?!?!? To the extent that prejudices and norms of attractiveness discourage women from fully developing all of their physical gifts, I say screw that. 

My wife and I are both committed to working out.  Though I consider myself to be quite fit, my thirty-something wife is, frankly, in better shape than I.  A former competitive triathlete, she and I both do Pilates and take boxing lessons — and we both lift weights.  I’ve often gone to the gym with my beloved, and watched the reactions that she gets when she lifts.  Though she is lean and tall (we generally can wear each other’s jeans), she’s also toned and muscular — and I’ve seen the awe (and anxiety) that she inspires in others when she starts lifting "heavy weight".  Most women at our gym stick to the 5-15 pound free weights; my wife goes well above that for a variety of her exercises.  There’s little question that she intimidates people.   I’m proud of her fitness and her strength, particularly because I honor her tremendous physical work ethic (an ethic that I share).  To me, she’s the most beautiful and extraordinary woman alive, which is how a husband ought to feel — but she’s also indisputably a dedicated athlete, and I have enormous admiration for that.  We are fortunate to share a passion for the physical; given the time and financial resources that working out absorbs in both our lives, it would be a difficult thing indeed if we did not!

Not long ago, someone asked me, half-jokingly, "How does it feel to know that your wife could beat you up?"  Though I’m rapidly learning boxing technique, my wife’s progress (we have the same trainer, but meet with him separately) has been exponentially faster.  I’m awed by how crisp and powerful her punches have become and how rapid her lateral movement is.    She and I would never, ever, ever, dream of striking one another in anger.  But it’s true that it’s an odd feeling to know that if it ever were to come to it, my wife could probably defeat me in a fight! 

It’s not that I believe that a husband must always be physically stronger than his wife.  As a pro-feminist man, my comfort in my own identity is not linked to any sense of muscular superiority over my spouse!  At the same time, I’m a product of my upbringing.  I’ve never been in a relationship with a woman of my wife’s level of fitness and power and agility.  It’s been a shock to realize that I am frequently judged because of my partner’s strength.  The reactions I get when folks see us together in the gym fall into one of two camps: some people (usually men) assume I am "hen-pecked and put-upon", a wimpy victim who is dominated by his wife.  Others assume I must have something very special "going for me" (something not evident to the naked eye, mind you); I must be "extra-confident" to be able to "handle" such a strong woman!

But in the end, while I celebrate my wife’s physique, I don’t rely on her looks or her athleticism to boost my self-esteem or my feminist credentials.  What makes me proudest about my wife is that I think that she is such a marvelous role model for other women.  Her willingness to tackle traditionally masculine sports, to be unafraid of developing strong and evident muscles, sends a powerful signal about female ability and potential.  Our future children will see in their mother a woman who is very clear about one thing above all else: femininity, ferocity, and obvious physical strength are not mutually exclusive propositions!  And in their father, lord willing, they will see a man who does not define his masculinity by his ability to physically protect his weaker wife.

24 thoughts on “My wife could beat me up: a note on women and muscles

  1. There’s a film, “Pumping Iron II” (NOT the one with Ah-nowld) about female bodybuilding that deals with a lot of these themes. If you can find it, you might want to rent it. Basically it’s a documentary following a female body builder, I guess in the 80’s or early 90’s who shot for sheer muscle mass and tone, like male body builders do, rather than the more “feminine” sculpting and hit a lot of friction within the female body-building community because of it. I watched in the one women’s studies class I took a few years ago, and it was definitely interesting to see how even in a sport that emphasizes physical fitness, ideas of “femininity” still prevail over what an outsider would see as the ultimate goal of the sport to begin with.

  2. Another related movie you might find interesting:

    Lipstick & Dynamite – “It could have been the sex, money, injuries, and intrigue that dominated their lives on the road, but the competitive passion of these women have for their sport shines through in director Ruth Leitman’s touching portrait of women who lived hard, and fought even harder.”

  3. Well, being as large as I am, with my background in both armed and unarmed styles both as amateur and professionally, it’s not something that really has ever hit my radar.

  4. it occurs to me that your friend’s question is a beautiful example of the notion of “male privilege” in action. would he ever ask that same question of one of his female acquantainces — how does it feel to know that your spouse could beat you up in a fight?

    and yet that is the reality that the vast majority of women live with. though it should be noted that many or most of us, self included, are like you in that we completely trust our partners to NOT ever exercise that ability. but it’s common, or even normal, for a woman partnered in a het relationship to live with that knowledge. and it’s rarely questioned, nor are any of us questioned on how we feel about it.

    you’re in an the unusual situation of having the roles reversed, which got your friend’s attention and caused him to ask that half-joking question. for a brief instance, it sounds like he got pulled out of his reality of unconscious privilege and realised that there’s another way to be in the world.

    i’m not picking on him or anything; that’s the thing about these unconscious privileges that so many of us walk around with. we don’t know we have them. and the ability to go through life NOT having to live with the knowledge that their partner could beat them up is something the vast majority of men are blessed with.

    for me, as stated above, it’s not a problem to live with this knowledge because i do completely trust my husband to never act on it. but i also grew up with a physically abusive father, and believe me that had its affect on me & how i went about choosing a mate — because (unless i wanted to train to be a boxer myself, not interested) i was always conscious that this would be something that would be present in the partnership, and i needed to know that i could feel safe.

  5. I find it even more startling that men might assume that a physically strong woman would dominate or “hen peck” her husband — as though physical strength correlates with being the dominant partner in a relationship. Do these men also believe that husbands (who are generally the physically stronger party in a marriage) tend to use an implied threat of physical force to dominate their wives?

  6. Trishka, that’s a good point about male privilege and the presumption of violence; thanks. I think that the real issue isn’t that my wife could beat me up; in the eyes of other men, the problem is that my wife could probably do a better job of protecting me from a violent attacker than I could of protecting her. I’m a fit, 6’1″, 178 pound man — but my wife, because of her training, has greater lethality than I do. To more than a few men, that’s a humbling thought. Too many men define their own manhood through their ability to offer physical protection.

  7. Reminds me of the old cartoon where a couple watches a female bodybuilder walk by. The man says “Wow–I wouldn’t want to go out with somebody who could beat me up!” and the woman replies “Me neither.”

    Hugo, I think the real issue is what you touched on earlier–power. Women aren’t supposed to be taller/stronger/wealthier/etc. that their male partners, because that suggests he doesn’t hold the upper hand. And, of course, if he’s not dominant she must be, hence the ‘henpecked’ comments.

  8. I think it is great that women are working out and becoming stronger. I do think that it is, however, very easy to confuse fitness with “lethality.” I have a friend who I have tried goading into fitness, but he loves to eat junk and refuses to change. I am no elite athlete, but I am much fitter than he is. I am 6’1″ and 195. He is 6’2″ and the last weight he mentioned (several years ago) was 290. In an actual fight he would kill me. There is a Hollywood fixation on unrealistic violence where the petite, yet high trained, female bests the muscular evil guy using only her bare hands and a knowledge of millitary tactics and ancient wisdom. I enjoy some of these ridiculous movies, but I don’t want my friends to disconnect with reality.

    I will not be defeating a 300 pound attacker any time soon. My course of action would be to use my dog spray on him and run hard.

    My uncle (a member of the NRA) firmly believes that crimes against women would drop to almost nil if women were encouraged to carry firearms. I worry about accidents, but it would make women more lethal!

  9. Dave, just curious: Is your uncle the joseph/alexander guy that keeps telling the feminists on this site to start an armed uprising if they’re serious about being oppressed?

  10. I trained my own daughter to two black belts, and taught her to shoot at a range, and then in combat situations; add into that she’s almost 6’4″ and 200#. (And still head turning gorgeous.) I pity the fool who takes her for an easy mark.

    I’ve also trained my 6’6″ 260# son equally. The Gonzette is under no illusions that she’d rather take on Gonzo Junior with the pistol; her little 9mm may not have the stopping power of his .45, but she can put a wickedly tight 3 round spread in something in a little over a second.

  11. Heavens, lads, I wasn’t suggesting that my wife is some sort of black lycra-clad comic-book character about to unleash hell on the men of Southern California. I just meant that all things considered, she could probably take me in a fight.

    Neither of us have any interest in owning guns, or in learning to shoot. That’s not urban coastal elitism, it’s also a reflection of a lack of interest in any recreational activity that isn’t, at its core, designed to elevate your heartrate and build lean muscle.

    Okay, maybe it’s a little bit of blue-state distaste for shooting at things. ;-)

  12. Vacula, I don’t think my uncle uses his computer for anything other than email and family photos! He is very much a “law and order” type who believes that crime could be severely reduced if more people were packing.

    Gonzman, It sounds like you have done a good job training the kids for self defense. Gonzo Jr. is probably in pretty good shape. Sadly, if some insurance agency were to plug those stats into a calculator for body mass he would probably list as overweight or obese with no regard given to muscle vs. fat.

    Hugo, I think there is an amazing amount of shooting of flying, running, and crawling things in California! The hunting culture seems very strong in many parts of “left coast.” I don’t shoot often. My uncle is always touting the health benefits of biathalon. He argues that it not only tests aerobic fitness, but also mental concentration and fortitude. “Imagine shooting with great precision after some hard cross country skiing.” Sidebar : I do like the fact that cross-country skiing and biathalon use the upper body. You rarely see a top-notch skier with an emaciated upper body.

  13. Yeah, they both are in pretty good shape, and so am I. Neither one of the pups is quite ready to challenge the old alpha wolf yet, though heavens knows when my boy was in his teens he was constantly testing and measuring himself against the old man. Which is an age old tradition, I suppose. God knows I did it.

    Insurance companies be buggered, though. Body mass indicators and such are more city-boy nonsense, generally created for sedate desk jockeys.

  14. Gonz said: “Yeah, they both are in pretty good shape, and so am I. Neither one of the pups is quite ready to challenge the old alpha wolf yet, though heavens knows when my boy was in his teens he was constantly testing and measuring himself against the old man. Which is an age old tradition, I suppose. God knows I did it.”

    This raises an interesting point: If I were to bet on a fight between a 5’10” crazy man and a 6’2″ timid SNAG, I’d place it all on the crazy dude or dudette in a heartbeat. Fitness notwithstanding, I think that a major component to winning fights is the mindset of the persons involved. One can be physically fit to the max, but if you don’t have the ‘killer instinct’ you won’t use your strength, etc., to do the job. On the other hand, a crazy person would have no qualms about fighting dirty and doing any and everything necessary to take his/her opponent out. So, IMO while strength is important, mental conditioning is just as – or even more – important.

    As for packing heat, I’m all for it and concealed is IMO best. And even if not everyone was carrying a handgun, just the right to freely do so would put doubt in the minds of would-be muggers. We’d all benefit, even if we weren’t personally carrying. In fact, I’m in favor of requiring every household in the U.S. to have a long rifle on the premises and have at least 2 people who are certfied trained to use it to defend themselves and their country. (Don’t the Swiss have some sort of policy like this?) Were this the case, only insane countries, governments, police, etc., would try to subjugate us, and IMO would lose badly were they to try. I believe that historically one of the first thing that totalitarians (i.e., Nazis, Soviets, et al.) do is disarm the populace.

    IMO an armed populace is a safe and secure one.

  15. As for packing heat, I’m all for it and concealed is IMO best. And even if not everyone was carrying a handgun, just the right to freely do so would put doubt in the minds of would-be muggers. We’d all benefit, even if we weren’t personally carrying.

    In the big city where I live, and where we have had concealed handgun laws on the books (yes I have one), the crime rate has steadily dropped each year since the bill was passed.

  16. Mr. B, I have known plenty of the crazy berserker types, but the scariest person I ever knew was a 60 year old British Jew (At least at the time) who had been both a commando for the limeys and a Mossad operative. And it’s not that he was cold – just – indifferent? It was all just business to him. The craazy ones, I have observed, are just covering up fear most the time. It makes themunpredictable, and thus dangerous, but not as lethal as the calm ones. Don’t confuse calm and timid.

    But I tend to agree on the last – citizens are armed. Subjects aren’t. And on that basis, I should get to vote ten times, at least. :)

  17. and yet that is the reality that the vast majority of women live with. though it should be noted that many or most of us, self included, are like you in that we completely trust our partners to NOT ever exercise that ability.

    If marriage is so potentially dangerous for women in that the husband could assault the wife because he is, perhaps, stronger, then why on earth do women want to get married at all? Wouldn’t it be safer to be single?

    It’s odd that women can make such a big deal out of getting married when married women are, as feminists tell me, in constant danger of violence from a domestic partner.

  18. alexander said: “It’s odd that women can make such a big deal out of getting married when married women are, as feminists tell me, in constant danger of violence from a domestic partner.”

    Well alexander, that’s because like in so many other cases, feminists have been flat-out lying about the ‘dangers’ re. women and marriage in order to suit their propaganda goals so that they can fill their coffers with government-subsidized pork.

    Only a very, very tiny minority of married couples endure what reasonable people (i.e., not feminists) would consider interpartner violence, and among those who do, the number of male and female perps and victims is equally balanced. This has been shown time and time again, over many decades now, to the point where even feminists no longer try to debate that fact. Instead, they are now hysterically trying to change the subject to ‘who gets hurt more.’ Don’t fall for it.

  19. Mr. Bad, I appreciate you stating an obvious truth. It’s interesting how when I raise these points to feminists, I never get an answer.

  20. Pingback: dailymuscle.com

  21. If your wife can beat you up then you’re doing something wrong. May I suggest working out a bit more?

Comments are closed.