<I walk in on the middle of a conversation about push-ups>
Her: "I can't do a push-up."
Me: <butting in> "Can't? Or won't try?"
Her: "No, I can't. Women can't do push-ups."
Me: "You're kidding, right?"
Her: "No. I hate them."
Me: "Okay, but that doesn't mean women can't DO them."
Her: "There are studies! It's unnatural for females. We have a different centre of gravity. It's physics."
Me: <deep breath, using all the restraint I have> "So, you've never seen a woman do a push-up?"
Her: "Well, apparently Michelle Obama and Ellen deGeneres can do them, but that's because they're shaped like men."
Me: "Explain." <not letting her off the hook>
Her: "If you have any kind of butt that sticks out, or boobs, if you're shaped like a woman, then it's too hard. Physics."
Me: "I'm pretty sure it's about the strength in your chest and arm muscles, and having a strong core."
Her: "I don't think they're that good for you, anyway."
Em: <chimes in> "Are you kidding? They work your arms, your chest, your legs, your back. They're awesome!"
<She's right; they're one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do. Especially when you do them right.>
Her: "Well, if women can do them, then why do they even HAVE women's push-ups? You're supposed to do them from your knees."
[No. No, you're not. It's a regression, an adaptation, and not a very effective one. You start from your knees so that you can build up to other variations, whether you're a guy or a girl.]
Her: "Okay, but wouldn't you agree that they're easier for men to do?"
Me: "How am I supposed to measure that? It probably depends on the man."
I look around. It's a Saturday. Not many people are in our office area. I look to the co-worker with whom the conversation started, who's been listening, who happens to do kickboxing. She also happens to be wearing a dress, and I'm in a frilly blouse. My mind weighs the pros and cons. I raise my eyebrows. "Emily? You wanna join me?"
I've read about some of these arguments before. And perhaps she's right that it's harder for women to condition themselves to be able to do full-on pushups, especially right away. They require upper body strength, and men often have more muscle and strength in the chest. (20% more, not gazillions). Push-ups also require a stronger core for women, to compensate for the extra weight in the lower body (that butt argument she was trying to make). I just can't quite believe that the conversation happened. That, in this day and age, anyone would seriously try to argue that women - an entire gender - can't do something when there's proof everywhere that with practice, we absolutely can.
I called her on what she was really saying. I said, "I can accept that you don't like them, that you don't want to do them, and even that you will never, ever try one again. But don't throw all women under that bus. Just admit that it's your CHOICE, not your ability." Now, when she says "I can't do a pushup" she quickly amends it to "Well, I don't want to."
Because she needed the excuse. Even by the end, she admitted that she just hates pushups, and feels weak for not being able to do one. It's a lot easier to blame science than to say "I can't do it." Guess what? I used to not be able to do them, either. It wasn't because I was a girl. It probably wasn't even because I was fat. It was because I didn't practice.
I gave myself a lot of excuses for not doing things at different sizes. Being a girl was never, ever one of them. In fact, had this conversation happened a hundred pounds ago, I would still have called her on it. I'd have got my feminist back up against the wall. I just would have had to look up videos for proof, and articles combating her flawed reasoning, instead of being able to show her myself. The thing is, there's a danger in perpetuating these gender-based lies, even if it makes you feel better about yourself.
The push-up looks impressive, and is often tied to pride and ego. That can make it easy to dismiss as an exercise. Granted, as a measurement tool for overall fitness, it can't stand alone (and it often does, in fitness tests for military or police training). If the push-up is being used as a party trick to show off, then sure - dismiss it. It's so much more than that, though. The functional fitness that comes from building the strength to do push-ups applies to women, just as much as men. Having a strong core? Not just about sexy abs. When your core is strong, daily movements are easier, and you reduce your risk of injury. That's kind of a big deal for women. You can carry that heavy load of laundry, lift a kid over a snow bank, shovel your driveway, carry boxes up and down stairs, and bring all your groceries in from the car in just one trip. Strength training helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which affects women at a much higher rate than men. And for the aging population, when balance and falling become a tad more common, the ability to catch yourself and break a fall with your arms and wrists can not be over stated. Practicing push-ups is preventative medicine.
Tell me again why push-ups aren't useful for women?
It comes down to gender stereotypes, which is why I'm more worked up about this than if it were simply an argument about which form of exercise is more enjoyable or what burns more calories.
".Push-ups are a symbol of everything we have done wrong in fitness, especially for women. There's been a tremendous focus on cardio exercise above all else, especially because it burns calories, even though strength training increases your resting metabolism, and therefore, yes, burns calories.
Women don't do push ups because they think of them as a man exercise. Same goes for weightlifting. We teach women to strive for thin and toned, but not strong and powerful. I mean, be athletic, but not so athletic that you can kick a guy's rear end at strength endeavors. We're taught to hide our strength or minimize it or just avoid using it altogether."
- Push ups giving women a bad rep
Hearing a smart woman who's interested in health say "women can't do push-ups" and mean it, even a little, was not a personal physical challenge to me. It was an affront to my gender identity.
It's not a good idea to tell me I can't do something.
It's really, really, really not a good idea to tell me I can't do it because I'm a woman.