“Girls rule, boys drool!” “Girls go to Jupiter to get more stupider; boys go to Mars to get more candy bars!” And my favorite gender stereotype, brought home the other day by my 3rd grader: “Mom, did you know that when girls scream 3 times they can shatter glass? It’s because girls have high voices and boys have really low voices.” I hate to break it to him but at this stage his voice sounds exactly like the girls. And while neither of them can shatter glass I am pretty sure I’ve lost an eardrum or 5 thanks to all the incessant shrieking around here. (True story: Once when my dad called to ask me a question and had to repeat himself like 7 times before I understood him he said exasperated, “How can you stand living in that birdcage?!”) Well the exercise world sounded a bit like an elementary playground (or birdcage) this last week when the Washington Post posted an op-ed piece about how men and women exercise differently.
The piece by Vicky Hallet entitled How Men and Women Exercise Differently
starts out with, “No one wants to think she’s a cliche. But it’s time for me to recognize that when it comes to my gym behavior, that’s exactly what I am: a cardio-loving woman who has to be forced to hoist a dumbbell.” She then goes on to describe the results of a survey done by Weight Watchers. I’ll summarize Hallett’s conclusions for you (there is no link to the WW survey itself):
1. Men think exercise alone is enough to lose weight while women realize that both diet and exercise are needed.
2. But men enjoy exercise more. Says Weight Watchers chief scientist Karen Miller-Kovach, “If you’re a woman, you’re looking at being active as a means to have wine with dinner. For guys, to sweat is a badge of honor.” (Charlotte’s note: We just busted this stereotype!)
3. Women take a series of small steps towards better health while men prefer sweeping changes.
4. “Women never want to push it. Men want to push it too much.”
5. Women prefer cardio and fear weight lifting while men love weight lifting and tend to go too heavy with bad form.
As Reader Sarah, the sweetie who sent this to me, wrote, “Every. single. stereotype. Rolled into one. Why can’t journalists be at least slightly aware of how valid social science research is conducted? Weight Watchers surveys are not designed to be representative of the entire population…and just because it confirms the stereotypes we already have in our head and thus “makes sense” does not make this a valid basis for an argument. Boo.”
I recognize that I may be an outlier when it comes to being a female in fitness but I consider sweat as much a badge of honor as Katy Perry does glitter in the shape of fruit. And while I will take credit for acknowledging the importance of healthy nutrition and exercise, I have to also own the preferring cardio one (although let it be known that I no longer fear heavy weight lifting!). And the sweeping changes? I’ve changed my entire workout program every 30 days for the past 5 years. Also, I don’t just save the “pushing harder” for childbirth. You’ve read this blog before, right? So the survey was right 1.5/5 for me. Survey fail!
To find out how it would hold up for the dudes, I asked my favorite dude: Gym Hubby (he asked for this official title during our race this weekend. Wish granted, lovah!)
Yes, I stole Jelly Bean’s tutu. Someday she will either be really proud of, or completely embarrassed by, me.
He said the survey described him 3 out of the 5. And for the record, he is the saner of the two of us. Although that’s kind of like saying Mel Gibson is saner than Charlie Sheen – it may be true but bragging rights are iffy. We’re just crazy in different ways which is, frankly, a gift.
I’ll tell you one major difference between men and women exercisers the survey missed though:
Skirts! (By the way, it was 28 degrees F at the start line, plus wind chill. I want extra credit for that. I couldn’t feel my toes for the first half and had pins and needles for the second half.)
I’d also add that judging from the numbers in my cardio classes at my Y, I think women are more likely to do group fitness. As for cardio-loving, just from my own experience I would say that I have equal numbers of male and female runner/swimmer/biker friends. Strangely though, when I was looking at the stats from my race, out of 5,000+ runners only about 1,000 of those were men.
Guess Gym Hubby with all the Gym Buddies isn’t such an odd sight!
The question for me isn’t really whether or not women and men exercise differently – I’d guess we do, although perhaps not as differently as the stereotypes suggest – but rather are the differences meaningful? There have already been a lot of adjustments for women’s perceived barriers to exercise. Curves gyms, women-only triathlons
, and even books like my fave The Female Body Breakthrough by Rachel Cosgrove, exist for the sole purpose of helping women train to their gender. Is this a good thing? Does it get more women to exercise and try different kinds of exercise? If so, then perhaps these stereotypes serve a good purpose.
I’m super interested to know how you guys ranked on the 5 survey statements above! How do you feel about women vs. men exercise stereotypes – helpful or patronizing? Do you make any special concessions for your gender when you exercise (sports bras and/or jock straps – eek, hopefully not “and”! – not included)?
Race results and more pics below…
Wondering how I did on my 7K race? Well I finished puke- and drug- free this time around! I didn’t set any speed records but I’m really proud of myself. I ran hard and had a great time! With a finish time of 37:19 I came in 69th out of the nearly 900 people in my age group, in the top 8% for all women and top 14% overall. And I couldn’t be more proud of my super-fast crew:
Allison came in 39 seconds ahead of me at 36:40. I watched her shiny green butt cross the finish line in style!
Megan beat me by 38 seconds with 36:41. Girl is so hardcore!
And Krista finished her first official race ever and ran the entire way (even to the porta-potty!) She also has by far the best finish line photo I’ve ever seen. Kudos to Allison for snapping this gem!
Gym Hubby crossed the finish line just behind Krista!