In the Blog

Fight back (part II).

February 5th, 2007     by Catherine Hayday     Comments

In the spirit of better late than never, this entry is the follow-up to Fight Back, Part I. (I said I’d post Part II in several weeks, right? I’m pretty sure that’s what I said. No, I said a couple. I know. Mea culpa. Also possibly holidays culpa.)

This post is a follow-up on one idea: that women can’t win fights with men. As with the last post (and really, as with any post), what is written below is based on what I have experienced and read; if you have something to add, or some specialized knowledge, please jump in below with your comments.

On that note, the three-pronged reply to “women can’t win fights with men”: * A pound of muscle is a pound of muscle, regardless of who it’s attached to; * Women are stronger than they think; and * Strength alone doesn’t win a fight.

1:1 Many people believe that all men, as some sort of single unit, are stronger than women. And reason says that simply isn’t true. Men’s strength is just as variable as women’s. Men, on average, are bigger than women, with a higher lean body mass-to-fat ratio. But women generate the same force per unit of muscle as men. That is, muscle pound to muscle pound, women and men are similar in strength. A strong woman is strong, full stop. And in conflict against a not-as-strong man, she has more than a fighting chance.

Women may also build strength differently than men. Even when weight training, women do not show the same muscle enlargement as men even though their strength is increasing. Bulk and strength have come to be synonymous, and they’re not. Coordination and muscle memory have significant say in whether you can yield what you’ve got.

“For every girl who is tired of acting weak when she is strong…” From when we’re little, we’re all bombarded with messages about girls’ physicality versus boys’ physicality. Boys are more rambunctious, stronger, more aggressive. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

And those messages burrow deep into both little boys and little girls, and they affect what those kids grow up thinking they can do (“…there is a boy tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable”).

There are many different ways a woman can be physically strong. And how many push or chinups you can do is not the only or the most accurate measure. Women tend to be stronger in their lower bodies. But we’re led to be fearful of “thunder thighs” and subtly (or not so subtly) encouraged to make our legs as lean and thin as possible. Embracing the idea that you have to have matchstick legs, or that your thighs should meet an arbitrary measure like not touching at the top, can mean sacrificing one of your greatest natural assets.

The pressure to skinnyify yourself is so strong, it may help to engage in whatever activity you find satisfying (yoga, kickboxing, martial arts, self-defense classes, weight training, swimming, squash…) that reminds you that your legs are strong and functional and not just decorative.

And our strength is not limited to the lower body. In this study, women underestimated their own upper body strength by between 24.4% and 29.6% (by comparison, men underestimated by between 7.3% and 14.5%).

So odds are you’re already a lot stronger than you’re giving yourself credit for.

The Governator versus Jackie Chan (or Michelle Yeoh) Let’s wrap this up by flipping it all over and looking at it another way: strength is not the only factor in a physical conflict.

The men v. women strength debate is a bit of a red herring. Any experienced professional fighter will tell you that strategy, smarts, thinking on your feet, wile, guile and cunning are just as important, if not more, as your benchpress stats. And in the case of a woman being attacked, we have the additional supports of adrenaline, and the instinct for self-preservation.

Not to mention that all people have something in common — we’re all the same flesh sacks, with all the same weak points. The groin is just one of many targets. Eyes, nose, ears, throat, armpits, knees, ankles, feet; there’s no shortage of fragile bits and pieces. And many of those don’t even have to be hit, poked, or stomped particularly hard in order to inflict damage enough for you to get away.


Those are some of my thinkings. Feel free to reply below and add your own.  

Tags: advice, body politics, media savvy

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