No Muscly Women, Please
It wasn’t until years later that I made all the small connections. I couldn’t have known fully then, but there was something eerie about the confusion I felt. A feeling I have found that many who are sexually abused share, which is why we often wait years before sharing our stories.
Again for the people in the back...
...which is why we often wait years before sharing our stories.
Per usual, my cousins and I were all hanging out. This time at my mom’s house. We were all gathered around talking over each other, laughing, eating what I imagine was chips con lays dip (my mom’s speciality). My cousin (the one who abused me as a child) asked me about my recent athletic endeavors. I had just won a small weight lifting competition. For a girl who used to be pretty shrimpy, I was proud.
Then from across the kitchen island, he squared his shoulders to me, eyes leering, and said loudly for everyone to hear, “Why do you try to be the best?”. I was completely thrown. I didn’t understand the question. Should I not try to win? My retort was less focused than I would have liked, “Why do you try to win?”.
He was a triple quadruple crowned black belt or whatever. The height of his response carried the nobility of a renaissance heir as he said something to the effect of, “To know I can protect my family."
He was known for ridiculous outbursts so only a few awkward moments passed before the thirty other conversations happening resumed. But I was still left so confused by such an inquiry, and why it was laced with such distaste. Wasn’t I now stronger than ever? More capable of defending myself? If keeping his family safe was his aim, why disapprove? And what of all the other sports outside of self-defense, were they all just meaningless? What of his sister's dance passions? My cousins' journey through gymnastics? Why not call those into question?
I can’t recall exactly, perhaps it was weeks or months, but later on he posted something on Facebook. The contents of his post explained to the world wide web that he didn’t feel as though women should have strong muscles, that it wasn’t attractive to him…
Ah...I see. Now it made slightly more sense. He did not disapprove of his sister’s or my female cousins’ sport because they were considered feminine and often resulted in physiques he deemed appropriate. My sport however required an immense amount of weightlifting. I had gained almost twenty pounds by this time. My legs were strong, my biceps pronounced, and I had the cutest little trap muscles you ever did see. This was a growing trend at the time. CrossFit broke down gender barriers around powerlifting in ways that no other sport had done. More women were getting curious about strength training, myself included, and in all my years of trying various sports I had never felt more at home.
Once, long before my CrossFit days, at our grandmother’s house, he made a point of saying that whoever I married would likely reap the benefits of me being a slender woman and therefore filling out “nicely” after child birth. This is years after I put a stop to him molesting me, but since my ongoing silence put him under the impression that all was fine now, I guess he thought it would be okay to openly disclose his thoughts about my body.
I continued to think about how much it bothered him to know that women were seeking strength, but then I remembered he had a close female friend who was incredibly strong and also pursued his sport, and quite successfully at that. Why wouldn’t it bother him that she did? He had also mentioned multiple times that she wasn’t exactly the type of woman he would date but was a great friend, so maybe that’s why she got a pass? His pitiful little approval system didn’t bother me, but I did take great interest in where it may have stemmed from and to what detriment it would be to women who also found themselves in similar company. Especially considering that I had already fallen prey to whatever entitlement he clearly thought he had over my body years before.
From day one at my gym, it was obvious how interested plenty of the men around me were in finding female partners that were plenty strong and valued this lifestyle. Let’s just say if I was “doomed” to choose a man that would dare take my six pack and squat thighs, the pickings were either gladiator or fitness model; a real punishment for choosing such an “unattractive female sport.” As someone who had been around male athletes his entire life, I can’t possibly imagine that he hadn’t come across these same types of athletic men who admire strong women.
Years have passed. It has been over a decade since I have had any real interactions with him and just barely now, does it all make more sense.
He didn’t think women should refrain from strength because of men finding it unattractive, but because HE found it unattractive.
He didn’t disapprove of my sport because he didn’t think it was noble or feminine enough, but because it changed the way he visually experienced my body.
He openly discussed my body and publicly stated his physical preferences because he felt entitled to receive the visual pleasures he deemed fit. He was nothing new. He was a foolish boy who learned how to manipulate women at a very young age in a society he knew would protect him, and grew into the same narcissistic man that towers his power hungry demands over people seemingly weaker than he.
Just a historical cliche riding the coattails of the small minded men that reigned before him.
Signing off...I’m going to the gym.