In a competitive situation, most men are motivated to win. This is especially true when it comes to traditionally masculine tasks. That is, winning or losing a baking contest would not be of much concern to most men, but a weightlifting contest is an entirely different matter. Now it gets serious because the male’s self image is at stake.
Many males with traditional attitudes about sex roles consider physical strength an essential part of masculinity, and they resent or even fear the intrusion of women into strength sports. Men may view this as the ultimate threat especially since the stereotype that women aren’t strong enough is often used to justify attempts to exclude women from certain occupations.
Men have generally been much less eager to challenge women in traditionally feminine areas. The reason for this is not that males have greater respect for tradition, rather, it’s that many male occupations are more economically and socially rewarding. Historically, the best jobs were simply pre-empted by males–physician vs. nurse, executive vs. secretary, to mention just a couple of many such comparisons.
Social conventions are being attacked when a woman chooses to compete against a man on his own turf, and it takes an unusual woman to show such independence. Unfortunately, her deviation from convention is often viewed by males and females alike as a sign of abnormality. She may even be characterized as a
“a freak”. Women have learned that competition with males is not so objectionable if the woman is not so good, and therefore not really a threat. Especially in the past, many women have deliberately lowered their aspirations or given less than 100% in order to gain social approval or “respectability”. This generalization applies to intellectual as well as physical pursuits. Many a man feels threatened if his wife is smarter than he and many wives know this . rather than playing dumb, however, it might be better if the wife finds herself another husband —not necessarily a smarter one, but one who is better adjusted.
The female who participates for fun, and does not pursue victory, and who does not show a potential for defeating her male counterpart is considered to be in compliance with traditional expectations. However, the moment a female athlete becomes truly competitive, she is type cast as a tomboy, and is often suspected to have lesbian tendencies in much the same way that males who enter into traditionally feminine activities are accused of being homosexual.
Some men may admire the female weightlifter’s determination, perseverance, and self-sacrifice, but most men will avoid engaging in social or romantic relationships with her. During the last few months, we informally questioned a number of males to find out how they felt about dating a female weightlifter. Although this was not a scientific survey or representative sample of male opinion, the responses were interesting. The following comments seemed to summarize how most respondents felt: (1)”I don’t want to date any girl who has bigger muscles than I do.” (2) “The only way I’d date a girl like that is if she made me.” (3)”I think all those female weightlifters should quit lifting weights, find themselves a nice girl and settle down.” (4) “Perhaps it’s just my idea of what a female should look like, and act like, but a female weightlifter simply isn’t attractive.”
The make ego seems to be very fragile when it comes to female competition. The fear of being “de-masculinized” by a female athlete may present significant problems for most men who find themselves competing against a female. Being defeated by a female can result in ridicule, teasing, social rejection, and disgrace.
From a purely competitive standpoint, the male is in a no win situation when he competes against a female. If he wins, he has accomplished absolutely nothing in the eyes of his peers, because most have been taught to believe that women ar no match for men in rugged sports. However, if he loses, he is perceived as disgracing himself as well as his male and female friends. Thus, men who compete against women are more concerned about avoiding a loss than in achieving a victory. Winning against a woman is not very satisfying (at best, one gets a sense of relief), but a loss can be psychologically devastating.
Because of these generally accepted stereotypes about men and women, many coaches and parents would prefer not to have any girls compete against boys. One example of the possible results of mixed competition was given by James Michener in his book Sports in America..In Michener’s book, a male half-miler quit5 the track team after being defeated by a girl. After the incident, the boy’s coach expressed his feelings:
“When I got back to our campus, I started raising hell about a system that would pit adolescent boys against girls before a public audience, and some of the philosophical leaders on our faculty ridiculed me. Their point was that within a next dozen years such values will be altered–it won’t matter if a girl beats a boy. I listened carefully and I had to agree that in the long run they could be right. But as a coach, I’m faced with the boys of this generation who haven’t been indoctrinated to accept a new scale of values.
They are humiliated by being beat in public by girls, and I’m powerless to alter either their judgement or the behavior of society. Suppose that twelve years from now there is a new scale of values, and a better one, then it won’t matter who beats whom. But what am I to do with the boys who have to live between now and twelve years from now? Allow them all to be castrated?”
We understand the coach’s predicament and concerns. But we feel it would be wrong to perpetuate stereotypes of absolute male superiority in sports by excluding those females who are able to compete. Each generation has to adjust to social change. Some changes are more troublesome than others. And some individuals adjust better than others– perhaps this is the real test of strength.
When the girl beat the boy in the preceding example, the boy was clearly dejected, but look at the other side, the girl and probably her coach were overjoyed. So one competitor was discouraged, but the other was encouraged.
There are a sizable number of male athletes who claim that they are not intimidated by female competitors, and that they would not feel humiliated if they were defeated by a woman, That’s great, and it may even be true in some instances, but generally, the guys who say this have never lost to a female in competition that is male oriented. When a female becomes a real threat, many of these athletes will sing a different tune. Let’s look at another instance of male vs female competition.
Joy Hair had been training with us for about a year, and although her lifts were just short of sensational (290 squat, 120 bench, 345 deadlift–at a body weight of 132 lbs.) she had not competed in a powerlifting meet. After considerable persuasion, we finally talked her into competing in a novice meet which was being held in Sylvester, Ga. At the meet we ran into coach Richy Thompson. Thompson had brought a group of novice lifters to compete in the meet. He was especially excited about a 132 lb. lifter named Tommy Payne. According to Thompson, even though Tommy had been training foe only a few months, he was destined for eventual superstar status. He seemed to have already developed the form and strength that usually takes years of training.
Tommy performed extremely well– going three for three in both the squat and bench press, but going into the deadlift, he still had only a 15 pound lead over Joy. on each of Tommy’s deadlifts, his teammates would run up to the platform and scream, “Don’t let a damn girl beat you!” but Joy did beat him. In fact, she buried him;out-deadlifting him by 80 pounds and in the process setting a new woman’s world deadlift record.
Tommy was completely destroyed. “It’s hard enough to lose, but to lose to a girl!” he said, feeling totally humiliated. What could have been a promising and happy career seemed to end that day before it even really got started. On the other hand, Joy’[s career did get started, and for those who may have been discouraged by her winning, others were encouraged.
For whatever it’s worth, we personally value tolerance, and the minimization of artificial barriers. Our view is that where mixed competition is appropriate, women should not be excluded from competition just for the sake of maintaining or protecting the male ego. The group whose past performance shows them to have ability may require protective, exclusory regulations; but the group who shows that they are generally superior (whether male or female or whatever) should not practice such exclusion. For example, men should not be allowed to compete against women in women’s boxing because men have a general superiority in this sport, but if a skilled and qualified woman chooses to compete against male boxers, then, why not?
Article Source: Iron Curtain Labs
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