The Politics of Lady Exercise


I workout alone partly because I like the time to myself but also because the idea of revealing my embarrassing exercise interests to my very smart lady friends makes me uncomfortable. I really really wish that I was interested in CrossFit, so that I too could talk to the world about how strength is my only goal and how women have been shamed into lifting small weights as a new form of subjugation. Some very smart people have been talking about women’s right to take up space with fat, muscles, or whatever they please (I say women, because I don’t know these people and thus feel like the familiar “lady” would be unfair). Or I wish that I was a marathon runner who could link my fitness goals to being outside and conquering my fears. But,

1) CrossFit costs money and makes me worried about injuries

2) I am still subject to the ideology of taking up less space (hey, if we are being precise, we don’t choose our ideologies)

3) Training and running for marathons takes too much time.

So here is my meager defense of my exercise style:

1) The ability to keep working out is entirely dependent on how you feel WHILE you are doing it (anyone who tells you that the feeling afterwards is enough is bulls**ting you). And I like to feel like a Janet Jackson backup dancer, a cast member of Center Stage, or a vaguely orientalist Sun goddess. Basically I am defending my right to feeling like a femme while I sweat.

2) My desire to be skinny is pretty indefensible and I am working on it, OK?! As long as I turn off the volume on Tracy Anderson or the really annoying blogilates lady I can work on shifting the focus of these workouts from weight loss towards personal happiness.

3) Femme workouts are just as effective as butch workouts. Effective at what you ask? Effective at giving you functional strength and endurance (lifting, bending, moving for a while), preventing injuries from the terrifying parts of life (sitting for hours, falling, twisting your ankle in high heels). Joseph Pilates was pretty smart. And I totally understand that the people who like butch workouts are tired of defending their preferences against misogynist and strangely homophobic threats of “bulkiness;” but, there is also another kind of anti-femme rhetoric embedded in CrossFit people’s defensive statements about what beautiful functional bodies look like.

My real shame? I wish I could just do this all the time:

Some day. Sigh.

Dana is a graduate student and nanny living in Brooklyn.

3 thoughts on “The Politics of Lady Exercise

  1. I totally want (need?) you to start your Roth dancing–and soon–but I really hope for your sake the class doesn’t include a rosy cheeked bald man in olive pants.

    My own exercise dream involves me running every day on a wooded trail without a watch. Then I’ll just show up at a 5K/10K/whatever in my ratty running shorts and a metal t-shirt and (without my watch) completely OWN the race, all nonchalant-like.

    Question: are butch workouts only defined by obtaining bulk? Is hiking/running butch or femme? What are the characteristics of a butch vs. femme workout? Or is it the result that defines the butchiness?


    • I think it is the way women talk about the intent of the workout. Butch exercise is supposed to be only for the purpose of increasing strength and stamina, while femme workouts are supposed to make you feel pretty (or in other words, they are more obviously about vanity). Of course the running through the woods, yoga, hiking, and old school pilates kind of blows this gendered distinction open, because they all seem more therapuetic in their intent . . . people talk about these activities as part of “wellness.” Part of what I love about Roth dancing is that it takes the principles of body awareness and peace of mind but doesn’t neuter out the sexy gendered stuff.

      And yes, you will have to dance with a rosy cheeked bald man in olive pants at any 5Rythyms event.

  2. Pingback: Dance Cardio | ladies of habit

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