I am always amazed when people justify discrimination against women on the basis of strength. No sooner have you made a statement emphasizing the need for provision of equal playing fields for members of both sexes— equal opportunities in every sector of the economy for the male and female—than you’re told that men are naturally stronger than women. Persist in your argument a little longer and you’d sooner hear some scientific babble about something called testosterone-induced muscular hypertrophy.
1. BY STRENGTH, I am assuming what is meant is muscle strength. Sometime last week, I was reviewing data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2011-2012, measuring combined grip strength by age and sex (what inspired this post). Grip strength is an index for measuring upper body strength. The minimum age was 6 years and the maximum was 150 years. (The survey parameters can be accessed HERE). The result? Almost all men tested (89% actually, taking into consideration disabilities of respondents) were stronger than almost all women tested.
A. While it is truism that men are stronger than women (only on the average), it is also truism that society is set up in ways that ensure men are stronger than women. Testosterone is always mentioned when strength advantage is mentioned for men. But isn’t it also true that, from an early age, boys are encouraged to be more outward, more brutish, more adventurous, more outspoken in their expressions of their sexualities—encouraging, even subtly approving sexual behaviors with multiple partners, the very things that encourage/enhance the production/secretion of testosterone? Isn’t it also true that, from an early age, women are taught to be more homely, more reserved, less outspoken, less expressive of their sexualities and, overall, less active physically? And so the very thing that is used in discriminating against women by members of a society is perpetuated by the same society.
What is even more instructive to note is the way the difference in strength between the sexes is greatly diminished the younger/lower in age you go (in the survey and by any cursory look in any playground.)
B. More than the testosterone advantage in men (keep in mind that testosterone can be found in both men and women) that has become an alibi in domestic violence cases against women (man hits woman. Response: “he’s stronger. Couldn’t help it. She should’ve kept shut”) is the important subject of muscle training in strength development.
My younger brother started lifting weights at 16 years old (when I was still pursuing the finer things in life, like books, chess and badminton. Lol). It was nearly two years later that I got around to muscle-building. At the time, my brother had well developed chest and shoulder muscles. At his peak, he could benchpress 80kg. When I started, I could barely benchpress 30kg. Obviously! The highest I have ever lifted on the bench is 60kg. Now, at the time, it was kind of a competition for me. I just wouldn’t let my younger brother lift better than me. But try as hard as I did, I never seemed to get close to his weight records (I closed the gap significantly sha). Why? Because the muscles become better adapted to lift heavier weights through training, through consistent practice. The more comfortable they are at lifting certain weight, the better positioned they are for lifting heavier weights.
I would never, for the life of me, expect my younger sister to, at the age of 20, benchpress 30kg. Why? Because she’s had no prior experience. What’s even more amazing is that most of my male colleagues (those larger and more testosterone-filled than I am) cannot benchpress 30kg. And so, if you place a 20-year-old male (who has probably lifted weights at one point in life) and a 20-year-old female, it’s obvious the male would be stronger.
And so, the sociocultural paradigm abounds. Women are told to be more effeminate. To have slender and lithe body structures. A female body builder is an absurd sight. When there is something heavy to lift, a guy is automatically assumed to carry it. “Are you not the guy here?” This is no better reflected than in our aesthetics competitions. Mr. Universe is usually the strongest man, the one with the most defined muscles. And Miss Universe? She has to be slender, with perky boobs and round bottoms. The male and the female are held to different standards of ‘sexiness’. A guy today spends 30 minutes a day working on his abs. A lady spends the same amount of time working on her face. Because “who six pack epp?” Because “I don’t need muscles to be fit.” Because “who will marry me if I’m muscular?” Proponents of phallocentricism are quick to decry the ‘feminization’ of males and the slow dilution of alpha-male characteristics. This, to them, is of the gravest concern – simultaneously hilarious and curious.
And so, while the survey concludes that most men are stronger than most women, it says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the capabilities of women. So far as I know it, there is nothing, strength-wise, that a man can do that a woman cannot.
2.REITERATING THE TIRED and old cliché, “men are stronger than women”, when discussing equality is for me as redundant and serves little or no purpose as stating that “Africans have darker skins and Europeans have lighter skins” when discussing racism. What is this supposed to do? Quiet women? Make them more subservient? Make them more accepting of domestic violence and other forms of abuse? What has that got to do with anything?!
Someone once made a Facebook post about the uselessness of women in the Nigerian Army. I’m sorry, you can’t tell women they’re no better than being housewives and cooks and expect them to be active enough to perform military activities. Does this mean that women are incapable of engaging in military activities or are too weak? Certainly not! Haven’t we seen women in the frontlines, serving in the US, Russian and British military? Weren’t members of the Amazonian Guards that protected the late Libyan dictator, Gaddafi, composed solely of women? Are women useless in the army because they are weak or because we perceive they are and thus designate roles to them based on our perception of their capabilities?
3. WHILE MALES ARE the dominant of the two sexes in terms of upper body strength, females are more dominant in terms of lower body strength. In chance encounters between a male and a female, the female, in terms of lower body strength, would dominate the male by over 12%. More so, women are known to produce more antibodies and are less susceptible to diseases. Yet, I have never seen men discriminated against on account of women’s lower body strength and antibodies advantage. Even more instructive is the fact that most women have NO INTEREST in strength building or competing with men.
Say what you may, but discriminating against women on the basis of strength is just dumb.
Written by Godswill Vesta