We commonly hear claims that men are naturally more muscular and physically intimidating than women. “It’s a biological fact,” someone might say. If that were true, though, we wouldn’t have to work so incredibly hard to make it so.
@IllMakeItMyself sent in this great example of the way in which we are pushed to force our bodies into a gender binary that we pretend is natural. On the upper right part of the Men’s Health cover, it reads: “Add 15lb of muscle” and, right next door on the Women’s Health cover, it reads “5 ways to lose 15 lbs.”
If we have to try this hard to make it true, maybe we’re not as different as we think we are.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Yrro Simyarin — June 4, 2014
Wait... Are you actually arguing that men aren't naturally stronger than women? Culture encourages us to exaggerate that difference, sure, but...
Look at these standards for untrained and trained athletes at the same weight and tell me it's all culture...
The "intermediate" level of results and gains is something that any healthy young person can achieve with a year of training. Why then does a male with a year of training still out lift most women who have been strength training professionally for years?
You could at least argue that culture differences account for the gap in "novice" lifters, although I'm not sure how you'd go about proving it, especially when there is strong evidence against it in the fact that this difference only appears after puberty.
Testosterone has a real effect on muscle growth. This is why steroids are such a big deal. Women need a certain level of body fat to remain healthy or their body shuts down their reproductive systems. This is hard science, not a traditionalist agenda...
Anna — June 4, 2014
To label losing and gaining 15 pounds as "incredibly hard work" is a highly subjective assessment, which I personally find ridiculous. But even if it were objectively extremely hard work, it doesn't negate the biological fact that men have more muscle mass and are able gain more muscle, and faster than women.
I don't get what you think you're disproved here, or even what you're trying to disprove. How different do we think we are? Where are these extremist people who truly believe men and women have very little shared ground in biology, including physicality? I've never encountered people like that, yet I often come across the other extreme on this blog, which has published numerous articles entirely obscuring men and women's physical differences.
And what you mean by "natural body"? The magazines don't even mention that in the headings. Our musculoskeletal system does not have a "natural" state; our body responds to whatever motions (and other factors, like diet and various enviromental conditions) that we put it through. If you think our "natural" bodies would have muscles in a state of atrophy where the differences between men and women would be barely perceptible, that's not only false, but a truly disturbing view of the body in and of itself, like thinking our "natural" vaginas are dirty blood-and-secretion hoarding vessels.
olsonam — June 4, 2014
I wish a magazine labeled "Women's Health" would mention on its cover that muscle on women is awesome, especially in its "Get Back in Shape" issue. I was healthiest (though not skinniest) when I was lifting weights. It's a great feeling when your deadlift weight is the same as your body weight. And getting your weight numbers higher and higher means sleeping and eating right. This cover looks like it could be mistaken for a Cosmo cover.
Angry Metal Guy — June 5, 2014
A favorite article of mine is this one:
Gough, Brendan. 2006. “Try to Be Healthy, But Don’t Forgo Your Masculinity: Deconstructing Men's Health Discourse in the Media.” Social Science & Medicine 63(9):2476–88.
A fascinating look at men's attitudes towards health and their bodies, but also healthist discourses.
Mr. S — June 5, 2014
Biology is a reality. Men, on average, do gain muscle more easily than do women. Women, on average carry more fat than men to protect their reproductive ability.
Of course, the body type that attracts the opposite sex changes with society. But generally, men look for indicators of fertility, and women look for ability to secure resources. It's unsurprising that people in search of a mate would pursue those indicators to improve their chances.
Damien Quinn — June 6, 2014
On average, men are more muscular and physically intimidating than women, but not by much. Those who work, work incredibly hard to be above average specimens of their sex and the gap between the biggest men and the slightest women is huge.
richard — June 7, 2014
She is absolutely right. The fact that men are, on the average, taller than women is a sociological fact. It is culture not nature. The fact that women bear children, not men, is also a sociological fact. Right ? Heard of Orwell ?
Kali — June 9, 2014
Is human height really bimodal? Interesting paper on this: http://www.biostat.jhsph.edu/bstcourse/bio751/papers/bimodalHeight.pdf
Natural Bodies Are Hard Work | BroadBlogs — June 11, 2014
[…] by Lisa Wade, PhD @ Sociological Images […]
Gendered body politics: Naomi Wolf & ideas. | An Attempt Ad Ignorantiam — June 23, 2014
[…] Image retrospectively taken from Lisa Wade’s blog post: ‘Are you working hard enough to achieve your natural body‘? […]
Ainura A. — July 25, 2014
no, it wouldn't have to be so hard if it wasn't for the lifestyle most people live today: sitting all day, eating junk, not getting any fresh air.
someguy1231 . — August 12, 2014
I'm curious what people's reactions are to this study:
In a nutshell, strength of ordinary men, ordinary women, and elite female athletes were compared. The female athletes were obviously stronger than ordinary women, but ordinary men were still, on average, stronger than elite female athletes. Even if women have had physical training and men have not,
men are still stronger on average.
2014 in Review and 2015 Goals | I'll Make It Myself! — January 30, 2015
[…] Hard Enough to Achieve Your Natural Body?’)”, which addressed a contribution I sent to Sociological Images and got a mention by Fit and Feminist on social media, and “Feminist Foodie: Vetting Food […]
What’s natural? And why do we care? | Fit Is a Feminist Issue — March 13, 2015
[…] Read Are You Working Hard Enough to Achieve Your Natural Body? […]