Weighty matters: control of women’s access to physical strength

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Abstract

This paper gives an account of the social forces exerted to contain women’s interest and access to weightlifting, and a muscular strength usually associated with masculinity. Weightlifting can create formidable physical strength but without the visible, physical displays of body building. The significance of weightlifting women’s lack of visibility is important and alters the social dynamic of their experience of physical strength. The study relies on in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 16 elite women weightlifters. They recount how disciplined, different and empowered they perceive themselves to be. Drawing together the weightlifting women’s illuminative epiphanic moments (Denzin, 1989, 1992, 1993) revealed the close association of strength with force and, the social expectation that, not only is powerful physicality used to dominate others, but it is also expected to be male. Women’s access to domination is contained through the gendered nature of gym space and a masculine approach to training. Strength training is not only a source of selfidentity, but it is also a site of collective experience and enforced norms of affective behaviour. The paper concludes that it is important for women to be supported in their challenge in this arena.

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