grimalkinblog

On Male and Female Strength Differences

I just started an Archery class today, and promptly learned that my coach is a sexist.

So I’mma do a little post on male/female strength differences today.

Mainly, the notion that in any given group of people, the men will be unilaterally stronger than the women.

There’s a few things that I want to point out to begin with. First off, yes, average strength differences between men and women do exist. Thing is, people interpret this to mean that every single man is stronger than every single woman. I’m really sort of tempted to attribute this to the piss poor quality of math teachers here, but I digress.

For the mathematically challenged, here’s an example; two little lists of numbers:

X: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Y: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

The average of x is 3, while the average of y is 4.

We can see three things clearly here: Y is, on average, a greater list. We can also see that there is a huge overlap in the two lists. Finally, despite X being smaller on average than Y, there are quite a few instances between the two lists where a number on X is larger than a number on Y.

Now, when we talk about numbers, nobody is going to say that X’s 5 is lower than Y’s 5, or Y’s 3, or that any given number taken from X will definitely be lower than Y. That’s stupid.

But we do similarly stupid things when giving those numbers genders.

When presented with a group of women and a group of men, there’s no logical reason to assume that one given woman and one given man are going to have a predictable strength difference.

Let’s say that the women in the group can lift, oh, 50 – 100 pounds. The men in the group could lift 70 – 120 pounds. Even though the strongest man will be stronger than the strongest woman, it’s not a good idea to assume that if you grabbed a woman from her group and a man from his group, the man would be stronger. Maybe he is, but assuming that he is makes no logical sense. It’s perfectly likely that he can only lift 60 pounds when the given woman can lift 80, fitting perfectly within both of their groups while going against the averages- which is perfectly understandable. Groups of people make up the averages, but averages do not make up groups of people, and making assumptions about individuals based on a group average is foolish.

Now, there’s a second thing I want to bring up.

Strength isn’t something that a person is born with. Nobody punches their way out of the womb and declares themselves strong, or similarly flails out and then declares that they’re weak, and this isn’t just because babies can’t talk.

Strength is something that you have to work towards. While women on average may develop less muscle mass than men, but past this the strength of an individual is based on individual habits. A man who does no physical exercise of any kind is going to be weaker than a woman who exercises. A woman who has trained herself to be able to lift 100 pounds will be stronger than a man who has trained himself to lift 90, and so on.

But obsessing over gender differences is silly. Gender is not the only thing that determines whether or not someone is predisposed towards building muscle mass or not. Different body types also determine how easy it is to gain muscle mass,  but we don’t see people splitting into different teams for different body types and ethnicities. And yet, we do this for (or shall I say, against) women.

This is a problem. It’s sexism, as much as people like to scream “body differences!” at anyone who suggests as much. I won’t call sexism on the fact that strength averages between genders involve a discrepancy- that’s true- but judging individuals by a group average is stereotyping, and unreliable. My archery coach informed the women- unanimously- that we should go for a 20-25 pound bow. Men, 25-30 pounds. To be fair, I’m surprised there’s an overlap at 25 pounds, but it brings up an important point. Why are we assuming that a woman wouldn’t be able to pull back 30 pounds, or that all men should be able to pull back 25? Why don’t we just say “when trying out bows, stick to the 20-30 pound range”, and leave out the narrow worldviews? If it just so happens that the entire class fits into his gendered ranges, then great. But if a woman can pull back 30 pounds, then it shouldn’t be assumed that that would be for the men. Similarly, if a man can only pull back 20, he shouldn’t be pushed to pulling 25, simply because otherwise he’d be in the “girls’ range”.

For all my coach knows, there are women in his class who spend their weekends in the gym and men with exercise schedules closer to mine- which is nonexistent. He should respect that stereotyping is useless in determining actual strength between individuals, and that such comments serve to convince women that they actually are weaker. Which isn’t something that I appreciate, really.

Now, for the reason that I decided to make an entire post on this matter:

As I left class today, I asked my coach what sort of exercises I would want to do to strength train for Archery. After all, I’m not exactly a person who loves exercise, so I wouldn’t have a clue which muscles are involved in shooting a bow, or for that matter, how to strengthen them.

The response I received was “women’s pushups”.

Not pushups, but the ones for women.

And that pissed me off.  Without knowing my history, he made the assumption that I couldn’t do a simple god damned pushup based solely on the fact that I’m female. It’s offensive, but I must admit I’m lucky. There are some women who would become discouraged and add that to the brainwashing that tells them that they will always be weaker and lesser than men.

Now if you’ll excuse me, despite the fact that I haven’t worked out in years and I’m a frail little womanfolk, I’m going to go do legitimate fucking pushups.

6 responses to “On Male and Female Strength Differences”

1. ECM August 28, 2012 at 1:33 pm

“And that pissed me off. Without knowing my history, he made the assumption that I couldn’t do a simple god damned pushup based solely on the fact that I’m female.”

His assumption is *logical* because, unlike the jibber-jabber you’ve written here, women are unilaterally weaker than men. That you pretend otherwise says more about you and your worldview than it does about your coach–it’s like being fat and getting upset that someone assumes you eat more than the person that weighs 90 lbs.

Source: two decades of training men and women; military reqs dumbed-down to accommodate women; fireman and police tests dumbed-down to accommodate women, etc.

• Grimalkin August 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Right, because past training and personal body composition be damned, every single man is stronger than every single woman.

That makes total sense.

2. James May 23, 2013 at 4:41 pm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17186303

Men being physically stronger then women, on average, is a fact of life but women aren’t inferior because of it. Physical strength isn’t an indication of value, but merely another attribute among many.

3. cheetah June 3, 2013 at 9:55 pm

“When presented with a group of women and a group of men, there’s no logical reason to assume that one given woman and one given man are going to have a predictable strength difference.”

This makes no sense. Given the average strengths of men and women and how these fall out into distributions (probably something like a normal distribution or something that can be transformed to one),it is totally logical to bet that on average a randomly chose male will be stronger than a randomly chosen female. This is simply something about reality you will need to accept.

You are the one mathematically challenged here, and need to understand some probability and stats, and not just the ability to make up lists to extract averages from to show foregone conclusions.

Much of science, and human reasoning, rightly relies upon what is most typical, and these “everyone is an individual and all decisions must be made without making any assumptions at all” are totally unworkable.

I’ll tell you what. I bet I can find an individual lab that is faster than an individual greyhound. Let’s watch them race. Now, let’s randomly choose a lab and randomly choose a greyhound, and I’ll allow you to make your bet on the outcome of the race first 😉

4. cheetah June 3, 2013 at 10:01 pm

“And that pissed me off. Without knowing my history, he made the assumption that I couldn’t do a simple god damned pushup based solely on the fact that I’m female.”

You said yourself that you are both female and don’t exercise. Sorry, but you probably look like you don’t exercise. Also, not knowing what exercise to do would further confirm that you do not exercise and likely shouldn’t start with men’s push ups. To digress, your coach is actually wrong. The main muscles used to pull back and hold a bow are in your back and are not targeted by push ups. Go ahead and look up online the machines made specifically for bow training and what muscles are targeted. Hint: none of the machines do anything remotely like a push up.

But what would I know. I’m a male archer that can easily pull a 90 lbs bow 😉

5. Vic September 8, 2013 at 3:35 am

It seems most of you didn’t get the maths part of this post, or even the point. She isn’t saying that men on average aren’t stronger (which is down primarily to size and a slightly greater propensity to build muscle for reasons I won’t go into here – the actual ‘strength’ of the muscle fiber itself is no greater in men than women however.) Her point is that by categorizing people according to sex takes this average difference and applies it unilaterally to everyone. It’s not a particularly ‘scientifically’ useful segregation – the ‘overlap’ is greater than the differences at either extreme. It makes far more sense to categorize people according to height than sex, for example. And the downside of these types of generalizations are quite damaging for women who are discouraged from expecting the most out of their performance (among other negative consequences).

While I think the overall analysis offered is excellent, she is certainly wrong about push-ups! Sadly, it is something, that even many other things being equal, women do have a particular disadvantage at doing. It’s just to do with muscle and fat distribution. That being said – ‘normal’ push-ups should really be encouraged for everyone, and not just replaced with ‘women’s push-ups’, because they are very different exercises that work the body very differently.