Sport is capable of surpassing all boundaries, be it sex, race, religion or nationality. Not only does it encourage health and wellness, it also leads to improved self-esteem, and teaches leadership, team skills and perseverance. Female athletes frequently challenge gender stereotypes, they make inspirational role models, and show that men and women are treated as equals. CrossFit’s approach has emphasized this from the very beginning.
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
This is a quote by Nelson Mandela, following the Rugby World Cup in South Africa 1995. In this incredibly powerful quote Mandela makes a reference to how sport transcends race following the end of Apartheid. I am going to use this quote to discuss how sports, and in particular CrossFit has played a major role in breaking down gender barriers.
Gender Equality in the Box – we are all just athletes in here
As a fairly new sport, CrossFit does not have the ingrained sexism that exists in many other professional sports. The minute you walk into a CrossFit box it is clear that anyone participating in CrossFit is simply treated as an athlete. This has no bearing on whether they are male, female, young, old, elite or novice. Everyone is there to develop their skills and to learn from one another.
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CrossFit is a sport that is dedicated to improving performance over looks. The majority of boxes make a clear statement about this by not even having any mirrors. CrossFit is inclusive at its heart, all athletes are encouraged to train together, to lift together, and to stretch together regardless of gender, age or ability. In CrossFit boxes around the world, women deconstruct the age-old legend of “the weaker sex” and continue the trail toward true equality. Inside a CrossFit gym, women are simply taught to concentrate on what their bodies are capable of doing and to value strength and athleticism.
People create personal and collective identities through sport, which enable them to reconstruct certain boundaries and recreate or even abandon certain loyalties. In CrossFit there is no such thing as a male or a female WOD, there is just one WOD that everyone does together. Everyone is in it together, suffering together and celebrating together.
In a box it is just as likely to have a female coach as a male coach.
Women may well be lifting heavier weights than men, or completing the same workouts faster. CrossFit has shifted paradigms, it is no longer about trying to look a certain way but rather trying to become the fittest you can be. It focuses more on your total performance rather than appearance and encourages respect for your fellow athletes, irrespective of their gender.
Challenging traditional notions of femininity and beauty – strong is the new beautiful
Representations of women participating in sport are traditionally more acceptable when they are more stereotypically feminine and emphasize sexuality. Women have conventionally been praised for how they look. CrossFit is changing this concept, and encouraging a world where women are celebrated for being strong. Embracing a healthy body is the new trend, striving for strength and ability without a limited unrealistic image. It is challenging the preconceived notion of beauty and allowing for a more inclusive definition that includes different shapes and sizes. Performance has become the focus and muscles are becoming symbols of strength and confidence.
Women are smashing previously assumed physical limitations and breaking through all physical stereotypes. All notions of the female physique are being demolished by CrossFit, women are no longer viewed as weak and feeble creatures who are only capable of doing very low impact sports.
Competition – an equal playing field
CrossFit’s focus is on their athletes, not on the gender of their athletes. Consequently, at competitions and in many boxes, the ratio of men to women is very close to being even. This is also the case with the audiences, and even the industry and products that are sold. During competitions, arenas remain just as full for the women’s heats as for the men’s. Everyone is there to watch the drama unfold, to see the courageous and fearless demonstrations of strength and resolve. On top of this, male and female payouts at all CrossFit competitions are equal. The CrossFit Games, a global stage, has set a standard for gender equality with equal work and equal pay. This has always been the case with CrossFit.
Male and female athletes face the same challenges at competitions and they also receive the same amount of media coverage. Furthermore, CrossFit also offers team events where men and women are competing together, which is very rare to see on such a large scale. CrossFit competitions nurture and develop mutual respect amongst all their athletes and spectators. CrossFit is playing its role on the larger scale of gender equality and inclusivity. This mutual respect has an influencing impression on future generations who are brought up with unbiased opinions of female versus male athletic ability.
Sport is by no means the only mechanism for women to narrow the gap between themselves and their male counterparts in society, but it is differentiated from the other routes to rapprochement by having, as a core function, an improvement in physical health which creates a significant boost in morale and self-esteem.
Women’s involvement in CrossFit, and the ways in which CrossFit has welcomed their participation with open arms, has allowed them to manipulate the existing rules of society and to rewrite predetermined gender boundaries.
Four time CrossFit Games veteran Katrin Davidsdottir sums up CrossFit’s influence perfectly:
“I feel so lucky to be a part of a sport that treats and reveres men and women equally. While the weights might occasionally differ in competition, the movements we do are the same. When I’m putting out my maximum effort, I know a guy like Ben Smith—the man who won the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games alongside me—is putting out his maximum effort and striving to achieve his best, too. Because of that, the men and women in our sport have a level of mutual respect for one another that I haven’t seen anywhere else.”
The global influence of CrossFit—from the affiliate level to the CrossFit Games—has played a role in shifting gender stereotypes, helping to destroy the idea that women are the weaker sex and leading to a sport that is extremely gender inclusive. Stereotypes and limitations are being rejected daily, and doing anything “like a girl” is a becoming a point of satisfaction. CrossFit is showcasing gender equality. Let’s keep it up!
Annie Thorisdotir wins 2011 CrossFit Games ©