Women and "Looking Good" at the Gym

by Brooke Claflin

An article popped up on my Facebook feed the other day, and although I couldn’t relocate it for the purposes of this article, I can remember that it argued that women should abandon leggings and yoga pants once and for all. The author of the article questioned why we, as women, have felt the need to wear skin-tight articles of clothing, many of which promise to “shape,” “lift,” or do some other equally uncomfortable (albeit attractive) manipulation to our bodies. In fact, exercise clothing has become so stylized and sexualized that we often wear it to class or out in public. As I write this I am wearing leggings, as I often do to class— because yes I do think they are cute.

This begs the question, since when do looking cute and exercising overlap? Why do we feel the need to dress up for the gym? What would be so wrong with wearing loose, comfortable sweatpants to the gym? I think, however, that the problem of women at the gym expands far beyond clothing.

If anything, clothing is merely a symptom of the larger problem. This larger problem I will sketch out from largely personal and anecdotal experience. I go to the Earth Treks (a rock climbing gym) in Crystal City, where I climb with other Georgetown students. I have come to realize that my experience as a female at this gym is very different from the male one. It is important to know that in climbing it is seen as bad etiquette to explain how to successfully climb a route unless your advice (colloquially called beta) has been requested. Therefore, I am often frustrated when complete strangers, almost always men, have attempted to assist me without my prompting. Moreover, I have watched as my female friends have gone through the exact same experience. Even more frustrating is the surprise that some male climbers express when a woman climber is stronger or more skilled than they are. Overall, the mansplaining and patronizing aspects of comments in the climbing gym have made a place I love at times feel uncomfortable.

I hate to come across as rude, especially to complete strangers, but I have given up on nicely answering to these remarks. After reading the article on leggings from which this whole blog idea stemmed, maybe I will give up on those next (even though they are cute). I am not really sure how to change any of this, but I’ve found a good first step is pointing out to people when they have overstepped their bounds by making inappropriate or sexist comments.

Aly Raisman and "In Her Own Words"

by Maddy Forbess

Aly Raisman posed for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s latest project ‘In Her Own Words.’  After her statement against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar last month, Raisman continues using her own voice to protect and to support other sexual assault victims. In the wake of the highly-publicized sexual assault case against Dr. Nassar, Raisman has taken to the media to reclaim her body—to regain control of her own narrative. The ‘In Her Own Words’ project has enabled Raisman to express her own voice and strength by using her body as a canvas. Each participant in the project is allowed to choose words that resonate with her. Aly chose the word “survivor.” Then the words were written across her naked body to convey the powerful and persistent message.

The empowering concept of the “In Her Own Words” project ties into Raisman’s ongoing efforts to dedicate her life to providing women with a strong voice. She told People Magazine that “she won’t be silenced” in her latest cover interview. Aly Raisman is a model athlete, but beyond that, she has given women everywhere the courage to share their stories. In recent interviews about her participation in the “In Her Own Words” project and swimsuit photoshoot for Sports Illustrated, Raisman has made it abundantly clear that her work is not over. In our day and age, in which women feel pressured and judged by numerous forces—social media, their male peers, themselves—to act as if everything is perfect, Aly strives to create a more nurturing environment for women. She is doing just that by exposing her own hardships, insecurities, and personal experiences to the world.

By taking part in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s campaign, Aly Raisman is spreading awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault in today’s society. She is putting her own body out there in the public eye for a noble cause, despite the fact that it must be incredibly difficult given her own experience. Yet, she makes a point that women should not have to be ashamed of being victims. Women should not be afraid to re-enter society because it was not their fault that they were sexually assaulted. Self-blame will not help anyone, and Raisman speaks to the fact that victim-blaming is a harmful, and disrespectful way of treating women who have been subject to such abuse.

Raisman is a living, breathing role model for the women out there who need a brave soul to pave their way. She has gone one step further with regard to the slut-shaming notion. No one should be told what to wear, how to dress her body, or how to present herself. Each and every girl is entitled to the basic right—the basic freedom—to construct her own identity. It is for no one else to dictate. Another phrase Aly chose to have written on her body, from her shoulder to her toes, is incredibly poignant and speaks to this principle: “women do not have to be modest to be respected”. Raisman continues to voice her opinion that women should not have to dress a certain way in order to garner respect. Women should be entitled to this basic level of respect in their daily lives, regardless of how conservatively they decide to dress.

 The Olympic gymnast vows to keep reminding people that women do not have to be ashamed of being survivors because one moment does not define you. And, she makes it clear that the leotards she wears do not mean she is promiscuous. They are part of her uniform as a world class athlete. They signify something about her passion for sports and her dedication to an athletic endeavor. They do not mean she is slutty or that she “is asking for it.” Women are so much more beautiful than their looks. Women are so much more dignified than the clothes they choose to wear. As women, we have the right to our own happiness and confidence; it is not for anyone else to judge for us. Aly Raisman articulates these powerful themes as a spokeswoman, athlete, and survivor to all the women out there seeking an ally. One word, alone, is not enough to describe her. She represents strength in a time when women desperately need a role model. Turn to her whenever you need a reminder there is always someone out their fighting for you. 

On Toxic Masculinity

by Caroline LaGumina


Over the past 100 years, women’s movements have greatly transformed the role of women and femininity in society, particularly when it comes to challenging the stereotypes, norms, and expectations of traditional “femininity.” However, the acceptance of the prescribed norms of masculinity has remained alarmingly steady.  


Like many, I was outraged by the most recent school shooting in Florida.  I knew it wasn’t an anomaly and I wanted to explore how this system of culturally promoted violence is produced and maintained.  I wanted to unpack why, since 1982, 92 of 94 mass shooters have been male. It is important to focus on the fact that boys and men are often forced into a prescribed identity of hyper-masculinity that then contributes to the normalization of violence in our culture today. Emotionality is seen as a quality that could strip one of his manhood.  Consequently, men are taught that the anger is the only acceptable emotion.  

This acceptance of anger is often transmitted through any of the various mediums of technology young men tend to use.  Boys spend 15 hours a week playing video games and 40 hours a week watching TV, movies, or sports.  Further, 90% of games rated appropriate for children over 10 contain violence, exposing boys to this type of behavior as a way for of resolving conflicts from a very young age.  In these games and shows the heroes are often silent (usually white) men who violently lash out at their enemies.  The characters rarely reveal any inkling of sadness.  This in turn suggests to young men that they should translate any emotion they may have, from anxiety to tenderness, into anger or even silence.                

Many gender-psychologists call this “the great set-up.”  This essentially means that, while we teach young boys that their very identity as a man is contingent upon their rejection of anything feminine, we are often surprised when men do not view women as equal.  We are setting boys up for failure by raising them to define their masculinity in a “toxic” or “hyper masculine” way. Toxic masculinity reveals itself in shockingly high rates of domestic violence and on-campus sexual assault. It is important to note that our culture is the culprit; it teaches that men must have identities that are naturally aggressive, sexual, and superior.

This process is not only detrimental to women, but also to the men who go through it.  Less than 50% of boys and men with mental health challenges seek help, often because they have been taught to reject emotion and further they have been taught to see it as a weakness.  This constant policing of masculinity, by both men and women, prompts men to have to constantly prove that they are ‘man enough’.  Admitting emotionality, or mental illness, could potentially strip them of their masculinity and thus prompt disrespect from other men.  Furthermore, internalization of mental health concerns can lead to a translation into externalized violence or coping mechanisms.  A study done by the National Institute of Health found that prevalence rates of alcohol-use disorders are twice as high for young adult men as compared to women, and further that 68% of male college students equated the ability to physically consume and tolerate large amounts of alcohol without adverse reactions as being characteristic of “masculine” behavior.  Self-destructive behavior like this is characteristic of the toxic masculinity that culture has created for boys.  It tells them that they cannot cry for help, and they cannot admit weakness.  The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women.  This is to say that toxic masculinity is killing men.


Grant BF, Dawson DA, Stinson FS, Chou SP, Dufour MC, Pickering RP. The 12-month prevalence and trends in DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence: United States, 1991–1992 and 2001–2002. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2004;74(3):223–234.

The Representation Project

The American foundation for Suicide Prevention


Lady Bird and the Work of Our Mothers

By Brooke Claflin

Although it has been a couple of months since I first saw the movie Lady Bird, the experience has stuck with me to this day. The main character of the movie is a high school student from Sacramento who has less means than her fellow classmates. In fact, she often refers to herself as being from the “wrong side of the tracks.” Throughout the movie she goes through some of the average struggles of any high school student: she navigates love, friendship, her first job, prom, and college applications. However, what really stuck out to me during this movie was the development of her familial relationships.

Lady Bird, AKA Christine MacPherson, struggles to understand her mother and vice versa. Her mother desires for her to be happy and Lady Bird strives for that same thing, but they have very different visions of how to achieve this ever elusive goal. Lady Bird wants to grow up quickly, go off to college, leave Sacramento behind— but this desire feels almost like a betrayal to her mother.

I think that watching this movie, which portrayed the complexities of a mother-daughter relationship artfully and subtly, was extremely valuable for me (especially as a daughter who has always looked up to her mother as a role-model). It simultaneously acknowledged the importance of exploring these bonds and also revealed their sometimes tenuous nature.

As we grow older we desire to be increasingly independent from our parents, but at times our eagerness for this independence can come across as a dismissal of their love. I think this movie did an incredible job of revealing the work of parenting and the heartbreak that comes with it. Only as we grow older do we truly start to understand how much we owe our parents, or whoever else raised us, both for their patience and for their strength.

 I often reflect upon how much I am indebted to my mother for her love and support, but now I also thank her for her strength in respecting my need for space and independence. All relationships have their difficulties, but mothers arguably have the hardest jobs in watching their children grow up and often apart.

Fertility in the Workplace

by Emma Claire Geitner

Despite movements to make family planning, parental leave, and childcare more inclusive, gender-neutral institutions, these burdens often fall on women regardless of their sexual orientation, relationship status, or even ability to conceive. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that roughly 40% of women had either taken significant time off or reduced their work hours to care for a child or family member, compared to only 24% of men surveyed.1 The survey’s findings support the age-old pattern that women are confined to a more limited, domestic sphere by nature of their fertility and its implications while men enjoy the nearly invisible evidence of male potency. Although fertility is at the core of childcare and family planning discussions, it is rarely explicitly mentioned, or even realized. The importance of recognizing fertility as the root of such social debates around reproduction rights is immediate because it provides a basis for men to also assume responsibility instead of a forgotten, undercover role. In turn, this can lead to increased gender parity and a recalibration of how women of supposed childbearing age are perceived in the workplace. While efforts are made to neutralize responsibility after childbirth, women are externally encumbered in the hiring process before any aspect of pregnancy is realized, independent of their personal decisions and capacity to conceive. In stark contrast, men exist outside of this reality in a sphere that only tangentially recognizes their role in conception. Thus allowing men to traverse professionally without a consciousness of impending pregnancy and its imagined effect on a company.

Fertility is a two-way street; it takes two to tango, but given the more obvious manifestations of female fertility—breasts, menstruation, pregnancy, nursing—coupled with gender biases dating back to the classical ages, a duty or standard of fertility is placed on women that can translate into workplace discrimination. Although such considerations are illegal when used to justify termination or an employer’s decision not to hire someone, a woman of a certain age can be flagged for her possibility to bear children. Such expectations assume a plethora of factors while neglecting to consider, a. a woman’s desire to conceive and the effort put into that goal, and b. her ability to do so, both physically and financially. Fertility is a construct placed on women that can lead to workplace discrimination without any mention of an impending pregnancy; assumed fertility allows pregnancy to be a persistent option and perhaps deterrent for employers, and this preconception limits or blatantly disregards the experiences of female-identifying individuals who may not be able to or choose not to conceive. Men do not face this dilemma, they are granted more privacy and objectivity when considering their virility, because it is not so readily evident or manifested, and there is a less enduring tradition of male childcare.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964, stipulating that employers cannot discriminate “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes.”2 By ensuring that women are protected from a kind of fertility-based profiling, the United States acknowledged that, given the connection between the female body and fertility, such an issue existed for women. The amendment includes language that protects both the already pregnant and those who “may get pregnant,” safeguarding against discrimination based on the perception of fertility as it relates to the possibility of future pregnancy, again pointing to a heightened awareness of female fertility.3 Furthermore, workplace accommodations for pregnant women are justified as “temporary disabilities,” because pregnancy may preclude an individual from doing her job for an interim period. I would argue that given the commonplace nature of childbirth and loaded meaning of “disability,” pregnancy should stand alone with its own set of legislation.4                   

Although women are now protected from fertility’s systematic prescription, its codification proves that fertility is an additional onus placed almost exclusively on women. What makes this particular discussion so intriguing is that fertility is not a singularly female responsibility or experience, and it is another way to problematize female reproduction and decisions akin to birth control and abortion issues. Assuming a woman’s fertility negates experiences and choices separate from a societal standard that associates fertility solely with woman when it is a shared experience. This rigid school of thought contributes to disparate parental leave policies and even the wage gap, because it decides that women will work less given their capability to procreate. As is the case with other societal constructs that infringe upon gender equality, an imbalance in fertility responsibility will prevail until individuals are recognized as having jurisdiction over their own bodies.                        

1 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/03/gender-pay-gap-facts/ The narrowing, but

persistent, gender gap in pay

2 pregnancy discrimination act http://employment.findlaw.com/employment-discrimination/


3 Ibid.

4 https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/pregnancy.cfm Pregnancy discrimination




Gender Equality; One Concept, Multiple Realities

By Sofia Vegas

John Stuart Mill on Gender Equality

After almost a century since the equal rights movement in the United States, women still seem to be subject to subordination and unfair treatment by their male counterparts. Although advancements have undoubtedly been made, perfect equality seems to be far from the reality that we live today. Arguments for equality are not new, John Stuart Mill argued for legal gender equality to promote social harmony over a century ago. While Mill believes that men and women should be seen as equal, and he presents a clear argument for legal equality, it is evident that legal equality is not enough to end the social constructs that enforce inequality.

Mill views the subordination of women to have been arbitrarily imposed in society as an unethical standard. He claims that in the beginning of time women were compelled to be obedient to men because of their physical differences. These actions unfortunately made a norm become a forced reality. “Those who had been already compelled to obedience became in this manner legally bound to it” (127). Mill explicitly believed that this reality interfered with society’s ability to better itself; by forcing women into specific social relations, society was being robbed of the possibility of evolving and improving.

According to Mill it was crucial that women be given the freedom to choose what they wished to do with their lives by giving them a status of legal equality. In other words, legal equality is the solution to women’s subordination. Mill believed that if women are provided a legal status of equality their lives would change, thus improving society overall.

Although it is true that legal equality would improve the treatment of women and provide them with certain freedoms under the law, this term should not be taken as one that would instantly change the status of women in society. Giving women rights and freedoms should not be seen as the final solution to inequality. Although it would ideally create perfect equality, this could take years, or even centuries to achieve. As Mill put it, “what [women] can do but not as well as the men who are their competitors, competition suffices to exclude them” (150)—even if equality was awarded and women were allowed to freely choose what industry they would work in, men would not see their position in society compromised; simple competition and lack of practice would instantly diminish women’s equality in relation to men’s. Furthermore, Mill claimed that reaching the level of complete equality would not be easy because society had never seen such a construct. Providing legal rights for women would disrupt long standing societal practices, and reaching full equality would not be an easy movement to undertake. In this way, people should believe that legal equality entails complete and perfect equality.

As seen in the United States after the equal rights movement, women were provided legal equality under the constitution, but they were not treated as equals in society. The 19th amendment to the constitution written in 1923 stated that "men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction” (Milligan). However, when one looks at present time, it is evident that complete equality is not yet a reality. Subordination of women is so deeply ingrained in society, that people fail to see what is wrong with it. In this way young girls are raised with a mentality of inferiority, causing them to feel as such and see nothing wrong with it in the future. Moreover, some women are still forced by their fathers, husbands, or male counterparts to remain in positions of subordination. Many are afraid to bring these cases to court, thus removing the possibility for the legal framework to work in their favor. Although these cases are enforced in the privacy of people’s lives, cases such as wages prove that the law has failed to be enforced to its highest degree. In average, women make 79 cents to each dollar made by a man. Many justify this by stating that women are more likely to take breaks from work to care for their family. Still, the law should not allow this to happen, even less after the equal pay act was passed in 1963 (Sheth). These events enforce the subjugation of women and prove that equal rights under the law are yet to become perfect equality.

Thanks to Mill the concept of legal equality was introduced early to society and progress was slowly made. Unfortunately, however, equality under the legal system does not entail that society has changed and women and men are treated equally. Even though one would see a great improvement in the state of women rights by comparing the state of women during Mill’s time to their state in the twenty first century, this should not be deemed a successful and finished movement. Societal ideas do not change overnight. Therefore the movement which has been underway for almost a century must continue until all women can enjoy complete freedom over their own lives.

Milligan, Susan. “Stepping through History; a timeline of women’s rights from 1769 to the 2017    Women’s March on Washington.” US News. US News and World Report. Jan 2017. Web                Accessed, 04 Feb 2018.

Sheth; Gould, Skye. “5 Charts Show How Much More Men Make Than Women.” Business                      Insider. Business Insider. March 2017. Web Accessed, 04 Feb 2018.

Mill, John S. “The Basic Writings of John Stuart Mill; On Liberty, The Subjection of Women and Utilitarianism.” Modern Library. New York. pp. 123-152.