I am holding a plank inside an igloo I helped build. My toes are digging into the cold ground and my clothes are covered in hay. My abs are burning.
I am hauling logs down from off the mountain for firewood. I used to carry one big log at a time, but now I can hold two. My steps are sturdier and a little faster.
I am getting stronger.
I have never considered myself to be very strong. On the contrary, I was raised with the cultural belief that men were the protectors, the pickle-jar openers, the only ones capable of lifting. Women belonged in the kitchen.
Interestingly, this didn’t bother me all that much. I could wave off the things I didn’t want to do because they were “too hard”. I didn’t have to carry heavy things or stand for very long. I was comfortable.
When I took up running in my 20s, I grew physically strong enough to challenge those gender stereotypes, but it created friction in my relationship.
Suddenly I could lift more, pull harder, stay on my feet longer than my now-ex boyfriend. This didn’t make me feel proud or happy or liberated. Instead, I felt betrayed. I had invested in this worldview and it had let me down.
Underlying that betrayal was fear. I had always counted on men to protect me–and now it was obvious they couldn’t. They were weaker than me.
It took me some time to shift my gender mindset from one of submission to one of equals. When I figured out how to do that, I no longer needed to be angry when I saw weakness. The expectation that all men were stronger was no longer there.
Men were now free to be themselves without judgement from me, and I was free to raise my personal standards. No one should have the burden of being stronger than me all the times, nor should there be a limit for how strong I can become.
Perhaps you are stronger than me. But if you’re not, that’s ok–I’m still going to be strong just on my own.
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