Girl Pushups

When I was in elementary school, all the kids in my grade had to do what was called “The President’s Challenge”. It included multiple exercises, such as running, sit ups, pushups, pull ups, ect. The girls and boys would be split into two sections, and then we would do the exercises in our separate groups.
One thing I remember very clearly, was that the girls were always given the option of doing “girl pushups” instead of traditional ones. At the time, this didn’t phase me. I was much too young to wonder about the sexism behind the name.
If you are not aware, this image shows what a girl pushup looks like:

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And this image shows what a regular (or male) pushup looks like:

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Doing a pushup on your knees definitely takes away some of the pain while preforming this task. Naming it a “girl” pushup basically insinuates that girls need the help, or that girls could not complete regular pushups.
I had all women teachers, not one male teacher at my elementary school. In fact, that only male that worked there was the janitor; but I still was taught that men were stronger.
My female gym teacher would not give the “girl pushup” option to the boys, and if a boy could not do as many pushups as one of the girls, we would all laugh. That’s just how we were raised. It was funny if a girl was stronger than a boy; because it didn’t mean the girl was strong, it just meant that the boy was weak.
One blog, Unapologetically Female had an article written by a woman named Tracey, talking about this very issue. She wrote, “Designating exercise guidelines by gender rather than by ability promoted the message that ALL girls are weaker than ALL boys. ALL the time. Any exceptions to that rule were just that — exceptional.” If this image is promoted at such a young age, it can really alter both the boys and the girls perceptions of themselves and the world. It screams the idea that women are physically inferior and it blows my mind that in a school of all female authority, this was allowed.
On another blog, an article was posted, titled, “Real Pushups vs. Girly Pushups”. The author, Maggy, was advocating for women to learn how to do real pushups, instead of settling for what men have been saying is our own take on one. She wrote, “There’s no reason that women can’t do just as many push-ups as men if they are properly trained.”
So maybe, if women were taught as they were growing up that they could be just as strong and as powerful as they wanted to be, more females would have this strength. Pushups are not an easy task for either gender, but when given the option at such a young age to back out of the difficult assessment, these girls will never learn how to be strong like boys will. From the age of six, I was taught that I was weaker than boys, and that was ok. I was taught that if I didn’t want to try for a real pushup, that was ok. Contradictory to that, from the age of six, the boys in my class were taught that they were capable of doing a real pushup, and that they had to try until they could complete the task.
I did not believe in feminism until I was in high school. I thought, “Yeah, boys are physically stronger, they’re better at math, they’re taller, they’re the head of the house.” I did not care. It was the life I had been taught since I was a little kid.
It was not until I got to high school, got to really know some boys, and started to realize that in no way could this entire gender be superior to another.
There are going to be girls that are stronger than boys and there are going to be boys that are stronger than girls. That is just genetics and how hard the person is willing to train. So maybe instead of teaching girls that they don’t have the capability to be as strong as a guy, (by calling the weaker pushup a girl pushup) teach the idea that everyone has different strengths, and we all have the power inside of us to accomplish something if we work for it.

7 responses to “Girl Pushups

  1. Interesting post. I never really considered the name “girl pushup” and the connotations that it portrays. I do remember making fun of them with some guy-friends back in my gym class days. It’s sad how it can not only affect girls for being considered “weaker” but can also humiliate guys if they are unable to do “boy pushups”.

  2. Nichole Lefkowitz

    My middle school did the same thing, but I was intensely training in a strict form of Japanese karate at the time, so I insisted on doing regular push-ups. When I did better than the boys, they were made fun of. I didn’t think much of it back then, but now it’s clear to me that we must remove the stigma that boys must be strong and girls can’t be.

  3. I totally agree. The fact that the “girl push-up” wouldn’t be something that the boys could do either because they are expected to be able to do more push-ups is not a positive way to teach children. It already puts a division between genders. Nice post!

  4. I’m really glad you brought this up because I have never looked at “girl push-ups” in this way before, and everyone most definitely has different strengths! Mental and physical strength are genetic, but people work for them as well, so encouraging everyone to find themselves in their own way is a great concept.

  5. It really blows my mind how your faculty was all female and still promoting the idea that girls are weaker than boys! It is really scary how telling girls that they aren’t as good as boys when they are young can have a dramatic effect on our society! I had the same rule when I was in middle school and I never really thought about how sexist the whole situation was until you brought it up. It makes me wonder what else I have overlooked that was sexist. Great last civic blog post!

  6. This is awesome! I distinctly remember elementary school days when boys would taunt girls for “girly pushups”, some of them already developing a superiority complex. As a girl who powerlifts and has thrown shot put, discus, and javelin, I understand that guys can be stronger than girls genetically, but that does not mean that girls can’t be stronger than some guys, and if someone trains more than another, there is no place for calling either weaker just by gender. I’ve been stronger than a lot of my male friends, and it is still ridiculous how these practices enacted early on in their lives make them think that they are better, despite them not actively working towards gaining strength.

  7. Great post!! I never really put much thought into “girl push ups” but they’re definitely limiting girls potentials and helping promote the ideal that boys are stronger. It is true that girls need to be taught that strength comes from within, especially in tasks when they are set up against men.

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