What Makes Women Strong?
Science is revealing that when it comes to physical prowess, women may actually be the more powerful sex
When she was 80 years old, my grandmother built a new stone wall in her garden. She’d constructed many of them during her “retirement” — years that she also spent raising me, running the local ambulance corps, and landscaping her three woodsy acres in New York’s Hudson Valley. The walls were integral to her garden designs.
Sporting a terry cloth headband that slowed (but didn’t stop) the sweat sluicing down her cheeks, she lifted and placed the recalcitrant mini-boulders — leftovers from ancient retreating glaciers — into harmonious position, like a slow dance. “It’s a physical and mental puzzle. A great challenge,” she said.
The hip-high stone construction still stands at her former home. It was not her first wall — but it was her last. When she died at 82, my grandma’s thighs were still tough with muscle and her hands calloused from physical labor.
Women get their own category for feats of strength: a separate one, often tied into the tasks of caretaking or motherhood.
Growing up with my grandmother from the age of 4, she was my example of strength and womanhood. But popular culture (especially my favorite ’80s TV shows) and societal consensus around gender “roles” eventually taught me that whether it was carrying a bag of groceries, or shoveling a snowy driveway, it is custom that a man’s help — or even a boy’s — should be enlisted. Men are strong, and women lean on that strength.
Women get their own category for feats of strength: a separate one, often tied into the tasks of caretaking or motherhood. Nobody hesitates to ascribe strength to what women go through in childbirth, or marvel at the power of the woman who pushes a car off her crushed child. But flexing our strength outside those strictures renders women somehow weird or deviant — especially when it comes to athletics.
As seen in the cases of athletes like Olympic weight lifter Sarah Robles, British heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, and tennis star Serena Williams, when a woman performs at the top of her game, her…