By Christie Melhorn, September 26 2017 —
Until my dad retired, I spent every summer since I was 13 working for his construction companies. I mostly worked on casual, residential projects or at his warehouse. As a female manual laborer I experienced every type of sexism, from stereotyping to blatant misogyny.
Whether commended, challenged or simply observed, my strength was a constant topic of conversation. “You’re strong for a girl,” a male coworker once commented after watching me organize scaffolding segments. “Here, I’ll help you with that. Let me carry it,” another male coworker said as if I was about to crumble into a heap while carrying a pale of rubble.
“Get inside dear! You’ll catch your death out there,” a lady said to me from her doorstep as my dad and I loaded a wheelbarrel with debris in the rain. “Wow, you’re such a big, strong girl, pushing that big wheelbarrel all by yourself!” another lady remarked as I took that same wheelbarrel to the dumpster. “If you keep doing that kind of work, none of the guys will want to date you because you’ll be able to beat ‘em up!” an old man once told me with a smirk. I tossed the wooden beam I was carrying into the waste bin with more force than necessary.
Many of these comments did not come from a place of malice but they were condescending and loaded with assumptions about traditional female gender roles and how they are communicated through the body. They imply that women are desired for being delicate and that women want to be desired by men.
They also reinforce the myth that strength training will turn you into the Hulk. However, personal trainer and competitive powerlifter Sandra Cappon says these beliefs are starting to fade.
“There are more women looking for strength sports and realizing that the traditional gym isn’t working for them,” Cappon said. “They’re saying, ‘I’m okay with being strong and I don’t have to listen to warnings about developing a masculine body.’ ”
Cappon actively facilitates these realizations through a monthly event called “Wine, Women and Weights” at The Strength Edge off 45th Ave. and Pacific Road in northeast Calgary. On the last Saturday of every month, the gym is reserved for guests who identify as women to drop in from 6–9 p.m. Women can come do their usual workout or try a new style and enjoy a glass of wine when they’re done.
Experienced coaches and chiropractors are present to show correct form and ensure guests get the most from their workout. Beginners are also encouraged to come and learn about the world of strength training. Entry is $15 for non-members and $10 for current members with an optional $10 for those who want wine.
Cappon says the purpose of the event is to create a safe space for women to expand their fitness interests and support network.
“I have a number of clients who end up training on their own. They’re interested in strength sports but don’t have a lot of support,” Cappon says. “I want to show women they’re not alone in feeling that they’re alone — that we can push for excellence. We want to show women that their strength is admired and then give them the opportunity to try things that they maybe have never thought of.”
Cappon says the The Strength Edge offers a constructive and uplifting environment that helps her empower other women.
“We’re not a neat, tidy little club,” she said. “We pursue goals not just for the sake of looking in the mirror but to ask yourself, ‘Am I getting stronger? How do I feel about my work ethic and the results?’ ”
Cappon explains that reserving the space for women only, with the exception of male coaches, helps dismantle the pressure and intimidation many women feel in a gym setting.
“As a strength gym, the regular gym guy here is a big burly guy. They’re really great big teddy bears but for the novice to come in, it is a little intimidating,” Cappon says. “Thoughts like, ‘Do I look good in my outfit today? Do I look good as I lift?’ don’t really cross people’s minds here. It’s more about the quality of your work.”
Cappon adds that strength training can help students foster self-confidence that will benefit them both during school and after graduation.
“Following a fitness routine makes you study better,” Cappon said. “Working out before an exam improves blood flow, which helps you think during the exam. You feel better about yourself in general. When working towards a career, you won’t be able to reach your full potential if you’re not feeling totally confident in yourself.”
Wine, Women and Weights intends to bolster women’s confidence and show how strength training can be brought into your life at any time. Outside of the event, Cappon says that strength training is open to everyone.
“The atmosphere here is unique in that we want to push and help each other,” Cappon says. “The mind and the body are so connected. When you’re willing to get into the mental aspect, it’s incredible what it can draw out of people.”
For more information about Wine, Women and Weights, click here.