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The Frailty Myth: Redefining the Physical Potential of Women and Girls

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Can women be equal to men as long as men are physically stronger? And are men, in fact, stronger? These are key questions that Colette Dowling, author of the bestselling The Cinderella Complex, raises in her provocative new book. The myth of female frailty, with its roots in nineteenth-century medicine and misogyny, has had a damaging effect on women's health, social status Can women be equal to men as long as men are physically stronger? And are men, in fact, stronger? These are key questions that Colette Dowling, author of the bestselling The Cinderella Complex, raises in her provocative new book. The myth of female frailty, with its roots in nineteenth-century medicine and misogyny, has had a damaging effect on women's health, social status, and physical safety. It is Dowling's controversial thesis that women succumb to societal pressures to appear weak in order to seem more "feminine." The Frailty Myth presents new evidence that girls are weaned from the use of their bodies even before they begin school. By adolescence, their strength and aerobic powers have started to decline unless the girls are exercising vigorously--and most aren't. By sixteen, they have already lost bone density and turned themselves into prime candidates for osteoporosis. They have also been deprived of motor stimulation that is essential for brain growth. Yet as breakthroughs among elite women athletes grow more and more astounding, it begins to appear that strength and physical skill--for all women--is only a matter of learning and training. Men don't have a monopoly on physical prowess; when women and men are matched in size and level of training, the strength gap closes. In some areas, women are actually equipped to outperform men, due partly to differences in body structure, and partly to the newly discovered strengthening benefits of estrogen. Drawing on extensive research in motor development, performance assessment, sports physi-ology, and endocrinology, Dowling presents an astonishing picture of the new physical woman. And she creates a powerful argument that true equality isn't possible until women learn how to stand up for themselves--physically.


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Can women be equal to men as long as men are physically stronger? And are men, in fact, stronger? These are key questions that Colette Dowling, author of the bestselling The Cinderella Complex, raises in her provocative new book. The myth of female frailty, with its roots in nineteenth-century medicine and misogyny, has had a damaging effect on women's health, social status Can women be equal to men as long as men are physically stronger? And are men, in fact, stronger? These are key questions that Colette Dowling, author of the bestselling The Cinderella Complex, raises in her provocative new book. The myth of female frailty, with its roots in nineteenth-century medicine and misogyny, has had a damaging effect on women's health, social status, and physical safety. It is Dowling's controversial thesis that women succumb to societal pressures to appear weak in order to seem more "feminine." The Frailty Myth presents new evidence that girls are weaned from the use of their bodies even before they begin school. By adolescence, their strength and aerobic powers have started to decline unless the girls are exercising vigorously--and most aren't. By sixteen, they have already lost bone density and turned themselves into prime candidates for osteoporosis. They have also been deprived of motor stimulation that is essential for brain growth. Yet as breakthroughs among elite women athletes grow more and more astounding, it begins to appear that strength and physical skill--for all women--is only a matter of learning and training. Men don't have a monopoly on physical prowess; when women and men are matched in size and level of training, the strength gap closes. In some areas, women are actually equipped to outperform men, due partly to differences in body structure, and partly to the newly discovered strengthening benefits of estrogen. Drawing on extensive research in motor development, performance assessment, sports physi-ology, and endocrinology, Dowling presents an astonishing picture of the new physical woman. And she creates a powerful argument that true equality isn't possible until women learn how to stand up for themselves--physically.

30 review for The Frailty Myth: Redefining the Physical Potential of Women and Girls

  1. 4 out of 5

    Marrysparkle

    Colette Dowling's book is LONG OVERDUE. In The Frailty Myth she provides the reader with a eye opening, informative and simultaneously disheartening look at how young girls, and women in general, are socially and culturally conditioned to live a physically underutilized existence in relation to men. I am a long time reader of feminist literature and I've never really came across anything that comes remotely close to the in-depth sociohistorical investigation into the well-entrenched stereotype, Colette Dowling's book is LONG OVERDUE. In The Frailty Myth she provides the reader with a eye opening, informative and simultaneously disheartening look at how young girls, and women in general, are socially and culturally conditioned to live a physically underutilized existence in relation to men. I am a long time reader of feminist literature and I've never really came across anything that comes remotely close to the in-depth sociohistorical investigation into the well-entrenched stereotype, myth, assumption, fallacy that women are less physically capable than men - until now. In fact, the myth is a long standing belief of mine, I must sadly admit. As a child of an immigrant who comes from a religious, third world country, my mother ingrained in me that women are weaker than men, less capable of defending oneself from an physical attack, and so on. Being 5' 2'' myself, I routinely undervalue my physical strength myself. However, this book made me look at the false philosophy in a drastically new light.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Izarra Moore

    An important book in the making of my psyche; I read it as a 20-year-old, marathon-running undergrad with a giant chip on my shoulder. I was just thinking about this book the other day, watching a clip from some American gameshow in which a woman (a woman!) conquers an obstacle course that was previously the domain of men alone. We're gaining on you, fellas. An important book in the making of my psyche; I read it as a 20-year-old, marathon-running undergrad with a giant chip on my shoulder. I was just thinking about this book the other day, watching a clip from some American gameshow in which a woman (a woman!) conquers an obstacle course that was previously the domain of men alone. We're gaining on you, fellas.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Olivia S

    This was super interesting, and I love her writing style: it's convincing and readable, not overly academic and abstract. The book is about questioning the universal belief that women are more physically "frail" than men, and examining how that idea is socially created and sustained, and the impact it has on the mental and physical health of women (and a little bit men too). Dowling explores the long history of this idea of female frailty, and looks at how it affects girls at different ages. The This was super interesting, and I love her writing style: it's convincing and readable, not overly academic and abstract. The book is about questioning the universal belief that women are more physically "frail" than men, and examining how that idea is socially created and sustained, and the impact it has on the mental and physical health of women (and a little bit men too). Dowling explores the long history of this idea of female frailty, and looks at how it affects girls at different ages. There is a fair bit of focus on sports in the book, which is understandable considering the subject matter, but was of less interest to me. My favourite chapter was the last one, which explicitly addressed what the book had been building up to the whole time: the way that this myth contributes to (or even creates, arguably) rape culture - a world in which women are socialized to be afraid, and to limit themselves in many ways (physically, athletically, socially, mentally, and in terms of career) out of fear of the VERY prevalent violent consequences of daring to do otherwise. Dowling suggests that raising our girls differently (and this is not just a parenting issue, but an issue of social attitudes, expectations, and opportunities) would change the world from one in which women are afraid because they are necessarily frailer than men, and men are dominating and violent because they are necessarily more powerful than women, into one in which women could trust in their own strength, and change the power dynamic. I was fully convinced by what I believe was Dowling's point: that even if, on average, men are better at some kinds of athletic prowess than women (which is not a foregone conclusion in my mind anymore), it doesn't matter. Women are strong and capable enough to narrow the gap if they are given the opportunities to do so, and to stop the violent power dynamic between men and women. We are literally raising our girls to be victims, and raising our boys to be aggressors. I truly believe that social change could alter this, and dismantle rape culture. We have got to change our expectations of women, and take girls' strength - physical and otherwise - as seriously as boys' if we ever expect the culture to change. This book fundamentally shifted the way I think about women's bodies and my own.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Viv JM

    Interesting and thought provoking book about the damaging myth of female frailty which the author does an excellent job of refuting.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    This could have been a long essay instead of a book and it would have had the same effect on me. I also couldn't keep from wondering how the statistics presented had changed or updated from when this was published almost 20 years ago. This could have been a long essay instead of a book and it would have had the same effect on me. I also couldn't keep from wondering how the statistics presented had changed or updated from when this was published almost 20 years ago.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Pruter

    The MeToo movement has brought to people’s attention to how prevalent sexual assault still is for women. We have a POTUS that won an election even after being caught bragging about grabbing women and doing whatever he wants with them. Many women still feel unsafe at school, work, or even going outside after dark. As women we understand that moving in our woman’s body is a different experience than it would be as a man. Women have been taught since birth that men are stronger than us and more agg The MeToo movement has brought to people’s attention to how prevalent sexual assault still is for women. We have a POTUS that won an election even after being caught bragging about grabbing women and doing whatever he wants with them. Many women still feel unsafe at school, work, or even going outside after dark. As women we understand that moving in our woman’s body is a different experience than it would be as a man. Women have been taught since birth that men are stronger than us and more aggressive. We have been taught that women need men, but they should also fear them. Dowling was inspired to write this book after witnessing her daughter’s strength in a physical encounter with a larger man. Her generation was the first to benefit from Title IX, the mandate guaranteeing equal funding of women’s sports. The frailty myth has historically been used to create a division between men and women. This belief that women are biologically weaker has prevented women from being able to fully develop their bodies. Dowling’s history of the myth may give the reader a few “aha,” moments. She presents research that proves the strength differences between men and women are not as large as once believed. Dowling theorizes that as long as women are physically oppressed they will never be free of the tyranny of sexism. I’ve been strength training for a few years now, but have found myself frustrated at how much more difficult it is for me to make progress compared to the men I train with. Before reading this book, I believed that no matter how hard I train, I will always be weaker than men and that puts me in physical danger. Reading this book helped me to feel empowered. I feel determined to strength train for my physical well being and my own personal safety. We have come a long way since the origins of the frailty myth, but reading the news in 2018 we know that women and men move about the world in very different physical realities. I recommend this book to any woman that has ever felt afraid in the physical world because of her body. I recommend this to anyone interested in shattering the power dynamic between men and women.

  7. 5 out of 5

    hazelwillow

    Important topic, some great points made, but the author was definitely speaking to white women. Also, there's one anecdote that was really transphobic. Important topic, some great points made, but the author was definitely speaking to white women. Also, there's one anecdote that was really transphobic.

  8. 4 out of 5

    TippyH

    The frailty myth is the idea that women are physically incompetent, that they weak, unable to run long distances or carry out strenuous tasks. Ultimately that they are dependent on men for muscular heft. Collette Dowling argues that the frailty myth, as she calls it, was driven by men’s repressed wish to preserve domination. The consequence of the frailty myth is that women do not reach their full physical potential. Dowling argues that women are kept from using their bodies primarily because bei The frailty myth is the idea that women are physically incompetent, that they weak, unable to run long distances or carry out strenuous tasks. Ultimately that they are dependent on men for muscular heft. Collette Dowling argues that the frailty myth, as she calls it, was driven by men’s repressed wish to preserve domination. The consequence of the frailty myth is that women do not reach their full physical potential. Dowling argues that women are kept from using their bodies primarily because being athletic is viewed as unwomanly and it is (or certainly has been) difficult for women to reconcile their femininity with being athletic. She argues that by keeping women physically weak this keeps them also both socially and politically weak. The author raises many interesting, well research points. As in many aspects of sexism, there is an assumption that women are lesser than men. This is massively true for the physical too. For example, the author highlights we assume that boys/men are just better at throwing a baseball. However the author demonstrates that this is purely a learnt behaviour and that boys are much more likely to be coached from a young age on this skill over girls. She argues girls have the ability, they just need to be coached and encouraged in order to learn this skill. I really enjoyed this book and it challenged my views of women’s physicality. I have read many feminist texts but surprisingly had never thought about equality from a physical perspective. I would recommend this book to anyone, particular those interested in raising daughters to be strong and utilise their body to the fullest.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cara

    It was spectacular, one of the most inspiring books I've ever read. It teaches you how capable your body is despite what everyone or even you might think. While reading the Frailty myth, I started exercising at home because I wanted to develop myself physically. This book helped me to keep going. After a few weeks, I joined the gym. It also talked about self-defense training and how it can change the way you feel about yourself and make you more confident. I want to give it a try too. Twenty yea It was spectacular, one of the most inspiring books I've ever read. It teaches you how capable your body is despite what everyone or even you might think. While reading the Frailty myth, I started exercising at home because I wanted to develop myself physically. This book helped me to keep going. After a few weeks, I joined the gym. It also talked about self-defense training and how it can change the way you feel about yourself and make you more confident. I want to give it a try too. Twenty years later and it's shocking how many people still believe that women are inferior to men when it comes to physical prowess. I got told that a woman would never beat a man in any sport. I got told that without men we can't possibly accomplish something physical. This book is well researched and insightful. I enjoyed reading it and it'll have a special place in my heart for being honest and unique feminist work.

  10. 4 out of 5

    A.J. Richard

    I read this book for research I am doing into girls and women playing baseball. I consider this an essential read for anyone who has ever wondered why there are not more females on the baseball field. Also essential for anyone working or playing in girls'/women's sports, anyone with a daughter or female family member, all females, all human beings. I read this book for research I am doing into girls and women playing baseball. I consider this an essential read for anyone who has ever wondered why there are not more females on the baseball field. Also essential for anyone working or playing in girls'/women's sports, anyone with a daughter or female family member, all females, all human beings.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brien

    I recommend only to fathers and mothers of daughters, teachers and coaches of women and girls, at-risk adolescents [and they’re ALL at-risk] reading at an adult level, and to fans of the game who somehow suspect that a high school women’s volleyball match might well be a more compelling event than the men’s football game, hype to the contrary notwithstanding.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Salisbury

    So much of this book is important but it's weakened by Dowling's limited lens. Dowling repeatedly conflates all women with white women. She is repeatedly transphobic and misgenders at least one transwoman while trying to make some superior point about women's strength. So much of this book is important but it's weakened by Dowling's limited lens. Dowling repeatedly conflates all women with white women. She is repeatedly transphobic and misgenders at least one transwoman while trying to make some superior point about women's strength.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kalee R. Schwarting

    Read this when I was in college. Its core message was a very important thing for me to hear as a young woman. I wish I had read it as a teenager.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    Parts of this book made it very hard to get through. Yet it was still a gat book and brought to light a number of things I had not considered before. I think it accurately traces back to societal expectations the stereotypes that we all take as a given. I myself have been a continual proponent of the frailty myth, without considering the women are more than likely dissuaded from physical activity at such a young age that by the time they are adults, they don't have the history of experience and Parts of this book made it very hard to get through. Yet it was still a gat book and brought to light a number of things I had not considered before. I think it accurately traces back to societal expectations the stereotypes that we all take as a given. I myself have been a continual proponent of the frailty myth, without considering the women are more than likely dissuaded from physical activity at such a young age that by the time they are adults, they don't have the history of experience and physical know how to excel.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bellkeyce

    While I highly enjoyed Dowling's research on the history of female physical confinement and the positive effects of sports on women's emotional, mental, financial, and physical health and safety (80% of the top women in fortune 500 positions were in sports in school)I would have liked to see more information on the physiological potential of women. It's widely known that women have much greater endurance than men beating them hands down in ultramarathons or open water swimming and I would've lik While I highly enjoyed Dowling's research on the history of female physical confinement and the positive effects of sports on women's emotional, mental, financial, and physical health and safety (80% of the top women in fortune 500 positions were in sports in school)I would have liked to see more information on the physiological potential of women. It's widely known that women have much greater endurance than men beating them hands down in ultramarathons or open water swimming and I would've liked to see more information on that.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mon Mor

    Amazing. I am a girl and I practice various fighting styles and this books warms my heart. If you are a girl, you will see how REAL the situations portrayed and discussed are because you have, in fact, been through them many times. The "man are stronger than woman" has been made into a synonynous of "girls are not strong and physically able". This book delves into those ideas and how harmful they are for woman's general health. It's historical, biographical and written in a woman to woman style. Amazing. I am a girl and I practice various fighting styles and this books warms my heart. If you are a girl, you will see how REAL the situations portrayed and discussed are because you have, in fact, been through them many times. The "man are stronger than woman" has been made into a synonynous of "girls are not strong and physically able". This book delves into those ideas and how harmful they are for woman's general health. It's historical, biographical and written in a woman to woman style.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Clarissa

    This is my first serious encounter with women's studies. I found myself realizing that I am one of many women that walk around fearful of crime and have never seriously questioned why. I finished this book feeling an sense of urgency about getting myself into shape and wanting the confidence that comes with being aware of the possibility of physical prowess in my own body. [email protected], thank you, thank you, thank you for the (inadvertently) long term loan - this is a book that will change my life. This is my first serious encounter with women's studies. I found myself realizing that I am one of many women that walk around fearful of crime and have never seriously questioned why. I finished this book feeling an sense of urgency about getting myself into shape and wanting the confidence that comes with being aware of the possibility of physical prowess in my own body. [email protected], thank you, thank you, thank you for the (inadvertently) long term loan - this is a book that will change my life.

  18. 5 out of 5

    PJ

    This is a must-read for female athletes. It explores the myth the women are physically weak and incapable, tracing the history of the myth and the tremendous possibilities locked in every woman's body and mind. Love this. This is a must-read for female athletes. It explores the myth the women are physically weak and incapable, tracing the history of the myth and the tremendous possibilities locked in every woman's body and mind. Love this.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Story

    I remembered enjoying it very much, but I want to reread it with a keener eye, and then go research-diving. I remember Dowling's arguments as quite convincing, but there's much that I want to lay against other research I've since digested. Also... I never got back the copy I let someone borrow. I remembered enjoying it very much, but I want to reread it with a keener eye, and then go research-diving. I remember Dowling's arguments as quite convincing, but there's much that I want to lay against other research I've since digested. Also... I never got back the copy I let someone borrow.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    pretty cool perspective on women and physical strength - how they are viewed, what they are taught about their bodies, how women are treated differently in the olypics.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Another book that I want to recommend to everyone.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Lots of great points, a couple of "well, not really though" points around the middle, and the occasional very weird non sequitur. Chapters 1,2,3, and 7 very much recommended! Lots of great points, a couple of "well, not really though" points around the middle, and the occasional very weird non sequitur. Chapters 1,2,3, and 7 very much recommended!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Monica Torres

  24. 4 out of 5

    Justine

  25. 5 out of 5

    John Preston

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erika

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Awesome

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ness Greenough

  29. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  30. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

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