Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The gendering of swimming paddles

Swimming paddles are plastic discs of various shapes and sizes that swimmers and water aerobicizers put on their hands when training. They create greater resistance and so build upper body strength while helping swimmers with their stroke.
Casually browsing in a major sports store yesterday I came across swim paddles made by TYR. They were all different colors that corresponded to their respective size (XS-XL). I had never seen swim paddles sized and so I flipped over the package to find out how the sizes were measured. The size chart was very interesting. XS paddles are meant for beginner swimmers. S are meant for intermediate swimmers. OK--this makes sense. Then things started gettting interesting. The descriptions for who shoud be using each size became more intricate, listing various levels of swimming such as high school. junior nationals, senior nationals, collegiate, etc. But they also became gendered. For example a female collegiate swimmer should use size M but a male collegiate swimmer should use L. The sizing seemed fairly arbitrary in that it failed to take into consideration the possibility that female swimmers can be stronger than male swimmers, always placing women of a comparable level one size below men. Seems that the Frailty Myth is still alive and well, certainly in marketing.
And what was most interesting was that XL should only be used by "strong male swimmers" and water aerobicizers. I don't know who these strong male swimmers are--they are not the triathletes or collegiate or senior national swimmers because they are using smaller sizes. So the only people who should be using XL TYR swim paddles are these unusually strong men and the largely female population of older people with bad joints (this is the demographic targeted for this form of group exercise) who do water aerobics. I left the store with a very weird feeling along with an odd picture in my head of a friendly grandma type in her bathing suit standing alongside a very buff, tan, tall man in speedos both sporting XL TYR paddles, smiling and flexing.

No comments: