Are half push-ups sexist?

Today I was called an extremist when I came to the conclusion that 'half push-ups' (typically performed by girls and women) were sexist.

To give you a little context, my sister is training for a musical that she will perform in at the end of this academic year and she was telling my brother and I about the routine and told us about how guys do regular push-ups and girls only do the half ones.
Surprised, I asked why that was the case. My sister explained it was because regular push-ups also train the pecs and women shouldn't/don't have to train their pecs. I asked why that was the case and I couldn't get a clear answer except that pecs on girls aren't pretty and their breasts would melt down.
I laughed and said well, shouldn't girls be asked what they want to do, isn't it the size of their breasts their own problem? I also said if these were the reasons, they are sexist. It is then that my siblings said I was exaggerating.

I am not one that gives up. I had too many questions and I wanted to know the reasons. Having been socialised as a girl when I was growing up, I remember we used to do the 'half push-ups' aka 'girl push-ups' in PE at school.
Also I was unimpressed by the fact I'd been called an extremist when I knew I was right. Yes, I'm also that type of person.

After a little research I found that these 'girl push-ups' are not nearly as effective as regular push-ups as they don't train nearly as many muscles as the latter. In fact, sportspeople recommend that you don't do 'half push-ups' are they are useless. (Why Knee Push Ups Won't Make You Any Stronger, by Cassie Dionne, coach)

But what I also found out is that push-ups were invented by men for men. And because the patriarchy doesn't expect women to be strong and/or doesn't find it feminine or attractive enough when women are strong, women are not encouraged to train for them. But it is a fact that women can do these push-ups if they train for them and men also have to train for them as push-ups are hard for everyone.

As Kelly Mills says in her article Push-ups giving women a bad rep, the exercise in itself isn't sexist, it's the fact they are discouraged from building strength and muscle and doing exercises that are considered "for men".

Mills also explains that when she goes to the gym and picks up a barbell for overhead presses, all the guys (which is most of the gym population) turn around in astonishment.
And a 1996 study published in the Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance journal also found that women were more likely to underestimate the amount they could bench press than men. We are conditioned to think we can't possibly lift like men, or crank out a set of 20 nice push-ups, and, if we do, we are too masculine. We're taught to hide our strength or minimize it or just avoid using it altogether. "Could you give me a hand carrying this box, guy-from-my-office-who-never-works-out?"
When asked to do half push-ups in school, nobody asks questions because we're all taught to do what the teacher says and as PE classes are done separately, girls don't directly see the difference.
Growing up I heard the reason girls don't do regular push-ups is because it's too difficult for them. But the truth is, they are not too difficult. Like anything else, it takes some training to achieve it.
The real reason why women can't do regular push-ups is because they don't train for them. And the reason they don't train for them is because they are made to believe that only athletes can do them. It's a vicious circle.
As a lazy teenager, I didn't question it as I found it easier to do the less tiring half push-ups and as a lazy stupid teenager, I wasn't going to pick up a fight if the outcome could potentially mean I would be made to work harder. But with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I did pick this fight up as I am sure my female PE teacher would have opened her mind.

Also can I point out that just the fact they are known as 'girl push-ups' or even the fact that half push-ups are associated with girls is sexist.

I rest my case.


  1. Sounds like your sibling is comfortable, not brave enough to question these societal limitations that are ingrained in our society. It looks like you've done your research so you know the whole "melt your breasts down" is laughable. It's worrying that so many people refuse to question and just accept but it's down to people like you to keep questioning this and to keep pushing even when the point you make is disregarded. I don't know if you have seen the film idiocracy, it's not an oscar winner put it's scarily accurate about where this passive mentality and commercialist world we're living in would lead us to if it wasn't for the sceptics and the curious.

    1. thanks for the recommendation, I will look it up :)


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