Even just for a day, I may not have chosen to have hipppp, re-place-ment surg-ery until laterrr.
This post is not about Beyonce – although her music does mark some pretty key memories in my life – it’s about gender and the choices we make in life based on it. Not just gender as a cultural concept, but also sex because until there’s a medical miracle males can’t give birth to humans without significant intervention.
Let’s start with sex. I was born a female, still am a female. Last year I was diagnosed with ‘moderately severe’ osteoarthritis in my left hip, to which a contributing factor was undiagnosed developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH).
- Female: tick
- First born: yes, it’s me and (not so) lil’ bro
- Family history of hip dysplasia: my father had a hip replacement at 52, does this count?
- More likely in left hip than right hip: yep
If I were a boy, my chances of developing hip dysplasia would be statistically lower.
But I’m not, I’m a female so let’s crack on…
If I were a boy, I may not have taken such a liking to BodyStep, BodyJam and BodyBalance. Let’s not make too many generalisations but, in the absence of solid, statistical data for group fitness participants, how many classes of the above-mentioned Les Mills programs have you seen where there’s been more males than females? Yeah, I haven’t seen many either (though everyone should do yoga, regardless of gender).
[To be clear, we’re now moving into gender rather than sex, because who’s to say that it’s ‘natural’ for females to dance more than males? There’s an element of cultural attribution to this]
Sure, I might have played cricket or soccer and done equal damage to my joints by doing so… but wait, I did play these sports! Then I stopped because we weren’t taken seriously (cricket) and vanity got the better of me at 16, I hated having bruises on my shins from soccer tackles. There’s something in there about how we raise women to value their looks and men to value their sporting ability (including battle scars)…
I chose the gym when I returned to Perth in late 2003, at almost 18, over sport because fuck it, you can study whilst using the stationary bike. That’s so very effective (it’s not) and efficient! Funny how we’re hard-wired for efficiency even when it’s not very effective. Also, there were hot guys there and when I started working there as a receptionist, the gym was paying me to workout. I grew to love the BodyStep – the ultimate in camp aerobics – and the yoga-based BodyBalance classes. Later, when I moved to New Zealand and was clearly using exercise as a coping mechanism (oh the unsustainable endorphin high!), I got hooked on BodyJam (dance) classes. I’d do 4-5 per week and ride the wave of adrenalin, dopamine and endorphins. I got used to muscle fatigue during this time. I got used to pain… between 2003 and 2009, I probably did a fair bit of damage to my joint cartilage as well. Very. High. Impact. Exercise.
I don’t know if this actually happens but… I have a theory that I overused my joints because my muscles were so fatigued (and under-nourished, MUST EAT FOOD) most of the time that it was painful to use them to facilitate proper lower body movement. Hence I dumped into the joints. I didn’t allow my body time to recover because if I did, I’d get sad. True story. You should always have a toolbox of coping mechanisms.
So my gender had something to do with the exercise I chose in my early 20’s and likely, the resulting joint decay. Though who’s to say it wouldn’t have been worse had I become a bro in the gym? Who knows… it would have been different in some way.
But in my mid-to-late 20’s I was doing yoga more regularly than any other form of movement (still weight-training and cardio but #yogaeverydamnday at some points). I did yoga because it felt good – which was the same reason I did BodyJam (look up ‘dopamine addiction’) – and made me move better. Stiff muscles, usually from weight-training or cycling, were eased and lesser-used ones tested.
My physio and surgeon have both said that it’s likely that the yoga (plus other weight-bearing exercise) that I did, helped me manage the arthritis pain. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t pain when I was exercising – oh jeez there bloody was! I have vivid memories of the first day of yoga retreat in Bali, oozing into a hot mess of tears and sweat in long-held yin poses that stretched the muscles of my hips. Crying because ‘yoga tears’ (emotions being stored in the body) but also because my hips were so, SO tight.
Now, how many men do you see in yoga classes? These days up to 50% of the class might be male, but there’s still more females than males doing yoga.
If I were a boy, I probably would have continued with competitive team sport and over time, moved over to gym-based workouts and maybe running (HAHAHAHA, running). If I’d felt my legs and hips getting tighter, I probably would have a) seen a physio, b) done a lot of foam rolling, c) got a sports massage, or maybe, just maybe d) done yoga.
I highly doubt that, as a boy, I would have collapsed into the same oozing puddle of sweat and tears doing a yoga pose that I did whilst on retreat in 2015.
Boys don’t cry, “toughen up princess” and other aspects of toxic masculinity.
Men handle pain differently to woman; aside from the biological differences, culture and psychology play a role too. Pain can leave you vulnerable. Men handle vulnerability differently to women. Few men are taught that it’s ok to be vulnerable. I won’t go into toxic masculinity too much – Tim Winton writes beautifully on it here – but will assert that pain, and our collective experience of it, can often be perceived through a gendered lens.
If I were a boy and felt pain in my hips, I might have reacted differently. Would I have pushed harder through the pain? Ignoring it until it severely incapacitated me?
Maybe. I’m pretty good, a bit too good actually, at pushing through pain and not listening to my body (always a work in progress). If I were a 30 year-old male who went to the gym and used social media, I would have definitely come across these messages…
And sure, pushing through pain achieves results but at what cost? Can you push through pain still maintain full body awareness (i.e. ‘listen to your body’)? I’ve seen very few people who can and they are highly skilled at navigating between both ends of this spectrum…
Lastly, my decision to have hip replacement surgery would have been different if I were a boy because boys can’t have babies. It’s that simple. And that was the final kicker, let’s be honest.
Pregnant Emma without hip replacement surgery: carrying an additional minimum 11kg on a joint that had almost no cartilage around it to protect it, plus added joint laxity due to the hormones released in pregnancy. NO THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Having a hip replacement is something I never thought I’d have to think about, in relation to starting a family. But hey, life happens and it’s all about choices.
I choose to have a hip replacement… so let’s go!