My Daughter Will Never Do Girl Push Ups

Rain Bennett

Filmmaker

Calisthenics, Bodyweight Exercise

Two things happened on my last night of a working trip to New York: I had my first poke bowl ever, and my girlfriend Facetimed to tell me she was pregnant. Both events caused me to close my eyes and take a moment to appreciate. But only one caused me to holler out in delight in the middle of the street. Why had I waited so long? Was this really about to happen? Isn’t this all I ever wanted? It was like all the little happy feelings and ideas I’ve ever had were coming together at the same time. It felt like God had made this little perfect bundle of tuna and avocado just for me. I would cherish every moment I had with it.

 

Meanwhile, back on the Facetime call, I was left speechless. The thought process, in five seconds, went something like, “Okay. Oh! I got it. That’s a pregnancy test. There’s two lines in the box. What does that mean? Oh… two lines means pregnant. Okay, this is a positive test. Wait. This is her positive test. She’s going to have a baby? I’m going to have a baby? I’m going to have… a baby?” And then it hit me. I was going to have a baby. With a thousand thoughts to choose from, my mouth opened to shout one of them out, but all I could come up with was, “How did this happen?”

 

 

The next few months were full of phone calls to family, listening to heartbeats at doctors’ visits, and clever Facebook announcements. As an alpha male that spent his life playing sports, I naturally wanted to have a little boy. And as it happens to most men like me, I was going to have a girl.

 

I had a moment where I was disappointed, I’ll admit. That moment was fleeting. I knew I was up for the challenge. I knew that my little girl would be special. If anyone could do it, we could make this girl into a strong, independent, cultured, kind, courageous woman. The disciplined athlete in me took over, and I realized I was prepared. I had trained for this.

 

Girls Become What We Tell Them They Can Be

The past five years of my life, I traveled the world, documenting and teaching the art of calisthenics, or bodyweight exercise, to youth. This was part of my life’s mission, and I was a hell of a teacher.

 

One of the battles I had to fight the hardest was proving to women and girls that, despite what society had told them for their whole lives, they could do pull ups and push ups. They just had to train for them. Time and time again I had to say, “Do not call them girl push ups. They are modified push ups, and everyone has to do them before they’re ready for regular push ups.”

 

A four-year-old boy is physiologically not so different from a four-year-old girl. The biggest thing that makes women have “less upper body strength” is their mental conditioning, not their physical potential. Around puberty, we slide our kids into these gender roles, and girls are told that they just can’t do certain things. So they stop doing them. If they keep doing those things, however, the results are exactly what you see with men: the ability to control their bodies in time and space with strength and beauty.

 

The Great Equalizer

Nothing puts people on equal footing quite like calisthenics. Whether it’s age, gender, race, nationality, orientation, or socio-economic status, anyone can do calisthenics, and everyone starts with one rep. During the production of my documentary, Raise Up: The World is Our Gym, I saw this phenomenon in action from the mountains of Norway to the beaches of Spain, and from the jungles of Africa to the concrete jungle of New York City.

 

The film focused on the rise of freestyle calisthenics, as it becomes one of the fastest growing sports in the world. While this sport is still dominated by men in many parts of the world, that paradigm is shifting fast.

 

In 2013, I was on a beach in the south of France with the president of the World Street Workout and Calisthenics Federation just after the French National Championship. I saw the opportunity for massive growth in this new sport, and thought we were neglecting a huge female audience that also wanted to compete. I asked if he’d ever thought about doing female competitions, and he simply replied “There will never be women’s world championship. No one wants to see this.”

 

arm stand on parallel bars

Photo credit: Mauricio Merino

 

Four years later, some of the most intense battles in calisthenics competitions are between the ladies. International stars are rising up and leading the way for our future generations. My daughter will look up to amazing women like Gina Scarangella, the high-flying nurse from Philly, and Simone Ming, the mild-mannered beast from the UK. She’ll study the moves of the Dutch Melanie Driessen at one of her workshops. Or she’ll train at Brooklyn Zoo with the two-time World Champion, Jessica “Russian Red” Borgadov.

 

These will be her heroes, because these girls didn’t listen when people told them they were wasting their time playing on the monkey bars. These girls didn’t listen when people told them their training would take them nowhere. Instead, they boarded planes and traveled the world, cashing first-place prize checks, learning new languages, making new friends, and accomplishing new goals. They were becoming strong, independent, cultured, kind, courageous women.

 

Don’t Believe You Can’t

Now I’m back at home in North Carolina, preparing for my life to change in ways I don’t understand yet. I spend most of my days working on new film projects and writing. But a couple times a week, I head to Syncstudio in Durham, a yoga and cycling studio, to teach women from ages 20 to 70 that no matter what they’ve been told their whole lives, they can do push ups and pull ups. The term “girl push up” does not exist in our classes, nor in our minds.

 

I’m still not sure if I will be a great parent to a girl, but I think this is the best way to start. I just have to train for it.

 

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