I consider myself a reasonably good representative of the male persuasion, and as such I shall weigh in on the topic of women and their hands. This comes up a lot more often than I wish it did, and I’m often asked if weightlifting gloves are okay (short answer: nope).
Here’s Mark Rippetoe’s tirade against gloves in his article “Personal Equipment: The Good, the Bad, and the Silly” in Strong Enough?:
“Gloves are used by serious lifters only in the event of a skin injury to the palm of the hand that a glove would allow to be trained around. Under no other circumstances do I want to see “weightlifting” gloves on anybody, not even a maxillofacial surgeon or a church organist. … Gloves add a layer of unstable material between the bar and the hand, destabilize the grip, prevent necessary callus formation, and actually make gripping harder due to the effective increase in diameter of the bar being held. … Cindy Crawford wears them. Richard Simmons wears them. I’m sorry, I just can’t talk about this anymore.”
Summary: Don’t even try to wear gloves unless your hand recently ripped open on the pull-up bar, in which case I will respect and even be a little proud of your stubborn refusal to stop training. Barring that, they don’t help, they look stupid, and therefore they make ME look stupid for letting you wear that shit. Gloves are useful to own but don’t rely on them.
Fair warning: The rest of this post is more unabashedly blunt than usual. I make no apologies for speaking my mind and whether or not you decide to get offended is entirely up to you. If you haven’t met me I really am generally nice in person, though hypersensitive people and I don’t get along. Keep that in mind.
Ladies, as much as you may hate to hear this, you don’t need soft tender hands. Honestly. I have a pretty solid appreciation for all aspects of the female form, and while soft skin is a very good thing everywhere else—and it will definitely behoove you to keep hand calluses ground down for ALL the same reasons men should do the same—no man will ever check out your hands unless he has a weird fetish. In my not at all humble opinion, a woman’s hands should be clean and well-maintained, ideally no bigger than mine (average for a man), but softness does not matter. Big fake nails do nothing but get in the way. Excess body fat does the same. Neither is particularly attractive.
I consider this soft-hands fetish an anachronism, a throw-back to generations past when women that were pale (“fair-skinned”)—symbolic of elevated social class from not needing to do outside labor—were thought attractive. Of course, it was social status that was attractive, not paleness. Anyway, this fashion thankfully gave way to tanned skin, with its increased resistance to the sun exposure necessary for normal bodily function, coming back into vogue. The notion that women should be “dainty” and unable to run fast/throw hard/lift heavy/be out in the sun is bullshit that came about after civilization advanced to the point where daily physical labor was no longer necessary for survival. I hypothesize that a man who wants a delicate little flower of a woman has some issues with insecurity. (As a rule, I don’t like breakable things; they’re generally pretty to look at but unstable and useless, and cleanup is messy and I’ve never been good at it. Told you I’m blunt.)
Anyway, what we have been witnessing in the West over the past several generations is the pendulum swinging away from artificial social-construct-based notions of attractiveness and back toward Darwinian survive-and-replicate criteria. [Why else do you think CrossFit has exploded in popularity? People want primal, universally-attractive fitness, and CrossFit delivers where less-useful protocols have abjectly failed.] Masculinity and femininity continue to be preeminently crucial concepts, but as our culture changes so do our definitions. Violence, work boots, and setting things on fire are still masculine things; strength and toughness are not. Makeup, flowers, and taking painfully long to get ready to go out are still feminine things; fragility and weakness are not. On a purely Darwinian level, strength is sexy. This is why having a firm, shapely butt is considered attractive to both genders—the butt is the engine of all functional movement, a toned muscle is a strong muscle, and strength = survival. Want a perfect butt? Do your squats. Seriously.
Strength and toughness are not masculine things, just like fragility and weakness are not feminine.
A very common misconception is that women who lift weights magically get “big and bulky.” This is complete bullshit that has been thoroughly debunked in many different places by intelligent people—the gents over at CrossFit Tustin have done us all the service of re-posting CF Oakland County’s compiled refutation here. Suffice it to say that size is influenced by both training and genetics, and unless you’re a male endomorph with a large frame, “big and bulky” will NOT happen by accident (otherwise I’d be a football linebacker by now rather than a garden-variety CrossFit ecto-mesomorph). When you see bulgy grotesque abominations on the covers of muscle magazines…they’re juicing. Even—nay, especially—the women. I know, it’s wrong on many levels and they should all be flogged or at least banished to an island where they can all be synthetic-hormone-doping freaks together. Treating pathology is a legitimate use for anabolic steroids; using them to “get huge, man” is not.
If you want proof that strong does not equal gigantic, go to an Olympic weightlifting meet and look at the women. Sure, they’re bigger at the heavier weight classes, but at the lighter weight classes they look like normal, fit women with the most perfect butts you will ever see (they do their squats). And they lift more than average men can, with better technique. It’s eye-opening, humbling, and I think it’s pretty awesome. If you’ve never felt the urge to high-five a stranger, go watch your PR’s get slaughtered by a girl smaller than you. (At the Arnold Sports Festival, a 5-foot-nothing, 127-lb woman beat my best snatch as of this blog’s original posting by 3 kilos. It was slightly over 1½-bodyweight for her, which is un-fucking-believable. Granted she happens to be one of Team USA’s top lifters, and I’ve since improved my own snatch by 20 kilos, but that’s still pretty amazing. Hell, she’s even cute too.)
There are certainly differences between men and women—not “superiority” or “inferiority,” I’m not a sexist douche—and they do need to be recognized. Thanks to evolution we all wound up with obviously different plumbing and subtly different mental wiring, but besides that, on average men are capable of getting bigger and stronger than women and in less time. Don’t ask me why (short answer: hormones), it’s just kinda how things turned out. However, this doesn’t mean that men and women should train differently; effective exercise is the same regardless of whether you squat to pee.
Now ladies, I completely understand if you don’t want hands beaten into tough leather from thousands of pull-ups, snatches, and muscle-ups, so use some lotion after you grind down your calluses. (That’s what I’d do if I cared enough.) But don’t use it as an excuse to avoid lifting heavy things and banging your hands up a bit on the pull-up bar. I will end with a very crude maxim: Just like having a dick doesn’t give a man the right to be a dick, having a pussy doesn’t give you license to be one.