Words I could do without: “chicked”

Let’s talk about the word “chicked.”  I mentioned the word in an article last week about the paradox of pink, and a couple of commenters were dismayed to learn that such a word exists.  Consequently I thought the concept might be up for more than just a parenthetical explanation in a post about the color pink.

Before we begin, a definition from Urban Dictionary:

When a woman outperforms a man in a physical activity, such as biking, hiking, or skiing, where normally a man should outperform the woman.

The word “chicked” is built upon the premise that men are always physically superior to women, and that any inversion of this hierarchy is an anomaly.  This is considered to hold true not just for the sports where men tend to have a distinct advantage, such as basketball or football, but all physical activities.  All of them.  It’s the premise behind the idea that any halfway coordinated group of weekend warriors could defeat a professional women’s team, or that any woman who is too good at her sport must have benefited from an unfair advantage, or that a female athlete might secretly be a man.

I’ll confess, it’s a concept that frustrates me.  It’s frustrating to know that no matter how much hard work I put into my sport, there will always be a contingent of guys out there who think they can beat me just because.  As I mentioned in my last post, I come across it quite a bit. I still remember one time when I was out doing speed intervals, and I was in the middle of my recovery interval when I passed a guy.  I noticed that he sped up as I passed him – which meant that he was running slower than my recovery pace, mind you – and when I started my speed interval, he sped up again!   It took about a minute before he realized the futility of what he was doing, and he dropped off.  The entire time, though, I couldn’t help but think how ridiculous this whole charade was.  If I had been a guy out running, would he have tried to keep up with me?  I don’t know, but I doubt it.

Coach and triathlete MaryBeth Moore wrote about a similar experience:

I was doing an off-the-bike run (a triathlon training workout in which you do a run immediately after riding your bike) around the lower loop of Central Park. I was focused on my own workout when a Subject M appeared and a scenario similar to the one described above ensued. He had been panting next to me for about 30 seconds when I turned to look at his sweaty, red little face and said: “You just can’t bear to be chicked, huh?”

Then, I gave him a thumbs-up and jacked the pace to a sub 5:30-mile. The guy wasn’t going to give in right away, so I played a mental game with him for about a mile getting progressively faster until he finally just dropped off.

(By the way, I agree with Moore’s assessment that things like this have a way of becoming dueling egos, which serves no one in the end and in fact makes people more likely to sustain serious injuries over what is ultimately silliness.  Seriously, people, check your egos when you come to play!)

It would be easy to make fun of these guys, and maybe with the really boorish assholes, I would, but I think that in most cases the guys are bumping against the really tiny, narrow constraints of masculinity in our society and are not sure how to deal.  Check out this letter from a guy who wanted to know how to handle the blows his self-esteem took each time he was bested by his lady friend in a physical contest:

I am in a great relationship with a wonderful woman. We have many interests in common and we love doing sports (running, skiing, biking) together. Unfortunately, I get “chicked” by my girlfriend a lot. When she beats me in a race, I tend to get distant with her. I want her to accomplish her goals, but how do I balance her lofty achievements against my self esteem?    Sincerely, Bruised ego

I don’t know, yo.  It’s not easy to be a person in this society, not with all of the rules and expectations place upon us with regards to the kinds of achievements we can have and the kind of personalities we can develop and the ways our bodies can look.   And when you are a man in a culture that says to be a man is to be able to physically dominate all women, and yet you find yourself consistently on the “wrong” side of that equation, it has got to mess with your ideas about yourself as a man.  So I have some sympathy, I really do.

But my sympathy ends when it comes to guys who use this as a way to shame other men. Brian and I were talking about the concept of a woman “chicking” a man, and he brought up a half-marathon in which he was feeling a bit winded and run down at mile 10, when this younger woman came running up from behind him, looking strong and fresh.  He ended up pacing himself off her through most of the rest of the race, at which point she outkicked him across the finish line.  No shame in that, right?  The camaraderie of racers, pitching in to help each other wring the best possible performances out of each other?  It’s a beautiful thing!

Not so to the men Brian told this story to.  He said he still recalled very clearly the derisive snorts that came from one of those men as he mentioned the girl running faster than him.  The snorter was an out-of-shape smoker who probably couldn’t have run a single block without keeling over from cardiac arrest, yet he still felt superior, not just to the lady runner but also to Brian.

Want to see another example of this? Check out this runner, who reacted to being “chicked” while on his long run by saying the woman was either on steroids, a cyborg or a man.  (By the way, I hate to say this, but anyone who is running at a pace of 8:50/mile should probably be used to getting passed by women at this point.)

Fortunately, lots of guys, like Brian, reject this silliness.  (Here’s another one.) Interestingly enough, athletic men tend to be way more accepting of the prowess of their lady counterparts than are non-athletic men (which is something I’ve remarked upon before).  It’s very simple, really – if you are secure in yourself in a human being, you won’t have to boost your self-esteem by dominating people you perceive as weaker than you.

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26 responses to “Words I could do without: “chicked”

  1. I’m among those that had never heard of the term “chicked” before… though I’m not entirely shocked it exists. It’s my hope that those insecure enough to hide behind such terms are transparent to the rest of the world, and that… there are enough individuals out there encouraging strength and athleticism in women that soon everyone will see through such cowardly rhetoric… or is that too optimistic?

    • I don’t think it is too optimistic. I think about how much progress has been made in the past couple of decades, and I don’t really see any reason why that won’t continue. At some point the people who have problems with strong and athletic women are just going to have to get over themselves and join the rest of us. Fortunately for them, it’s much better on our side of things. :)

  2. it took me while to get through this blog post since i clicked the links and read them and clicked the links on those. i am so glad i came across your blog. i’ve taken gender studies before and love talking about it but sometimes have a difficult time sorting out my thoughts and ideas. But you, you have a clear sense of your ideas and write them out so acutely.

    i agree with you that it’s usually the non-athletic that feel superior to those who do great by saying, “if i tried i’d be good”.

    thanks for this.

    • Thank you so much! That means a lot to me.

      “i agree with you that it’s usually the non-athletic that feel superior to those who do great by saying, “if i tried i’d be good”. ”

      That’s a mindset that’s pretty persistent, isn’t it? You get the satisfaction of believing you can do something without any of the risk of failure! Of course that satisfaction is rather weak, seeing as though it’s not based in experience or reality or anything like that…

  3. Every few months, the Zumba company I take classes from has a “bring your spouse/boyfriend to class” special, and I think this built-in sense that guys should be able to just automatically do things better than girls comes into play. The same thing happens almost every time: the guys come in to humor their wives, and they either give up and walk off in the middle, or never come back, because they get totally out-danced. Even the fat girls can drop it way lower than a newbie guy, and boy isn’t that something hard to chew on in our society — he loses not one, but two avenues to a sense of superiority in one go. American guys seem to avoid dance in general because they feel like they should have this unearned advantage in every activity and then they don’t. It’s kind of sad because it’s such a great activity.

  4. On the upside, probably the only upside, maybe when I pass men they think I’m a cyborg!!! AWESOME.

    Sometimes passing runners feels like camaraderie and sometimes it feels like an power struggle, it depends on the day.

    I also think that sometimes I feel so angry at white straight cismen/society that I run fast to pass those individuals and maybe that means I’m petty and competitive, but in my mind I’m using my running skill and serious leg muscles to expand their idea of what a runner is and to handle my own oppression. (I sometimes feel similarly about out-kicking skinny women who have the runner’s body type I lack, but not whatever it is that I do have that makes me fast.) It’s not about shaming them, but it is about my ego. I am petty and competitive. Running usually helps me channel those impulses, but not always.

  5. I do a martial art that’s probably 90% male, and it’s always hilarious when the brand new guys think they should be able to beat the tar out of you just because they’re male and you’re female (I’ve been fighting for about 5 years). In a number of cases the upper body strength does come into play and then can hit harder, at the beginning, than I could when I started. But I never had the option to rest on upper body strength, so I have to fight smarter than they do. And once they realize that I can do that, the psychological advantage is pretty powerful.

    This probably comes into play more because it’s an overtly combative sport, but their fear of being “chicked”, as I guess it’s called, can become a tool. If they realize that they just aren’t going to walk all over you, despite the fact that you’re smaller, probably weaker, and obviously female, they have to either readjust their thinking or engage in a lot of cognitive dissonance. Giving these kinds of fights, to show people that they will not take me lightly because I am female, is one of my favorite things to do. And it’s great motivation for me, not to allow anyone to see me as anything less than a dangerous opponent who deserves to be taken seriously.

    • That sounds very familiar. I’ve been doing martial arts (also in a male-dominated branch), and some guys just cannot wrap their minds around a woman who can beat them. In my case I’m tall, broad and muscular, so my strength is a lot more than they expect from a woman. I often find that if I come out full bore, they are so shocked at my strength that they give up nearly from the start. One of the guys who was part of my black belt testing still talks about my “shocking” levels of strength three years later. We’re the same height, I weight train, he doesn’t, I’m in an upper body heavy martial art, and he’s a TKD black belt, so rarely uses his hands, but he was flabbergasted because I bested him in an self-defense scenario that was upper body focused.

      And I know exactly what you mean about never letting them do anything but take me seriously. I feel the same way.

  6. I had a similar experience not too long ago– I was running a tempo run in a park, when I was about to pass a guy. He was jogging along until he heard me come up behind him, then he broke into an all-out run and I lost sight of him. A few minutes later he had slowed to a walk, I was about to pass him again but he looks over his shoulder, sees me and speeds up. Repeat for about 2 miles, until he runs out of the park. I roll my eyes at that type of stuff– one of us got the workout we intended, and it wasn’t him.

    Thanks for this post. I hate the word ‘chicked’ but most guys in the running community don’t seem to understand how derogatory it is. Every time I see it I see ‘you should be worse than me’. I was pointing out to some friends recently that you never hear about the stats in sports/athletics where women best men. I think it is in “Born to Run” that Chris McDougall talks about the completion rate for the Leadville 100 by gender– though men are much more likely to run it, of men who enter, about half finish. Of women who enter, it’s over 90 percent.

    • Yes, it is curious that you rarely hear people talk about ultra-endurance events in discussions about the physical superiority of one sex over the other. It’s like, why do we define “physical superiority” as being able to throw a ball for long distances or lift heavy objects? Why not withstanding pain and fatigue?

      Also, good call on the translation. That’s exactly what it means: “you should be worse than me.” And yet you aren’t, and it throws them all off.

  7. Something about that “guys who run at 8:50/mile should be used to getting passed by girls” bit is really stinging me. I’m a newish reader here, but I’ve been running for 5 years, and I couldn’t run an 8:50 pace for any length of time if Dracula himself were chasing me.

    I know I’m not supposed to, but now I feel like I’m too slow to read this blog. :( I’d love to be faster, and I’m working on it, but is there room for back-of-the-pack dwellers here?

    • Of course there is! I don’t mean to act like there is anything wrong with being slower – I was slower than that for quite a few years. My point is that it’s a little silly for this guy to act like there’s something wrong with a woman who can run faster than him when he’s a pretty average runner himself. That’s all. I mean, it is kind of funny, right? :)

      I’m sorry to make you feel badly. That was totally NOT my intention, and I feel bad that I have made you feel bad!

      • To be fair (I clicked on all the links, since the article was so interesting), I would say that 8:50 guy was trying to be tongue in cheek in his article – more the “Bruised Ego” school than the snickering sort. Perhaps he didn’t have perfect pitch and that should be pointed out, but definitely not a first-degree count of “chicking” rhetoric.

  8. If only this phenomenon only existed in athletics! Many men have a hard time handling a woman being better at any male-gendered activity– I work in a technical field and deal with this kind of petty nonsense a lot.

    I also see a lot of “gotta run faster than the fat lady” when I’m out running. Whatever swells your peen, folks.

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  14. Enjoyed your post. I regularly get “chicked” by a younger woman in my running club. I am approaching 50 and she is half my age. We both enjoy the competitive edge. I don’t mind being beaten by a woman…. But I struggle with being outpaced by someone dressed as a rabbit…. :)

  15. It’s all in the context of the word is used in. It can be neanderthal but It can also be humorous. I could imagine the word “pensionered” (passed/owned by a senior) being used in the same way, but it doesn’t really roll off the tongue.
    BTW not so long ago, the bloke I locked up biceps with to arm-wrestle got chicked, to his surprise (but I didn’t have that word in my vocab then – ha).

  16. I’m a bit late to this post as I have just discovered the blog (loving it by the way!). I agree with Deanna that it’s all in the context, and I would imagine (or at least like to imagine) that most guys use the term the way it is used by the guy in the second example you give. Although I agree with Cleo that the first guy also seemed to be using it tongue in cheek when I read his piece.
    Just to clear up the origin of the word, in his book Eat and Run, the lovely, legendary Scott Jurek claims the term was coined by his friend Dusty in high school. When Dusty used to pace him in Western States, Badwater, etc. he apparently used to wind him up by threatening that he was about to get chicked, along with calling him ‘Jurker’, saying he was nothing more than a dumb Pollack and offering various other insults in a range of languages. It was a term he had come up with in high school and it entered the ultrarunning lexicon through his efforts in pacing Jurek.
    To be honest, it’s not a word I’ve ever heard used other than in jest and admiration (although, to be fair, most of runs take place in non-English speaking environments). Knowing the origin of the words always just makes me laugh at the thought of the world’s best ultra runner and his pacer messing around like they’re still teenagers.
    To address meaghansketch’s point, ultrarunning is still very much a minority sport. The fact that women outperform men over those kind of distances is interesting because it is such an exception. Generally, men outperform women at most mainstream sports or running over more ‘normal’ distances. I can understand why a man would feel his pride had been wounded when overtaken by a woman, just as I would feel unhappy with myself if I was overtaken by someone who looked like they should be slower than me. I can never imagine saying that I had been beaten by an oldie other than in good humour and in admiration at someone’s performance and I have always just assumed that men would use the term ‘chicked’ in a similar spirit.

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  18. “The word “chicked” is built upon the premise that men are always physically superior to women, and that any inversion of this hierarchy is an anomaly.”

    Not exactly. It’s built upon the fact that men, as a group, have a natural advantage over women in most tests of physical fitness. Many (men and women) have difficulty imagining overlapping bell curves, and misrepresent the situation as an absolute hierarchy. But even a man who realizes the existence of women who outperform men may rightly feel a blow to his ego when bested by a female, since it forces him to realize that he is not in the category of males who don’t get “chicked”. I’m all for women developing to their fullest potential, but it’s going to be bad news for some of the guys. Hopefully, they’ll learn to be good sports.

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