Men on Steroids

Tongue in cheek, earlier this week, I wrote about my lack of a beach-ready body which was my motivation yesterday to wheeze and pant through an exercise routine in the gym. Unusually, I had left my earphones at home which allowed me more space to pay more than normal attention to the other gym users.

Going to the gym can be intimidating for the first-time user. I have been a gym bunny for many years and so somewhat immune from the pressures of body shaming. As a daytime user, there is always a group of middle-aged and older women sharing the space. However, they are always slim and trim and seem to be able to run or row forever without the stresses I feel.

Whatever ambitions I have I know that I am there simply to prolong my life. Staying a little bit fit is a good first line of defence against the ravages and illnesses of time.

There is always another group that can intimidate. They are younger, both men and women, who eschew the cardio machines to pump weights. And the weights they use are, by my expectations, prodigious.

My leg strength is quite good, and, on the leg press, I set the machine at 80kg which is in the middle of the range of options. Say it myself, but I was impressed. I was followed onto the machine by another, maybe younger, but leaner user. I sneaked back afterwards to see how much weight he was pushing. 150kg. How the f*** did he do that?

We need to digress for a moment. Earlier today I clicked on an article in a spam email from Men’s Health, titled Researchers Suggest That Half Of Men Are Shaving Their Legs.

It was an amusing little piece meant to attract attention, and it did. For what its worth the trend started with swimmers and cyclists and is now seen as an aesthetic enhancement. While half of men may be doing it, there is an equal number of women who think it is something between silly to gross.

What then caught my attention was a video on the same page about the UK use of steroids. Official statistics in the UK suggest that there could be around 60,000 UK users. Unofficially there may be up to a million who inject themselves. That would be one in thirty men who use steroids.

Clearly, these are not professional athletes. They would be banned immediately. The video suggested that steroids are easily bought on the internet. I tried. They are right. there are thousands of sites selling online steroids. I was confused by the range and testimonials. Many men must be buying these steroids without any medical understanding.

I suppose I knew what was going on, but I had no idea that it was so prevalent. There are always people at the extremes of behaviour, but this is no longer at the extreme. It is now mainstream.

I think that it says something about how men now perceive themselves and here we are again with self-perception issues.

Rightly, women have a new and strong voice for equality. There may not yet be gender equality but there is an irreversible trend in that direction. While some of us have been educating our daughters to believe that they have the same rights and opportunities, it has an implication for our sons we didn’t see. We have not helped them understand their new role.

From a historical position of dominance and control, many a man is now feeling subservient and unable to understand their role in society. They are confused. Maybe, pumping up with steroids is a symptom of men trying to find a place in a world which is changing around them faster than they can react.

Maybe, even thinking about a beach-ready body shows I am just as insecure.

Kiev Day 4: Macho Men

It is so cold! It has been overcast but the forecast says it will be sunny today. I am still wrapped up in my scarf and my woolly hat.

At the market at St Sophia I was tempted to buy one of the second-hand Ushanka or Russian fur hat as worn by Dr Zhivago, but something got the better of me. It was probably the shake of her head and the look on Sasha’s face. I would like to think it was because she was being responsible as it was expensive on a stretched budget. I can’t believe it was because she thought I looked stupid in it. I thought it was quite fetching especially with the red star of the Russian Army on the front and the ear flaps pulled down.

I have not made a point of watching the men as we walk around town, but I can’t remember seeing any of the local men wearing a Ushanka. What I have recognised is that the men in eastern Europe are far more Macho, at least in appearance, than those back home. It is hard to ignore.

Of course, their gang leader is President Putin. Half of every photo we see of him, he is stripped to the waist, riding a horse, cutting wood in a forest, or dipping in cold water as part of the Eucharist celebrations. His macho image is portrayed across all Russia and is the basis of his election success. While the West may not like him, he has the significant support of many Russians.  He has far more support among Russians than Trump has among Americans.

Maybe it is not surprising that football hooliganism is now most prevalent in Eastern Europe, and there are already fan warnings for the World Cup in Russia this summer. It was the Russian gangs that clashed with English fans in Marseilles during the Euros.

Men and machines always drives macho behaviour and so it is in Kiev with the taxis. Drivers in Kiev, and particularly those steering a taxi, add more than just a sprinkling of macho spice as they ignore traffic lights, cut across oncoming traffic and accelerate as if they were in F1.

The one Ukrainian man I have met a few times is Alexander who is Stanislas’ lawyer. He is a mild and thoughtful man as you would expect from a lawyer but when he starts to tell you tales of going into the forest to fish and hunt you know that the Putin’s macho spirit survives beyond Russia’s borders. When the photos he wants to show you on his phone are of guns and not women, grandchildren or cars you know there is a difference.

I wrote yesterday about the modern generation of women and I have asked Sasha her view of the men in her country. She was reluctant to say too much but i will try and press the point and report later.

Of course, another consideration is the attitude towards LGBT. The country is still predominately right wing, by which I mean conservative, in its attitudes. Same sex activity between consenting adults, in private, is legal but same sex couples are ineligible for much of the legal protection offered to heterosexuals. Recent surveys suggest that attitudes are changing but even in 2017 only 56% of Ukrainians think that members of the LGBT community should share equal rights.

While walking around Kiev it is rare to notice explicit LGBT encouragement. It was only last week that I learnt that a restaurant I had used many times was in fact a major meeting place for the lesbian community, something far from obvious while I was sitting there quietly eating a pizza. I don’t know if it was my renowned poor observational skills or just that it was all very low key. Probably both.

There was an example of current attitudes in Lviv last year at an LGBT festival which had to be abandoned when the venue was surrounded by about 200 members of far-right groups shouting “Kill, kill, kill”.

I find that unsurprising from the observed attitude of the men. However, over the last two days I have been writing about war and in particular the ongoing war in the East. As far as I am aware conscription, introduced in 2014, is still active. In those circumstances it is hard to imagine that macho attitudes would reduce or there would be an increased tolerance towards LGBT.

I am sure it will change but it may take a long time. War, a culture of heavy alcohol abuse and history are not the normal diet for change.