Gym gender norms

Sarah Harris

As a senior, I have seen many changes to the school during my three years here. Classes get bigger, rooms get smaller, technology gets better, cafe food stays the same. But, there’s also some things that haven’t changed. One of those unchangeable things is the Mount Carmel gym atmosphere.

This is how I describe the gym atmosphere: dudes.

This article shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, no matter which gender you identify with. Let me give you a visual here: you walk into the rec center to work out and you have two options: go straight towards the weight-lifting equipment, or head upstairs to the track and cardio machines. Sounds simple enough; just choose whatever you feel like doing that day. Well, it’s not that simple.

The lower part of the gym where you can lift weights is usually just men. It’s rare that you see more than three women in there at one time. And the women use the cardio machines upstairs.

I can confidently say I have never been downstairs to use the weight-lifting machines. I go to the gym often, but never wandered into the “testosterone room.” But, the other day, I decided to check it out for the first time.

I’m a Resident Assistant and my residents and friends who are females are always discussing how they want to use the weight-lifting machines but don’t feel comfortable because of all the men in the gym. I usually just say something along the lines of, “Listen, just do what you want and don’t worry about what other people think.” Well, it’s not as easy at it sounds.

I walk in and go straight to the safe zone (the coat rack and cubbies), not knowing what’s to come. I immediately go into defense mode, such as trying to stand a little taller (hard to accomplish at 5-foot-2), and seem a little bit more confident.

I put my bags down and turn to go towards the weights in the back. There’s about 15 guys in the gym. My confidence drains a little as I put my head down, trying not to make too much eye contact because I don’t want to know how many guys are looking at me.

When I talk to people who have done this before, they would say that everyone stares when you go to the weight-lifting part, and I always thought they were exaggerating…they weren’t.

I grab a bench and begin to do squats near it. I try to look directly at myself in the mirror, but as I begin to glance around at each person in the mirror, I make eye contact with 80 percent of them. I’m not blaming guys for looking. If I was in a room of all women and a guy walked in, I’m sure we would all stare, too.

I lie down on the bench and begin an ab workout, I get up and about 10 more guys have come into the gym. But to my left is another girl, thank God.

Why was I so nervous? Is nervous even the right word? Intimidation. Yes, that’s it. I was intimidated. I don’t know what level of fitness any of these people are at, but society has created a culture that makes me believe that just because they are male, they’re better than me. Now, everyone in that room may have been at higher fitness levels than me. But for me to assume that is so means our society has constructed false images in our minds that reinforce the idea that all men are stronger or more physically fit than women.

As I worked out, I constantly questioned myself. Is my back straight, is my squat low enough, am I sweating too much, too little, am I in their way?

So how do I get over this fear? Keep going. I don’t want to go back, but I worked too hard this summer getting in shape to give up now. I think routine will help me create a more comfortable atmosphere for myself in the gym.

Now that the gyms are smaller, there’s less space for everyone to go. There’s talk of turning one of the rooms into an abs room which is a positive. But overall, there’s going to be more bodies in smaller spaces. As a community, we all need to create a welcoming environment for everyone, everywhere.

We all need to deconstruct the gender norms at Quinnipiac. No one should feel uncomfortable or feel as if certain parts of the gym are for certain genders only. Let’s break gender boundaries together.

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