Gender in the Gym, Continued

In the never-ending discussion regarding gender identities, displays, and interactions in the strength training space, I thought I’d throw a remark I got in one of the online training logs I keep, along with my response to it.

Originally Posted by [user] View Post
Watched your deadlift vid. Great deadlifting but OMG the crap you have to put up with as a girl at the gym. Crazy. BTW I have the same shorts.

My response:

It…yeah. I actually try not to call the gender card that often, but honestly, sometimes I get guys who treat me really disrespectfully and sometimes it’s done in a way that is condescending and seems to come from such an inferiority complex that I can’t help being inclined to label it as such. Thankfully, that really doesn’t happen too often. 

I think I get a certain amount of guys who think I’m “parading around” in there doing the exhibitionist thing. I could be totally wrong. But I’ve seen and heard the “this is my guy space…I want to have guy time” rhetoric in relation to why some men don’t like women in lifting areas, and I think that over the years I’ve lifted and dealt with some crappy exchanges, some of it has come from that. 

So I’ve really spent a long time trying to not play the victim card. I try not to conflate a LOT of feedback I get from many, many sources that says I stand out in a strength training space because I’m female. I basically train myself to feel that doesn’t exist. But cruise around on s-dog and many lifting sites and tell me that the rhetoric used and discussion of women lifting is without its share of segregating, often delegitimizing attitudes. I certainly am responsible for how I respond to it, and I actually take some pleasure in being somewhat DGAF about it these days. I did not have the mental fortitude to have had this attitude several years ago.

But I hate hearing from women who cannot conceive of feeling welcome or at least equally accepted in spaces like the gym in which I lift right now. When I discuss my lifting with people, particularly those who don’t lift, this is something they bring up constantly–how insanely intimidating and d*uch-y this gym is. Back in my cardio days circa 2005, I think I would have probably cried if I had tried in the to go do some work with weights in the university gym where I was primarily running on treadmills far away from the lifting spaces. 

Again, I can ignore it. But I have to get my lifting done without interfering with anyone else’s lifting/making sure I have adequate space to lift without interference, and this means social interaction is inevitable when a gym is straight up loaded with people. And this stuff is there in many social interactions, even if it’s just eye contact (blegh), no matter how much I might declare myself removed from it. 

But screw it. I do this stuff because I’m good at it. And no one is going to get in the way of that, regardless of their gender, and damned well regardless of what they think of me. 

So there you go. Sometimes, this stuff comes up. I don’t like to focus on it excessively, but it bears some discussion. I’d love for those reading this to post their thoughts and/or experiences on the dynamics of how gender plays out in the weight room.

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8 thoughts on “Gender in the Gym, Continued

  1. Your strength is really inspiring. The fear of being judged and made fun of was one of the reasons I wasn’t able to commit to working out at a gym till last year. I now workout at a small local gym and the staff and patrons are all very friendly, nothing like what I thought the gym was going to be like. It is a little sad it took me 22 years to figure that out.

    1. I’m really glad you progressed to the point in which you could find a gym situation you feel comfortable with. It’s not easy, and the pressure one feels from being observed REALLY can be something you have to prep yourself for mentally. Today I’m going in to deadlift and hope I have an easier time of it than I did last time.

  2. I’ve run into this a lot at my university’s gym. I lift with two guys normally (in a local gym), so I’m used to being around and interacting with guys who powerlift. When I have to go to my school’s gym it becomes a sea of gender stereotypes. A girl on the squat rack is like seeing a dodo suddenly walk in the room. Maybe its partially because I’m from the deep South and the idea of a woman powerlifting is a little out of the norm and maybe its because I’m surrounded by people who are trying to get “pumped up” for the next session of bar hopping. I try to ignore it as well, but sometimes it just pisses me off. Some guys will simply ignore me, others will stare at me and looked confused, and some are just rude. They will literally step in my way when I’m squatting. Since I’m really short I have to step out of the rack to squat all the way down and they will crowd me anyway. If a guy did that, they would give them space. I’ve even had them laughing at me and my girlfriend who has also recently gotten into powerlifting. It is definitely a feeling of, “shouldn’t you be on an elliptical somewhere?” I always try to encourage women to go in the weight lifting section, do their business and try to ignore attitudes like this and to never be intimidated by guys.

    Great post! -Whitney

    1. Ugh, it SUCKS to have people THAT disrespectful to you in the gym, and I’ve experienced it. If you can just keep your head up, every time you have to deal with that sh*t gets easier. Even if it means guys think you’re, well, “witchy,” at some point you just can’t win. So I’m glad you maintain the confidence to get in there. A lot of women find it too intimidating initially to get beyond it and just do the work they need to do.

  3. Gosh I just don’t get it. I don’t bat a lash when I see a woman in the lifting area. I just don’t get why this stuff happens. The only time I would even think about it is if I saw someone kicking ass like you and would think “Damn I need to step up my game!” I love that you are able to overcome and do what you do, very inspiring. One thing I’m always trying to do is get woman off the cardio machines and into the weight room!

    1. I know so many men who think the way you do, so this whole issue really doesn’t bother me that much. It’s only when I get pretty obviously disrespectful treatment that I feel like discussing it, and recently this has happened a little more often than usual. I’m so glad you encourage women towards the weight room–that’s fantastic.

      1. It’s probably happening a lot right now because of the time of the year. Yesterday I was at the gym and it was packed in the weight room, only one woman there (and she was kicking some serious ass.) Couldn’t help but think of this! Thankfully I never saw anyone bothering her!

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