Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Gender in the Gym

This is totally inspired by Babyeater Lifts recent post.  While I don't want to get into a big argument or diatribe about what it's like to be a woman who lifts in a university gym, I can certainly share my experience.

I first tried lifting late in my undergraduate years.  There was a lab I worked in and for whatever reasons I can't recall now, I made plans to meet my labmate at the gym early one morning.  He was going to teach me how to work out, as all I ever did prior was a lot of cycling.  He never showed, but the attendant taught me a bunch of stuff, likely to stave off boredom, but it was enough to get me interested.  I started to go more regularly.  I can't really remember what I did early on, probably just played with machines a lot.  Eventually I ran into a guy at the gym that I knew by sight and slightly intersecting social circles, and he started chatting with me.  This led first to a pleasant friendship and workout partnership.  Then his occasionally amusing compliments grew more and more lascivious in nature.  I was young and stupid and not very assertive, so instead of telling the guy off, I just stopped going to the gym.

A lot of years have passed between that time and my walking back into a weight room this past summer.  I'm older, proudly bitchier, and I grew more spine.  I studied a lot of online videos so I'd have a clue what I was doing when I went into the weight room, and the place in the summer is conveniently underpopulated, so I never really had to fight for space or equipment.  I've lived a number of years where I stood out visually; by virtue of hair, clothes, jewelery, and ink.  As a result I've become very able to just ignore people's reactions to me in shared space.  It means I'll never notice some hottie giving me an invitation to say hello, but it also means that I can tune out some guy giving me stink-eye for bringing a pair of ovaries into "his" gym.  Being a climber also helps, as the demographic of that community still skews to the 20-something male (although admittedly it's been changing rapidly since I first harnessed up), so the social group I find in a university weight room is familiar.

There are times that I am acutely aware of how I stand out in the weight room.  When it's crowded it's always a total bitch to fight for equipment, and I can't help wonder if men waiting for a rack are given the same sort of impatience that I receive.  Sometimes the gender imbalance is to my favour, however, as being viewed as weak, I am never asked to spot.  I also know that I've made at least one friend because he was inspired to talk to me after enjoying watching me do squats.  Certainly when I first started climbing at a naval base gym, I never had to wait long for a belay.

I guess overall, there were times when my being female was something that caused problems in the gym, in that I was uncomfortable being watched and objectified.  Since then I've become a lot more thick-skinned and eager to assert my right to place.  My gender has become less of an issue to myself as I've gained self-confidence and a feminist "fuck you" attitude.  As to how the boys in the weight room deal with it, I couldn't give a rat's ass.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Things I Thought Of At the Gym Yesterday

I hate it when the semester is fresh starting so all the kids are back and have nothing better to do than create crowds at the gym.

Waiting for a squat rack is a big pile of bull shit.

Boys become whiney little bitches when you chase them out of a squat rack for doing deadlifts.

Many boys seems unwilling or unable to squat fully; they just sort of crouch down a bit.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Lacking Context

The other day I went to my climbing gym.  It was a day that I wasn't there to meet anyone in particular, I just went to boulder on a night when it was likely some of the climbing friends I made would be there.  I climbed.  I was having fun, although not climbing particularly well, and being that the group of people I liked had conglomerated around one wall, I joined them and worked on a problem there that some others were playing on.  

There was this other woman there (I'll call her Condi) who had not been to that particular gym before, although she was clearly an experienced climber.  She was with a couple I had definitely seen in the gym a number of ties, but hadn't previously socialised with.  This triad eventually moved to the wall I was playing on with my friends, and Condi did the problem I was playing on after a number of tries and was playing on something else.  One of my friends got the problem and she was really excited about it.  I was close, but there was something in the last couple of moves that I wasn't figuring out.  My group eventually cleared out, but I gave the problem a few more tries, changing up what I was doing at the end, looking for the way that would work for me.  Condi had a lot of opinions and suggestions which she shared freely. 

Climbers refer to information on a climb as "beta".  My opinion about beta is that one should be open to sharing it, like they would chalk (oddly some people don't share chalk, either).  One has to be careful, and not shove a lot of beta at a person who wants to figure out a climb on their own, or worse, someone who's not really had a chance to try the climb yet.  I have always tried really hard to ask someone new to me if they want beta, or waited until they asked for some, before I've given it.  In the case of this problem, I wasn't figuring out the ending sequence, so at first I really didn't mind the beta Condi was tossing. 

It got a little annoying, however, when she started to say shit like, "Sometimes you've just got to feel the way your body wants to move and go with it."  This is not necessarily bad or wrong advice (despite sounding stupidly flakey), but it's stuff than at experienced climber already knows.  It's like reminding an adult to wash their hands after going to the washroom.  Condi moved on in a comparable vein saying things that I'm sure she thought were kind and encouraging, like "We all have bad days, I'm sure you'll get it next time." and "The numbers don't really mean anything."  I kept my mouth shut, but it really started to piss me off.  Because I've been climbing for years and used to be pretty good at it, all the crap she was coming up with just came out as bloody condescending.  

I ended up making a point of talking to Condi about having broken my ankle last year and having a bunch of health issues this year.  This stuff is none of her damn business, and I hate making excuses, but I really wanted to get it into her skull that she was making assumptions about me that were completely off base.  I wanted to try to open her mind to the notion that maybe not everyone who is climbing poorly is new.

The whole thing, however, has left me with a nagging unease.  Have I done anything like this?  Have I tried to talk up someone I didn't know and inadvertently insulted them?  Have I treated someone like they didn't know what they were doing when they had some invisible disability that was hampering them?  I feel like I need to look a little more closely at myself and my own motivations for opening my mouth.  In the case of Condi, I really can't be certain if she was genuinely trying to make me feel better, or if she was trying to prop herself up as the cool and welcoming expert to the bumbling ingĂ©nue she took me for.

When I first began to climb, I was welcomed and helped so much by the climbing community that was in place at the time.  I knew people who gave me excellent coaching when I needed it, and genuinely encouragement.  I met folks who could be as thrilled by a beginner's victory over a V1 as they could by a strongman's completion of a V9.  These people helped me and shaped me and gave me something that has changed my life for the better.  I would rather be one of those people than someone who judges without information and ends up belittling.  I will be trying hard in the future to keep my eyes open and my mouth shut.