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.

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