Toxic Masculinity in the Gym

Alondra Contreras, Columnist

Going to the Baker Ferguson Fitness Center has been full of interesting moments, and one that I can’t seem to shake off has been the toxic masculinity surrounding BFFC. As a woman, I often feel uncomfortable for entering the imaginary line past the cardio equipment and closer to the squat racks. Throughout my life, I have been exposed to weight lifting and cross training workouts, so I never felt like I did not belong in the weightlifting world until I came to Whitman. It is not uncommon for me to have my equipment taken away without permission and have my surrounding space infiltrated by men while working out at the BFFC. There were times where I had to stop working out because someone got in my way. Moments like these make me feel unwelcome in a common space. I see it throughout the gym, most women are on the cardio machines while the men are closer to the weightlifting equipment. When talking about this gender divide, it is not uncommon for other women on campus to express the same concerns.   

Illustration by Abby Takahashi

Being at the gym is also hyper-exposing. Whenever I am working on a hard movement, I feel extra eyes on me–it’s a fish bowl. I see other men either looking at my body, my form or making preconceived judgments about my strength. I have caught men staring at my butt as I walk around to gym. This sort of objectification makes me feel small and insignificant and it also distracts me from getting my workout in. I don’t know how or why a guy can enter the gym and feel entitled to inappropriately stare at any woman. The same rules apply whether someone is in a classroom or at the gym.

One would ask, how can we fix this gender divide and power dynamics at the gym? I believe there needs to be better gym etiquette. I think most people are pretty polite at the gym, there are just those few people that ruin it for the rest of the group. Number One, unrack all your weights and put your equipment away. Other than it being a nuisance, it brings another obstacle for women to not include weight lifting in their workout. Number Two, if there is a water bottle near a weightlifting area, ask around to see if someone is using–don’t just assume it is yours for the taking.  Number Three, stop the grunting! Yes, when lifting really heavy weights or doing an intense workout can cause people to grunt to release oxygen while maintaining muscle tightness, but when your grunts sound more like shrieks, it is not as effective. When you yell, it releases the contraction from your muscles and actually makes it harder to make the rep. So please, men and women, keep in mind the amount of space you take up in the gym, both vocally and physically.

Also side note: if you like someone and want to hook-up with them or date them, please just ask or talk to them. It makes it uncomfortable if there is no dialogue and the only interaction has been awkward unwanted gazes at the gym.