Our University gym plays a significant role in many students lives, whether it’s as part of a sports club, for their own wellbeing or as a stress reliever. There is often talk about the lack of gym space for the thousands of St Andrews students or the price of a yearlong membership, but an issue I myself have found increasingly undeniable is the lack of woman using the weight room because they are made to feel uncomfortable.
I remember at the beginning of my first year, while using the gym for the first time, I went to have a look at the weight room. I admittedly am not a frequent gym bug, and I am rather inexperienced with the equipment. Nonetheless, I decided to have a look at the weight room. I went to the door and had a look in only to find it packed with men. I’m not overly confident in the gym anyway, but instead of going in I made the stupid decision of turning around and walking away. I honestly couldn’t give you one specific reason why, but I trace it back to a mixture of not wanting to feel the embarrassment of not being able to work the machines and also not wanting to be stared down by a room of boys.
At first, I put this down to my own nerves or being self-conscious, but it became apparent that I wasn’t the only woman to feel gym intimidation in regard to the male dominated weight room. It’s become globally stereotyped that men are more likely to use the weight room whereas women seemingly stick to cardio. There is an evident gym gender gap pushing woman out of using the weight room which robs them their desired workout. To say the least walking into a weight room crowded with men and being the only woman can be extremely intimating. There is an increased pressure to succeed if you’re using this room. Some have even said there is a requirement to prove why you’re there in the first place. This all seems particularly unfair in a room that is meant for everyone. Why is there an unspoken male dominance in a room designed for everyone’s health and wellbeing?
I’m now in the second semester of my 2nd year and although I’ve begun to gym less (purely down to my own lack of time), I am fortunate to have many friends who do actively workout and are part of sports clubs. I wanted to speak with women within the University and hear their experiences. They did not disappoint and further proved the fact there is a gendered environment within our University’s gym. I had my friends send out a survey to various sports clubs and when asked if they have ever felt or been made to feel uncomfortable while using the weight room almost 70% of women agreed that yes, they do. Just over two thirds. The number was undeniable. Woman were less likely to enter the weight room than men.
When further asked what in particular made them uncomfortable, their answers although differing, all had a similar link. They felt uncomfortable due to the male dominated atmosphere. They listed the reasons for this as men staring and judging them, the fact there were no other girls in there, not wanting to make a mistake in front of the other users and that guys had judged woman for even using the weights in the first place. One girl said when she went into the packed room to begin her workout instead of giving her space, male users stood close by and watched until she was finished. Not only did she feel extremely uncomfortable, but she was encouraged to end her workout early.
When further asked why woman feel uncomfortable in the weight room in general, all the answers aligned with what was previously said. Woman feel that men usually lift more so when woman use the room they are made to feel like they are wasting time. Almost all the answers I received mentioned male dominance, the problem being stereotypes and male judgement surrounding this room. There are obviously some historical societal standards being kept at bay here that make it difficult for woman to break through the male dominated room. Even if it is unintentional, men can make women feel overwhelmed and less confident in what they are doing.
In writing this, I am not trying to start a debate over weights vs cardio when it comes to men and women, but simply to highlight the clear gender divide in gyms–not just at this University but universally. It applies basic constructed gender stereotypes to weightlifting and its association with masculinity. Woman are expected to look a certain way or work out a certain way and this has to stop! Working out in any shape or form not only helps physical fitness but also mental health in relieving stress, and no one should be limited in the way they choose to work out based on societal norms. The gym at this University is one that is open to anyone and everyone’s use no matter who they are. We cannot and will not be limited and certainly shouldn’t feel pressured by anyone else’s “standards”. Just look at all the inspiring female weightlifters out there. Let’s make the weight room a place for anyone and everyone and let’s stop these false ideas of masculinity and femininity now for the better.