Calling on women to reclaim the Fitness Center from bullies

by Meret Patrenos

want to start this off by saying that the Fitness Center staff has been supportive, inclusive and kind.

Now, the clientele on the other hand, are another story. I have had some horrible experiences working out in the Fitness Center, being bullied and intimidated by some of the men.

I work out most often during midday or the late afternoon. During those times, the Fitness Center is busy, full of men and women of different skill levels. Most of the women tend to congregate on the side with the cardio machines like the treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes, and most of the men tend to congregate on the side with the weight machines and free-weights.

I guess I am an anomaly, I am a woman who prefers weight training.

This tends to disturb and confuse some of the men on the free-weight side.

During my midday and late afternoon workouts, I have become accustomed to most men treating me rudely. 75 percent of the men are either confused, flirtatious, mean, offended by my presence, or act like I have deliberately inconvenienced them.

The other 25 percent are either minding their own business and share the weights with common courtesy, or are even friendly without crossing the creeper-line.

Even though I didn’t feel like I was asking for too much, I have become used to most of the men being rude, thus making my routine workout consistently uncomfortable.

And then, I tried working out in the evenings. My experiences have been awful.

On one especially awful evening, I entered the Fitness Center like usual, the staff behind the desk was friendly and took my ID as usual, and then my usual workout routine changed for the worse.

I warmed up and made my way to the free-weight side.

The fitness center had far less people than I was used to, so I was happy to see one of the Smith machines for flat bench-press was open.

I guess none of the men in same area had even seen a women lift weights before because the stares were brutal. Now to clarify, these weren’t “Wow! You’re impressive!”, or even “Wow! You’re attractive!” these were scary.

There were about six men in the same area, and I caught all of them staring and glaring at me. Now, I’m used to less-than friendly treatment anyway, but with the way these men were looking at me, I felt myself shrinking. I was becoming intimidated. How dare I workout!

So I finished with my upper-body workout, then I did the unthinkable, started working on… lower-body. Heaven forbid!

These men were flat out glaring at me. Every move I’d make preparing my weights, they’d follow me with their cold hateful eyes. I’d turn and the anger in their faces appalled me. What had I done?

And then, it got worse! I was preparing to squat (which requires a lot of space, for those who don’t know—not just the space of the Smith machine, but the bar used to squat sticks out about a foot on either side of the machine). It is common courtesy and common sense for others in the area to steer clear, other wise you risk getting hit with the bar, hurting yourself, and the person who is squatting.

Continuing with this common sense and common courtesy, if there is something you really want or want to do in the area of someone else, you get it, and move somewhere else.

I was surprised when I was all prepped and ready to squat 125 pounds when one of these men sat right up against the Smith machine to do bicep curls.

Standing there with 125 pounds on my shoulders, I asked him if he could move.

He stared at me. How dare I speak to him!

I said I was going to squat, I didn’t want the bar to hit the top of his head, which it clearly would have.

His stare of offense became a glare as he scooted the chair and his weights away.

As a woman with big hips and strong legs, I love squatting. I’m good at it; it is fun! But being the only woman in the company of these hateful men, each time I squatted the tension became palpable.

For those who don’t know, squatting requires raising and lowering yourself with your legs and tends to make one’s derrière especially noticeable while working out. How dare I squat in their presence!

I’d had enough, I’d had a decent workout, I was going to stretch and get out.

Going over to the side for stretches, I sat down and started doing some yoga.

It was nice, it was relaxing… and then I looked up. This man, old enough to be my father walked by, paused a moment by me to glare down at me.

The disgust and offense on his face was so confusing. How dare I do yoga!

Enough is enough. I grabbed my stuff and on my way out I asked the Fitness Center staff if there was a time or place that was women-only. They told me about the women’s weight training classes that I’m actually already enrolled in.

I told them I was already in that class, and about how I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with these rude men.

The staff was sympathetic and told me to speak up to them or one of the trainers immediately whenever that happens.

I thank you jerk-men for making me feel so unsafe that I almost called Public Safety.

On this note, I call on all women for help in reclaiming the Fitness Center from the 75 percent of men who are bullies.

It is time for these jerks to learn how to share and to play nice.

I send a sincere thanks to the Fitness Center staff for being there for me since then.

2 Comments on “Calling on women to reclaim the Fitness Center from bullies”

  1. Good article. I know the feeling. As a women that also enjoys weights, I too get the looks. But, I know they are just jealous. When I warm up I love to watch their form. Yes, some are in correct form, but it usually it the guys without a clue (you know the ones that try to lift way too much weight and get their entire body into that curl) that are the obnoxious ones. I snicker to myself a lot. The only time it does bother me is the one that will come up behind you and try to correct your form…hum no thanks…and then if you don’t except their of offer they will talk loudly to their buddy’s about your form and how you should be doing it. But, then I just look in the mirror and look at them and snicker inside again.

  2. I was puzzled about your subject matter. I have been a member of the GCC fitness center every semester for eight years, I’ve taken weight training with Mr. Henry, exercise science with Kevin Shepard and I enjoy the environment of the fitness center very much. We have all shapes and sizes, all levels of ability and disability, we have young and old and everywhere in between and such awesome diversity! Most importantly, we have people doing their best to get in shape or stay that way, to regain health after illness, to manage stress of life and school and work…. I also am one of the many women who lift free weights. We are experienced and we feel a sense of common positive energy working together with others who are reaching goals and setting new ones. Strength and accomplishment speak for themselves and they are incredible encouragers of effort. Let them be what we hear from you. See you on the South side of the FC.

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