Last week, my fellow columnist Sophia Wushanley brought up an interesting observation: The workout areas of Pottruck are very segregated by gender. Often, you will find women predominately using the cardio machines on the first floor, while men tend to gravitate towards the weightlifting rooms.
Sophia pointed out that gendered expectations of the ideal physique may prevent women from seeking out weightlifting, and lead men to focus too heavily on strength training. Typically, men are expected to be muscular, while women should be lean.
However, I would like to offer another component to this phenomenon. Segregation in the gym may simply lead to a reinforcing cycle of social awkwardness.
When I check out the weight rooms, I don’t shy away because I am afraid of being too muscular. I know that it is good for my body to do resistance and weight training. I simply feel uncomfortable being the only woman there, precisely because of the embarrassment Sophia likened to walking into the wrong restroom. If I see other girls, I am much more likely to enter the weight room, instead of putting it off for another day, or attempting to return at a later point when the floor is less packed.
Of course I do not think I am in serious physical danger just by being in a room full of men. But one can’t help but feel like they stand out when they are in a minority.
I worried about looking like the smallish, confused girl in the gym who clearly did not belong. As someone who sporadically gets into workout routines only to drop them after a couple of weeks (academics being the usual excuse), I have often walked into the weight room not quite remembering how much weight I can comfortably use on particular machines, or how to properly position myself. I think it is normal, regardless of gender, to feel a bit intimidated when you are working out alongside someone who looks obviously stronger and more capable than you. But unfortunately, it is hard to separate gender from our ideas about physicality.
Female students at Pottruck have had various experiences. Christina Zhou, a College freshman, used to jog every day on the treadmills, but switched to swimming for a lower impact workout. “I would definitely feel uncomfortable being the only girl in the room if gaining muscle was my goal, but it’s not. I don’t want to be too muscular.” Barbara Jun, a College senior, doesn’t see much practicality in muscle training for real life situations. “There’s a tradeoff ... when you focus on muscle training you aren’t as good at cardio. If someone is going to rob me, I’m not going to fight them. I’m going to run.” She said that she would probably have to ask for help with some of the machines in the weight room, especially because of the risk of injury. “I would be unsure if I was doing it right ... I don’t want to embarrass myself.”
Just as we have gendered expectations for ourselves, we also have gendered expectations for others. If we as women think we should be focusing on cardio, we expect men to focus on muscle training. If men see muscle training as masculine, they may perceive other types of workouts, such as cardio, yoga and Pilates as “girly.” Sometimes, the first floor cardio machines are nearly all occupied, mostly by women. This then forces you to venture to another floor to work out, further maintaining the separation in the gym. As less women focus on strength training, the pattern will continue in order to avoid being out of place.
I know that by passing over the weight room more often than not, I am contributing to the problem. But I believe that being a good example will lead to a snowball effect. Normalizing all genders to be active participants in both cardio and strength training will further encourage well-balanced health, as well as social spheres.
So I have another suggestion. Be open to different types of workouts, but maybe bring a friend as well.
KATIERA SORDJAN is a College junior from New York studying communication. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Melting Pot” appears every other Tuesday.Comments powered by Disqus
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