Walking into a gym has never been my favourite experience. There is that smell that must be the universal fragrance of every single gym in the world. A cocktail of perspiration mixed with the rubbery scent of synthetic materials and a splash of dread. The inevitable moistness of the gym equipment leaves you quaking in your boots and questioning the morality of your fellow gym goers – I mean the paper towel dispenser is on the wall for a reason, right? And, worst of all, is the niggling concern of potential unwanted attention which, in truth, is none other than harassment.
Now, I don’t know about you, but my Instagram feed is filled with beautiful women, promoting gym-going in an attempt to encourage us to get fit and healthy. However, few talk about the realities of the gym experience as a female. Is this because harassment doesn’t happen to them, or more likely, is it because as women we have become so accustomed to just accepting harassment as the norm? This silence on the gym environment being a plateau of sexual harassment is beginning to change with recent news stories coming to light. Gymbox have recently gained attention in the media following an employee’s dismissive attitude to a female customers complaint over a male gym goers’ harassment toward her. “Testosterone levels are high during a workout, this means that reactions to certain situations can be a bit extreme, especially for men,” was the response of the Gymbox employee.
A study by GolfSupport found that a huge 78 percent of women feared harassment at the gym and a separate study by FitRated found that 71 percent experienced a form of harassment on a daily basis. These figures are worryingly high as it hints at the sheer volume of the female population that are perhaps avoiding the gym for fear of male attention.
There is something almost prehistoric about the gym environment which is a huge concern. This notion that the gym is a place for men, and women a spectacle within this, is hugely outdated, incredibly backward and harks back to a time when women were out of place in a pub, or anywhere really outside of the kitchen. Yet, the notion remains. The recent and shocking dismissal of a senior instructor at our University gym, over Whatsapp comments regarding the use of rape as a punishment for a customer not attending an exercise class, brings the issue frighteningly close to home.
I am always somewhat confused when visiting the gym by the amount of female gym goers displaying a full face of make-up, fit for the cover of Vogue, I personally can’t imagine anything worse than the gradual slip of make-up and sweat down your face. However, who am I to judge? But this is exactly the issue, many do judge, and many would change their appearance in response to the judgments and reactions that they receive within the gym. Whether this is wearing baggy tops and trousers in place of figure hugging, yet practical and comfortable crop tops and leggings, or stripping back the usual face of make-up. Women should be able to wear whatever they want in the gym without having to put up with unwanted advances due to the look of their ass in those purple Gymshark leggings.
The objectifying of women in a gym environment is incredibly demeaning and damaging to our society. A gym should be a place of empowerment and well-being, not a place to feel vulnerable and concerned about onlooking eyes. Grazia’s Georgia Aspinall, writes how “sexual harassment at the gym, ruined” her “relationship with exercise”, after she changed from a women’s only gym to a unisex gym. It is shocking the impact that harassment in gyms can change someone from enjoying a fitness routine to it becoming a cause of immense stress.
Women should not have to put up with the stares and the comments. We should not have to put with harassment. But this historic issue is deep rooted in our patriarchal society and is no doubt set to continue until the male species recognise the detrimental effect that their ‘harmless’ stares and comments have on the opposite gender. So, in the meantime, quit looking at my ass.
Image: Angelica Bair via Flickr