There's two reasons why you'll hardly ever find me at the gym. Number one, it's a little too much of a metallic, impersonal, finite experience for me. I like exercising that is also an activity, like bike riding, swimming, or hiking.
The second and more logistical reason is the unwarranted advances from men at the gym. A lot of us have been there. We're minding our business at a machine when you get that tap to your shoulder and signal to pull out your earphones. Other women report men making comments about their body, both negative and positive while they work out. Comments on their body or form would somehow always turn into a conversation about sex appeal. A personal favorite is when a man steps in to correct their form or offer their personal training surfaces. The approaching of somebody in their own corner, wearing ear phones is a particular head-scratcher to me, because it would take a considerable degree of obliviousness and disregard to social queues to approach someone so obviously sending signals they do not want to talk right now. Nonetheless, it happens more than you think.
Another phenomenon more and more women are catching on tape is men who film or take pictures of them while working out. I've seen several social media videos just the past week where women are confronting men who they found starring at them endlessly or even sneaking a photo or clip at the gym. In one video, a man approached a women taking a break on a bench and told her that her walk and form were very sexy. She thanked him uncomfortably and moved to put her airpods back in, but the man stated speaking again, reitterating his compliment. She thanked him again and moved to put in her earphones. The third time, he said something to the affect of, "after talking to you, you're actually really friendly and sweet and the rest of you must be pretty sexy too." If she had responded with verbal honesty about how uncomfortable she felt and told him off from the get-go, she probably would have been seen as an angry, reactionary female who should learn to take a compliment. Instead, she sent body language queues that were completely ignored. All this to say, a space for empowering the human body and finding strength should not simultaneously be a place where you are antagonized, ogled, and harassed.
One counter course to this issue is the introduction of women-only gyms. Uplift in Manhattan, for example, is a women-only gym that boasts a successful membership. The windows are tinted for privacy, the staff is inclusive, and the commodities for feminine hygiene as well as continued privacy are respected. Uplift's success is promising. Many women look forward to the introduction of more women-only gyms in the future.
Even still, there is opposition. For one, the videos I saw on TikTok had hundred of comments from men calling this segregation. The responses turned volatile, with intentions being questioned. If there are women only gyms, why can't there be men-only gyms? Personally, I'm fine with that. But I also think that calling a space designed to keep women safe from the unwanted advances and stalking "segregation" directly undermines the responsibility of the perpetrator. It's akin to statements like, "all lives matter." Why yes, they do, but Black lives are particularly targeted and threatened politically, economically, and socially. People want equality, but we can't have equality if we're not being honest about where certain groups are starting. The bigger issue to fix is the entitlement to women's time and bodies still deeply felt that means we are not yet equal. However, Rome isn't built in a day. Until we can deconstruct the systemic practices, language, mindsets, and ideologies that sustain predatory behavior, women do need to be protected in the meantime.
So here's my question. Are women-only gyms an effective strategy? What other solutions would you suggest? I don't have the answers to these questions, but hopefully this gets us thinking about how we can create a safer culture for women to use their bodies and build their strength without being targeted.