Women in the Weight Room

There’s an ongoing debate on my campus about a program called “Women in the Wegith Room.” It takes place twice a week, Sunday afternoons (in which a female student worker volunteers her time to come in and work, because normally the gym wouldn’t be open on Sunday afternoons), and Tuesday evenings. Pretty much, it’s supposed to be a safe place for all women to come and workout without men around. Now, the reason the program was started was so that women could workout in a safe place. Many women feel it’s a safe place because it’s an all-female atmosphere, with women teaching them how to use the equipment in case they didn’t feel comfortable at other times. Others because they have been sexually assulted, often times by a male student. This is meant to be a safe enviornment.

Last year, a male student tried to get into Women in the Weight Room, saying he identified as a woman, and should be allowed in. Though in this particular case, the male student admitted to pretending to be transgendered to prove a point, it started an ongoing debate about the existance of Women in the Weight Room. Last year they held open forums on what the school should do, and students came to express their opinions. A large number of men on campus thought that it wasn’t fair to them that they be excluded. The Women in the Weight Room coordinators pointed out that it was only 4 hours a week that they were not allowed to come (including 2 hours that the gym wouldn’t otherwise be open to anyone). After last spring, I thought that most of the debate had ended. Women in the Weight Room continued to occur.

Last night I recieved a facebook invited to an event that was eloquently titled, “Fuck Ladies’ Night in the Gym!” I immediately got angry at the phrasing, and went to the event to see what the hell was going on. Turns out one of the international students doesn’t think women should have their own time in the Gym and is boycotting it by getting together a group of men to infiltrate the program.

I have never been sexually assaulted. And I have stopped caring who is in the gym when I go. But all the same, I love going to Women in the Weight Room. One of my women friends would only go to Women in the Weight Room because she had been sexually assulted by a student. That student also happened to be the male student who pretended to be transgendered to try to get into the program. For her, it was a matter of feeling safe whether Women in the Weight Room continued. I feel like it is important that we give the women on our campus this safe haven.

Not only would I like to hear your opinions on this program, but I’d also like to ask advice: how should I respond to the international student, a man who is my friend, who wants Women in the Weight Room to end? I didn’t know what to do, and as of yet, I have not responded. I feel strongly that this program should continue, and I feel like he should understand why it’s around (since he wasn’t here last year to hear the debate). What should I say? And what do you all think?


28 thoughts on “Women in the Weight Room

  1. Hiya – came over from Shakesville.
    If those men are planning to “infiltrate” the program, can’t a case be made that they’re being threatening / harassing the group? Would it not be similar to a group of men deciding that it’s “not fair” that they’re not allowed into the women’s changing rooms, and trying to “infiltrate” that space?
    I suppose what I’m really saying is, can’t you get the gym to tell these men to fuck off?
    As for your friend… well, I’d just decline the invitation and explain why privately. Or as an RSVP, if you want to get really vocal about it!

  2. My school actually got around this by making it a class (that and the school gym here SUCKS). I took it, it was awesome.

    As far as sexual assault victims, that makes sense, but really, is the gym so deserted at all other times that it’s dangerous? Why is the gym so much more dangerous than any other place? That I don’t understand. I think the real problem is that your friend was assaulted and the preparator wasn’t EXPELLED. If he’s trying to get into the gym, she probably sees him around campus too.

    My cinema department at my school is in a basement and people are often there, many times by themselves at 4 or 5 in the morning. I guess I just don’t understand why this sort of thing is needed at a gym for assault victims more than anywhere else. I liked my women’s weight training class because there wasn’t the stupid macho behavior I see from guy’s at the gym normally.

    Many women simply don’t feel comfortable lifting weights with men. That should be reason enough. But I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a men’s weight training time as well. I can see guy’s feeling the need to try and impress women as well.

  3. The reason that Women in the Weight Room is a safe space is because the women don’t want to see their assault-ers in the gym. It’s not that anyone’s afraid of being assaulted while at the gym, really. It’s never deserted, and that’s the problem because people see their perpetrators all the time there, in a place that’s very body-conscious and centered.

    And yes, this underlies a problem with my school that many perpetrators of sexual assault aren’t expelled. It’s pretty bad, but I think they’re changing things under a new Dean of Students…

    Anyway, thanks for the help.

  4. As a woman who lifts weights in my school gym, I’d say that EVERY DAY is “Men in the Weight Room” day. Why should there not be four hours for women?

    Our weight room is usually crowded with men. I seem to be the only woman who uses the free weights. And as empowered as I usually am, there had been days in the beginning that I let the male crowd drive me away. They seemed hostile, in that they were not yielding personal space to me in the same way a crowd of women would have. Eventually I got over my fear and would simply ask them to move, to make room. But I can completely understand how women who are not used to moving within a male space like this one would not want to do that!

    Women and men in our society have been trained to use space very differently. The weight room is a male dominated space. Your program reframes that space in a way that makes the environment welcoming to women in a way that it NEVER is otherwise. This is aside from the safety concerns that have been listed above.

    I see “Women in the Weight Room” as a gateway to regular use of the weight room. Once a woman has developed the knowledge and confidence to use the equipment she’ll be more able to take her place in the room even when it is full of pumped up men. But first she has to learn how to do lift weights, and she won’t be able to do that in a male crowd.

    Weight training is uniquely helpful to women, building bone density that protects us from osteoperosis. Heck, just that might be the seed of a health-based reason for this program.

  5. I’d suggest to the protesting men that they set up Men in the Weight Room. They can find a male student to volunteer his time.

    If women have set up a program (with volunteer labor, no less!) that they enjoy and use, there is evidently a need for it. Men who protest this are being “dogs in the manger”. If they want their own program, it is their responsibility, NOT women’s responsibility, to make it happen. Challenge them to do this and they may suddenly go quiet.

  6. My husband says “It’s a double-standard. If a guy tries to create a guys-only time or space, it’s not allowed because it excludes women. This mindset of double-standard is maybe where some of the men in that facebook group are coming from. I understand why the women want that space and time and I respect that but it IS a double-standard.”

  7. Well another reason for women to want to work out without men around is that many men can’t seem to stop themselves from treating women like sex objects even when they are doing something as normal as working out.

    (Hell I once caught one of my male roommates checking me out while I was cleaning the catbox.)

    Some women just aren’t comfortable working out with men around because they sexually objectify them. Especially in the gym where you are often wearing tight clothes and moving in weird positions, so on and so forth.

    Perhaps if the men were also given 8 hours of “men only” time in the gym, that would help settle the issue.

    But then I can see how it would be frustrating to go to work out on a Tuesday and find out you couldn’t because you were a guy. Especially with how weird school schedules can be, maybe they can’t go another weeknight because they have evening classes or something.

    Is there a way to share some of the gym space on Tuesday without violating the whole point of the program?

    Maybe there is a local gym nearby that would be willing to host “girls only” hours for students for some kind of fee? or even better a girls only gym?

    (Hell, quit school, open a small women only gym with super cheap membership for college students!!)

  8. If a guy tries to create a guys-only time or space, it’s not allowed because it excludes women.

    When women are adequately represented in and offered the same opportunities in upper management positions, hiring and benefits, athletic organizations, student health care, scholarships, graduation rates, etc… then guys can complain about a double standard.

    Another reason to support a women’s only gym time: Religious beliefs. Muslim women, for example, have to cover from head to toe and wear a head scarf in mixed company, which kind of makes it hard to go jogging or swimming. In a women-only environment, clothing restrictions are not as stringent for these women.

    Colleges still offer sex-segregated dorm rooms for precisely the same reason the gym offers women-only sessions: safety and comfort of its students. Do women’s only dorm halls unfairly exclude men? Should women have access to men’s bathrooms when the lines are too long in the ladies rooms?

  9. Men have as much right to point out double standards as women do, to say they don’t is discriminatory. It seems to me the fair and equitable solution is to offer “men only” times as well.

  10. Donna, I agree, but I also agree that in this case, the men should create their own time. The program was conceived by women for women, and is run voluntarily by women (who do not get paid for their time). So, in order for men to have the same time, they have to start their own program.

  11. Does your international student friend GET how utterly ubiquitous harrassment of women by men is? (not all men, just enough men to make it unusual for a woman not to have been harrassed) and what harm this does to women’s psyches?

    If he gets it, why in the world would he be against a harrassment-free space for women? (especially if men get the opportunity to have a Gentleman’s night)

    If he does not get it, then I think your answer is to make him get it. Make him understand what it’s like to be a woman and frequently the subject of all kinds of harrassment. Are there not some good articles on the subject to help men understand how women are routinely harrassed and what effects this has on them?

  12. Ugh. As a graduate of a womens college these kinds of situations irritate the hell out of me. I thought this was a debate on par with the Michigan Womyn’s Festival where there are legitimate concerns.

    Rachel said it best. When women are offered the same opportunities and men learn they don’t OWN space in the gym, in the classroom, in the workplace, or on the bus-maybe then we can talk about a double standard. Until then, men should enjoy their privilege of being able to walk after dark safely, be able to participate in a class freely without someone talking over them, have more access to transportation, and not having to choose between work and caring for their family.

    Seriously. I work teach this age group. Every time a male student uses his physical height to intimidate because he doesn’t like his grade, talks over me, interrupts a female student who’s trying to make a point, or I hear that a sexual predator is trying to infiltrate a women’s only gym class I thank G@d i made the decision to attend a womens college (which by the way, allowed men over 21 to attend just to the ‘double standard’ folks don’t get worried)

  13. These women are in no way obligated to “play fair”! I agree with the comments that remarked upon other gym times being “guys time” and that men are unwilling to relinquish their space.

    Forcing the program to also cater to men is ludicrous as the people who hijacked “Take your Daughter to Work Day.” The whole point is to create a few hours of safe space within which women can work out without being threatened or objectified. It’s FOUR HOURS. Guys need to get over it, or go build a No Girls Allowed treehouse or something to make themselves feel better.

  14. I think the men should be allowed to create a guys only time with their own volunteers. Both sexes can feel constrained around the other in clothes as revealing as gym clothes tend to be. The solution is definitely not to allow the men in to the women’s time though; I don’t think it’s necessary to point out other areas of discrimination, just that it’s a good way to let women get confidence and time in the gym, which they would otherwise be unlikely to get.

  15. I am a woman and I absolutely understand the feelings of the women who participate in this program. It *is* intimidating to go into the weight room of my gym being as it’s 99-100% men in there at any given time. I can’t say I’ve felt exactly ‘threatened’ but I have felt out of place.

    However, I also understand why men might be put off by having a section of the gym closed to them even if only for a two hour period. I think a better solution in this case (and something I’d love to see at my gym) would be to have one or two times per day when a woman-led group for women could meet to go en masse to the weight room and just do what they do, *while* the men and whoever else are in there. I know a program like that would help me build more confidence in thinking of the weight room as ‘my space’ regardless of who was on the weight machine next to me.

  16. Personally I think the solution is to tell your protesting friend that he’s being a selfish, sexist idiot and he’ll just have to live with 4 hours a week where the gym isn’t exclusively male territory. Don’t get me wrong, I hear people on the idea that some men feel things like this are unfair to them, but the solution isn’t to accomodate and placate those men, the solution is to tell them to stop being entitled idiots.

    Do the protesters know that a student who actually sexually assaulted another student tried to force his way into the program? If not pointing that out to them might be a useful wake up call.

  17. I lift free weights in a university gym. 90% of the time I am the only female in the free weight room. Apart from a group of ill-informed boys doing curls in the squat rack, I have never had an issue with men in the gym. Sure they take up space, discuss their plans to get laid that evening, an how the girl in their first class that just isn’t pretty enough for them, but in all honesty, I really don’t care. They have the freedom to talk with their gym buddies, and I have the freedom to think their idiots! Everyone has to start somewhere, and everyone looks foolish the first time they set foot in a weight room: male or female. So what if you don’t “do-it-right” the first time in the presence of men. Why is embarrasing yourself in front of other women different than in mixed company.

    As a feminist, I dislike the unequal treatment of men and women. I don’t think it’s right to exclude males from a public place on campus, to make “women only” time. It’s not right and it’s not fair.

    “But what about the girl who was assaulted by a guy?” you ask. This is what the legal system is for: to punish those who do wrong, rather than 50% of the population.

  18. A few people have mentioned that the men should creat their own time because it isn’t fair for women to have women only time and men not to have men only time. The thing is, it seems obvious to me from that post that the men don’t want men only time, they want for women to not be allowed women only time. They’re not looking at the setup and thinking “Gosh, what a good idea, let’s make men only time”, they’re thinking “Gosh, a time when I can’t go in the gym, damn those women, I should always be allowed in the gym, it’s my space!”. It’s not about being fair because man-only space can never be the same as woman only space.

    Women only space, in this context, is about taking a traditionally male area, the kind of space that, if a women went into it, she would expect to meet barriers, to be viewed as an obejct and harassed by the men using the space. To be intimidated and excluded. To have presumptions made about her by the men using the space. Because it is man’s space. Making man-only time wouldn’t serve the same purpouse as men walking into the gym know they’ll be among other men. They know they won’t be treat as objects, as idiots. They know they won’t have eyes boring into them as they work. Women’s only space is about having the freedom to be ourselves without having to respond, anticipate and perform to the male gaze.

    As for dealing with your friend, I would ask him why he feels so threatened by this. Is it something simple, like that days is the only time he can use the gym, in which case you could explain the importance of the space for the women who use it to him and maybe help him restructure his schedule or find another gym. Does he really want a man-only time in which case you can put him in touch with someone to maybe set this up? Or is he just being reationary becasue, for two hours, he isn’t boss of the world, in which case you smack him upside of his head and explain to him that women are people too.

  19. I agree Chrissy, the guys should arrange the guy only time for themselves. I don’t think this program has to make a place for the guys, just that the men should be allowed equal “men only” time if they wish it.


    I am an assistant prof at a large state university and have observed female students talking over other students, both male and female, as well as talking over me, the prof. I have also had female students attempt to intimidate me, thought it was not due to height. I get far more complaints from female students than male students about their grades. And actually none of that has anything at all to do with whether or not male and female students should be able to have male only or female only time in the gym if they wish to. Inappropriate behavior by some men in some situations doesn’t make it okay to discriminate against men in other situations any more than inappropriate behavior by some women in some situations makes it okay to discriminate against women.

  20. Donna it must be the part of the country or something because I’m not the only instructor/prof that has mentioned this issue in my department.

    I don’t buy the idea that men are being discriminated against for a measly four hours. Frankly, I think the discrimination complaints are on par with the old ‘why do they have Black Entertainment channel. Why can’t we have a White Entertainment channel’.

    These guys are just mad that their control of space has been challenged.

  21. Pingback: End of the Week Links — 3/1/09 «

  22. I have a few thoughts regarding both the article and the comments made about it.

    First of all, frankly it sounds to me like the guys in this case are being obstructionist jack asses. Especially as regards the use of the gym on Sunday, when it would normally be closed.

    In my opinion the easiest way to shut them down is to as others have suggested, suggest that they petition for a “males only” time of equal length. Those who are only interested in balance should take to the suggestion those who aren’t will hopefully either shut up or will just press on making total asses out of themselves.

    Now as to some of the commentators on this article, you cannot repair the effects of discrimination with more discrimination. Period. This is a fallacy of a particularly American kind. The belief that there can be perfect redress for past wrongs, perfect justice for past injustices. Sometimes the only thing that you can do is to try to bring things back to fair and balanced and then go forward.

    However, that does not always mean that everything has to be directly inclusionary. For example. Take Our Daughters To Work day. It was exclusionary and sexist. However I think a better solution would have been to have crafted one day for daughters and one day for sons. Those who talk about the history of sexual discrimination and how that degraded the claims of those who had problems with the exclusionary nature of the original concept, totally missed the point. With women increasingly taking their place in the workforce, what better way to shape young male minds than by having them come to work to see what Mommy does?

    The bottom line is that fairness, balance, and inclusion whenever possible is the solution to redress the imbalances and injustices of the past. Not more sexism, elitism, and exlusion. It’s just that simple.

  23. “Infiltrating the programme” spells rape-analogy to me, I’m sorry to say. Who the hell do they think they are, since they feel the right to force their way into a women only space?! Hows about some empathy?! Of course they should respect it instead of feeling self-righteous and entitled. Assholes. And the perpetrator-guy who tried to get inside claiming that he’s a woman on the inside? He seems crazy to me, and determined to continue to make women feel uncomfortable and insecure.

    I do agree on the suggestion made: suggest men only nights at the gym, equal to the that of the women. There’s nothing preventing them from arranging that themselves.

  24. Why the heck can’t they understand what it’s about? If your college shuts it down, I’ll be very disappointed! C’mon! It’s a place with a lot of sweaty strong men! It would creep me out to know that there’s a bunch of guys wanting to get in there! It looks like sexual harrassment! Can’t you sue them??? They have no respect for women!

    That’s what theyand you don’t seem to get! It’s for safety and for women to feel comfortable!!!! Men don’t feel uncomfortable in the presence of women while working out! WOMEN DO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Tell your male “friends” that! Why should they be allowed in? Why should they have their own time??? THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED FOR IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. Sexism is sexism. If you don’t speak up and say something, people think that what they are doing is okay. In Dallas, Bally Total Fitness had a female only workout room. I didn’t care. I worked out there and complained to the corporate office. Eventually they stopped doing it.

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