Finding the motivation to go to the gym isn’t easy for anyone. But it can be much harder for women, for reasons that have nothing to do with actually working out.
Knowing they’re likely walking into a hornet’s nest of people (men) who will bother, critique, stare at, or otherwise annoy them is an unfortunate reality for many female gym-goers.
About 14% of women say they’re intimidated by the possibility of men leering or judging them while they work out, according to research done by Cosmopolitan Body in 2014. The problem gets even worse in the weights section, which is typically overrun with men. The survey discovered almost half of all women found the area intimidating because of “the people who use it.”
Anecdotal evidence backs that up. Reddit and fitness discussion forums are rife with women asking for advice on dealing with men at the gym who gawk, flirt, interrupt, or even harass them. The common (and quite depressing) responses: develop a “resting bitch face,” learn to be super rude, get better at ignoring people, or report these men to gym management.
Instead, we ought to be reminding men they don’t own the gym; women shouldn’t have to “put up with” rude behavior or “find a way” to not attract attention. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if women didn’t have to deal with harassment at all?
So, fellow dudes and fellow gym go-ers, I implore you, think for a second about what women go through at the gym. And if you catch yourself or your friends doing any of this stuff, please cut it out.
1. Women can tell when you’re staring at them, and it’s not as flattering as you think.
Making a woman feel “on display” by leering when she’s just trying to get a workout in is a surefire way to make her feel uncomfortable or even scared. And no, tight pants and sports bras aren’t an invitation.
Think a lingering glance here and there isn’t a big deal? Upworthy reader Meredith Cantrell says many of the women she knows actually drive to “gay neighborhoods” to work out so they won’t be gawked at.
Totally unnecessary if guys can learn to keep our eyes to ourselves.
2. Women go to the gym to work out (like everyone else) — not speed-date between sets.
It’s not that you can’t meet that special someone at the gym, but there’s a time and a place. Flirting with a woman at the gym when she’s in the middle of lifting weights or grinding out miles on the treadmill is neither the time nor place.
Not only is it super rude to interrupt (honestly, you’re not going to get a good response doing this anyway), it’s also pretty dangerous to distract someone while they’re, say, holding the equivalent of their own bodyweight on their back while doing squats. Yet, incredibly, it happens all the time.
A good rule of thumb: When someone’s wearing headphones, it usually means they don’t want to talk to anyone. Even you, handsome.
3. When women lift heavy weights, guys around them get insecure and lash out.
Reader Emma Johnson writes that one day, while working with her trainer, she hit a pretty impressive 250-kilogram leg press (over 550 pounds — go Emma!). A jealous guy standing nearby couldn’t help but chime in, “Yeah, but you’re doing it wrong.”
Look, guys, women are strong. Sometimes they will be stronger than you. Deal with it like an adult and get back to work on your own fitness goals.
4. Unsolicited advice isn’t helpful. It’s insulting.
When people want help, they’ll ask, or they’ll hire a personal trainer. In the meantime, worry about your own “form.” OK?
Laurna Robertson says she was talking to a “persistent guy” in the sauna at her gym one day when the subject of running came up. After sharing their respective half-marathon times (Laurna was faster, by the way), the man “generously” offered to coach her. What a guy!
Sophia Bromfield adds, “I have a corner in the gym to hide while I lift,” but one day a dude stood next to her until she took her headphones off, then insisted on teaching her proper lunge form.
This is the gym version of mansplaining. It’s annoying and insulting. Don’t do it.
5. Some guys just don’t know when to go away. Others are straight-up bullies.
Being “overly friendly” with questionable motivations is one thing, but some women find men at the gym can be downright nasty, purposefully intimidating them or boxing them out so they’ll leave.
The gym is a shared space. Other people pay money to go there, just like you. If you don’t want to be around other humans, buy a home gym.
Also, beware of unconscious behaviors like “manspreading,” taking up more room than you need, or stealing someone’s weights before they’re done with them.
6. These behaviors aren’t just annoying. They can be extremely intimidating.
At a certain point, these behaviors cross the line from rude and inappropriate to downright scary.
Ashley Loshbough writes that a man once came up to her (asking her to remove her headphones, which, just ugh) and said, “Wow, I wish I had beautiful [pale] skin like yours,” stared for a moment, then walked off.
It might sound funny and harmless, but this is the kind of thing that has women looking over their shoulder in the parking lot and wondering if they should ever come back to that gym again.
A little empathy goes a long way, fellas.
Do you want someone gawking at your butt while you’re on the treadmill? Interrupting you while you’re holding heavy weights? Impatiently waiting inches away from you until you finish up on a machine?
Let’s work together to keep this crap out of the gym and make it an environment where we support others to reach whatever their health and fitness goals are.
Even if that means just leaving each other alone.