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“Are you an athlete?” mid-set, Mira looks up from her machine at the gym and replies
“Well, it’s just that I’ve never seen a girl use this machine before. You trying to get ripped?
Can a girl work her muscles without being questioned?
Every time you walk into the CU Rec Center you get more than you bargained for. I’s like entering a nature documentary filled with Homo sapiens’ instinctual decision-making while we maneuver awkward-but-obvious stereotyping and interactions — it is much more than a simple workout. If you are a girl, you must first ask yourself: Should I go to the little, claustrophobic and darkly lit girls club weight room in the locker room? Or should I go to neutral territory where both girls and boys are actually seen together in the central weight room? Do I dare enter the weight room by the basketball court where it seems that herds of men lift weights heavier than me and our kind is few and far between? It is silly that these are the questions that we must ask ourselves. We should be able to choose where we get toned without worrying over where we will feel less awkward as women. Some, like myself, even feel that the judgement of themselves compared to other women is worse than the male gaze.
Mira sometimes ventures to the east, man-filled free-weight room herself, because she knows that it contains the better butt machine. To avoid the awkwardness, she puts in her ear buds even though her iPod has died, because if you can’t hear ’em, you can’t see ‘em. This insecurity is not limited by gender. It is something that comes from the vulnerability people feel while working out — the fear of judgment crosses gender lines.
Like Becky, many have never wandered so far. But even in the middle, neutral territory, the awkward, sexuality-enduced moments subtly continue while the characters are more colorful. There are grunting, hulking men parading around like stallions in their cut-off tank tops. There are bulging muscles and streams of sweat running down exposed ribs, visible for miles. Loud grunts can be heard as their weights pound and clack on ground, with no regard for gym etiquette. It seems that the men are showing off just how macho they are and how perfectly they fit into the male stereotype.
There is also the occasional awkward gym date, a courting ritual that seems to have little to do with any real weight lifting or exercise, and more to do with assessing potential mates. You can always identify them from their cute, freshly washed gym outfits, preppy ponies, and lack of sweat.
Now it’s time to navigate your cardio, which involves a whole new set of gender-navigating and decision-making. A girl often wonders, should I follow the majority of my gender and elliptical it up, or go to the gender neutral territory of the track? Here is where our author’s part ways: Mira goes to the track and Becky to the elliptical.
At the track, Mira has often found herself flat on her ass, glaring at the wind sprinter who knocks down everyone in his path and has never even looked back to acknowledge his trampling, despite the clearly marked sign declaring “NO SPRINTING.” Meanwhile at the elliptical, Becky alternates between sprinting and jogging while watching Food Network for dinner ideas. Others regard ellipticalling to be a secret race, casting furtive glances at the screens next to them, silently float racing and judging at the same time. Jenna Marbles, an internet personality who can be very woman-positive and expresses feminist ideals through her humor, describes this phenomenon well as a test: “keep your eyes on your own elliptical.”
While there are some awkward situations one must navigate at the gym, like working in sets with the strongest person there and watching them increase the weight by 80 pounds, the gym is a place where there is neutral territory between genders. Everybody sweats and feels awkward. People of every gender go to the gym feeling like there is something about themselves that they need to work on, and it can be a great place to clear your mind. Despite the awkwardness that sometimes arises, the gym can be a great equalizer. At some point we all just want to put on our noiseless ear buds and lift away.
Contact Feminism Columnists Mira Winograd at Mira.email@example.com and Becky Powell at Becky.firstname.lastname@example.org.