Sexism at gym perpetuates modern-day misogyny


Graphic by Lily Klau ’23

Working out at the gym has developed an unwarranted masculine connotation.

Why is it that women are so belittled when talking about the gym? 

I recently went out to dinner with seven friends, and as we walked, the four boys engaged in a debate as they discussed and compared how much they each lift at the gym. Ultimately, they drew a truce and decided to “hit arms” together at the gym the next day. 

I chimed in, saying that I was going to the gym tomorrow, too. But, instead of acknowledging me or inviting me to join them, I was immediately dismissed and they returned to admiring each others’ muscles. 

“Bro, I’ve never seen a girl hit arms before,” I heard one boy say, laughing. “They only ever hit legs, I swear.” 

Then two of the boys quipped that women only go to the gym to do legs to get bigger butts so they can look “more attractive” to men. 

As degrading as it was to hear them say this, none of their comments came as much of a surprise. I’ve heard many boys say similar statements, all of which are false.

Women go to the gym for the same reason that men go to the gym. They go to get in shape, they go to feel healthy, they go to train for a sport and, overall, they go for themselves. 

Enhanced mood and reduced stress, strength gain and reduced risk of injury and reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes are just a few of the benefits that weight training has for women, according to BH Live Active, a gym center in the UK that focuses of getting more people active, whether they are new or veterans to gym. 

Eventually, I grew fed up with the sexist comments, and I called out their misogyny. I told them that I knew just as many girls as guys who work out areas other than legs.

They were shocked by this comment and countered by grilling me about the workouts I had done, as if testing to see if I actually knew what I was talking about.

Their statements and prejudices sounded like they were taken out of the early 1900s, before there was women’s suffrage.  But the unfortunate truth is that sexism is an all-too-real pressure that women endure today.

According to Women’s Health, three out of five women are harassed at the gym, and 92% of those cases go unreported. As a result, about 65% of women avoid the gym due to anxiety or fear of judgment, according to a 1000-person survey by Fit Rated.  That also explains why one in three women would feel safer and more comfortable exercising at a women’s-only gym, according to a study by Origym

But the unfortunate truth is that sexism is an all-too-real pressure that women endure today.

— Lily Klau '23

Ultimately, I convinced the boys to work out with me at the gym the next day.  There were many shocked faces made at me from the boys when they saw that I was able to keep up with the exercises they were doing.

So, as we left the gym together, I felt proud that I was able to show the boys that women too, could be included in the gym activities. 

But my pride was soon deflated.  Just as we parted ways, one boy said he now considered me to be “one of the boys.” 

I know his intention was to compliment me, but this comment is just as filled with sexism as their previous comments.

After all our discussions and all that they witnessed, their sexism was still apparent: even their compliments minimized my femininity.  I don’t want to be “one of the boys.”  I just want people to respect women going to the gym.

Women who work out constantly battle sexist male assumptions on two fronts: we constantly need to defend and prove that we have knowledge of the gym, and then need to fight to protect our femininity after proving our workout competence, and I’m sick of it. 

If you’re a guy reading this, here are a couple things that you can do to help tackle this issue. 

Start with awareness: watch out for signs of misogynistic behavior and don’t be afraid to call out others on this behavior. 

Be supportive: stand up for your female athlete friends, and if a woman in your life doesn’t know how to do something at the gym, help explain and encourage, but don’t criticize. 

It is imperative to make it more socially acceptable for men to work out alongside women without over-sexualizing them. Taking even these small steps can help combat sexism as a whole and promote a more equal society.