I recently had a minor altercation with a meat-head at the gym. You know the type . . . uber-muscly dude with an attitude problem, likes to look at himself in the mirror while he lifts weights. You know the guy I’m talking about.
I was lifting weights last week with my work out buddies, and we were all rotating on 3 different machines. This guy totally cut in on us without asking and proceeded to talk smack when we asked him to wait his turn. Things got heated, a manager was brought over (who sided with the meat-head), and words were exchanged that can’t be repeated in mixed company. I walked away from the situation while my friend went toe-to-toe with this dude because I needed to cool off. I have a tendency to throw punches. In the end, the guy told my friend that we didn’t know what we were doing and shouldn’t be at the gym anyway, and that’s when the wheels fell off the car.
Let me tell you about my friend. She is a marathon runner and long-distance cyclist. This woman has ridden the DALMAC multiple times. For those who don’t know, the DALMAC is a 400 mile bike race. Home girl is at the gym every day after running several miles in the Arizona heat. If anyone knows what she’s doing, it would be her.
The problem with this scenario is that meat-head’s hyper masculinity came up against our perceived femininity. My partner is transgender, so meat-head read him as a girl. He let us know that we’re chicks, so we shouldn’t be lifting weights. That’s boys’ territory. It’s not hard to understand why all-woman gyms like Curves have been so successful. But Curves supports anti-choice organizations, and they’re not transgender-friendly. Which leaves me to wonder . . . where can I find a feminist gym, and what would a feminist work out space look like?
I think that the first issue to confront when imagining a feminist gym would be the bathrooms and the locker rooms. Trans folks have a hard time accessing the gym because of the need for a safe space to pee, and a safe space to change out. There could be single-stall, locking bathrooms so that anyone could take a whiz in privacy. And then there could be three locker rooms: men’s, women’s, and co-ed. In order to be a member of this feminist gym, prospective members would have to go through an interview process to find out what their bathroom/locker room politics are. If they can’t change out without getting in someone else’s business, they don’t belong at the gym.
The next issue would be stairs. There shouldn’t be stairs at a feminist gym, because they assume that all the gym members are able-bodied. There should be ramp access in and out of the pool. Anybody should feel welcome and able to work out at the gym, no matter what level of physical fitness they’re at, and no matter how able-bodied they are.
Speaking of the pool, people shouldn’t have to go through the locker room to get to the pool. Please refer to the locker room discussion.
At a feminist gym, high heels would not be allowed. To the ladies who wear heels at the gym, what is the point? You cannot safely work out in high heels. I can understand if you want to put on your lipstick before you hit the treadmill, but how can you honestly do your cardio in heels? No . . . no heels at the feminist gym.
As for classes, instructors would not be allowed to shame people for eating. How many of us have had to sit through spinning or zumba classes with an instructor belittling people for eating lunch that day? Going to the gym is about being healthy, and starving yourself is not healthy.
Along those lines, my feminist gym would have a juice/coffee bar with snacks. If I want to gulp a smoothie while I sit on the bike, I should be allowed. Please believe I’d be more excited about hitting the gym if I could get a latte on my way out.
Child care would be available at the feminist gym, and it wouldn’t cost the members extra.
In terms of the membership fee, it could be sliding scale based on income, with an opportunity for members to do sweat equity to cover the cost of their membership.
Finally, a feminist gym would have a sense of outreach in its mission. Building a house for Habitat for Humanity could be a work out opportunity. Or an exercise class could meet at the local park to clean up the trash. There could be smoking cessation classes, support groups for people with eating disorders, and cooking classes to help people learn how to make affordable healthy meals.
The underlying principal of a feminist gym would be that working out is about being healthy, not sexy. Advertisements would feature real members, not models. Classes would stress the importance of loving your body, rather than making people feel like they need to fit some mold of the perfect femininity/masculinity. And the locker rooms and walls of the gym could have self-esteem booster messages on them. Maybe members would give each other a fist bump when they finish a set. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if members supported each other’s goals?
What are your ideas for a feminist work out space? I am serious about the lack of a woman- and trans-friendly work out space, and I think that it would be awesome to have a collective of feminists who want to get their work out on. Think of the social change that could happen if we did.