“People are there for selfish reasons; they don’t owe you anything,” Why People are Intimidated by the Gym, Alan Thrall

In case you haven’t seen this video yet, I wanted to be sure to draw your attention to it. What are the reasons folks are intimidated about going to the gym? According to Alan’s own polling, it boils down to this: they expect other people at the gym to be assholes. They expect folks to be judging them, to treat them like they don’t belong there, or to not be kind when they don’t know what to do.

I think it’s important, especially for men like Alan Thrall, to speak up about the need for more inclusive gym cultures and for helping folks know the boundaries for acceptable and less acceptable behavior at a gym. I also am a bit uneasy that he puts much of the onus back on the individual. If you’re uncomfortable at the gym, he has advice to help you be less uncomfortable. AND I think gym employees and those of us who are regulars at the gym also have an important role to play in creating spaces that are more welcoming to a wider variety of people.

How do we create more inclusive gym cultures? We create systems to educate folks about etiquette and expectations rather than acting like it’s all common knowledge and then being pissed when folks don’t know what to do. We post and enforce rules that create safe spaces for all sorts of folks to get in there and do their thing. We call out our peers when they do shit that harms other people and help raise up the voices of folks with less social cachet. We don’t create gym cultures that are exclusively about body type or losing weight.

As an example of the tension between individual responsibility and gym-regular responsibility, I want to address the last reason Alan mentions folks feel intimidated working out in a gym–there aren’t enough women lifting weights. His main recommendation is that if women want to see more women lifting, they need to be the one to go out there and begin lifting weights. Create the space you want to see. And I get what he’s saying. We each can help create a new gym culture by creating that space for other people to feel more welcome. And I also think this advice ignores, or maybe is ignorant of, the very real, sometimes exceptionally problematic challenges that women can face by being in a male-dominant space.

I will post an old post on this subject tomorrow, but in short, I have had to put up with overt harassment, intimidation, men yelling at me and getting in my face, chronic staring, as well as far more subtle but nevertheless equally sexist bullshit sending me the message loud and clear that I wasn’t perceived as an equal. Each time I dealt with these sorts of problems, I inwardly hoped that one of the “nice guys” around me would step up and intervene on my behalf. I wasn’t looking for a white night to save me, but a comrade, a peer, to say, “hey, that bullshit isn’t acceptable here, and Marjorie is one of us.” Even just someone checking in with me afterwards would have been cool, to help me know I wasn’t facing it alone. I appreciate that Alan says he isn’t the right person to talk about this issue, and hey, if he wants to talk to me about my experiences as a lone woman lifting in a male-dominated community center, he’s welcome to reach out anytime! I lifted in the same community center for perhaps 3 years before I started to see some other women picking up the free weights nearby. It was nearly 5 years before I had a workout where I was surrounded by women. That’s a very long time to put up with a lot of difficult behavior in hopes of creating a safer and more welcoming space. The onus simply can’t only be put upon women to create more female-friendly lifting communities.

I hope lots of traditional gym bros see this video and begin the work of questioning how they can contribute to a more inclusive gym environment. A twelve-minute video isn’t enough to address these issues fully, but it begins the conversation, and hopefully, it’s a conversation that will continue.

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