Any woman who goes to the gym is all too familiar with the nerve-wrecking feeling that arises when a man approaches her during a set. Sometimes, his intentions are pure. He might just want to ask if he can work in it or how many sets she has left. Other times, she’s hit with the classic “can I show you something?” All too often, men at the gym feel entitled to explain workouts to women or correct their methods because they believe their way of exercising is the only correct way. While their intentions may be good, intent is not equal to impact. This kind of interjection mid-workout often makes women vehemently uncomfortable, especially at the gym.
I was talking to my friend — with whom I often go to the gym — about my ideas for this article, and she summed up what I wanted to say perfectly — “Every time a man gets close to me in the gym, I flinch because I’m afraid he’s gonna berate me.” We had this conversation on a day she went to the gym, and, after debriefing about her experience that day, she texted me, “Anytime a man looked in my direction, I immediately just thought, ‘oh god, am I doing something wrong.’”
This trend and other forms of harassment at the gym are all too common. In 2021, OriGym, a United Kingdom-based athletic course provider, surveyed 1,000 gym-goers of “all genders” for their “Gym-timidation Report.” They found among the people surveyed that six out of 10 women had experienced harassment at the gym from a man, two out of five women had avoided the gym after being made uncomfortable by a man and nearly half of the women surveyed reported wanting to go to the gym with a friend or partner because men make them feel uncomfortable while alone.
I myself have been in this situation multiple times while working out in the East Gym and at my gym back home. The first time was last year when, while practicing my boxing for my all-female Pink Gloves Boxing class on the only punching bag in the gym, I noticed two men whispering about me, which made me feel uneasy. One of them approached me and told me that my punches lacked “power” and asked if he could show me something. I politely said no, but he would not leave. I felt I had no choice but to let him show me what he wanted to do and when he finished, I immediately left the gym. All I wanted to do was practice my form for my class later, which my female instructor had taught me, but I left feeling humiliated. The entire reason I joined an all-female boxing course was because I did not feel comfortable being around men who would never see me as skilled or athletic enough.
For me and many others, going to the gym is a very vulnerable experience. When working out, I don’t want to feel like I am on display for others to critique. The idea that someone is watching me and analyzing the way I exercise as I am sweaty and flustered is demeaning, to say the least. It is essential to be mindful of the fact that not everyone is comfortable with specific social interactions with strangers and that what you may think is friendly might trigger feelings of anxiety in others.
One could argue that this has nothing to do with gender, but in my two years of going to the gym, I have never seen a man approach another man to give him advice or tell him how his form is wrong. This is probably out of precaution for hurting another man’s ego, but somehow, when it comes to women, they feel as if they are obligated to give them advice.
The bottom line is that women do not want your unsolicited advice, regardless of what your intentions are. If you would not critique a man’s form while at the gym, what gives you the right to critique a woman’s? Unless someone is doing something extremely dangerous in their workout and is at serious risk of harming themselves, many people would prefer to exercise without interruption. There is a difference if you are a personal trainer employed by the gym walking around and giving tips, but if you are just some random man, who are you to tell me what I am doing is not good enough? Am I supposed to believe you are more knowledgeable about the gym than me just because you are male? Nobody wants to be told what they are doing is wrong by someone who is not even qualified to critique them. Of course, not all men do this, but there are enough men who do to make women weary of any man who approaches her at the gym. I urge every man who goes to the gym to be mindful of what they say to women, so that it does not become a place where we feel even more unwelcome.
Jordan Ori is an undeclared sophomore.