Sexism in the gym: ‘I changed the way I dress to find peace’

Sabrine, 25, is a gym member, like many active young women of her age. If she goes there 2-3 times a week, her happiness is often thwarted, especially when she enters the “bodybuilding” area of ​​her fitness park. “Before I got to these places, I’m generally excited, good in my body, good in my head. But once I get close to him, that self-confidence evaporates, and I no longer feel legitimate,” she admits.

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the reason ? The total presence of men in this part of his gym. Their selfies in front of the mirrors, the crying at the slightest weightlifting, the ‘boys club’ atmosphere, which will push hard and make the most noise. It works most of the muscles in the upper body. The young woman explains: They sweat, scream and make noise when they drop the dumbbells and monopolize the machines… I don’t feel really comfortable.”

“Dominance by smell and noise”

“When men do bodybuilding, they are so aggressive in showing off their masculinity and masculinity, which goes through this ranting representation,” asserts Chris Blash, urban anthropologist and co-founder of the research center Genre et Ville, who has been accustomed to gymnastics. In these places, men exercise “smell and noise control.” So, to avoid embarrassment, some women – when they simply don’t give up on the idea of ​​going to the bodybuilding spaces – adopt strategies to avoid crossing the men’s path.

Lu, 26, has found techniques to fend off Relus: The triple hood on the head, earphones in the ears, and focused air have proven themselves, she says. And like many women, when she started bodybuilding, she didn’t like going to the gym alone. “There should always have been a girlfriend or boyfriend. Now, fortunately, I’m past that point, but at first, it was something I was very careful about when choosing my gym.”

Over time, Low has created a number of “red flags” that indicate she will not feel comfortable in a particular room. On the outskirts of Paris, where she trains, women go down to the edges of the room. They move the seats behind two posts facing the wall, making space between them and helping each other, thus creating a small space of confidence. “We find women in areas where men don’t go, and vice versa. Finally, they occupy the bodybuilding space in the same way that they occupy the public space in general: they make these places a priority,” Chris Blush sighs.

Especially since gymnasiums, for an anthropologist, are very codified places. There are two worlds that go against this: the world of fitness, and therefore fitness, and the world of bodybuilding, which is meant for men. The goal is the same for both sexes: to have a body that falls within the “beauty canons of heterogeneous society”. For women, it’s all about getting a slim and slender silhouette. for men ; Big arms. “Women invest in group classes, stretching areas and cardio machines. On the other hand, men have a monopoly on the bodybuilding area.”

The problem of “unruly training”

Therefore, when women finally dare to integrate this space, another disaster awaits them: “unbridled training”. Guys, mostly amateurs, who come to give them unsolicited advice – even stand behind them, to “back them up” while squatting, for example – and consider it a legitimate flirting technique. “It often happened to me, especially when I started, when I was intimidated and didn’t really know how to use machines,” Ofelli, 28, testifies. I changed the way I dress to achieve peace. So the young woman swapped her short bra set, which she nonetheless finds “more comfortable and practical,” for joggers and a long top that covers her buttocks.

“When we launched our brand, we were very careful to make places welcoming of women, in an effort to prevent this kind of behaviour, explains Marie-Anne Tessier, co-founder of the Néoness Group. [qui compte aussi les salles plus haut-de-gamme Episod]. It was important to us and our business to make women feel comfortable in our gyms. The walls have no mirrors, machines of all sizes are accessible (“women under 1 m 70 do not have to ask for help to use them”), and the good part is done on “bodybuilders oriented” machines, making it easy to adjust the workload .

“We made sure we could train independently without being experts,” stresses Marie-Anne Tessier. We also have specific coaches, reminding those who are a little inclined to take themselves as coaches that they are not. In addition to the fact that these behaviors can make a woman very uncomfortable, they are also dangerous: bad advice or incorrect posture poses an additional risk of injury.

Demystifying Bodybuilding For Women To Own Space

“Recently, we’ve also developed ‘booty factories’: We know that the buttocks are an area that women especially love to work on, but doing it in the middle of the free weight zone, under male gaze, can be complicated,” the Neoness founder details. In these designated areas of the room, out of sight, a woman can train without fear of inappropriate looks. By popular demand, Néoness has also launched “combined training” group classes, which combine cardio and weights exercises, with small weights. “It’s a ‘no-stick’ way for women bodybuilders: they’ve always been made to believe that you have to do cardio to lose fat, and that by doing muscle building, they’ll gain mass and become ‘masculine,’ which is wrong.”

The mentality is gradually changing, especially thanks to committed trainers, such as Alaïa Hennequin, who campaign on social networks to change the image women have in bodybuilding and provide proper training. But it is also up to gyms to continue their efforts. “There are undoubtedly things that can be done in terms of communication, supports Chris Blush. Representations need to change, in advertising for example. Stop distinguishing between ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ activities, get rid of gender stereotypes, and stop at representations of ideal bodies. And if it’s not about gender equality, perhaps the business argument will convince them: the more comfortable women feel, the more they will return.

How dare he replace him?

In the meantime, some places, such as the fitness club, have decided to create spaces designated for single sex. “There are more women in this place than in the rest of the room. I feel the mutual help and solidarity between us, and I get the impression of being less judged and observant,” says Sabrine, even if I regret “not presenting all the machines.” To overcome this shortcoming, some chains, such as Lady Fitness, offer rooms that are 100% dedicated to women. “Not being confused is a means, not an end, a nuance Chris Blush. We should think of other alternatives at the same time.”

The expert advises women who fear the room to “take a seat,” telling themselves, “I have the right, so I do it.” Il suffit de les observer : ils travaillent un muscle, ils vont s’admirer dans le miroir, ils vont fléchir le muscle pour voir s’il est bien sorti, ils recommencent, ils échangent entre eux, ils se surveillent pour voir qui a le bigger. It’s not when they are interested, they are in their performance at the time.” What works best is to prepare for my session in advance, Lou supports. By knowing where I’m going, and what I’m doing, I feel more confident, and guys feel like not letting them invade my space. Finally, in this universe full of testosterone, Chris Blush warns against the opposite excess. “You just have to be careful not to get into the toxic performance, which is often found in men.”

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