A few weeks ago there were a spate of articles in the UK press regarding the prevelance of sexual harassment in Globo (aka commercial) gyms and the Netflix documentary on the Bikram yoga guru that really opened my eyes to what women endure on the daily. Also, not so long ago, I witnessed another type of bullying situation that, I realized later, was not unknown in Globo gyms. To me, the gym is a sort of universal right, the way access to clean drinking water is a right. It’s where one goes to improve one’s physical and mental health. When emotionally stunted trolls think they can interfere with that right, it touches a nerve.
The two types of harrassment I have witnessed in Globo gyms are varying levels of male on female sexual harrassment and straight up male on male physical bullying. I should preface this by saying I have never witness either behaviour in a strength training gym. Doing so in such an environment would be an excellent way to get summarily ejected from the premises and could quite possibly be very hazardous to the offenders’ health.
Sometimes everything in life seems to go pearshaped at the same time. At times like those, it’s essential to have a healthy, productive way of working off one’s stress. Let’s establish the baseline that everyone, absolutely everyone, deserves to be able to do so without harrassment of any kind. One caveat, however – in serious sports training such as powerlifting, boxing, MMA, crossfit, gymnastics, etc you will be sometimes pushed to your physical limits. This, however, is to expand your boundaries. There should, and usually is, a clear boundary between this sort of training and “hazing”.
As guy, and not a particularly small dude at that, I haven’t experienced harassment in a gym for a long, long time (more about that later). The most prevelant form of harassment I notice in globo gyms are various levels of sexual harassment – from the ubiquitous staring “creepers” to (occasionally) particularly egregious thirsty dudes who think they can chat up women during their workouts. It goes without saying that 80 percent of women in globo gyms never venture into the weight room, and it’s probably for this reason. Rather, they do classes or congregate in large numbers in the cardio area, relying of the power of numbers like wildebeest on the Serengeti. Of the remaining 20 percent of women in the weight area, some have pretty strong personalities and God bless ’em. It seems that even creeps know to steer clear. Invariably, however, some thirsty dude you’ve never seen before will make a nuisance of himself to some poor woman. (NB: it’s usually not a regular because, at least in my experience, socially handicapped guys like this don’t last a long time). There is a difference between normal friendly behaviour like nodding, saying “hi”, asking if piece of equipment is free, etc and thirsty-ass harassment.
A few months ago I was in the bench press area and next to me was a woman who I know very sightly. Some dude (who I had never seen before) comes up and immediately appoints himself her personal trainer. Now, he was a good looking guy which in his case engendered a sense of entitlement as in “no matter how clumsy and annoying my approach is, she’s going to dig me”. This guy was all over her like white on rice with a nonstop line of bullshit that was painful to witness. He went right up to her, started talking (making her take off her headphones) and began giving her “advice”. Worse still, he knew F*** all about bench-pressing (which she was doing correctly, she obviously didn’t need his crap “advice” and didn’t seem to dig the attention). It wasn’t a case of some cheeky, self-confident guy, the whole approach was oppressive and weird.
I’d like to say 2 things: firstly, I’m not a hater, if this guy was smooth and had a good line of patter with “positive” energy, I’d be the first to give a silent golf clap. Secondly, I’ve learned over many years to keep mostly to myself in Globo gyms. I remain friendly, of course, but intefere in other peoples’ shit, nope. This, however, was beyond the pale. Luckily the guy would periodically go to the other areas of the gyms (I watched him, he was trying to “chat” up several women simultaneously with the same shit “advice” approach – I swear you can’t make this up). At one point this women was looking for a 10 Kg plate so I said she could take mine as I was changing plates. I then said, hey, you know so and so who was a gym acquaintance of both of us and we started to chat about benching which, it turns out, she did indeed know a whole lot more about than this moron. At this point your man comes back and literally interrupts us, dishing out more bullshit “advice”. She ignored him and we continued chatting about proper form. He tried again, employing the old “talking louder and louder” approach to interrupting. I began to think I may have to ping this dude upside the head with a 20kg plate as there was something off here, this went well beyond a tone-deaf semi-harrasing manner of “chatting up”. The guy was clearly off his meds. He eventually left to go try his luck elsewhere in the gym. The woman who was benching finished her sets and eventually left.
Now, this guy was about my size so I was not physically intimidated. What was the intimidating was the very real possibility that the guy was crazy or having a manic episode. I thought about the woman, though, who was maybe 55 kgs and 1m60. What’s it like to be harassed and physically intimidated by a some big, possibly crazy dude who is clearly sexually interested in you? Hopefully, this sort of incident is rare. However, if I was that woman and it happened to me, even once, you better believe I’d steer clear of the weight room and possibly even attend a women-only gym. I didn’t really understand it before but I totally get it now. As I’ve told my daugher, if you must work out in Globo gyms, try to find one with really positive energy, with 0 tolerance for this sort of bullshit. Better yet, find a strength training gym. I’m not saying this would never happen in a speciality gym, but if one chooses carefully the probability is much lower.
There is another form of gym “harrassment” which, thankfully, one sees very rarely these days. When I started weight training as a 145lb weakling in the mid 1980s, weight rooms didn’t just “seem” intimidating, they were intimidating. Weight rooms in North America were inihabited solely by two groups, US football teams and roided out bodybuilders. The ambiance in your local weight room was there something akin to taking your first stroll out into the “yard” at San Quentin prison. It’s hard to communicate just how neanderthal the mentality was. Football teams are, I suppose, insular by definition. They are team, after all, and perhaps more apt than most other sports to be “juicing”. Bodybuilders in those days, however, had to been seen to be believed. Huge, hulking super roid beasts decked out in resplendent mullets, perma-tans, ridiculous multicolored baggy “gym” pants, cutoff stringer t-shirts and, very weirdly, Rebook hightop gym shoes that were the same model their high-haired girlfriends wore to aerobics class. It was a hugely Gay esthetic, but these same dudes would beat you to a pulp for merely suggesting that. It wasn’t that one felt passively intimidated, if you dared to wander into the weight area you were straight up harassed. “Who are you, what are you doing here, don’t touch that bench, I’m using it…hey, Tony, look at this guy” etc, etc. Also, I’ve heard recently that the roid rage phenomenon is rare, blah, blah. Perhaps it is now, but I can tell with 100% certainty it wasn’t then. Fight in gyms or anyplace that the bodybuilders frequented were common. Perhaps the “gear” people are using those days was more apt to make them behave like mentally addled toddlers. Suffice it say that after a few forays into weight room and basically being told to “F” off, I got the hint. Happily, sometime in mid-90s attitudes changes and I soon found myself back in the weight room.
Bottom line – don’t ever accept harassment in the gym. It’s everyone’s right to be there and to train without some asshole ruining it. It’s relativey easy to spot a gym that tolerates an evironment that allows for harrassment. If that’s the case with your gym, find a new one.