Let me introduce you to a woman's experience at the gym.
The "going to the gym" experience starts long before I actually step into a gym. It starts with contemplating the necessity of going at all. Do I really need to haul myself to a gym, strain my body and be sore for days afterwards? More often than not, the answer is yes. Then, I think about what time of the day it is. I avoid going to the gym when it is packed with men, mainly after work hours. Then, I move into contemplating my outfit. As in any other moment, I want to be comfortable and look good -- for myself. But, I must weigh the line between being sexy and being sexualized. I also have to question how I feel about underwear lines that day. My concern with underwear lines exists mainly because of what the viewer (men) may think and not because of my own comfort. If I'm comfortable, you can see them. If I'm not, you can't. Underwear lines are a reminder of women's basic humanity; one that may not be sexy and one that we are told to avoid.
After allowing the whirlwind of thoughts and questions to circle in my mind, I finally leave for the gym -- underwear lines and all.
At the gym, I lift weights. My goal is to be strong no matter what that looks like. But, the weight lifting area is a "man's space." Women have infiltrated several spheres originally designated for men: the driver's seat, the office, the vote, the university. Yet, the weight lifting sections of gyms remain haunted by men. Being one of the few women there is lonely, exhausting and frightening.
Being at the gym in a woman's body is a serious affair. I cannot escape my femininity, my curves, my body, my anything. Womanhood follows me into that space. And, my womanhood is instantly sexualized. My squats, my lunges and my bent-over rows are all met with stares that I did not ask for. With one look, I'm ripped from my innocence.
I must plan my every step just to feel safe. If I want to stretch, I make sure to go to a corner and bend down with my ass facing the wall. I avoid certain exercises if men are too close. I move my ring to my wedding finger, so that men may see me as taken. I leave the gym clutching my keys and looking over my shoulder as if I strained my neck. I feel like prey in broad daylight, in a space that is supposed to better my well being.
Another side exists to every coin. To this coin, there exists the side of women who want that attention. I know plenty of women who feel empowered by men's stares. To them the attention is welcomed. To them the attention may be a catalyst to heightened femininity and strength. That does not make them sluts or bad women. The difference between me and them is that they want that attention and I don't. But men do not stop to think about which kind of woman they are staring at. They do not think what might be triggered by their stares. They do not see any harm in glances. But looks are the first step. The predator-prey relationship is always established by those who feast. Prey becomes prey when predators see you as such.
An hour passes. I know I've reached my threshold when my arms are too sore for me to apply makeup and my legs are too sore to balance in heels. I also know I've reached my threshold when I'm too exhausted to protect myself. When I longer want to run into invisibility. So, I leave. I go home and go about my day feeling physically stronger but emotionally spent. My day ends, and I go to bed knowing that the same process awaits me tomorrow.