Dear men: My grievances as a woman who goes to the gym


Sally Lichner

Women are often the target of unwanted harassment at gyms.

Sometimes working out as a woman can be trying. (Alexi Newsome)

Like clockwork, I pick up my dark blue Dri-fit long sleeve. Then the black Nike running shorts; not too short, not too tight. I drag myself into the car, earbuds in hand, and park as close as I can to the building before I silently walk in.

This is all for not only routine but also for safety, for protection. Within a year of being a woman going to the gym I’ve been: followed to my car, recorded, uncomfortably stared at, mocked and belittled.

I thought signing up for a complimentary personal training session would allow me not only to get stronger but feel more confident at the gym, right? Wrong. The session consisted of zero lessons on how to use the free weights, and I was continuously critiqued on how much weight I could or couldn’t lift on my first try.

The male trainer would walk away and talk to his fellow gym bros, and completely ignore any questions I had, making me feel somewhat helpless.

It should also be mentioned that it is not only gym etiquette but basic human decency to remove your weights after you get off equipment. I could count on both hands the number of times I’ve had to remove over 100lb plates before I could start my set. Thankfully, I am usually able to get them off without injury, but this could be quite dangerous for older or younger people.

So please, have some common sense and just take the plates off when you’re done.

I have also been asked to get off machines many times by men. Mind you I am not on my phone, I’m not just sitting there; I’m actually using the machine. However, when I want to get on a machine and someone is using it, I wait patiently and at a respectful distance until they finish- like everyone should be doing.

But that is nothing compared to the day-to-day experiences of not only being a woman at the gym, but a woman period. I can’t even count how many times I’ve felt extremely uncomfortable by a man’s presence at the gym. Whether it’s just creepy staring, whispering or snickering it makes me feel disgusted and extremely stressed out in a place that is supposed to be stress-reducing.

Unless you pull up in a tight, cute, matching gym shark set, you’ll get practically no assistance or respect from any male gym-goer or employee. God forbid you wear that adorable black and pink set, you’ll be subject to unwanted attention and degrading comments from male staff and attendees alike. There is no way to win.

One day I was trying to build up my confidence at the gym, so I decided to waltz back to the free weights and sit on a bench press. As I was getting the hang of it I noticed a guy continuously walking back and forth in front and around my machine. I thought nothing of it until I noticed the phone in his hand was pointed straight at me as he walked around the machine and towards the back.

I immediately got off the bench; it took me two weeks to gain the confidence to go back there again.

Sometimes unwanted attention at the gym, other than just being plain old annoying, can actually become quite frightening and dangerous. One night as I was leaving the gym I put my coat on and popped one earbud in as I walked out the door. As I strolled out into the chilly and dark parking lot, I heard the door open again behind me.

I didn’t think too much of it until I heard footsteps rhythmically pound behind me. My heart raced as the footsteps continued to speed up with my pace. My speed walk turned into a practical sprint as I prayed to God that I was going to get to my car on time.

I threw myself down inside my car and slammed the door shut. I watched, heart pounding in my ears, as the man behind me walked in front of my car, stopped and stared at me for a second. He proceeded to walk around the side of my car and then towards the opposite end of the parking lot, accepting his defeat.

I clicked my doors locked and sat awestruck by what just happened. I don’t know if he was trying to talk to me or get my attention but I didn’t care. From then on I would come to the gym five minutes early in an attempt to park as close to the gym door as possible.

I no longer leave my earbuds in anymore, and I always turn around at the door to make sure I’m the only one exiting. Women shouldn’t have to live in fear when going to the gym, nor should women feel lesser or belittled for wanting to take care of and strengthen their bodies.

There is one key thing I’ve noticed from my time going to the gym; respect for women at the gym must be earned while respect for men is innate. Men treat other men as equals, no matter their age, experience or appearance. However, women are rarely treated as equals unless they “earn” their respect by proving their physical strength.

It’s time for women to get the respect they deserve. So men, please take note: recognize that women belong at the gym just as much as you. My fellow ladies and non-binary folks, it’s our time to show that the gym is our space too and we shouldn’t be afraid to take up as much space as we please.

It’s time for a change. We have nothing to prove.