Photo by Kyle West
By: Eden Wondmeneh
I am embarrassed to admit that I have put off getting fit for an absurdly long time. I thought that coming to McMaster University would see the end to my procrastinating ways as I could see the gym from my window and I had no choice but to pay for a Pulse membership as part of my student fees.
Turns out, I was not alone in my gym-avoiding ways; at McMaster, I met a group of girls that wanted to work out but something kept getting in the way. We found ourselves linking together as gym buddies, trying to determine the time of day to visit the gym that would avoid the most amount of people.
We went to early morning sessions, a practice that was not sustainable for our lives. Long story short, it has been months and we still don’t make it to the Pulse regularly, primarily because we don’t feel comfortable in the spaces provided.
The Pulse needs to create more female-centered spaces. After a series of mansplaining and semi-violating incidents in co-ed gyms and classes, I’m automatically turned off by most of the Pulse’s programs, which are catered to a mix of individuals.
This is not a reflection of the type of people who frequent the Pulse, as I must admit I have not been there enough to pass judgements, but instead is a reflection of the culture produced by most co-ed gyms. I have experienced this negative culture enough times that I now go out of my way to avoid them.
This discomfort means that I walk straight past the weights and resistance machines. Cardio is the safer option, as there is no one there to mansplain or make crude comments about my body, and no one to increase the level of discomfort I already feel as a plus-size girl in a gym.
Female-centered spaces can take many different forms. For one, the Pulse can increase already existing programs like women-only swims. A greater number of female-only classes or even a female-only wing extension with equipment that is usually dominated by men would also achieve this goal.
This space would not be what all women want or need but will serve a population that face a significant barrier to bettering themselves. If the Pulse can enforce a no sleeves rule to make their facilities more accessible to those feeling self-conscious towards the gym, there is no reason why they can’t create more female-centered spaces.
This is not to say that all men are creepy chauvinists who are committed to disturbing women’s workouts. And not all women are welcoming, positive and non-judgmental. But in my personal experience, there is great liberation felt when one can lift weights and not feel like the odd one out.
Perhaps some of my resistance to visit the Pulse is linked to my personal insecurities, which I recognize entirely. But these insecurities are only heightened in the vulnerable space of working out, where comments made and the atmosphere created reinforces a power imbalance.
Gyms should be a space where everyone feels empowered and strong, not out-of-place. Female-centered fitness spaces lift the weight of discomfort off of my shoulders, so that I can workout at any time; the intimidation is no longer at the back of my mind, making fitness a much less daunting task.
If the Pulse cared about all of its patrons, it would follow suit and create more female-centered spaces.