Women-only sessions are far from new: Gymnasium of North London Collegiate School for Girls in Sandall Road, pictured in 1882. Image: A History of Camden, John Richardson (Historical Publications 1999)
‘Research shows that women often feel intimidated by men in the gym’ Grace Garland
“Peter Lloyd’s recent article on “standing up for manhood” prompted me to respond, not because I am promoting a book, but because gender discrimination is a very real and important issue, and one I think it’s important he understands better.
I will ignore Peter’s goading remarks about women being incapable of using gym equipment properly, because engaging with that is a bit like booking Katie Hopkins on a talk show. Instead I would like to address his sense of injustice, the poor dab.
Undisputedly belonging to the most privileged of groups – as a north London white male – I have no doubt Peter finds being told he cannot do something very strange and unnerving. For women, it’s just another day at the office. The office where we earn less. The office where we might be told what we can or can’t wear (are Primark leggings alright with you Pete? I rather like mine). The office where we are almost certainly not in the boardroom.
Like Kentish Town Sports Centre, many gyms across the UK have implemented women only sessions, and the reason for this is not because they think that “all men are borderline sex pests” as Lloyd suggests, but because research shows that women often feel intimidated by men in the gym.
As a regular gym-goer that’s something I have felt. Though I am sure most men would not like to think that they have made someone feel uncomfortable, the effect of putting a group of men in front of weights and mirrors, visibly oozing testosterone, often makes for a competitive and hostile environment.
The sort of bloke who divvies men up into alpha, beta and presumably other still more derogatory categories is the sort who implies he might be looking around making judgements. Quite frankly I don’t always want to sweat under his gaze.
I have not once used the weights area without feeling that the men present resent me using ‘their’ machines and I actually often cut my gym session short instead of venturing into a particularly busy weight room, yet no one gives me any money back.
Part of this I am sure is totally in my head, but the fact still remains that if the room were full of women, I would happily go in and assert my claim on the leg press. For me, and clearly many other females, parts of the gym feel like a men-only-club, and this single designated hour gives us room to use all the machines freely, pump some iron and sweat profusely without any sense of judgement – from the alphas or their counterparts.
I’ll conclude with the same retort I used to respond to a friend who asked me why Radio Four needed a Women’s Hour. It’s because, effectively, every other hour is “men’s hour”.
Grace Garland works at Kentish Town’s fast-growing tech company MVFglobal.com. You can follow her on Twitter @thatPRgrace