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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mich chapter.

I work out regularly at the CCRB and I love it for the same reasons people often stick up their noses and choose to go to the shinier IM building: the lack of natural light, the older equipment, the less intimidatingly buff gym goers. But I’ve noticed after a year and a half of working out at the CCRB and a year spent using the weight rooms that there is a certain phenomenon that occurs whether we realize it or not. The noticeable gender divide within exercise rooms at the CCRB illustrates impact of the “lose” mentality expected of women’s workouts and, conversely, the “gain” mentality expected of men’s workouts. This difference in motivation is reflective of the limited access different genders are allowed to have in private and public spaces. 

“We’re all losers [of weight] at the Lucille Roberts Fitness Clinic,” a thin, blond woman claims in a 1985 ad for a women’s fitness program. “Caution: SkinnyPig’s Fitness Will Make You Look Better Naked,” claims a 2017 billboard advertising a women’s fitness center. The Central Campus Recreational Building does not have this type of advertising on its walls because that would be inappropriate. But the CCRB’s rooms are not equally accessible to both genders and they are sources of constructed gender divisions requiring students, knowingly or not, to conform to expectations of their physical presentation of gender. Weight and cardio rooms at the CCRB are coded along binary gender lines; the level of access a student has to a given room is based on the presentation of their gender. The gym conceptualizes the body as a public display of physical alterations to present along the societal expectations of one’s gender. Classic beauty standards dictate that women should take up less space and be thin whereas men should be muscular and monopolize a space. With this norm in place, the gym is divided, leading one to make assumptions about where one gender should be compared to another. 

The cardio rooms are coded as feminine, and based on my observations, the students at Michigan generally conform to this. I spent a combined hour in cardio-focused areas of the gym and the ratio of women to men was 20 to 1. The workouts observed keep women in one place, taking up as little of the room as the machine or mat allows. The gym is marketed to women as a tool to make them smaller. This is a continuation of the limiting expectations placed on women in public spaces. It can be concluded that the focus of most women at the gym is not be on putting on more weight, even if it is muscle, but on losing weight.

Weight rooms are coded masculine, conforming to the binary of gym spaces and designating the space where men should be found. During my combined hour in the CCRB’s two weight rooms, I observed a ratio of 1 to 6, women to men respectively. Men are expected to be strong and dominant, narrowing their use of the gym to activities that facilitate overt muscle development to outwardly present their masculinity to others. All men are expected to have the same goal of gaining at the gym to fulfill expectations of masculinity. This expectation determines their level of access within the gym. While men are allowed to take up more space publicly, they are still limited to the spaces in the gym coded masculine. 

The communal nature of the gym allows it to be viewed as a micro chasm of public society. It speaks to the different levels accessibility each gender can expect based on their presented gender. Analyzed together, the two ratios prove that the accessibility of certain rooms is restricted based on one’s presented gender and the public expectations placed on each gender’s physical capabilities. 

To be sure, the rooms coded masculine were relatively more accessible to women than the rooms coded feminine were to men. This suggests that there is a change in the expectations placed on women. Women are permitted to more easily access masculine spaces than men are to access feminine spaces. Crossing into a feminine space is less likely, thus, rejecting expectations of masculine performances of gender are more difficult to challenge. As female students continue to travel across the boundaries of gendered spaces like the gym, male students would do well to consider doing the same.   

The CCRB illustrates the division of public space along the lines of gender. The masculine culture of “gaining” is just as restricting as the feminine culture of “losing”. The division of rooms along the expected purposes of different bodies, knowingly or unknowingly, leads students to divide themselves along gender and form habits that seep into places outside the gym. The expectations felt and the actual actions taken by gym goers form a cyclical system that will continue to reinforce itself as long as the gym is a stage for gender performance. So to those that want to do strictly weight training or move into cardio, but are nervous to step into that space, I say go for it. It will only get easier if we decide to challenge those boundaries.   

IMAGE REFERENCES https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2311098/Peter-Lloyd-Why-Im-suing-gym-sexist-women-hours.html



Sara is a feature writer for Her Campus. She is a senior at the University of Michigan, studying French, Art History and Political Science. She is interested in international law and competes on the University of Michigan's Mock Trial team. In her free time, Sara explores Ann Arbor looking for new foods, specializing in tacos and noodles. She loves immersing herself in a good book from Literati and traveling to learn about different cultures. Sara loves the feeling of walking around a city with nowhere to go, headphones in, observing the hustle of everyday life. If Sara could do anything in the world, she woud be a travel and fashion writer exploring with a camera, a journal, and an empty stomach.