New female-identifying-only weight room hour at Gosman
Following the lead of other universities, Brandeis attempts to create a safe and relaxed atmosphere for the female-identifying population.
The Gosman Weight Room will only be open to female-identifying people every Tuesday from 8 to 9 p.m. Spearheaded by Kyla Ginsberg ’25, this initiative will begin on Feb. 7. In a Feb. 2 interview with the Justice, Ginsberg explained her inspiration for advocating to the Gosman faculty for this hour, saying that she wanted to go to the gym with her friends, but many were hesitant because of concerns “having to do with the fact there are a lot of men there.” She then spoke of her friend who goes to the University of Vermont where they implemented a similar program at their gym, inspiring Ginsberg to try to implement it at Brandeis.
Ginsberg said the Gosman faculty were “quick to accept the idea,” and there were only a few days between her sending her initial email to Tom Rand, the senior associate director of Athletics, and printing out the official fliers advertising the hour.
Above all, Ginsberg clarified that her intention with this new program was to create an inclusive space for people who identify as female to feel more “comfortable in the gym in general so that they’re more comfortable working out whether there [are] men there or not,” referring to the consistent majority of men in gyms — particularly weight rooms — and how being the minority in a workout space is a common source of intimidation for the female-identifying population.
This issue goes beyond Brandeis, and the reason why there is such a difference between gendered populations in part originates from the history of gym culture within American society. Katherine Page, a long time fitness coordinator at the University, recalled how wellness’ identity within society has changed through the generations, growing from the idea of gyms and heavy weight lifting associated with “the ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger’s’ [or] the big gym bros” of her parents’ generation to being “for everyone.” This shift, Page explained, was in part brought about due to advances in scientific studies that revealed the importance of strength training for women. Page said that there has been an increase in female-identifying presence at the University’s workout facilities within her time at Brandeis. From Page’s explanation, it is reasonable to conclude that this increase comes from gym culture’s shift in mainstream media.
Although a female-identifying-only gym hour is a new addition to Brandeis, the concept of female-oriented gyms or designated female-identifying-only hours and programs within all-inclusive facilities have been around for decades. Long-standing women-only gym companies like Curves and Lucille Roberts — though not as popular as their all-gender counterparts — have been in business since 1992 and 1969, respectively. Even in 2008, Harvard University created set hours for female-identifying individuals only, per a religiously-motivated request from Muslim students.
Even if this is Brandeis’ first attempt at implementing female-identifying-only hours, Gosman has hosted faculty-only and beginners-only weight room hours to create more relaxed spaces. In terms of the beginners-only time that the gym provided in the fall, Page said the program came from the idea that “[regardless of your gender identity], if you don’t know what you’re doing, or you’ve never been [to the gym], it can be intimidating” to be in an unfamiliar space without support. Thus, the Gosman faculty implemented a set time to allow beginners to grow accustomed to equipment without the added pressure of being surrounded by those who frequent the gym.
However, these previous initiatives couldn’t have come with the same urgency as female-identifying-only hours did, considering many female-identifying students have expressed their discomfort with Gosman.
Asanya Wawlagala ’23 described her perspective of Gosman in general, explaining that she finds it “a pretty intimidating space to be in if you’re new to the gym.” She added that there have been several times when she was the only female-identifying individual in the space.
Wawlagala said that having a majority of male-identifying people around her contributes to the gym’s uncomfortable atmosphere, explaining that sometimes “guys at the gym just make sure you know they are there, whether it is through their actions or words.” More specifically, Wawlagala described that “people, and mostly men, are always just staring at [her] when she [works] out and it makes [her] feel uncomfortable regardless of how comfortable [she is] with [herself].”
Femme of Color Association Co-President Inaara Gilani ’23 agrees. She goes to the gym “pretty much every day other than the weekends” and shares the same discomfort. “Female-identifying folks, as well as queer and trans folks are often at a disadvantage and are often hyper-sexualized for [their] bodies. This happens normally everywhere, but especially at the gym,” she said.
Gilani and Wawlagala’s concerns are not unfounded. A 2021 survey made by Run Repeat’s Fitness Research Director, Nick Rizzo, found that 56.37% of women are harassed while working out, making them 2.68 times more likely to face such conduct than male gym members. Rizzo surveyed 3,774 gym members — the population being 1,107 women and 2,667 men — and ultimately found that 28% of women felt unsafe or uncomfortable at their gyms. Also, 30% changed their gym routine, schedule, or avoided certain areas at the gym in order to decrease the probability of facing harassment.
While these statistics apply to off-campus gym facilities, it is crucial to acknowledge that female-identifying individuals who consistently go to the gym like Wawlagala and Gilani relate to the majority of the women involved in the survey. Workout culture, whether it is a public weight room or one on a university campus, the population disparities remain the same.
As Amelia Shiraz Mahoney ’23 added, “Sometimes women feel like [they] shouldn’t take up space in the weight room,” and this new hour “may encourage more students to try something new and come to the gym,” relieving them of anxieties related to being new to work out equipment or being in a male-dominated environment.
Beyond these students agreeing that Gosman is a generally unsettling place to work out in, they all expressed a desire for a more designated time in the gym, which Page acknowledged. She stated that she and Rand would be “more than happy to discuss doing other days of the week and different time slots so that it can be more available and convenient for other female-identifying people to work out” if there is a demonstrated need for it.
After all, Page recognized “women-identifying people who want to lift [are not] lifting one day a week. Like anyone else [they’re] working out probably 3-5 days a week,” so the initiative will grow in proportion to its success to make the best use of the weight room — since that one area is dedicated to the entire campus.
Even before the new female-identifying-only hour program officially began, most of those interviewed have expressed this new program’s importance.
Gilani explained that as a Muslim woman, she “can see how this special hour is inclusive of those who cover up for whatever reason” be it for religious purposes or personal comfort in an all-gender setting. Since “sometimes [covering up] can be annoying when working out,” the hour provides a comfortable setting to wear “workout clothes without worrying about the male gaze.” Furthermore, Gilani mentioned that the hour will allow her to focus on her exercises more, since “[female-identifying individuals] usually have to split [their] attention between the task [they] are completing and being [overly] aware about [their] surroundings.”
The new hour also gives female students the opportunity to learn how to use gym equipment in a safer setting with the hopes of being able to go to the gym at all-gender hours and feel more confident and secure. Harry Ripp ’23 recalled that as “a beginner” he felt “fairly uncomfortable and intimidated by more physically fit people,” but with time and experience he “became much more relaxed and excited to be there.” Ripp is now in the Gosman weight room six days a week and is “happy to give up this hour for those who would use it.”
Nonetheless, not all male-identifying gym users are as willing to give up their time in the gym as Ripp is.
Harrison Sugarman ’24 lifts six days a week and spends “about 15 hours a week in Gosman.” He explained his concerns with the new hour, stating it has “contentious policies in terms of individual freedom” since the gym is “packed” during Tuesday evenings because “[the guys] workout at night because they simply don’t have any other time during the day.”
Although Sugarman acknowledged that “female Brandeis students have a right to workout without fear of harassment or intimidation,” he found that it is unfair to “deny all these men [who go to the gym during that time] the right to workout” for the purpose of providing a more comfortable environment for female-identifying students. Instead, he suggested Brandeis open a whole gym dedicated to women only, as it is a “standard industry practice.”
That being said, Maya Ollagnon ’25, an employee at Gosman, said in a written statement that this female-identifying only hour is not the only period of time when the weight room is unavailable to students. Ollagnon clarified that the weight room is “closed every Monday from 6-7” to accommodate a private conditioning class that goes on there. Interestingly, she said that there “has not been a single complaint about students not being able to use the weight room at this time” from anyone concerned about not having enough time to workout, but there have been complaints like Sugarman’s about the female-identifying-only hour. Ollagnon thought that this contrast between students’ responses “further proves that the complaints do not come from an issue with not being able to use the weight room during that hour, but the real issue is that the hour is reserved only for women-identifying students.”
This new hour is the first step toward creating a more equitable workout space for the female-identifying students at Brandeis, providing this population a comfortable space to focus on their established workout regimes or even gain the confidence to begin one.
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