Women have long been hyper-vigilant about unwanted male attention in the gym. But before smartphones, the feeling that they were being watched was more of a feeling than a certainty.
Now, catching perceived offenders in action has become its own sport on TikTok, with women secretly leaving their taped phones behind and then watching the resulting video to see who was staring at their behinds as they squatted.
On the app, the ruthless hashtag “gym weirdos” has over 1.9 million views, with videos showing men attempting to flirt or hit on women who just want to get through their sets undisturbed.
Gina Love is one such TikTok sleuth. She hits the gym at least four times a week because the endorphin boost that comes from a good deadlift neutralizes the daily stresses of life.
“Watch this creep come into my personal bubble while doing [Romanian deadlifts]“Love wrote in the caption of a meeting she posted on TikTok, which has been liked more than 50,000 times. “The gym was practically empty, and there were so many nooks and he chose this one.” In the clip, the man stands directly behind Love as she lifts some dumbbells before deciding to leave.
“I would say I get goosebumps 15% of the times I work out,” Love, who is 29 and lives in Atlanta, told The Guardian. This usually manifests as a man staring at her for an “uncomfortably long” amount of time. “It’s almost like they’re trying to undress you in their head,” Love said.
Some might say that inappropriate stares or creepy comments are as much a feature of the gym for women as broken workout equipment or crowds. A 2021 study found that 76% of women feel uncomfortable exercising in public due to harassment. In another Run Repeat survey, 56% of women said they had been harassed during their workouts.
Love sometimes leaves the gym when the gaze is too strong. “It disgusts me, makes me anxious and my survival instinct kicks in,” she said. “I’ll usually cut my training short because I can’t feel comfortable with that person around me.” Love swaps stories with friends: one recently told her that a man had tried to secretly record her during a workout.
Comments on her videos, and others posted by women with similar experiences, elicit different reactions. Some commentators agree that gyms look like predatory spaces. But others dismiss the women’s complaints as overreactions.
“This is not your personal space,” one person wrote in response to Love’s clip. “WTF is a personal bubble in a public gym?” another asked.
Joey Swoll is a male trainer and TikToker who calls himself the “CEO of Gym Positivity”. He frequently reposts these videos with comments about gym etiquette, either exculpating the so-called “creep” or validating the exhausted woman’s feelings with his 6 million Tiktok followers.
Last month, an influencer named Jessica Fernandez posted a video from the gym showing a man looking in her direction as she worked out. “I hate it, I hate it when there’s weirdos,” she said under her breath in the clip. “Wild, wild, wild, like a fucking savage. The man then asked her if she needed help with a weight, and she refused.
Swoll responded to her video, writing, “Women are being harassed in gyms and it needs to stop, but you’re not one of them. One act of kindness or one look doesn’t make you a victim. The video was liked over 812,000 times and Fernandez eventually apologized for her post.Swol and Fernandez did not respond to requests for comment.
Why can’t men mind their own business at the gym? Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, historian and author of the new book Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America’s Exercise Obsession, said gyms have long been gendered spaces. Historically, there were separate men’s and women’s gymnasiums, or health clubs intentionally held “women’s days.”
“When I hear about men ogling or hitting women at the gym, I often remember that for decades women exercising were considered some kind of sexy show,” Petrzela said.
In June 1972, for example, New York organized its first mini-marathon, televised and hosted by the hosiery brand L’eggs. Playboy Bunnies flanked the start line of the race. “It’s clear from the footage that some of the male spectators were there to ogle rather than cheer on the female athletes,” Petrzela said. Even as second-wave feminism of the 1970s and 1980s encouraged women to enroll in workout classes en masse, late-night entertainers constantly joked about Spandex-clad personalities like Debbie Drake or Jane Fonda twirl on TV for something “other than exercise.” .
In the 1980s, after coed gyms became the norm, columnists wrote about how gyms were “the new singles bars,” a concept that fueled the 1985 romantic comedy Perfect, featuring stars John Travolta as a journalist who falls in love with perpetually sweaty health. coach, played by Jamie Lee Curtis.
The majority of gyms today are co-ed, and the idea of returning to women-only workout spaces remains controversial. Last year, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that these areas violated a state law prohibiting discrimination based on sex. Despite this, some sections of the gym tend to be unofficially segregated by gender.
“Women are overrepresented in studios and on cardio equipment while men disproportionately flock to the weight floor,” Petrzela said. “But the boom in popularity of women’s weightlifting, and therefore being more present in a part of the gym that has traditionally been more masculine, means there are likely to be more examples of these unwanted advances.”
That means women like Love, who find so much joy in working out, have to deal with their sense of security every time they want to hit the gym. “This behavior from men encourages me to train as early as possible, usually when the gym opens,” she said. “I tend to go with a friend because creeps are more shy when there are two girls together. I try to keep my clothes incognito: oversized hoodie and hat. It’s sad that the girls don’t may not be comfortable wearing what they want to practice without being harassed.
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