6 things women put up with in the gym, and why they shouldn't have to.

Finding the motivation to go to the gym isn't easy for anyone. But it can be much harder for women, for reasons that have nothing to do with actually working out.

Knowing they're likely walking into a hornet's nest of people (men) who will bother, critique, stare at, or otherwise annoy them is an unfortunate reality for many female gym-goers.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.


About 14% of women say they're intimidated by the possibility of men leering or judging them while they work out, according to research done by Cosmopolitan Body in 2014. The problem gets even worse in the weights section, which is typically overrun with men. The survey discovered almost half of all women found the area intimidating because of "the people who use it."

Anecdotal evidence backs that up. Reddit and fitness discussion forums are rife with women asking for advice on dealing with men at the gym who gawk, flirt, interrupt, or even harass them. The common (and quite depressing) responses: develop a "resting bitch face," learn to be super rude, get better at ignoring people, or report these men to gym management.

Instead, we ought to be reminding men they don't own the gym; women shouldn't have to "put up with" rude behavior or "find a way" to not attract attention. Wouldn't it be better for everyone if women didn't have to deal with harassment at all?

So, fellow dudes and fellow gym go-ers, I implore you, think for a second about what women go through at the gym. And if you catch yourself or your friends doing any of this stuff, please cut it out.

1. Women can tell when you're staring at them, and it's not as flattering as you think.

Making a woman feel "on display" by leering when she's just trying to get a workout in is a surefire way to make her feel uncomfortable or even scared. And no, tight pants and sports bras aren't an invitation.

Think a lingering glance here and there isn't a big deal? Upworthy reader Meredith Cantrell says many of the women she knows actually drive to "gay neighborhoods" to work out so they won't be gawked at.

Totally unnecessary if guys can learn to keep our eyes to ourselves.

2. Women go to the gym to work out (like everyone else) — not speed-date between sets.

It's not that you can't meet that special someone at the gym, but there's a time and a place. Flirting with a woman at the gym when she's in the middle of lifting weights or grinding out miles on the treadmill is neither the time nor place.

Not only is it super rude to interrupt (honestly, you're not going to get a good response doing this anyway), it's also pretty dangerous to distract someone while they're, say, holding the equivalent of their own bodyweight on their back while doing squats. Yet, incredibly, it happens all the time.

A good rule of thumb: When someone's wearing headphones, it usually means they don't want to talk to anyone. Even you, handsome.

3. When women lift heavy weights, guys around them get insecure and lash out.

Reader Emma Johnson writes that one day, while working with her trainer, she hit a pretty impressive 250-kilogram leg press (over 550 pounds — go Emma!). A jealous guy standing nearby couldn't help but chime in, "Yeah, but you're doing it wrong."

Look, guys, women are strong. Sometimes they will be stronger than you. Deal with it like an adult and get back to work on your own fitness goals.

4. Unsolicited advice isn't helpful. It's insulting.

When people want help, they'll ask, or they'll hire a personal trainer. In the meantime, worry about your own "form." OK?

Laurna Robertson says she was talking to a "persistent guy" in the sauna at her gym one day when the subject of running came up. After sharing their respective half-marathon times (Laurna was faster, by the way), the man "generously" offered to coach her. What a guy!

Sophia Bromfield adds, "I have a corner in the gym to hide while I lift," but one day a dude stood next to her until she took her headphones off, then insisted on teaching her proper lunge form.

This is the gym version of mansplaining. It's annoying and insulting. Don't do it.

5. Some guys just don't know when to go away. Others are straight-up bullies.

Being "overly friendly" with questionable motivations is one thing, but some women find men at the gym can be downright nasty, purposefully intimidating them or boxing them out so they'll leave.

The gym is a shared space. Other people pay money to go there, just like you. If you don't want to be around other humans, buy a home gym.

Also, beware of unconscious behaviors like "manspreading," taking up more room than you need, or stealing someone's weights before they're done with them.

6. These behaviors aren't just annoying. They can be extremely intimidating.

At a certain point, these behaviors cross the line from rude and inappropriate to downright scary.

Ashley Loshbough writes that a man once came up to her (asking her to remove her headphones, which, just ugh) and said, "Wow, I wish I had beautiful [pale] skin like yours," stared for a moment, then walked off.

It might sound funny and harmless, but this is the kind of thing that has women looking over their shoulder in the parking lot and wondering if they should ever come back to that gym again.

A little empathy goes a long way, fellas.

Do you want someone gawking at your butt while you're on the treadmill? Interrupting you while you're holding heavy weights? Impatiently waiting inches away from you until you finish up on a machine?

Let's work together to keep this crap out of the gym and make it an environment where we support others to reach whatever their health and fitness goals are.

Even if that means just leaving each other alone.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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