By Delaney Kenyon | Photo by Patil Khakhamian
This pandemic has caused a lot of uncomfortable situations. Not only did we have to scramble back home — some into neglectful, abusive, or unstable situations — and take up online classes, but most of the things that people use to cope with crisis, trauma, and stressful situations were shut down or modified in extreme ways. Some went shopping, some went to get their nails done, some went to concerts, some went to watch sports, some went to Twit or SpeakEasy. I went to the gym, or to rugby practice (shoutout Cutthroat Rugby). Being able to exercise and sweat for an hour each day allowed me to cope with the Block Plan.
However, the Adam F. Press Center brought its own nuances and challenges to my relaxation time. No matter what Colorado College students believe, there is still a lot of violence against women on campus. The downstairs weightlifting area is where I, and other female-identifying friends, feel this the most regularly. Despite being a second-degree black belt who plays rugby, I still feel threatened by the hyper-masculine, aggressive energy that is normally downstairs. Once, a friend of mine and I had a text conversation while doing our workouts bemoaning the thick musk of testosterone that permeated the floor. Normally I just put my head down, do what I came to do, glare at whoever I see staring, and leave. Even this, however, I do with modifications. I stretch upstairs. When I go downstairs, I exercise with my back towards a wall. If I’m using a bench, I get one towards an end, not in the middle. I don’t cross in front of people to get weights, always behind. This kind of self-censorship has become second nature to me, and to a lot of other womxn in this situation, I’m sure. This is to say that even at CC — where we like to believe we’re better than outside society — women still feel threatened to enter gym spaces.
This issue is spread across the U.S. Back home in Pennsylvania, I work out at the local YMCA, where I have to endure being checked out by everyone. At least in El Pomar it is only members of the CC community. But now, because gyms are closed, active people are having to modify their exercise programs. I normally take my exercise outside as my house is too small to work out inside it comfortably. I am lucky enough to have my house back into a community park with a big field, a basketball court, a playground, and a baseball diamond with a ball cage.
This also allows me to run if I desire (I normally don’t desire that) and practice various rugby drills that involve space. I normally try kicking and catching drills, agility obstacle courses, and sprint intervals. I also have a 12-week, mainly bodyweight, exercise program that I’ve been working on for a while, which I do in the grass or under one of the three pavilion-type buildings in the park. Walking, using this park and others like it, and hiking are some of the few things we are still allowed to do in Pennsylvania.
I find that the park is almost consistently populated with people walking their dogs, people playing basketball, or parents letting their kids mess around on the playground. Now, instead of facing only the stares and criticisms of people in the gym loosely bound to the customs of “don’t hit on people, don’t correct form, don’t touch people,” I deal with everyone outside. A mother told me that doing a yoga warm up in the park wearing leggings and a long sleeve shirt was “indecent” and that I should be ashamed of doing itin front of children. An elderly woman gasped in disgust to see me doing pushups in the field in shorts. A man yelled that I was throwing my football incorrectly (note: it was a rugby ball which requires an underhand throw) and tried to break into my six feet to show me how to use it properly. A group of 13-year-old boys made sexual jokes, yelled at me, and even sent someone to break into my six feet in an attempt to get my number or harass me further. A man in a car shouted at me from the road as I did intervals in a field.
Dealing with this amongst the anxiety of a global pandemic makes me reminisce about the days of the gym. In a gym, there is some semblance of protection — if someone openly gets out of hand you can get a manager involved, others might respect the rules of the gym more and step in if a situation occurs, and womxn who have experienced the same help other womxn. A gym has rules and boundaries. If someone openly crossed them, they could be removed from the situation. How do you remove someone from a space that is open to all? Unless they do something illegal, or try to break public health rules and don’t stop like the man and boy I yelled at, you can’t remove them from a space; they have just as equal a right to it as you. How do you manage others while also staking your claim as a person who deserves to be there, in that space, using it how you want, and for what it was designed for? How do you get over the vulnerability of lacking what little support you have at gyms, lacking walls to work against to limit staring, lacking gym buddies or friends around you?
Essentially, how do you take up the space that is owed to you while being courteous?
To conclude, exercising right now is hard. It is especially hard for those who already face harassment and scrutiny — womxn, people of color, and those with different body types. Help those around you, while maintaining public health recommendations, by stepping up and interjecting yourself into those situations. It may be awkward or a misunderstanding — but that’s better than letting a bad situation get worse. Also, take this account as an opportunity to reevaluate how you function in a gym setting. If you have the privilege of being male, consider how you operate in a way that might make womxn feel uncomfortable and then take steps to prevent that.