Recently, I’ve been going to Mango Moon (Vigie) on and off, but I’ve also been a member of Fitness Freaks (for a time). The more time I spend in these male-dominated spaces, the more I’ve developed a case for a women’s only gym that doesn’t just have treadmills and ellipticals.

This hasn’t just been my experience; the experience of discomfort in male-dominated spaces in Saint Lucia has been echoed by other Saint Lucian women.

The issue with gyms being a non-explicit male dominated space is there may be the false assumption that men and women are both equally welcome in workout spaces when this just isn’t the case.

When women are not subjected to outright verbal harassment — sometimes disguised as patronizing “help” — we are subjected to leering, rude whispering, disgusted looks (because women shouldn’t dare lift or take up space lifting), farting and men’s general lack of conscientiousness for others since few of them bother to put away their weights OR clean up after themselves. There is also the loud and sexist “locker room talk”, where men feel emboldened to share and laugh about their general misogynistic and homophobic beliefs, subjecting anyone nearby (even while wearing headphones) to at least partially engage with their toxic and ignorant beliefs.

Men’s sexist behavior and the dominant/exclusionary way they take up space without regard for others isn’t unique to the gym, but it’s especially pronounced in this space where they feel particularly comfortable engaging in more aggressive (or passive-aggressive) behaviors towards women.

While myself and many women manage to “survive” and even frequent these male dominated spaces, there is an element of long-term impact that this behavior has on our self-perception and self-esteem. Neuroscience research has shown that “stereotype threat” affects women’s performance on tests that are outside of the purview of their societal gender role. It’s not a far reach to assume that stereotype threat in the gym also has a negative impact on women’s self-perceptions and performance.

A women’s only gym would be a valuable counter action to this issue, if and only if women’s gyms are replete with the same machinery as these “unisex” gyms (that are somehow never safe spaces for women). I can already hear the legion of sexist pseudo-thinkers bemoaning women’s need for a safe space while they conveniently ignore that the gym is already a safe space for men like them.

And, this is an issue for another day, but typical gyms are also not safe spaces for gay men either. At least not if you value the emotional safety of gay men. What is the solution then? While I believe women’s only gyms would solve the problem of women lacking comfortable, clean and respectful places to exercise in, there would still be the issue of gay/bisexual men as well as gender non-conforming individuals finding safe spaces to exercise. Culturally, it’s clear we need an overhaul. Should we wait around for the homophobic gym rats to start it, or is it something that us casual exercisers or disagreeable regulars need to do on our own?

I’ll leave that up to you to discuss and decide.

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