Miriam Cherry's wonderful post on gyms and BFOQs brought to mind my own experiences as a gym goer. Her BFOQ hypo rests on the fact that something in the gym experience, as well as the behavior of some gym goers, can make the thought of working out at a gym as frightening as -- eek -- public speaking! The desire to control that environment -- such as by limiting who can work at the gym -- is targeted at that fear.
So, here's my theory, based solely on personal experience, of why a gym can be an intimidating place. When I began exercising, I avoided gyms, preferring the solace of solo, outdoor exercises like walking and running. The thought of going to a gym made me feel vulnerable. For one, as someone who has struggled with weight and body image issues all of my life, I worried that standard gym attire allowed others a fairly good view of where my body stands. (And that doesn't touch on pool attire, which always bring back flashes of the grade school gym class shaming ritual known as shirts v. skins.) It also doesn't help that exercise performance can be quantified (what's your mile pace? what's your one rep max on the bench?), adding the anxiety of measuring up to -- or being judged by -- other gym dwellers. And beyond these neuroses, there is a learning curve to working out safely and effectively. So, finding a gym with a supportive environment was important to me. To pick up on a point in Miriam's post, I wanted to preserve an aspect of privacy while working out in a public space. If a person finds a single-gender environment important to preserving that privacy, I support that choice.
Once I got beyond my gym hangups, and found a gym where I felt comfortable, I still had to deal with the usual cast of misfits who have no sense of gym etiquette, or even minimal social graces. I mean, no gym is perfect. So I can also see that a person would prefer a gym where the likelihood of bad behavior, and thus the invasion of one's privacy, is lower. And for some a single-gender environment may create that security.
To close, I'll share my top gym behavior pet peeves. I'd be interested in hearing from others on the subject.
Excessive Grunting. I can see that you are lifting REALLY heavy weights, so I don't need accompanying grunts to highlight your Herculean effort. And while we evolved from primates, there's no reason to act like one at the gym. Just one question -- will you make the same sound when you pop a hernia while eking out your last rep?
Singing Out Loud. Two words -- sound travels. Now don't get me wrong -- I listen to music while I exercise, and I've been known to top off a good runner's high by belting out the chorus to It's Raining Men. But here's the thing -- I was outside, and no one was within ear shot. As we like to say in the law biz, singing inside a gym is distinguishable. So while it's impressive that you know 87% of the lyrics to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance, the rest of us have our own iPods, so we're covered music-wise.
(BTW -- true story. I overheard one gym goer trying to sing Bad Romance, and they came out with the line "caught in a bathroom stance" instead of "caught in a bad romance." Not only does that line not fit the rest of the song, but, as far as I know, the song is not about former Idaho Senator Larry Craig.)
Not Wiping Down Sweat on the Equipment. It's gross. If I wanted to get wet, I would have gone to the pool. Wipe the equipment. Enough said.
Not Re-Racking Weights. Yes, I know you're lifting heavy weights (see "Excessive Grunting" above). So you don't need to leave your dumbells lying on the floor, hoping I'll trip on them and be shocked and awed when I notice their immense size as my head crashes to the gym floor.
Homophobic/Misogynistic/etc. Put Downs. At some -- but not all -- of the gyms I have been to, I have heard taunts like, "Oh, that's so gay," "You lift like a girl," or "You're behaving like such a retard." While the other behaviors merely annoy me, this one gets me angry. This is no laughing matter, and it is the one thing I will always take time to address. Especially at the University rec center, where I work out on campus, because faculty and staff have a responsibility to model behavior. This is an area where I hope fellow gym goers will join me in showing zero tolerance.
So, there you have it. Hope to see you -- but not necessarily hear you -- at the gym!