The Gym, As A Social Scene

1873 words - 7 pages

Although fitness centers and gyms may appear to be a place to break a sweat and work out with the intention of not being seen without makeup and in grungy clothes, this may not be the case, in particular when it comes to college gyms. Contrary to the findings Tamara L. Black displayed in her dissertation for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology from the University of California in Los Angeles, in which she depicts the situation of the classical fitness center as exercise dominated, after observations made while participating in the Boston College Recreational Complex, fitness centers may be more heavily focused on expressing sexual and social relations than for health related issues. Although she does not elaborate on this view of the gym, she does recognize that “popular media, cultural stereotypes, and some empirical literature depict gyms as places to meet people, where sexualized interactions are likely to take place, where bodies are on display as objects of desire” (pg. 40). This may be the perfect definition of the situation that I found in my observations. Shari L. Dworkin and Faye Linda Wachs, in Body Panic: Gender, Health, and the Selling of Fitness, acknowledge “mainstream media construct men as active and women as inactive. In this view, women are often shown as ‘being visually perfect’ and passive, immobile, and unchanging’” (pg. 40). Perhaps we have media to blame for this hyper-sexualization of a situation that was initially intended for self-fulfillment and health related practices.
Roberta Sassatelli, in her piece Fitness Culture: Gyms and the Commercialisation of Discipline and Fun, gives rise to this idea of a “gender-activity matrix” (pg. 74) within fitness centers. It is here that she point out that men rarely participate in fitness classes and when they do, “they often feel comparatively marginal to the scene and less proficient with the movements” (pg.74) where as when looking at the more masculinized section of a gym “women appear less confident here, and many reported the feeling of being looked at as more dangerous, as if their femininity was revealed in potentially uncontrolled ways” (pg. 75). Clearly the gym is capable of being an extremely gendered institution where females and males are expected to look and play a certain role. The gym, in this case, has become more about portraying an image, than actually working out and bettering ones self. The image being displayed, for women tends to be based around sexuality and putting one’s body on display, where as men are depicted as being muscular, cut, and fat-free.
While observing the situation at the Boston College gym, several behaviors stuck out as portrayals of creating different definitions for the particular situation. Highly gender-separated, there were no girls in one section of the gym, and no men in another section of the gym. The elliptical section was completely women dominated, where as men exclusively populated bench press and weight...

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