A different kind of gender gap is plaguing campus, and on the surface, everyone seems OK with it. IM West is one of three gyms that students frequent on a daily basis. With few exceptions, a straight line can be drawn that almost completely separates the males from the females in the main fitness area. Women mark their territory on the elliptical machines and treadmills upstairs, while men dominate the lifting equipment downstairs. Do men and women differ enough physically to warrant different work out programs? There’s nothing biological keeping a man from using an elliptical and a woman from using the weight machines, right? [card]
Physically, there aren’t many differences in the muscles used between men and women. “There is not much difference in muscles to the point where one exercise might benefit a gender better. There are just different ranges,” said Jim Pivarnik, professor of kinesiology and epidemiology and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health. For example, many male and female athletes lift weights for strength. Men are going to be able to lift more because they are physically bigger than women, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t as much intensity or strength gain. It simply means women generally aren’t going to have the same changes in size of muscle mass as men. Furthermore, the effort is the same between men and women, but the ranges are different, proportionally. A man’s range is just higher than a woman’s range.
Pivarnik also pointed out women are more prone to have knee injuries than men and this might make a small difference in how students behave at the gym. This would explain why women are usually seen using the elliptical machines. Ellipticals are easier on the knees because there is not a lot of impact. For many women, this might be a less painful route of exercise. After surveying 25 men and 25 women at IM West, the elliptical does in fact prove to be the most used machine for females. Not only is this machine less painful, it is a great cardio workout. “I use the elliptical because it works every part of my body,” physiology freshman Bridgette Ma said. In fact, Ma said she could burn about 600 calories working out on the elliptical for one hour. But if the elliptical is such a great way of burning calories, why aren’t more males using it too? In the survey, nearly 65 percent of women stated they used an elliptical, whereas only eight percent of males said they did. Clearly, the physical differences between men and women are too minute to be contributing to the gender gap at the gym. So, what is it all about?
“It all comes down to masculinity and femininity,” said Dr. Gary Stollak, a professor of psychology. The first adjectives that come to mind may differ slightly, but they basically mean the same things. Masculinity is considered “strong,” “aggressive” and “tough.” Meanwhile, femininity is described as “slender,” “passive” and “emotional.”
[brain]Environmental studies and applications sophomore Gino Antonio Washington claims he has learned how to be masculine from his cultural background and personal experiences, and these behavioral patterns replicate themselves even at they gym. “Whether I believe it or not, I get judged for it. If you don’t follow the patterns set forth, other males can bully you and call you soft,” Washington said.
This fear of being labeled “soft” is exactly the reason many males find themselves on the weight bench. These characteristics pop up everywhere, especially in mainstream magazines. You don’t expect a man to read Vogue or Cosmopolitan and you don’t expect a woman to read ESPN The Magazine or Sports Illustrated. Even the models inside reinforce these gender roles and serve as body inspiration. The audiences of these magazines are definitely not just one gender, but people generally try to fit these masculine and feminine roles. With masculinity and femininity shaping much of daily life, it makes sense the gym fosters these ideas as well.
[pink]Masculinity and femininity play a huge part in one’s motivation to work out and therefore influence the way a person exercises. Method goes hand in hand with the expected results. Most importantly, one’s body goal reflects how he or she perceives ideal masculinity and femininity. “We live in a world where John Wayne and Charlton Heston define masculinity,” Stollak said. Since this is what a lot of men distinguish as masculine, they want to exemplify the same characteristics. Physically, these characteristics include being bulky or built. The same goes for women. If a woman sees femininity as being toned and slender, that is the look she wants to perfect.
“I avoid weight lifting because I don’t want to look masculine. When I think of masculine, I think of broad shoulders and veins,” Ma said. In other words, the gender separation seen at the gym is not so much about biological sex differences, but about traditionally held notions of masculinity and femininity.
The survey of students at IM West shows a significant difference in the way men and women want to sculpt their bodies. The biggest dissimilarity is how each gender desires to change their appearances. Approximately two times as many men want to build muscle than women. In addition, nearly three times as many women want to lose weight than men. “One would like to believe that everyone who goes to the gym does it to stay healthy, but sometimes when this should be the most important thing, it’s not,” Stollak said.[ette]
Since men and women behave differently because they want different results from the gym, socializing might be more apparent in one gender than the other. With such a gendered atmosphere at the gym, it is inevitable that one or two people will take a stroll across the line, and try to pick up a date while they’re at it. According to Drue Hemingway, a kinesiology senior and an employee at IM West, there are always a lot of people, both male and female, who come in to get a serious workout without the socializing.
“Although there tends to be a gender split with women on the elliptical and men on the weights, there are still a lot of people who are serious about working out,” Hemingway said. Hemingway also has observed people who socialize tend to come in groups, and those groups consist of more women than men. However, when it comes to working out, men who were lifting weights were also sociable, because they took breaks in between lifts. Once the women were on the elliptical machines, the socializing was replaced with exercising as cardio leaves little air to breathe, let alone chit-chat.
[blue] Because more women than men come in groups to the gym, they’re obviously relying more on the buddy system. But in the end, masculinity and femininity still have the most influence on how one behaves at the gym, over any kind of socializing activity. Gender roles still draw strict lines that can sometimes blatantly be seen – like the one between the ellipticals and the barbells.
For one student, the line between masculine and feminine was challenged when he signed up for an aerobics class. Electrical engineering freshman Mark Sun was a little intimidated walking into his class and realizing that he was one of only two men in the room of 50 people. “I really just took the class because I needed one relaxing class for my busy schedule,” Sun said. Before long, however, Sun became very comfortable and realized it wasn’t the form of exercise that mattered, because he was getting the results he wanted. “I was always physically active throughout high school and I always liked to stay in shape,” Sun said. This was just a different way of achieving that goal.
[gino]Although gender expectations are prevalent and pervasive, there is certainly no harm in crossing the line. “What we really need to look at is what is masculine and feminine and how important it is to you,” Stollak said.
“I wouldn’t mind doing something like yoga or an elliptical. I’m all about doing whatever I can do to improve my performance,” Washington said. And if the desire to achieve a certain body image stays on the minds of the gym regulars, maybe that line between masculine and feminine practices will be crossed.