Gym Anxiety? Nah, Just Sexism.

The gym can be an intimidating space for many people, especially for women. If you search “gym anxiety” on google, countless articles, chat threads, and videos show up offering advice on how to overcome gym anxiety. Through all of these articles, the one thing that stood out the most was how a lot of authors assumed their readers were women.

Why is that women are more prone to feeling anxious at a gym?

Well, maybe because the gym is a place typically dominated by men.


Several articles state that when experiencing gym anxiety, one of the major concerns is that other people at the gym are watching and judging whoever feels anxious. These same articles then go on to state that although it may feel like everyone is looking at you, that is usually not the case.

Here’s the thing. It’s kind of hard to try and ignore stares or believe that no one is looking at you when countless of stories have surfaced where men have been caught objectifying women in the gym, or making them feel like they don’t belong.

This past May an Australian man was caught on video masturbating to a woman doing squats in a public gym.

Another story written by Chaunie Brusie describes how many women feel at the gym. She tells her readers how she was doing a squat that required two benches. As she was working out, she noticed two men staring and shooting her dirty looks because they wanted to use one of her benches. She writes how she began to feel panicked and was rushing each set to finish, before she came to the realization that even though she was using the bench, her gut reaction was to give it to them because they were men and therefore they deserved it more than her.

This happens all the time for women, and not just in the gym. The articles mentioned before say gym anxiety is typically only felt when people first start working out, and that the more you workout, the less anxious you will feel. And although this may be true for some people, that’s not always the case. I still have a hard time feeling comfortable at UREC. Chaunie Brusie also felt uncomfortable in her story, and our discomfort wasn’t because neither of us rarely worked out. It’s because the gym is a predominately male space, and because of this, a lot of women feel as if they do not belong.

Why is it that there are still so many gendered spaces? Apparently women don’t belong in gyms because it is a place of power and dominance, something a woman should not have. JMU has a 60 to 40 ratio, where women are the majority, our slogan is “Being the Change”, and yet, there is still subconscious sexism on campus.

And look, I recognize my privilege. As an upperclass, white cisgendered female, I know that I am lucky that my only problem is sometimes feeling uncomfortable at the gym because I am afraid of someone looking at me. As a feminist however, and as a student at JMU, I am saying there needs to be some changes at UREC to make it a safe and accepting place for all of JMU’s students. I can only imagine how it may feel to be a disabled person, where there are no ramps or elevators in the building to get you past the first floor. Or even a transgendered person, who may feel uncomfortable not being able to use a gender neutral bathroom or locker room.

The bottom line is, UREC cannot really motivate all of Madison into motion, if all of Madison is not included.


5 thoughts on “Gym Anxiety? Nah, Just Sexism.

  1. I’m glad you wrote about gym anxiety. Having a space so dominated by men can make the gym a scary place for people to go to. On top of that no one likes the thought of being looked at, and it feels like in the gym thats one of the places where it happens the most.


  2. This is super important to talk about. Going to the gym is already stress inducing enough, but having to deal with the unnecessary male gaze also just takes more of a toll. The gym should be a place for self-love and growth, not to be paranoid about who might be looking at you.


  3. “It’s kind of hard to try and ignore stares or believe that no one is looking at you when countless of stories have surfaced where men have been caught objectifying women in the gym, or making them feel like they don’t belong”, was such a powerful and emotive statement that really resonated with me. As you point out, gyms are male-dominated spaces and I genuinely believe the fear of being watched ,like all your references stated, is the main reason I feel unmotivated to go to UREC or the gym. I feel like until women truly are held as equals, that women will continue to have this looming anxiety of being watched in and outside of the gym from male-dominance and unbalanced power relations. It disgusted me hearing about that Australian man, it exemplified every girl’s nightmare at the gym to the most extreme extent. Thank you for talking about this!


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