I go to any one of five different gyms around town, depending on what I’m lifting that day and the equipment available, or what neighborhood I happen to be in. This is a pretty good system, though it gets confusing when my husband texts to see where I’m at and I simply reply, “At the gym.” Some of my gyms come complete with heaps of assholes (really only one- and it’s a gym I use in emergencies only), but most are pretty friendly.
Perhaps too friendly. Kind of.
In a passive aggressive raises-my-feminist-hackles kind of way.
Now, some of you, I am aware, will think this is utterly stupid, that I am being overly sensitive, or that my contest prep macros have my attitude in a bad place. But for me, the following described scenario is indicative of a larger, more pervasive problem on a societal level, and the gym is just where I most often encounter it.
I have begun to notice that the people at my gyms- not just one, but many of my gyms, seem to have some expectations that I don’t necessarily quite agree with, or want to be a part of.
They fucking smile. And wave. And nod.
Hear me out on this one.
The people at my gym-and yes, I’ll admit the guilty parties are almost entirely men, in this case- constantly are acknowledging me, to the point of going out of their way to catch my eye for the sole purpose of smiling at me, waving at me, or otherwise seeking my attention. I long ago stopped removing my headphones for all but a very select group of people (we are talking less than 1 person per gym, on average, here), but now I’m literally being flagged down between sets, tapped on the shoulder just for a head nod while writing in my lifting logs, or being interrupted as I lift? This is frustrating to me. I can’t even walk to another area of my gym without someone purposefully making eye contact with me so that they can smile, with the implied expectation being that I will smile in return.
Call me petty, but I don’t want to fucking smile at people in the gym.
I am not there to cheer people up and provide a pleasant viewing experience.
I am not here to validate your efforts at pleasantries.
And I certainly will not stand for you interrupting my actual purpose for being in the gym just so you can make yourself known.
I do not owe you a fucking smile.
Or a wave. Or a nod.
Or even a hello.
I do not owe anyone anything.
I am not against being friendly, but when it’s the third time in a gym session that I’m having to readjust the muscles in my face to validate you, that doesn’t seem right. To me, this is intrusive, and disrespectful.
I should not have to purposefully avoid eye contact, or the potential for eye contact, in any space. In the same way that I should not have to be told to smile, or look happy, while walking down the street or sitting in a bar, I should not be expected to change my demeanor, my thought process, or my facial expression at the gym. I come to the gym to focus on me, not to decorate this space with my positive and bubbly attitude and infectious smile.
Even though I possess both of these things, let’s just get that straight right now.
Chatting with some friends, I found that I ma not alone in this experience. Some ladies have said that they choose to wear hats to the gym in order to shield their eyes and make eye contact less likely, appearing less “available” for social contact, or the possibility of inviting it. At this point, I have taken to wearing a purposefully angry face in the gym, and keeping my eyes downcast, lest I match eyes with someone who has been waiting for the opportunity to catch my gaze. Yesterday when I left the gym my face was actually SORE from having put on such an impressive display of Lifting Bitch Face.
This isn’t right. This rubs my feminist bone in all the wrong ways. I realize that the gym is largely a boys club. I realize that my presence there might be exciting, or novel, or whatever. But I think it’s high time we throw off this idea that women must always be happy, must smile decoratively, or contribute to the positive atmosphere of a place. I have just as much right to come to the gym, put in my work, and leave uninterrupted as any man occupying the space and engaging in the same actions.
So why am I the only person fending off undesired solicitations to smile?
As I was in the process of writing and editing this post, I came upon this article discussing the work of artist Sally Nixon, depicting women, unposed, performing mundane, everyday tasks. They feel relaxed- alone; finally out of the perceived social judgement of others.
And not a single one is smiling.
“I like drawing girls doing their everyday routine — just hanging out, not worried about what others are thinking,” said Nixon. “They’re usually alone or with other girls. Their guard is down.”
These illustrations spoke to me, and assured me that my perception of this small-scale assault of smiles in the gym is not petty, and is not my struggle to face, unsmilingly, alone. #idonthavetosmile