For some going to the gym is a necessary, so some it isn’t and for some, it’s something that they want to achieve so badly, but are afraid because they are women. Some women find it hard enough for women to go to the gym without the overarching ‘male gaze’ lingering behind them while they work out, and for most, it’s harder when that ‘male gaze’ turns into judgment. Believing that every man is judging the way you work out or wishing you’d just leave so they can use the machine you’ve been on for all of about 5 minutes. Needless to say, this is so much worse for Muslim women.
For most us, going to the gym with that whole ‘free mixing stigma’ is a struggle enough. But even if you keep your head down and mind your own workout, you do tend to feel conspicuous in the weights section when you have men eyeing you up like you’re not supposed to be there.
I was at the gym recently and was criticised for squatting away from the mirror (which I do for safety reasons because I prefer to squat with the rack behind me in case I fall back and this particular squat rack only has one set of bars). Personally, I have been squatting for two years and know how to squat safely and effectively, everyone knows me to be the girl who squats hard. So to be criticised for not squatting towards the mirror, by someone who, let’s just say isn’t really in a physical position to be criticising me is an insult.
And the whole time all I could think was, ‘If I was a man, he wouldn’t dare talk to me, but because I’m a Muslim woman he feels he has the authority”
I have never been one of those feminists who turns down help from a man just because he’s a man, but as a woman, it is somewhat demeaning when you know you’re doing everything right and minding your own business, but others keep wanting to mess with yours.
This sort of situation at the gym is one which I think is fairly familiar to a lot of women, whether their Muslim or not. Men wanting to ‘help’ you, to prove that they are in control of the weights section and/or put you in your place. Of course, this is not always the reason why, I’ve been in situations where I genuinely needed help at the gym and I was grateful for the help of man, but, more often than not they assume you need help because you are a woman.
The problem, then, with being a Muslim woman in these situations, is that they assume, not only that you may need help, but that you may need to be taught. Because, with all of the stigma attached to the hijab and covering the head from the media as well as the western assumption that to be covered is to be oppressed, when western men see a covered woman in the weights sections, the assumption seems to be that she hasn’t got a clue what she is doing.
What’s worse is that being a Muslim woman always means you can get overlooked. In the same day that my workout technique was criticised, I moved on to the rear-kick machine. Mid kick, someone decided to remove my weights, which naturally, threw me off. He didn’t even look at me until I asked him ‘what the hell he thought he was doing’ to which he responded, “I didn’t think about it,”
Why didn’t you think about it?
You didn’t about the fact that there was blatantly someone standing on the machine in mid workout? How is that possible?
Or is it more accurate to say that you didn’t think that a fully covered a woman could possibly be using a weight machine, or that her work-out was important enough, in comparison to yours, enough to be allowed to continue?
Situations like, small though they are, shine a light on the mindset of SOME, (not all) of the men who use the gym, and the weights section of the gym in particular.
But in previous posts, I have spoken about how important it is to mind your own workout and not to be intimidated by others at the gym. Now I address Muslim women – DO NOT LET THEM SCARE YOU.
You are not working out for them to see or to attract them. You are working out for yourself. Even if you wear an abaya (the long Muslim dress), you can feel comfortable and proud of your own body, which, as a woman, is a right which is too often taken from us. And as small as small an issue as the gym is on the wider spectrum of feminist worries, that fact that it is one place that women can actively take control of their own body image, means that mastering the confidence to walk into the gym and work out how YOU need to, is a good place to begin.
Working out is something that everyone should do if they want to, and working out to your fullest potential is always going to include weights in some respect. But unfortunately working out in an all-female environment, though ideal, is a luxury which few can afford in London. But being a woman, least of all a Muslim woman, should not be a reason for you to not reach your full fitness potential.
Don’t be shy
Don’t be intimidated
It’s your body
It’s your workout
And whilst you are working out you are in your own space
None of this has anything to do with them and you have every right to be there.