By Lydia Paris ’17
From the lonely place atop a cardio machine I can clearly see the gender divide. This vantage point at the back of the gym is one that I often return to – I choose the comfort and safety of these machines even though my purpose for going to the gym usually involves lifting weights. This is what I see: the bikes in the center provide a sort of neutral zone between the boys in the weight training area and the girls on the cardio machines. When the few brave souls cross the divide, I am struck with the rarity of the event and an overwhelming feeling of empowerment. I am not brave enough to cross the threshold and step onto the mats that are so often populated by men. Water and towel in hand, I scurry to the back of the gym with the rest of the girls. I am aware of the subtle stigma that exists around guys using cardio machines and girls lifting weights, and I adjust accordingly.
A large majority of students at Andover, including me, are athletes. Most sports require strength and cardiovascular health, not just one or the other. So why is it that the boys focus so heavily on strength and the girls on cardio? Perhaps the answer lies in the societal pressures for girls to be thin and the boys to be strong. Societal pressures manifest in the gym, and it puts girls like me at a disadvantage. We should not have to sacrifice our potential strength and success in our respective sports because of a belittling culture that has taken form in the fitness center.
From the elliptical, I consider ignoring the social cues that I very well may have made up in my head and crossing the divide. I doubt anyone would notice. But if it were so easy, why aren’t more girls lifting? Why have I never seen a boy on the elliptical machine? I often avoid the weight mat for the simple fact that I am weaker than most of the guys working out there. The guys lifting bars heavier than my entire body intimidate me as I reach for the twelve pound dumbbells. Unfortunately, my embarrassment stunts my growth as an athlete, and I will never allow myself to row to the point where I am no longer embarrassed. The decision to make the sacrifice of comfort for my overall health is one that I will have to make alone. I climb off of the elliptical, raise my chin, and make my way to the twelve pound dumbbells.