A few people recently drew attention to this video from The Flip Side. It’s a light take on what would happen if men and women switched roles in the gym. It’s not new. Many of you might have seen it before, as had I. Still, it’s worth reflecting on.
Granted, it makes fun of both men and women. And yet most of the women who talked to me about it said that they found it a bit funny and a bit offensive at the same time.
I had a similar reaction, though I do think it’s kind of funny. I’m interested in what makes it kind of offensive.
As anyone who has been to a gym knows, it can feel intimidating for newbies, especially women. The reason it feels intimidating isn’t only because it’s not a familiar environment. Another reason is that it is a very male-dominated space (thinking here of the weight room).
The gym is a place where women need to claim their place–it’s not awarded them as a birthright the way it is (for the most part) to men.
What’s offensive about the video is the way it plays into gender stereotypes that contribute to women being taken less seriously in the gym. Though it’s amusing to see two guys sitting on stability balls and talking about how they’ve earned a frozen yogurt, remember that this is supposed to be representing how women in the gym actually behave.
Any guy pumping weights in this video is lifting those tiny little pink or some other pretty color 3 pounders.
The guy at the end, paging through the magazine while leisure strolling on the treadmill and saying he’d be shopping if he’d not eaten cheesecake for breakfast, is supposed to represent women’s approach to cardio. The women beside him (remember, they are representing men) are running hard, sweating, working. The lightweight approach of the man highlights the stereotype of women as ignorant of what is required to get a good workout and/or incapable of working hard.
I know, I know. Men are also represented in a stereotypical light in this video. We see women acting as men in a yoga class, there only because it’s a good place to pick up guys. We see a woman posturing on her morning run. She’s really ready to puke but puts on an act when two good looking dudes walk by. We see a woman leaving the seat of a weight machine covered in a disgusting pool of sweat, totally disregarding the next user. And so on. Not flattering.
So why are some of the women I spoke to not completely amused, even somewhat offended, by this video?
In feminist research, we often talk about stereotypes in the context of power and privilege. Although stereotyping is in general not a good thing for anyone, it has a disproportionately damaging impact on vulnerable groups.
Men in our world are in positions of privilege. The space of the gym is male-dominated as it is. They can laugh at their foibles and still lose no ground at all in terms of their entitlement to be there. Systemic privilege makes ridicule less harmful to a group and its members.
Where women are concerned, that’s not the case. At many gyms, we start off at a disadvantage and need to prove ourselves, earn our right to be there. Making fun of women through stereotypes that show them as lightweights in the gym doesn’t help this cause.
That’s why we had the mixed reaction. Yes, it’s kind of funny. But it’s also kind of harmful. And were sort of tired of having to prove ourselves in the gym.