I wasn't sure if I was going to write all of this out and publish it on my blog, then I read this article on Huff Post (shared on their Facebook page), and it inspired me to speak out. Speaking out is even more important now then it has ever been since Title IX provisions are going to be rolled back. While the scope of Title IX is relatively narrow (i.e., only applies to colleges and universities that receive federal funding), it is a huge step towards silencing women.
I am a member at a local gym. I really do like this particular gym. The owners care about the business, are frequently around, and reinvest profits back into the facility and equipment. It really is a great place. They have a good amount of staffed hours, but members also have 24/7 access using a scan card. I'd also rate the gym female friendly because I haven't experienced some of the overt sexism that I've experienced in other gyms throughout my life.
On Saturday I went to the gym during unstaffed hours. This is typical for me on the weekends. When I arrived, there was one woman on a treadmill, and a father/son combo playing catch on one of the turf fields. Everybody was minding their own business and respecting each other's space. Eventually, all three of those people finished what they were doing and left, leaving me there alone. It was a little bit eerie, but not a big deal. There are plenty of security cameras. I moved where I was working out to a place where I had a direct line of sight to the main entrance, where I could see anyone coming in and where they would also be able to see me.
It wasn't long before I see a car pulling up and a 50-something appearing man can himself in. Being a woman has taught me to be cautious and aware in any situation where I am alone with an unknown male, so I was a little bit on edge, but not too bad, because after all, he had just as much right to be there as I did. Anyway, the man walked in, put his things down in the lounge area, and walked over to the stereo system and changed the channel. He didn't bother to ask me if I was listening or if I minded if he changed it. This put me a little more on edge because he clearly saw me and clearly didn't care if I was listening. It put him in a position of power over me and made me feel like I belonged there less than he did. I tried to shake it off and continued with my workout.
Next thing I know, this man (who I've never seen before in my life) starts working out within 10 feet of me without a single word. The gym is literally 30,000 square feet and there are two other areas with the exact equipment that I was using that he could have chosen. But he didn't. This put me over the edge. I grabbed my keys and bolted, not even taking the time to re-rack the weights I was using.
Did the man intend to hurt me? I doubt it. The gym has a ton of security cameras, is located in a plaza that has security patrols about every 20 minutes, and is across the road from a police station. He would have been incredibly stupid to try something. Did the man intend to intimidate me? This question is harder to answer. I don't think there was necessarily intent, but there was definitely an air of superiority and entitlement present in his actions that led to me being intimidated enough to leave. The music wasn't as big of a deal. It's proper gym etiquette (and basic human decency) to ask the only other person in the building if they mind if it's changed, but not the end of the world. And honestly, I would have told him that I didn't mind if it was changed. As for working out directly beside me, this one is a little harder to explain away. I really can't think of any reason he would do this, other than to make me uncomfortable.
I got home and was talking about what happened with hubs and I realized that he truly, genuinely didn't get it. I think that part of this is because as a man (a white man at that) he's very rarely, if ever, been put in a situation where he felt that his personal safety was at risk. On the other hand, women, including me, have dealt with this crap since we were young girls. And we're so used to it that we are hyper aware in all situations and usually don't say anything when something happens because it happens so often.
I'm fine now. I was uncomfortable and intimidated in the moment, but now I'm just pissed. This has all got to stop because it is not ok.
So I guess the moral of the story for women is to use your voice. Speak out. Change can't happen if half of the population doesn't even know there is a problem. And if any men happen to be reading this, the moral of the story for you is to listen to the experiences of the women you love and work to change your own behavior as a result.