Exercise keeps me sane. It’s how I blow off steam, focus on my physical health and take my mind off of schoolwork. It’s also beneficial to my mental health, a fact I discovered during the pandemic. As Elle Woods cleverly conveys in “Legally Blonde,” “Exercise releases endorphins; endorphins make you happy.” She makes a good point: Exercise is important for regulating mood and managing stress — two things I would like to do as a college first year.
Before arriving at Kenyon, I went to the gym regularly, mainly utilizing the weight room. While intimidated at first, my gym’s welcoming atmosphere encouraged women to work out with weights and eased my anxieties. Although the weight room is stereotypically a place for men to build strength and gain muscle, weight training is an excellent way for women to do the same, while also meeting their fitness goals and relieving stress. This gendered divide in the gym — with men in the weight room and women on cardio machines — evidently remains in the Lowry Center. By removing this divide, we will create a more welcoming environment and ease anxieties that are common for women when working out.
This past summer, I gained confidence in the gym and looked forward to my training sessions. However, that changed when I came to Kenyon. From the beginning, it was clear that the weight room at Kenyon is gendered. Immediately upon entering, I saw the majority of women in the cardio section and the vast majority of the men in the weight room. This split was surprising to me, and I considered changing my reservation to the cardio section. However, I forced myself to try just one workout in the weight room.
After my first experience, I continued to use the weight room, but my anxiety surrounding visits to the gym persisted. This anxiety only intensified after male strangers approached me and made comments about my workout. It was obvious that they had watched me. Even if they made these comments to encourage me, I never saw any of them approach a male stranger and comment on their exercise. Either the sight of a woman alone in the weight room was surprising, or they felt they had the right to comment on my workouts when I don’t comment on theirs.
After these interactions, I considered an alternative to weight training, but frankly none appealed to me or were as convenient. After speaking with other friends who identify as women, we agreed that the gendered divide in the Lowry Center made the gym intimidating. Many friends have also mentioned that they would like to try weight training but are too scared. When a friend of mine asked if she could join me in my workout, I was hopeful that if we worked out together we could lessen some of each other’s anxieties. However, our hyper-awareness of others persisted; I could tell that we were both on edge, looking around us to see if anyone was watching and navigating to isolated corners to complete our sets. When speaking with friends, this fear when working out is felt only by those who identify as female. Just as the gym is gendered with men in the weight room and women in the cardio area, the anxiety is gendered as well.
I realize that this fear goes beyond Kenyon, and many have felt it at their hometown gym. However, Kenyon is a small community and as students, we have the power to shape our environment. Why not make the Lowry Center comfortable for all and encourage each other to enjoy taking care of ourselves through trying new exercises? For example, the sports trainers could write a basic workout for those new to weightlifting and post it on a whiteboard in the gym. This way, novices to weightlifting can know where to start.
Additionally, simply changing the gym layout could encourage more women to try weight training, since entering the “weight room” won’t feel like crossing a prescribed divide. Not only would breaking the gender divide be beneficial to our health by encouraging more female students to engage in weight training, but removing the gendered fear in the gym will eliminate the fear that many feel surrounding an everyday activity. My wish for the Kenyon community is that by the end of my time here, I am no longer wondering how to feel more comfortable in the gym. It shouldn’t be a problem in the first place.
Crandall King ’25 is an undeclared major from Charlotte, N.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.