The college gym: culture and social norms The gym is a place where a typical American college student goes to work out their bodies to achieve societies idea of the “perfect body. ” While I have been to the gym many times before due to swimming obligations I have not taken the time to observe the other people around me. This ethnographic exercise will explore the college gym norms at Roger Williams University. My first step in this was planning out the days and times in which I would go to the gym, I decided to go at three different times on three days. :00 am, 3:00 pm. and 6:00 pm.
I would go into the gym and do my normal lifting workout for swimming. I’d be careful to take mental notes as to what other people around me were doing and how things made me feel. DAYT: My initial approach was to go to the gym known for being the busiest time of the day 3:00 p. m. during the week. Filling up my water bottle outside the entrance of the gym I could hear the buzzing, beeps and clinks of weights together. Clearly even before entering I could sense the amount of people in the area.
GOOD Upon entering the gym there is someone at the desk to swipe my card, a normal act to show you go to this school or are a regular member of the gym. Looking around I notice almost every treadmill in the front is full and the Ellipticals and bikes are pretty full too. Moving towards the room where people usually stretch or do abs. I could not find a single space to stretch out and for me this made me slightly irritated. Not getting too upset, I decided to wait and take in the scene around me. There was a clear separation showing. The elliptical and bikes were completely full of women.
Then looking towards the eight lifting area I could not see a single woman in sight it was all men. Usually without thinking I would put my headphones on and go over to lift weights, but today I started to get almost selfconscious that I was the only girl with a bunch of men around me. For clothing many of the girls were wearing, the average gym outfit for a college girl, leggings and an athletic tank top or t-shirt. They guys were split on what they wore. I could easily identify the athletes as they were wearing shirts specifying the sport they played or the standard athlete shirts. The other men wore athletic shorts and either a tank or t-shirt.
The only thing unifying the two genders is everyone wearing sneakers, which are pretty much a requirement for any college gym. Looking around I wasn’t the only one who had headphones in my ears, it seemed as if 99 percent of the people there were wearing them. Personally I enjoy headphones because you can block out the other people around you and listen to your music. Also music is a way to motivate you in the gym. Like running to fast music makes you run faster. Personally I believe in the fact the music does all this. I noticed that no person was really close to another person.
For example, I found a spot to lift, but specifically chose it because nobody was directly next to me, behind, or in front of me. I almost did this subconsciously, personally I think most American college students have a very good sense of personal space and if they break it there is almost this instant moving. I decided to interview a girl who came of the treadmill, Alyssa. Alyssa is a student athlete at Roger Williams and was at the gym to run and lift. She wore a typical gym outfit for a girl, crop leggings and a tank top Nike sneakers and headphones. My first question was what is the most important thing to bring to the gym?
In response she said, “Headphones are such a necessity to bring to the gym. They are basically a symbol for other people around not to talk to me or bother me during my workout. Also the music helps me get through the workout. My second question was about the separation of the genders and does she personally feel uncomfortable about lifting around only men? She said “I don’t feel intimidated at the gym because I am an athlete here and I know what I am doing, most girls who are not confident don’t know how to lift weights and choose to do things like the elliptical or bike.
Men on the other hand, seem to not care and lift even if they have no idea what they are doing just to show off. ” My final question was do you enjoy coming to the gym at this time? Very quickly she responded with “I would much rather go to the gym earlier in the morning when nobody is around. ” In conclusion of day one I found that through interviews and observations there is a general gender line unless a girl is confident enough to lift with the guys since they know what they are doing. DAY || It was 9:00 am on a weekday where I headed to the gym for my second day of this social observation.
Walking in there has been not nearly as much noise projecting out. The gym almost felt cooler than it did when I went at 3:00 p. m. The gym was not as nearly full. Looking at the gym the gender split was not as defined. There were still only girls on the Ellipticals but the area for lifting seemed to be evenly split between male and female. There was a pattern amongst the treadmill that could go along with the norm of personal space. The spatial was every other no person was running right next to someone unless they had to, which I thought was interesting. I decided to talk to a girl named Holly.
She decided to come to the gym and run on the treadmill. My first question was why did you choose to come to the gym at this time? She said “I wanted to avoid the normal crowd that comes from 2-5. Also this is the only time I could come during the day that fits in with my schedule. ” The second question I asked was about the personal space why did you choose not to run directly next to someone and do you choose a machine based on personal space? Her response was“ Yes I do choose a machine based on personal space. I don’t like the feeling of someone watching over my machine and silently judging how fast or slowl am going.
The culture of the gym is slowly coming together just after two days of observations. The gym is primarily a male dominant place to do, but in our college the only area that is completely dominant is the weight lifting area and that’s only during prime hours. Also on the note of personal space there is noticeably a tendency for both male and female to have a certain amount of space around them like a personal bubble. DAY III: My third time of the day was 7:00 pm on a weekday. Personally, this is a little late for me to work out since by this time in the day my body is worn out, but apparently this is not the case for the college students.
It was very similar to the 3:00 p. m. time slot. There may have been a little less, but it was still busy. The machines were split similar to the other days. Female on the Ellipticals and men by the lifting section, but this time I met a girl who was lifting by the men’s side completely alone. She was breaking the normal culture of the gym. I decided to approach here and see what she had to think about the gym situation. The girl I interviewed was Liz*, who I later found out is a student athlete. The first question I asked had to do with his confidence at the gym. Do you feel like you can lift confidently here at the gym?
She responded with “Here I feel like I can do whatever | want, because I know what I am doing and many of the guys around me don’t even know how to do a basic squat. In comparison, when I go home and go to a gym that is full of men who can lift I get very self conscious just because I know they know much more than me when it comes to lifting. ” She also brought up a good point about how different people around you affect how you feel and how you work out. “I am usually a very confident person and it takes a lot to make me feel superior to a man. Men have the upper hand at a gym at home and that is where I become self-conscious.
PHONE INTERVIEW: I also took the time to call my dad Michael who works at a small liberal arts college as the head women’s soccer coach. I asked him if he had any personal thoughts about the college gym culture and gender divide. “I personally walk by the gym every day and glance around and noticed mostly female are on the cardio machines and males are in the lifting area, this has been a common theme since I was in college, many female aren’t intimidated but rather don’t actually want to lift weights due to the way they would look if they lifted constantly. I couldn’t agree more many females don’t want to look masculine and are afraid of what would happen to their body if they lifted.
CONCLUSION: After opening my eyes and speaking with a few women about the gym I have discovered that the gym is a male dominated activity. Personally I felt the pressure on guy athletes and average guys who clearly knew what they were doing while lifting over me when it was just me alone. From just the three days there has been a divide in what gender used what machine or area.
Women may become wrapped up in the idea that lifting is masculine and could in turn make them look masculine. In addition men think about how they look and don’t do as much cardio because they want a masculine figure. The trend for women to lift is seen as manly or masculine, but the culture is slowly changing with the few women who ventured over to the male side. Besides the male being the dominant gender there was some general observations on how to act at the gym. Headphones and personal space are a must. People don’t like the feeling of other people on top of them, especially in this type of place.
America is notorious for having this personal space preference and being in their own bubble. It only makes sense that this idea translates into the gym where you are physically working your body. Once I connected all the ethnographic data from observations and interviews of gender divide and personal space I came to the conclusion that all of these things relate to a person and how they feel. The gym is a place for you as a person to improve your well being and achieve this so called “perfect body”. When you are worried about how you look and feel the actions you take correlate.