Why Sexism and Catcalling Forced Me to Quit the Gym
You won't believe the behavior this writer experience at Planet Fitness—but how the gym responded was even worse
I've never been a gym rat, so when I needed a place to (occasionally) exercise, I looked for the option that went softest on my paycheck. My local Planet Fitness charged no initiation fee and was only $10 a month-a bare-bones affair with no towels, toiletries, or a juice bar. But it wasn't the ascetic state of locker-room amenities that ultimately made me uncomfortable heading to my gym. It was the men. After nine months of getting catcalled at PF, I finally quit last week.
I'm not one who offends easily or even someone who's persuaded easily. (See office air conditioning.) But, the environment at Planet Fitness made me extremely uncomfortable, and it was clear that this is a situation where men's comfort is valued over women's.
I'm not the only one who has experienced this. Margaret, a 28-year-old administrative professional also living in New York City describes how a guy at a different gym "looked me up and down and commented on how he liked my yoga pants. Employees at my gym were in plain view." The man then grabbed Margaret's phone, insisting they exchange numbers, even though she vocally refused his advances. A few days later, Margaret mentioned the incident to her trainer. "She had heard that this man approached women at the gym," Margaret adds. So why was he still allowed back?
At the PF that I just quit, the women's locker rooms are located on the bottom floor, all the way at the back of the gym. To access them, women have to walk by the heavy-weights section-a place frequented, at my particular branch, mostly by men. (Shout out to the badass women lifting 25 million pounds in there, though. You are my heroes.) On any given day, there'd be anywhere from seven to 10 dudes along my walk.
What this meant for me is that every time I wanted to get to the locker room, I would walk the length of an entire gym floor in front of a group consisting almost entirely of bros. Sometimes, nothing happened. But most of the time, there would be an inappropriate comment-a whistle or a subtle "damn, baby." On an average gym trip, I'd have to make this trek four times, and just the thought of it gave me anxiety the moment I arrived.
Part of the reason I'd joined Planet Fitness is because calling out obnoxious behavior is part of its mission statement. Its tagline is "a judgement-free zone." It has a "lunk alarm" near its free-weight section, which supposedly goes off when a guy is trying to show off and drop weights that are too heavy for him. And yet, I've never felt more judged than within that gym's walls-and all I was doing was walking to the locker room.
Last month, during what would end up being my final trip to the gym, the catcalling pushed me over the edge. In addition to the usual commenting from weight lifters, a guy actually stopped working out and noticeably stared at me each time I passed him, his head pivoting like that girl from The Exorcist. In this moment, I knew it was time to speak up. I was just so tired of having to navigate these dudes, day in and day out. So I emailed PF about the problem-twice. And then I waited.
About two weeks after I filed my complaint, Peter, the district manager for NYC PF locations, called me. I suggested that perhaps PF could simply turn the weight machines away from the women's locker room, so that men aren't essentially lined up staring at any woman who needs to change her clothes or pee. But Peter said that would mean guys working out would have to face each other-a situation "just as uncomfortable" for them as what I was experiencing.
I asked Peter why there couldn't be some signage around the facility regarding my issue, MTA-style-anything that could show Planet Fitness was taking me seriously, as it so often claimed, and that it acknowledged the problem.
He assured me he took my catcalling concerns very seriously. He said he'd speak to the management at my location and then follow up with me. I never heard back from him.
It seems that Peter didn't communicate to his team that we had spoken, because a few minutes later, I received an email from PF's social media team. (I had tweeted at them when days went by with no responses to my emails.) If Peter's reaction to my complaint had been cringeworthy, the social media team's response was totally unacceptable.
A social media representative from Planet Fitness said that maybe I should consider "coming to the gym a little earlier or later to avoid the rush of male members." So, I should change my workout schedule to work around the problem. In that moment, it became clear that this gym values the comfort of male members above that of female members. [Read the full story on Refinery29!]