Single-sex gyms present some problems

Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2000

I would like to correct a false impression. Monday my picture appeared on the front page of the Juneau Empire in connection with the story on Senate Bill 176 , the bill that, if passed, would make single-sex fitness clubs legal.

For the record, I do not support SB176. When I agreed to let the Empire's photographer take my picture I thought it would be used in a generic article about SB176 but Monday's coverage seemed to be to be slanted in favor of the bill's passage.

Although it is undoubtedly true that some women (and, yes, some men) are squeamish about doing their sweating in a mixed-sex gym, I think that changing the law to accommodate those folks would cause more problems than it would solve. What follows is my short list of possible unintended consequences of the passage of SB 176.

In small towns there may be only one gym. If your particular sex isn't welcome, you are out of luck.

On the question of ``ogling'' - have you noticed in that in the 90s it has become acceptable to be ``ogled'' by members of your own sex (check out contemporary films and TV)? So, if this bill is designed to counter unwanted ``ogling,'' would gym managers want to push the envelope even further and demand single-sexual-orientation gyms?

In the long run, it is my feeling that if this bill were to pass, women would be excluded more often than men for two reasons. First, I notice during my workouts at Fitness Plus, for instance, that most of the time there are more men in the gym than women. Men, traditionally, have had a greater commitment to weightlifting (the mainstay of many gyms) than have women, although this may be changing. And second, here's the big one, by any measure men on average make more money and therefore have more discretionary dollars for extras like memberships in gyms. So, because of greater male demand and cash, if gym managers are pressured to go single-sex, they will move toward ``male only.'' This would, obviously, be a giant leap backwards for women.

To women and men who are self-conscious about jiggling their flab in mixed-sex company, I say get over it. I have been to several gyms in Juneau and most of the patrons are barely aware of the people around them. We patrons are a particularly self-absorbed bunch. We are reading magazines as we run on the treadmill or we plug ourselves into earphones and watch the fishing stations while we moan through a session on the stair step machine.

I urge people to go to gyms to make yourselves stronger and healthier. Whatever you imagine other people are thinking is probably wrong. My deepest thoughts when I workout are typically ``did I just do the second set or the third?''

In this case, I want my words speak more loudly than my picture. I do not support SB 176.

Gail Bills



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