The basement of the ARC, also synonymously known as the ‘man cave’, is an overcrowded display case of testosterone, protein powder and hypermasculinity. The only sounds you hear are grunts and weights, it reeks of sweat and all you see are these super buff, super tall (not always), super ‘manly’ guys. This is just in the main part. Once you go off to the side behind the walls by the racquetball courts, hidden behind those walls are the complete opposite. The guys working out in the less public part of the basement are noticeably more smaller and less muscular. (Now, don’t get me wrong, us girls work out in both places too but I would like to focus on the guys for right now.)
I first realized this difference when I started working out with a close guy friend of mine. He was the one who brought me down to the basement for the first time ever. It was intimidating and scary just to peer down from the floor above. I am not that strong of a girl and the last time I did a bench press (was in high school), I could barely lift just the bar, so the idea of going downstairs where some people were lifting more than double my weight was absurd to me. As I expected, guys left and right were puffing up a storm trying to get their arms and chest as big as possible while every so often I would jump at the sound of 200 pounds worth of plates slamming against the ground. It was an interesting sight to see. A scene which I would normally see in girls’ bathrooms was happening right here in the basement of a gym—guys were crowding in front of the mirrors, all lifting, flexing and showing off.
On the contrary, in the hidden parts of the basement, guys that are comparably smaller in both height and muscle (visibility) are also aggressively working out. The biggest difference in the exercise patterns of these two groups of guys is that the ‘smaller’ guys tend to work out with lighter weights and medicines balls. They do Russian twists on yoga mats and drink water. The guys out in the open are getting ready for takeoff with pull-ups and fly’s and chugging protein shakes. In the Messner article, the “losers” are the one who are nerdy, who don’t have the girl, who don’t have the looks, etc. These guys don’t ‘match up’ to the big, buff guys who are the ‘winners’ since they have the ability to look good and get the girl, hence why the ‘losers’ stay in the back and try to get to the level that the ‘winners’ are at.
Besides the noticeable separation between the bigger and smaller guys, another difference you can easily point out is their attire. The bigger guys tend to wear bro tanks or cutoffs and tight muscle tees to show off their big, bulging chest and arms. The smaller guys tend to wear normal loose tees that obscure most of their arm up to about their elbow and definitely do not stick to their bodies.
Straying away from strictly all guys, I have had a few experiences as a girl in the gym as well. I was on a machine when I decided to take a break and just sit there. I was waiting for the friend who brought me down to the basement to finish his reps on the bench when a guy came up to me and asked if I could get off so he can use it. I told him I wasn’t done and he apologized, saying that he thought I was just sitting down; this happened a couple more time with other machines. There is this atmosphere of “boys only” in the gym and if you are not seen doing anything, and especially if you are a girl, guys seem to think that you are just taking up “precious work out space” that could be used to further “enhance their bodies”.
The male gaze is also put into work at the gym. When a girl does not seem to be impeding in on the ‘man space’ and has an attractive face and body that is shown through her attire, guys tend to give looks. Women are not looked at as equal in the gym and if she is using the same machines the guys are, that’s impressive, maybe even unexpected since they are only there for ‘visual pleasure’. There seems to be a gender divide as guys stay in the basement and the top floor of the ARC is occupied by predominantly girls. There aren’t as many ‘intense’ machines upstairs which leads me to believe that girls are somewhat discouraged from joining the guys with the “big boy machines”.
Come on! We’re all just trying to get in shape!
(For the girls: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/5-thoughts-every-girl-had-lifting-arc)