Hot Topic: The Great Trudy Fitness Center Divide

The great Trudy Fitness Center divide. Let’s talk about it. After swiping your ‘Gate Card at the front desk, you can either enjoy some cardio upstairs alongside primarily girls or venture downstairs to the weight room and strength-train in a room full of guys. It’s a reality that we all live with here at Colgate, but how do students feel about it?

In general, I can confidently say that I noticed this divide the first time I stepped into the gym. For girls, the general fear of the weight room is a frequent topic of conversation. Why do so many girls feel this? I spoke with two sophomores, Amelia Cohen and Margot Hayes, in order to gain different female perspectives and better understand the reason behind this fear.

I asked the question: why do you think girls tend to feel uncomfortable going downstairs? Hayes said she honestly doesn’t know but explained how the guys in the weight room all seem to know what they’re doing, and they themselves feel like they don’t know how to use the machines. They said it’s hard to explore unfamiliar machines, too, because it’s nerve-wracking to look like they don’t know what they’re doing compared to the “gym bros.” Cohen also said, “Since guys constantly are talking about what they did and how much they lifted at the gym, it makes me hyper-aware of myself in the weight room.” What’s it like on the other side of it?

I spoke to three sophomores who are regular gym-goers, Saul Myers, Oscar Mindich and Sam Carneal to hear what it’s like on the male side of it. I asked if they pay attention to girls’ ability in the weight room, and they all gave an immediate “no.” Myers said that when he is in the gym, his focus is purely on what he is doing, not on what others are doing – regardless of who they are. Carneal questioned why girls feel that fear since “everyone’s just doing their thing.” If guys aren’t judging girls in the weight room, where does this fear come from?

Cohen raised an interesting point earlier about the competitive gym culture among guys. Just how competitive is it? I posed the question: How often do you and your guy friends talk about what you did in the gym/talk about your weight? Mindich said that he and his guy friends don’t really give details about what they did at the gym, but when it comes to weight it is 100 percent a more frequent topic of conversation and it’s definitely stressful. Myers also responded similarly, saying that he chooses not to bench for PRs (personal records) because “it’s really toxic to compare yourselves with numbers, my time in the gym is only about my goals and what I’m doing.” Perhaps the fear that girls have of seeming inexperienced comes from overhearing these types of conversations between guys – conversations that Toole and Hayes say girls never really have. 

I thought it would be interesting to hear how it is on the flipside: do guys fear the upstairs like girls fear the downstairs? The three that I spoke with all said that they never feel uncomfortable going upstairs; they are simply aware of the fact that they will most likely be the only guys in the room. They have definitely noticed the divide, and while it doesn’t make those I spoke with reluctant to go upstairs Myers highlighted that, “I have noticed that there is a divide in the gym as to who works out where – at least that’s what it tends to look like here at Colgate.” Is this specific to Colgate?

I spoke to girls at other schools–Inez Malhotra at New York University, Mairead Burwell at Washington University in St. Louis, and Colette Scumberac at Wesleyan University–and they said that the gender dynamic in the gym is basically the same. There is a universal feeling girls have while in the gym that makes them hesitant to strength-train, as the weights are primarily occupied by men, but what can we do to change this? What can we do to make girls feel more comfortable at the gym?

Two students here at Colgate, sophomore Erika Heng and junior Jessye Sabetta, have decided to act on this dilemma by starting a club called Girl Gains. The club aims to empower females through weightlifting, in hopes of slowly changing the narrative and making girls more confident in the weight room. With little steps like these, we can slowly reach a gym environment in which girls and boys alike feel more comfortable.