Harvard Offers Girl-Only Gym Hours—Will FCLC Follow?

For FCLC Women, Getting Checked Out on the Treadmill is Creepy, But Not Grounds for Restriction


Published: April 17, 2008

For girls, working out in a gym comes with a list of unspoken laws that must be followed to avoid unwanted male attention: “Wear shorts at your own risk;” “Stretching in the gym is basically the equivalent to blowing a kiss” and “Traveling in packs is a good way to ward off the hounds” are just some of the adjustments that must be made to try to prevent uncomfortable situations.

As females make changes to accommodate inappropriate male behavior in the gym, they convey the idea that it is acceptable. But recently, a group of Muslim female students at Harvard University decided they weren’t going to condone the ogling and catcalls. For this particular group, religious values played a large role in making the co-ed gym experience uncomfortable. They informed the administration of their concerns about using gym facilities when males were present and, in turn, were granted “female-only” gym hours. This group is just one of many female groups on college campuses across the country, some religiously-based and others not, that have voiced the same concerns to their schools and have been given special accommodations.

Fordham College at Lincoln Center’s (FCLC) gym doesn’t exactly attract the typical bodybuilder meathead looking to pick up a barbell and a date while he’s at it. The gym serves a large majority of males whose single goal is to actually work out, like dancers who use the gym to stay in shape. But there is still the occasional sketchy situation that may lead girls to believe that leaving certain gym hours off limits to men may be a better option.

Keegan Bales, FCLC ’10, found herself in such a situation last year. “I was on the elliptical machine when I realized that a guy was standing behind me staring,” Bales said. “He wasn’t using any of the machines or stretching. He made me very uncomfortable, so I kept my eye on him in the mirror. Then he pulled a camera out of a plastic grocery bag and started taking pictures of me.” Bales informed a security guard, and the man was asked to leave; it turns out the man had been caught doing the same thing multiple times that week. “Security talked to the creepy guy, but I saw him at the gym a bunch of times after that,” Bales said. Yet, even after this experience, Bales still says she doesn’t care if guys are in the gym while she is working out. “It doesn’t bother me. I just do my own thing and try to keep to myself.”

Kaitlin Lechich, FCLC ’09, has also had some unsettling encounters at the Fordham gym. “There always seems to be older men in there whenever I go. Definitely not college age. There’ve been a couple times I’ve been on the treadmill and see a guy in the mirror just sitting on a weightlifting machine staring at me.” While Lechich admits it’s uncomfortable, it’s not enough to gain her support of women-only hours. “I really don’t think that’s necessary. Yeah, it’s a little uncomfortable to have someone staring you down, but it never escalates to be more than that, and I never feel unsafe or unable to continue my workout.”

Heather Marshall, FCLC ’10, agreed that most men are looking at women while working out in the gym. “It’s kind of an instinct for them I think,” Marshall said. “Most guys do go to the gym with the sole intention of working out, but if a good-looking girl is working out next to them, it’s only natural that they are going to check her out.” While Marshall isn’t personally bothered by the attention, she understands how some girls could be uncomfortable with it. “I would say it’s fair to give girls one hour a day where the gym is off limits to guys.” While the media has latched on to the idea that the request is heavily laden with religious values, Marshall disagreed. “It’s definitely something that might affect girls of all ages, races, cultures and religions.”

The women of FCLC may not feel a desperate need for women-only gym hours, but they do seem to support the idea. While the majority of girls feel comfortable working out with guys by their side, there may very well be girls who would enjoy the freedom of being able to work out in a guy-free environment. But how would the men of FCLC react to adjusting their workout schedules?

“I would be very upset for several reasons,” said Justin Stark, FCLC ’10. “First off, this says to me that girls feel threatened by the presence of men in the gym. That is insulting,” Stark said. “Also, the gym at FCLC is bad enough. The equipment is always broken. By also limiting us to a certain time frame, it would just be another strike against the fitness program.” While Stark was upset over the possibility of women-only gym hours being instated, he didn’t hesitate to admit, “Of course I’ve checked girls out [in the gym]. I’m always checking girls out. It’s only natural.”

If this accommodation was ever implemented at FCLC, the guys have nothing to worry about. Jenifer Campbell, director of Residential Life recognizes that “There would be some pushback from men on campus if we did not provide the same accommodation for them, specifically a male-only gym time.” Yet even getting to that point would not be an easy task. “The situation at [FCLC] is difficult because we have limited facilities from which to choose,” Campbell said. The restricted amount of space and equipment available would make it very difficult to begin limiting students to certain time periods. Campbell resolved, “I would need to query members of the community in order to find a ‘fair’ process for accommodating the needs of all within the community.”

It looks like, for now, men will continue to have access to all hours at Fordham’s gym facilities. But if creepy encounters continue, female groups on campuses throughout the country have proven that mobilization for gym hours exclusive to women may be in store for the future.