Students say Firestone Fieldhouse Weight Center harbors gender divide

Mikiah Azarcon, a sophomore integrated marketing communication major, lifts weights in the Firestone Fieldhouse weight center (Photo by Jillian Johnson).

Uncomfortable, cramped and gender divided.

These are just a few of the words that both male and female Pepperdine students use to describe the Firestone Fieldhouse Weight Center, the university’s main gym.

A Pepp Post poll of 60 students found that 75 percent think the campus gym conditions limit their ability to exercise. Students and faculty criticize the basement-like, small workout area and the lack of equipment available.

“On the scale of one to 10 for university weight rooms it’s got to be a one or a two, particularly for a school of our stature and affluence,” said Robin Perrin, a Pepperdine sociology professor and a regular at the school’s weight room.

The small size and overcrowding of equipment exacerbates a gender divide in the different areas of the gym, leading female students to feel intimidated and reinforcing gender stereotypes around exercise.

Gender stereotypes in the gym

It is easy to see the separation of males and females in the Firestone Fieldhouse Weight Center.

“It’s gendered in that obviously if you are back lifting weights it’s three-fourths men but if I’m thinking of the bikes, then it’s three-fourths women,” Perrin said.

The Pepp Post poll found that roughly 68 percent of students think that there is usually more of a male presence in the weight room.

“I notice a lot more males in the free weight section,” said Mikiah Azarcon, a sophomore integrated marketing communication major. “Some girls that don’t have as much experience in the gym might be too afraid to workout in the free weight section because they think they will do something wrong.”

Common gym stereotypes can explain the lack of females in the weight section and the lack of males in the cardio section.

“Girls are told to care about how small their waist is and how skinny they are, whereas guys worry about how strong their upper body looks,” first-year business major Noah Santo said.

Even the pictures on gym machines are pictures of males demonstrating proper weightlifting techniques. This plays a role in females feeling less confident trying weight lifting machines, said Jennifer Harriger, an associate professor of psychology and director of The Body Project.

“In general, there are a lot of stereotypes about what women and what men should be doing in the gym and some of it’s related to the different ideals in our society for men versus women,” Harriger said.

Michelle Chan, a columnist for The Daily Evergreen, wrote that women typically stray away from weight lifting in fear of gaining a masculine bulk and men typically stray away from too many cardio workouts in fear of becoming too thin.

Popular women’s magazines advertise ways to lose weight while popular men’s magazines advertise ways to gain muscle, Chan wrote.

“The lifting of weights is probably correlated with patriarchal and sexist attitudes,” Perrin said.

Although these stereotypes in the gym can be connected to beliefs about gender roles in society that are hundreds of years old, more women are lifting weights in the gym today than 20 years ago, Perrin said.

Overcoming gymtimidation

Deni Kirkova describes “gymtimidation” as the “fear of working out,”  in a 2014 Daily Mail article.  Gymtimidation is two times more common in women because of the embarrassment of being watched and the fear of being judged for not knowing how to use the machines.

Of 41 female survey respondents, 28 said they sometimes or always feel intimidated when working out in the Pepperdine weight room because of the gender divide.

The Pepp Post survey showed that just over half of females surveyed said this intimidation factor actually keeps them from working out.

But there are female students at Pepperdine who have learned how to overcome their feelings of “gymtimidation.”

“At the beginning of the year, I was intimidated by trying out the equipment in front of everyone,” said Hannah Jensen, a first-year pre-med student.

Jensen said continuing her workouts in the gym and meeting more people there lead her away from any uncomfortable feelings about the weight center.

Junior economics major Lena Fucile taught herself to focus on her own fitness goals rather than letting other people get in the way of them.

“When there are a lot of guys in the weight section, I don’t like to do it, but I still do anyways because I don’t want that to stop me from getting a good workout,” Fucile said. “I feel like my workout is more important than what guys think of me, so I just try to focus on that and not on them.”

Physical conditions of the gym

Both faculty and students at Pepperdine agree that the weight center is below average in not only its gender divide but its physical appearance.

Almost 90 percent of Pepperdine students surveyed rated its physical size and shape with either a one out of five or a two out of five.

“It’s way too small, I think that’s one thing that Pepperdine should honestly work on,” Fucile said. “There definitely should be more machines and maybe a better view.”

If the school made improvements in the gym and provided more space, it could help to take away some of the gender divide and feelings of intimidation that happen now, Azarcon said.

Having more space would make everyone feel more comfortable in the gym and even encourage more females in the weight section.

Faculty members agreed that this would benefit the amounts of female and male exercise at Pepperdine.

“It is in our students interests to make a better gym,” Perrin said. “The nicer the gym the more likely people will go.”

Improvements are in the works

Pepperdine recognizes the importance of making changes that will lead to positive exercise opportunities for both male and female students, staff said.

However, student and faculty pleas for a bigger weight center may be a more difficult wish to grant than some realize.

The space that the weight center is in now is the only space available on campus, there is no room there to expand the weight center, said Robb Bolton, associate director of Campus Recreation.

Since expansion at Pepperdine is currently focused on other areas, such as new housing, Campus Recreation has been working to make improvements in the weight center by updating certain equipment, Bolton said. They’ve also added the “The Cage,” a new individual and group exercise area outside of the tennis courts focused on body strength that includes everyone.

“The Cage” is the new outside area used for Crossfit classes and for an exercise alternative to the Firestone Fieldhouse (Photo by Jillian Johnson).

The Crossfit classes offered in The Cage are working to break the gender divide in exercise here at Pepperdine.

“We have girls doing the same things that guys are doing … there is no difference in movements,” said Dusty Breeding, a Pepperdine Crossfit coach and full-time campus and youth minister for the University Church of Christ. “Our women are as strong as our men and there’s a cool egalitarianism in that concept.”

Jillian Johnson completed the reporting for this story under the supervision of Dr. Christina Littlefield and Dr. Theresa de los Santos in Jour 241 in spring 2018. Dr. Littlefield supervised the web story and Dr. de los Santos supervised the video package.