SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News)- With many gyms now closed because of the pandemic, Americans across the country are transitioning their workouts to home. But many woman already made the transition- to avoid harassment. According to Fitrated.com, 70 percent of women say they’ve had an unwanted interaction at the gym. Why is the gym such a hotspot for harassment? Is there an appropriate way to strike up conversation? Listen below, as Rachel Pierce tries to find some answers.
Anchor: With many gyms now closed because of the pandemic, Americans across the country are transitioning their workouts to home. But Rachel Pierce reports now why this could become a permanent change for some women.
Pierce: Between shooting hoops, pumping iron and racking up the miles, the gym has always been a great place to stay in shape. But as women workout at home during COVID-19, some women may notice something missing –something they are glad to be rid of.
Gutierrez: “It was so uncomfortable because he would sit there and like watch,
Pierce: According to fitness equipment review website Fitrated.com, 70 percent of women say they’ve had an uncomfortable and unwanted interaction at the gym.
Pierce: Sofia Gutierrez, describes a gym workout that was fairly common for her – one that quickly became unbearable.
Gutierrez: “…and then he come in and try to correct my form, and he would put his hand on my lower back and I would literally I would swat it away and be like don’t touch me, like stop, and he just wouldn’t get it. He didn’t register it”.
Pierce: The only way for Gutierrez to stop the situation was to change the time of her workout. In fact, Fitrated.com, says 62 percent of women who reported sexual harassment at the gym made changes to their workout to feel more comfortable. This could be changing their actual workout exercises, changing the time of the workout, or even not going to the gym at all.
Hudson: “It’s sad that you have to like, think, oh I’m not going to the gym because I don’t want to be sexually harassed today”
Pierce: Kate Hudson, says it happened to her.
Hudson: “There was this guy like a couple years older than us I think, and um, like all the lift racks would be empty because it was the weekend and nobody was there, and he would be like, oh can I switch off with you?”
Pierce: Hudson says she left the weight lifting area, but the man followed.
Kate: “And then I would go and stretch, and he would be like wow, you look so comfortable in that stretch, you’re really flexible I’m like so impressed”
Pierce: Hudson eventually had enough.
Hudson: “I would just be like okay, I would love to stretch for like 20 minutes but it looks like I’m going home now because I’m like so uncomfortable”.
Pierce: Of the women who reported sexual harassment, 41 percent say they left the gym early to escape harassment.
Pierce: Sofia Gutierrez, also was forced to make big changes to avoid her harasser.
Gutierrez: “I definitely did change like the times I would go. I actually switched trainers for a while so I could get away from this guy”
Pierce: So why not report the conduct to the gym? A recent N-B-C News report suggests, some gyms don’t have a zero-tolerance policy, one that would ban harassers once reported. Many employees may not even be trained to know how to handle a sexual harassment report.
Zornow: “Women don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that they’re weak so they don’t want to talk about it”
Pierce: Abby Zornow says she found a place to work out free from harassment.
Zornow: “I feel more comfortable just like, working out downstairs in my basement than I do at school” because, the types of workouts I would want to do at school, I just don’t feel comfortable enough doing in that environment, with men around. If it’s just women in the room, it’s a different story”.
Pierce: Of the women who report harassment, more than a third now avoid certain exercises. So why is the gym such a hotspot for problems like these? Kate Hudson and Abby Zornow have their theories.
Hudson: “I feel like some men have a problem sharing the gym with women because they don’t feel like it’s their place to be there”.
Zornow: “I think that’s just because it’s a general, gender stereotype. I think that, you know, we think that women should be dong cardio, not should be but do, they just do cardio, they go to spin classes, they you know, don’t do the heavy lifting because it will make them more bulky or that’s a man’s thing, or whatever”.
Pierce: And Zornow is not alone. More than half of women who report harassment at the gym say they now avoid those parts of the gym where men are more likely to be.
Zornow: “I have definitely moved more into cardio style workouts, like going to spin classes, and not saying like I don’t enjoy that, like I do. I enjoy going to a spin a class, but I find myself doing that more because I know it’s going to be a mostly female environment and I feel more comfortable that way”.
Hudson: “I feel like maybe it has like impacted almost a ton of people because if you think about it like peloton and like echelon and like now soul cycle in like making an online thing is all marketed at first to like, young women or like young moms and I know it’s like they have to be at home but like also like gyms offer like places to like have your kids, but like, a lot of times women don’t feel safe at gyms”
Pierce: But shouldn’t men and women be allowed to talk to each other at the gym? Is there an appropriate way to strike up a conversation at the gym? Olivia Herbstritt says… Maybe.
Herbstritt: “Be very cautious in your approach because it’s a very weird, I don’t know, I think a lot of women are uncomfy about that given the stereotype of like men harassing women at the gym.”.
Pierce: But for Caroline Ricciardi, it’s about when and how.
Ricciardi: “Approaching someone when they’re not actively working out would be like a good starter. And then instead of like, asking for their number I think it’s always a good idea to just like, give them your number so that way, it’s like, the ball’s in their court kind of”
Pierce: So until all gyms implement a zero-tolerance policy to this kind of behavior, the threat for harassment remains. But Abby Zornow, does see some hope.
Zornow: “It’s empowering to me to see women that are you know, in those lifting rooms at the Power Center because it, you know, it, I think it shows that they don’t care. And that they want to be the best versions of themselves no matter what men or women think about them”
But now the COVID-19 quarantine may be offering women a surprising opportunity. If your new routine now takes place on the streets of your neighborhood or in your basement, it may be an unexpected solution to a problem that used to exist for many women at the gym – the unwanted person who gets just a little too close. I’m Rachel Pierce