‘A hyper-masculine environment’: Students share experiences within Iowa State gyms



Robert Dillon

Liv Wang, a junior studying genetics, lifts weights at State Gym Feb. 5.



For many women-identifying students, going to Iowa State gyms can sometimes seem daunting because they are often dominated by men.

Although no individuals are purposefully excluded from working out, some individuals feel like they don’t belong, according to Lauren Anderson, a sophomore in graphic design.

“I have noticed that the demographic at the ISU gyms skews very male,” Anderson said. “It makes me sad because I know many women who want to go to the gym but do not feel comfortable because of that hyper-masculine, toxic environment.” 

Areas in the gym such as weight racks and machines tend to be sections overcrowded with men, according to Anderson. 

“I often feel like I do not belong at the gym,” Anderson said. “Not just because I’m a woman, but because I don’t look like the ‘typical’ gym goer.”

Anderson said venturing into areas mostly occupied by men in the gym often leads to stares. 

“One time I was using the lat pull-down machine, and this guy got very close to me while waiting for me to be done,” Anderson said. “I have never seen this happen to a man.”

Other students share similar experiences and feelings about male-dominated sections in the gym. 

“If there are a bunch of guys in an area I want to go to, I’ll usually stay away in fear of looks or remarks,” Marielle MacDonald, a sophomore in English, said. “I tend to stick to working out on things such as the bikes that are considered more ‘female’ equipment.”

Women are often not respected in the gym as much as men are, Anderson said, as they are objectified while men are praised.

“I’m wondering if other people of different genders feel comfortable enough to come to the gym in the first place,” MacDonald said. “Since there are more men at times, I assume that maybe other girls don’t like the environment, so they don’t attend.”

Although these feelings of exclusion persist, many notice that women and those of other genders have begun to attend the gym more often.

“I noticed that it was mostly male-dominated before COVID,” said Cole Keenan, a senior in industrial design. “But within the past three years, the mix of genders has grown.”

This growth in attendance could be attributed to a rise in social media fitness influencers, according to Keenan.

“There are so many [fitness] influencers of various genders,” Keenan said. “I think it’s a great source of encouragement for anyone who watches them.”

Feelings of rejection within the gym continue, but students note that the environment isn’t always that of aggression.

“Most of the time the environment is welcoming,” MacDonald said, “but I go at times when a lot of other girls go, so I’m in good company.” 

Within recent years, the Iowa State gyms have offered fitness classes for students to participate in, including many female-focused classes.

“I do like that these classes have their own private space,” MacDonald said. “I think that they can help individuals who are uncomfortable at the gym feel safe with their workouts.”