Ladies: We can ask for more. With McComas feeling increasingly claustrophobic, many women face intimidating circumstances to stay active, and it's up to the university to make a change. Looking at the growth in popularity of women's-only gyms, McComas should follow suit with a women's-only section for a few hours, two days a week.
Women across the country deal with uncomfortable environments in gyms. In a survey done by FitRated of almost 1,800 women, 70.7% have felt uncomfortable in the gym before due to issues including being stared at, followed or flirted with. Women at Virginia Tech deal with the same discomfort. In a survey done of both men and women on their experiences in McComas, only 40% of women felt very comfortable versus 71% of men according to statistics sent by Recreational Sports.
With a majority of women on campus not feeling very comfortable at the gym, it's no surprise that only 30% of McComas' users in the first month of classes were women. It's not just a simple majority; it's a space controlled by men.
Among the women who do go, many avoid certain areas of the gym.
"There are rooms that I avoid in the gym because I think they're scary," said Lilyana Castro, a freshman McComas user. "Mostly the weight rooms, because it's men dominating those rooms."
In addition to the issue of male-dominated rooms, women’s workouts can be affected because of their feelings of discomfort.
"I feel that there's a guy waiting whenever I'm trying to finish a set –– they'll come up to me when I'm not done yet,” said Andrea Reyes, Castro’s gym partner and fellow freshman. “They'll just wait there until I'm done." This type of hovering points to a key reason women experience discomfort in McComas: they don’t have control of their own personal space.
In a survey conducted by BarBend of just over 1,300 women who have felt uncomfortable in a gym, one finding was that two-thirds of women surveyed have had their personal space invaded. Space is limited in McComas, with bodies packed in like sardines, and women may feel less able to set boundaries for their space.
Like we've seen with the trend of women-only gyms, women are headed to spaces designed for them.
According to Ali Cross, Director of Recreational Sports, the organization in charge of McComas, 95% of participants in group exercise classes at McComas are women.
Women flock to this space despite the fact that passes for these classes are not free. This is likely due to two reasons: there is a limit to how many people can attend, so class-goers know they will have space for their workout, and the classes are largely female-dominated, making them a much less intimidating environment than the rest of McComas.
Another example of a popular women's space is the Women on Weights group. Again, this program is not free, but it provides women with access to a smaller, entirely women-dominated setting.
There's a problem here. "We knew now was going to be the pinch point. Last year, we didn't have War Memorial Hall, but we didn't have a full campus," Cross said.
The issue is that Virginia Tech’s solutions are two years away from being realized. War Memorial Hall is in the process of renovations, and these changes will guarantee a less crowded McComas. But two years could be half the college career of women trying to stay active now.
According to the Recreational Sports website, "(the department) is dedicated to meeting the changing needs of a diverse community." With changes in programming and additions like the Field House and the tent-like gym past Lane Stadium put in last year to add courts and gym space, it's clear that Cross and her team are open to suggestions in order to meet the needs of students, so let's find one.
Let’s focus on what many women on campus prefer while they’re in the gym: smaller crowds and women’s-only spaces. McComas doesn't have to be this busy.
"I did hear from more women than men that they appreciated the reservation system,” said Cross. “It was a more welcomed option."
However, the reservation system had major flaws. "We had so many no-shows,” Cross said. “At the lowest, we had 45% no-shows." Cross doesn’t want to penalize people with yet another fee or keep them out of the gym.
This means we can turn to the possibility of creating a women's space in McComas (with an inclusive view on gender-identity). Similar to women's only gyms springing up around the country or in your TikTok feed, these spaces allow women to build community and feel less intimidated.
"I think that a women's space would be fun — a different environment I'd want to try out,” Reyes said.
With a data-driven approach, a space could be sectioned off in McComas two nights a week for two hours at a time. According to Cross, Thursdays, Fridays and weekends are slower days for the gym, making them good candidates. Recreational Sports would also be informed by feedback on how to best format this program.
There is no arguing that this solution would take time and some trial and error to get right. Finding the right location in the gym is the first obstacle. The basketball courts that now house weights come to mind, as they could easily be closed off, although the large windows that box the space may make it feel more like a zoo than a safe space. Some creativity may be needed to make the space we have fit our needs. Perhaps something like pop-up curtains could prevent unwanted eyes.
One concern with this proposal is the impact on other people’s workouts.
"I think that would get results,” said Castro. “(But) if I was a man, I wouldn't like it."
The concern here is that others who frequent the gym could find their usual spot taken by this program. Another issue is that some women won’t be able to make whatever times are chosen. With probable time restraints due to space, it would be impossible to fit the needs of everyone’s schedule. However, with a data-driven approach, Recreational Sports could maximize potential while minimizing the impact on people's current routines.
Even with initial growing pains, providing an equitable space for women on this campus is worth asking for. Recreational Sports seems willing to adapt if the interest is there. When it comes to staying active and getting to enjoy the gym again, ladies, please ask for more.