When it comes to equality, it’s easy to think we are moving forward—even if that forward momentum is glacial—still, the hope of balance between the sexes is on the horizon, and then something happens to thrust you right back to square one.
I was at the gym today huffing and puffing with free weights. This in itself is an accomplishment because that area of the gym, of any gym, is an intimidating space, a paradise of chiseled abs, rolling hills of biceps, flab-less triceps and an entire mirrored wall to watch and admire oneself. Here, is where gym rats live.
Even at 12:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, the gym was full, and weight lifting benches were few. I scouted out one and took it. It was one of those adjustable seats where one side can be raised to a specified degree and has funny looking bumpers attached. The idea of it, I think, is to slide your feet between bumpers, put the bench at an incline, and do sit-ups while holding weights. That was not what I had in mind.
I raised one end thirty degrees and then laid my head beneath the feet restraints. From here I did chest presses—a delicate dance in which each arm lifts fifteen-pound dumb bells over the chest and then retracts and repeats. It worked at an incline. In fact, I liked it a lot and will probably do it again!
After three sets of chest exercises, I moved on to biceps. I had my backpack that held my phone, in which my earbuds snaked out of the front pocket and up to my ears. I had my notebook and pen inside to write which exercises I was doing and to keep track of repetitions. Two dumb bells sat on the floor, and my thirty-two-ounce drink stood next to the pack. I was set up, ready to be in that section for a while.
I began doing bicep curls and had the opposite knee resting on the inclined seat when a man stood in front of me and waved. I’d never seen him before. He had a wiry beard, wore an oversized black t-shirt, and looked to be in his late thirties.
I paused my music and pulled out an earbud.
“Hey, hi,” he said. “If you’re not using this bench, can I have it? I mean, you’re using it, but not in the right way—“
I looked around. He was right. I wasn’t using the bench correctly, and I could do bicep curls from anywhere.
He stood smiling at me as I gathered up my stuff and moved, backpack slung over one shoulder, drink dangling underneath one of the fifteen-pound weights.
I scanned the area for another place to crash and found one on the far side of the wall mirror. I noticed a second reclining bench, also not being used “properly.” Why hadn’t the man asked for this bench? The difference was that it was occupied by a man—a I’m-here-everyday-eight days-a-week kind of man. Interesting.
Perhaps the eight-days-a-week guy had just gotten there? Maybe, the bearded man hadn’t noticed a second bench or had and asked to use it but was turned down? What I suspect however is that out of the two people misusing the seat, I was the least intimidating. In less than ten minutes, after I had finished my bicep exercises and packed up, the bearded guy found me a second time.
“I’m finished. That bench is all yours,” he said. It was an odd thing to say. Why would it be okay to stop someone’s workout, take his or her bench, and then give it back ten minutes later? Sure, it was a quick interruption, so why couldn’t he have waited until I was done? What’s worse, why had I complied?
See? One step forward in equality, and a giant slide backward. When will we learn?