Don’t Follow Him to the Gym

Fox News’s Men’s Health section has its obligatory misogynist article today, Don’t Bring Her to the Gym. But maybe it would be a more effective article if it were directed to women, a la Cosmopolitan.

RELATIONSHIP MISTAKE YOU WON’T WANT TO MAKE: Ladies, Don’t Follow Your Man to the Gym

The couple that works out together, stays together, you might think. But relationship experts say that while workouts can help you stay physically and emotionally fit, its ugly physicality may make you repulsive to your partner. He might lose his beer belly, but you may also lose the mystique you hold over him when he detects some sweat on you. Remember, being a woman means not being a man: you don’t sweat, don’t pass gas, and don’t know how to use a gym machine. A tough workout can undo these feminine qualities and ruin the sweet intimacy and delicate equilibrium of your relationship. Here’s a list of why the gym date will turn into a disaster:

1. He’ll be checking out the babes. Women at the gym are there to be ogled by your boyfriend. This is the order of things.

2. You’ll ask stupid, compliment-fishing questions that annoy him because all women are hypersensitive, insecure harpies. When you see him checking out other women, your first, natural instinct will be to ask, “Do you think I look as good as her, honey?” We all know that for women, the gym is a beauty pageant. It’s not about the workout, it’s about being judged. For men, however, the gym experience is quite different–though they might look at women on occasion, they are ultimately there to better their bodies and minds. Because men work out to feel good, and women ask obnoxious questions to bolster their self-esteem, the gym will only emphasize these differences and drive you two apart. It’s just not worth it to ask yourself why you might feel this way, find support from friends, or find other outlets for self-confidence.

3. You’ll distract him by asking for help. Even at the gym, women should be seen and not heard.

4. You’ll probably do it wrong anyway. Always. Again and again. No matter what, your form will simply not be good and you’ll embarrass, or worse, frustrate him. Your best bet is to hire a female personal trainer in a women’s gym who will teach you the art behind a screen for privacy, for when your muscles do that gross bulging thing.

5. He’ll see you at your worst. You probably thought “your worst” was when you were hungover on the couch all day eating bonbons. It’s not. Your worst is when you illustrate that you are a breathing, eating, digesting, sweating human being who might get sweat stains. This means sweating at the gym in front of him is a no-no. And while his precious bodily fluids are a sexy, yet smelly, display of his masculine prowess, yours should never be visible. If you sweat like a man, he’ll think you are one.

Sometimes, this advice is conflicting. For example, the other girls at the gym your boyfriend stares at–are they allowed to get sweaty? Or, how do you get a fit, hard body that he’ll find attractive without breaking a sweat? These pesky questions are best dealt with separation: he works out in one place, and you work out somewhere more private.

Exceptions always exist, of course. If your boyfriend respects you as a person, you respect him, and you both have some semblance of communication skills, none of these rules apply. In fact, many men and women might find these presuppositions offensive. But they definitely hold some water for most couples out there. I know this because I go to a gym, and as a woman can speak for all women. The offensive parts of this article don’t matter because really, my simple message is that it’s healthy for your boyfriend to have personal time–but this inoffensive and reasonable point can only be made through perpetuating tired stereotypes of men and women.

“She doesn’t have to do it”: Female self-objectification and our complicity in the beauty myth

We all know what Hugh Hefner thinks of women, and his outdated misogyny has already been analyzed to death. For me, the interesting part happens when his interviews get filtered through the wider world. Earlier this month he was asked whether he objectifies women. He answered,

“The notion that Playboy turns women into sex objects is ridiculous. Women are sex objects. If women weren’t sex objects, there wouldn’t be another generation. It’s the attraction between the sexes that makes the world go ’round. That’s why women wear lipstick and short skirts.”

The news program I was watching played the clip, then panned to two female newscasters for commentary. The women laughed nervously. “Well,” said one, “I think a lot of people will excuse his comments because of his age… And women, we like to be looked at that way, sometimes.” Both women seemed extremely uncomfortable, and they cut away quickly to a local news story.

The image of the two heavily made-up, painstakingly styled women employed in an image-based profession struggling to negotiate Hefner’s statement illuminates an essential issue we have living as women today: How do we maintain a strong feminist identity in an image-based society? In our world, women are sex objects. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, we are constantly trying to be sexy but not too sexy, balancing carefully between the Madonna and the whore, striving to maintain control over an external self which is unrelentingly judged by the outside world.

When I saw this clip, I was at the gym. There I was, pumping away at the elliptical, which is pretty much as far away from fun as you can get, clocking my requisite 45 minutes and participating in the beauty myth with every cal/minute. As I scowled furiously at the overhead tv, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. I wasn’t on the elliptical for my own enjoyment, and I was there only partly for my health. I was there to maintain a body standard. I was, at that very moment, objectifying myself.

Regardless of profession, women are required to maintain a certain model of beauty standards. In job interviews, I’m expected to always wear make-up and high heels. I understand the professional wardrobe: the nice skirt or pants, the button-down shirt–but high heels? High heels hobble, hurt and inhibit my ability to move quickly. And yet I wear them, because I need a job, and I’ve been told they help my chances, and I can’t fight a global battle at the expense of my ability to make a living.

“When a brilliant critic and a beautiful woman… puts on black suede spike heels and a ruby mouth before asking an influential professor to be her thesis advisor, is she a slut? Or is she doing her duty to herself, in a clear-eyed appraisal of a hostile or indifferent milieu, by taking care to nourish her real gift under the protection of her incidental one?”

Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

Can we participate in the beauty myth and still garner respect? How can these newscasters protest Hefner’s statement without feeling hypocritical? Can we in good conscience profit off of our object-hood, and do we have a choice not to even try? Society isn’t fair. No amount of hard work will be fairly compensated, no degree will stop people from looking at our chest.

Worst of all, the myth says that we do this to ourselves. It is guilt, and not anger at an unfair world, that puts the uncomfortable expressions on the newscasters’ faces. They can’t rebuff Hefner because they are led to believe that it’s their fault. They are agents of their own objectification. They willingly transform themselves into sex objects every morning they get dressed in professional but body-conscious suits, and paint their lips red. They profit off of it, like women getting free drinks at a bar.

But is it really even free will? Do they, or we, really even have a choice? To a certain extent, yes, we are complicit– but do we really lose all feminist credentials when we participate in self-objectification? Sure, we could get a free drink–but a free drink really doesn’t compensate for the fear, the guilt, the danger and the constant struggle of living in a female body, not to mention generations of oppression, lesser pay and endless damage and on top of it all, an “it’s her own fault” mentality which pushes all the liability back to us.

The newscasters wouldn’t have even gotten the job without lipstick, and they’re still paid less than men–but they feel guilty, we feel guilty, for participating in our own objectification. Guilty enough not to protest when Hugh Hefner reduce us to empty sex objects, guilty enough to relinquish our ability to protest at all, because sometimes we wear a short skirt.