Unwelcome comments, prolonged stares and even chase. It is something that mainly women have to deal with in fitness centers. Gyms are therefore now working on a central reporting point for undesirable behaviour. Consultations are now being held with, among others, the sports umbrella organization NOC * NSF and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the branch organization for gyms (NL Actief) says.
“There are confidential advisors at the local level, but we are now also mapping out the possibilities for a central point,” says Ronald Wouters, director of NL Actief. According to Wouters, fitness clubs are in the “fortunate position” that no major abuses have yet emerged in the sector, as is the case in gymnastics, for example. “But we realize that there must be a hotline.”
NOS Stories made a story about unwanted behavior in the gym:
WATCHING BUTTONS in the GYM | The truth about GYM FEAR
For more than twenty years, fitness has been the most practiced sport among Dutch people aged 12 and older. And fitness is still gaining popularity, according to the CBS lifestyle monitor.
Despite its popularity, many young people experience discomfort in the gym, they share in an online questionnaire from NOS Stories. Of the 900 young people who indicate that they go to the gym, more than half say they sometimes feel uncomfortable there. About 300 young people say that they do not go to the gym at all because of that discomfort.
The most common complaint? Glancing men.
Young women experience nuisance
Fear of the gym is a topic of conversation online. On TikTok, the hashtag #gymanxiety has been viewed more than 51 million times.
Yentl van Breugel (21) made a video about an unpleasant experience in the gym and posted it on the platform. She tells of a man who stares at her, follows her from device to device and walks close to her.
“I’m tired of us women having to deal with this on a daily basis,” she says emotionally. “I just want to work out in peace, without dirty men intimidating me.” Her video has now been viewed 1.8 million times.
Manon Hoogendoorn (22) also posted a video on TikTok. “Not even a meter away, a man looked at me from head to toe, really through my clothes. Like, what’s underneath?”, she says to NOS Stories.
After Manon confronted the man about his behavior, he continued to stare at her from a distance. She broke off her training early because she felt so uncomfortable. “It feels very dirty, very bad.” There are plenty of videos on TikTok on the same topic.
There is a big difference between greeting someone and making someone feel unsafe.
In reactions under Manon’s video, women write that they recognize themselves in her situation. The thousands of comments under Yentl’s video have a different tone. “All the people who have seen the video have labeled me as a whiner,” she says.
Yentl had prepared for negative reactions. “But I didn’t expect the amount, nor from whom,” she says, referring to the many reactions of women who stand up for men.
She doesn’t care: “You can look around and also have a chat. But there is a big difference between greeting someone and making someone feel unsafe.”
Sports sociologist Agnes Elling of the Mulier Institute says, looking for an explanation for the undesirable behavior in fitness centers, that gyms are very busy selling a sexy body. “The reason you go to the gym has to do with appearance in addition to health. There is a lot more emphasis on it than in other sports.” Sportswear also plays a role, she says: “It is fashionable to go to the gym in tight clothes, and that puts even more emphasis on it”.
NOS Stories spoke to young people who think that women ask if they wear tight clothing. “You can also train in other clothes,” says a boy. “If you dress a certain way as a woman, it can be distracting for men,” says another.
According to Elling, that is not true. “Women know they’re getting comments, but that’s different from asking for them.” Elling sees that more and more women refuse to conform to that thought. “They speak out more about gender inequality, for example against people who peep at them in the gym. They no longer accept certain forms of sexism and want to do something about it.”
- ‘Sports influencers cause an urge for unattainable ideals of beauty’
- Exercising six times a week: how teens are getting ‘fitfluenced’
- Many more reports of transgressive behavior in the sports sector