I live on the east side of campus, so most mornings I can be found trudging across the bridge, past Delaware Hall, and up UC hill to get to class. It was on one of these commutes that I noticed the sign on the right, an advertisement for upper year residence at Western. The black and white juxtaposed against the full color image caught my attention and I thought huh, “Time for a grocery run vs. Time for a scenic run”, that’s kind of cute. A few weeks later, on one of my rare excursions to the west side of campus, I came across the sign on the left: “Time to get groceries vs. Time to get gains”. While the first sign on its own had seemed quite normal, realizing how the pair went together made me do a double take.
Why is the girl going for a run, while the guy is heading for the weight room? And the wording! Why is the female version of exercise given the gentle description, “scenic”, as if girls work out just for the view, while the male version of exercise is “to get gains”, suggesting guys need to work out to get big, not healthy. Both sentences buy into gender stereotypes, and highlight huge issues in the world of exercise.
Gender differences within exercise culture are very real. Stephanie E. Coen, a post-doctoral student at Western, published a study in 2017 which found that gender disparities are large when it comes to the gym. She found that both genders felt locked into certain types of exercise which were considered either “feminine” or “masculine”, with women often sticking to cardio or light weights, while men felt pushed to focus on lifting heavy and stayed away from exercise related to cardio or flexibility.
Colette Dowling’s book The Frailty Myth: Redefining the Physical Potential of Women and Girls, suggests that women face societal pressures to appear frail in order to seem more “feminine”, which can lead adolescent girls to quit playing sports and being active, at a serious cost to their health. Men face (often under-acknowledged) pressures to be “big”, “ripped”, “buff”, which has lead to increased steroid use, as well as disorder’s such as muscle dysmorphia (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).
And the impact? Canada’s Physical Activity guidelines recommend doing resistance exercise (strength training) at least two days a week to strengthen bones and muscles, which may be unachievable for women who do not feel comfortable venturing into the realm of weight training. On the flip side, studies show that men are much more likely than women to suffer injuries due to overexertion when weight training (National Center for Biotechnology Information), perhaps due to pressures for guys to look like a cartoon Captain America.
Many of these stigmas are beginning to shift with recent body positivity, gender equity, and acceptance of diversity campaigns. Just look up hashtags such as #girlswholift and #girlgains. I follow lots of awesome female weight lifters of all shapes and sizes on Instagram, and see many girls in the weight section when I go to the gym. And although the body positivity movement is female dominated, there are guys getting on board too (Greatest). But these changes are new, and advertising like this being put out by an organization which prides itself on its commitment to diversity shows that we’ve still got a long way to go.
As a girl who loves to lift, who’s struggled with body image most of my life (haven’t we all?), and who has a vested interest in social justice (don’t we all?), these signs make me mad. So I ask, “Western Housing, what’s going on? It’s time to get with the times.”