Gender Socialization at University

Growing up, I along with the majority of my peers were ingrained with gender divisions – fixed cultural and social norms and expectations, surrounding how women should behave, what activities we should take part in and how we should dress. Parents, teachers and peers would apply specific gender roles to almost everything I did. Moreover, throughout my childhood these gender roles were exemplified in my education, extra-curricular activities, and other environments. I will never forget, for example, when I was forced to wear a purple hockey jersey for my competitive hockey team named the “Lady-Wolves”. (And Canadians wonder why women’s hockey has not developed an extensive fan-base like men’s hockey…)

As much as I wish I could say that gender socialization has changed to accept a broader range of personal identities, I am reluctant to say that I have noticed much change throughout my adolescence and early adulthood with respect to gendering. My undergraduate experience thus far has been surrounded with many gender norms and expectations, some of which I would like to highlight below.

By virtue of the nature of my program, Physical and Health Education, I spend a lot of time using the athletic facilities at our university athletic and recreation centre. Being a new “state-of-the-art” fitness facility, it is no wonder that it includes features such as a “Just for Women” fitness room. A gendered gym at first thought seems quite innocent. On a positive side, it encourages women who are not comfortable exercising in a gym where there are men to become physically active. As well, some women for religious reasons, are not permitted to exercise with people of a different gender, thereby, a restricted gym would promote inclusion for different cultures and religions. In the case of the university I attend, my question is why we have a women’s only gym, however no men’s only gym? It would seem that for the same comfort reasons, and perhaps religious, certain populations of men would also be more comfortable exercising in an environment without the presence women? I would argue that having a women’s only gym with the absence of a male-only gym would be a display of androcentrism. Furthermore, what is the option then for individuals whom do not identify themselves within the stereotypical categories of women and men? Are the gyms divided based on your biological sex, or is the division based on the gender that one personally identifies with? Ultimately, I question whether the concept of a women’s only gym is guilty of discrimination.

The women’s only gym not only is different in the gender restrictions it upholds, but the physical equipment within is very different from the equipment you would find throughout the facility in the more gender-inclusive areas. For example, the maximum weight that can be found in the women’s gym is 20 pounds, and most of the weights are pink, purple, or light blue. You can find further gendered equipment with the purple jump ropes and exercise bands. I found the following link on Walmart’s website for Dumbbells, which precisely reflects what the women’s only gym at my university contains:

http://www.walmart.com/ip/CAP-Barbell-1-lb-Neoprene-Dumbbell-Pink/20750571

As you can see, as the weights get bigger, the colour becomes darker and less “fun” and “girly”. Ironically, the exact same weight sizes can be found in the “co-ed” fitness areas, however Dumbbells are entirely iron, lacking any colour, which look similar to this:

http://www.walmart.com/ip/Cap-Barbell-Cast-Iron-Dumbbell/11099738

I think it is apparent to the majority of students at university that there are gender roles that are enforced on a daily basis. From the gym, to student residences, lectures, advertisements on campus, and something as little as the Booster Juice menu on campus, gendering is unavoidable. I don’t think I stand-alone when I say that gender norms have been created and are being enforced in a university environment, and that we as a society are far from eliminating gender barriers and norms. There is plenty of change that needs to be done at institutions as influential as universities, however, where to start?