The gender gap in Marino’s weightroom

The Marino Center’s weight room radiates masculinity. Hulk-like men grunt and squint as they will their bench press bars up for one more rep. Sweat falls from foreheads and dots the rubber mats on the floor. Bicep curls are done in front of the wall-to-wall mirror so that weightlifters can admire their handiwork in real time. If there are any women, they are the vast minority.

Theoretically, the weight room is a genderless space. It’s meant for anyone who wants to pack on muscle, burn off stress or release endorphins. But for many women at Northeastern, this is not the reality. The room is dominated by sleeveless tees and testosterone; an unofficial boys’ club perched on the top floor of Marino.

“It’s just a lot of dudes bro-ing out,” quipped fourth-year law student Amanda Bradley. Keila Sheetz, a fourth-year biochemistry major, described it as “a lot of sweat and muscles and men.”

This bro-dominance at gyms is not restrained to Northeastern, either. Even though women make up roughly half of the gym population nationally, only 20 percent use weights at the recommended rates of at least two times per week.

Some of that figure can be chalked up to a simple lack of knowledge about the benefits of weightlifting, according to health website SparkPeople, but it is also undoubtedly due to the feeling that women don’t belong.

Sarah Konstantino, fifth-year marketing and management major, is one of the leaders of a female-only weightlifting class at Marino called Women of Iron. She described that often when a female lifter walks in to the weight room, the immediate thought is, “Oh … there are only men in here.” And fairly frequently, she has felt pressure from men to wrap up a workout so they can use the equipment. “If I’m on a machine, a guy will stand near me and wait. They ask me when I’m going to be done instead of the guy next to me,” said Konstantino.

Her co-leader of Women of Iron, second-year physical therapy major Aisling Dennehy, echoed this sentiment. “I’ve honestly felt pretty intimidated in the weight room,” she said. “That’s part of the reason why I don’t go in there very much. The only reason I ever really go in there is for the [Women of Iron] workout.”

This intimidation has created an environment where even when women do want to lift weights, they often have trouble finding someone to help them get familiar with the equipment (Since men dominate the weight room population, it is far more likely for a male to know a possible mentor and feel more comfortable in the weight room). This stunts most aspiring weightlifters before they can even lace up their sneakers. Establishing a weightlifting routine simply has a different level of difficulty than just hopping on a treadmill (And while Marino does have many female personal trainers, women should not have to dip into their wallets to find a weightlifting mentor).

“Everywhere else in the gym you can do your thing and it doesn’t really affect other people,” said Sheetz. “But in the weight room, if you’re doing something wrong it could affect someone’s ability to get a rack. Your workout is more connected to other people’s workouts; you have to know the etiquette.” Sheetz managed to break through this obstacle thanks to a friend who showed her the ropes. “It’s definitely good to have a way in,” said Sheetz.

Women of Iron was created with that goal in mind: to familiarize women and give them a “way in” to the weight room. According to Dennehy, the program – while very new – has already made a tangible impact. “Definitely for the girls who come to our workouts, it has given them confidence to come into the weight room,” she said.

If Marino’s weightroom is to become a place of relative gender equality, programs like this are a solid place to start. However, creating lasting change will be more difficult than creating a few women’s workout groups.. Making the weight room truly a more welcoming environment requires societal change, something not easily attained or even imminently possible. Perhaps the fastest way to begin creating this shift is a heightened awareness of the issue and encouragement amongst both genders for a more welcoming space.

“There should be reassurance from women, but also from men,” said Konstantino. “Why are [men] giving me a hard time for being in here? Don’t [they] appreciate women taking care of themselves?”

If momentum builds to get more women in the weightroom, a positive chain reaction could very well form. “The more women that go in, the more women that will go in [in the future],” said Dennehy.

Originally published in Woof Magazine

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Combatting stereotypes with comics

When you hear the phrase “art exhibit,” certain images and memories probably pop into your head. Maybe you remember getting dragged along to stuffy galleries by your parents on long Sunday afternoons. Maybe you remember staring at a blank canvas that was secretly disguised as “modern art.” Maybe you even like art exhibits, and reminisce fondly over spending hours looking at old Renaissance pieces.

Visible Noize, the current exhibition at Gallery 360 here at Northeastern is nothing like that.

The walls of the exhibit are adorned with Afrofuturistic drawings and comics, with everyone from black teenage superheroes to Martin Luther King depicted in the works. While comics might not be the first weapon you think of combatting in racism, the exhibit raises critical questions and exposes major holes in the media and art industry.

John Jennings, an associate professor of art and visual studies at the University of Buffalo and award-winning author and artist, is the primary driving force behind the exhibit. Northeastern University officials reached out to him, and after those initial talks, it took about six months for the exhibit to come to fruition.

Jennings describes the exhibit as a “small retrospective of my work related to various modes of black speculative cultural production,” and notes that it is unique in part because it focuses heavily on the different steps of making a comic. “The show is very centered on process and shows a lot of original analog sketches and also large reproductions of sequential illustrations,” he said.

He believes that there is an undeniable lack of black pop culture figures in our current society, to the point where it is impacting minority children.

“It’s important for everyone to see themselves in the culture that they participate in,” said Jennings. “Any images that we can find that depict what society actually looks like adds to the self-esteem of kids of color.”

His drawings certainly seem to do that. A vivid and huge comic strip hangs on one wall and sticks out as particularly powerful. It depicts a hero in a crackling array of colors, narrating his purpose. One quote in particular stands out: “I fight because the whole of time and space is engineered so that I can’t win.” It is a startlingly honest and aggressive statement, one that accurately reflects the struggle of being black in America. It is not hard to see the effect they could have on a child who has traditionally only seen his heroes depicted as white males.

Kyle Taylor, a black first year student, believes Jennings’ art is working towards a more equal representation in media. “He is definitely taking a step in the right direction by using minorities so prominently,” Taylor said.

And while Jennings’ work is certainly different than most mainstream cartoons and graphic novels, he ultimately hopes that it will become a normal representation. “These images are not only necessary, but should be naturalized,” Jennings said.

The current state of diversity in pop culture may not be ideal, but Jennings is optimistic about the future. “I do see [representation] improving,” he said. “Even if it’s because of the rapid increase of people of color in our country and how that increase will create more markets.”

Taylor believes that art such as Jennings’ is a good preliminary step, but more effort is needed. “[We need to] consciously keep making an effort that promotes black people and minorities normally as opposed to having every black art be some kind of statement,” he said.

As for future endeavors, Jennings hopes to do more of the same. “I think that my work will most likely stay in the same vein,” he said. “I intend to try and get out more of my ideas by changing my formatting for my stories, methodologies, and also by more collaborations with other creators who are like minded.”

Right now, Jennings’ work is unusual in a whitewashed field. But if he has his way, art like his will no longer stand out as unique. It will simply be normal.

Originally published in Woof Magazine online