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

A Northeastern student’s perspective on gun control

Death has become routine in this country.

News alerts detailing active shootings and multiple casualties are no longer unexpected occurrences. They are an entrenched part of American life. We have apple pie, we have baseball and we have mass shootings. We run through the same tired motion every time: first comes widespread shock,  then comes the pleas from President Obama to improve gun control, mental health, or both. It dominates headlines for a few days and then fades away into a debate that everyone knows will go nowhere.

This is the new American tradition. For a country that has had more mass shootings than days this year, the logical assumption is that we would be doing everything we can to end this sickness.

We do not.

Instead, we wallow in our grief and then promptly assert that guns don’t kill people, people kill people; a timeless and idiotic argument that has somehow stopped any attempt at gun control in its tracks.

We are enamored with guns – with bullets – and then we pretend to be surprised when someone uses one to destroy the lives of multiple humans. We aren’t playing with fire anymore. We live in it. We get mad when it burns us, but do nothing to put it out. Our infatuation is so extreme that  there are 129,817 places where you can buy a gun in this country.

There are 36,569 grocery stores.

It is a colossal failure of reason. Keeping civilians safe is the number one priority of the American government, and yet we watch scores of our own people die every month because we want to preserve the liberty of owning a firearm. Even when the most vulnerable of our people die, like the victims at Sandy Hook or San Bernardino, gun-rights proponents and the National Rifle Association (NRA) stand strong in their beliefs, because they believe it is their right to own as many killing machines as they please.

They do have that right, thanks to the Second Amendment. But if they really want to keep it, then every pro-gun supporter and policymaker must take on the responsibility of that right: ensuring it doesn’t infringe on other’s rights to safety.

According to the Washington Post, we have not had a week pass since 2013 without a mass shooting event. That means every week someone has lost their husband,  wife, son, or friend. The damage lasts far beyond the immediate murder: the collateral effect a shooting has on families and friends is almost as unspeakable as the crime itself. So when gun-rights supporters argue for their liberty to own firearms, they have a moral obligation to deeply consider what is lost with every gun death.

And if they still want their guns after that, then there is no hope. This is the single greatest moral issue of our time, and there is no ambiguity about it. If we can’t bring ourselves to address it, then we have failed as a nation. It should be noted, addressing it cannot mean arming more citizens, as some have suggested. Increasing the proliferation of guns will only mean more blood, and lead to a dangerous increase in vigilante attitudes. A bullet is a death sentence, and there is a reason we do not allow citizens to make that decision.

We college students do not have the most power in the world. With many of us assuming thousands in debt, we may even feel powerless. But we are not, if only because of one big thing; We can vote, and that is an ability we are not taking advantage of enough. In the last presidential election, less than half the population in our age bracket voted. In off-year elections, it’s even worse. Collectively, we can substantially sway the vote and help shape our government. We can address what is important to us simply by checking off a box for a certain candidate. Massachusetts is already a fairly liberal state, but a significant chunk of the student body is from other parts of the country. Absentee voting, especially in states that have no definitive lean, lets you voice your opinion in a more impactful way than it might here.

Increased advocacy could also be a key instrument of change. It sounds corny, but writing to your congressman (or any politician) can help, particularly when it is done in a large volume. Participating in protests and starting or signing petitions are other possible outlets. We as college-age students are blessed with energy and passion, and channeling it towards these could yield positive change. Passivity is a choice, not a natural state.

After every mass shooting, Facebook and Twitter are filled with posts that express outrage, sadness and deep sympathy. If those emotions are truly genuine, we as a whole can take them farther than the black hole of social media.

If we truly do care about lessening gun violence, this is where we start.

Originally published in Woof Magazine online