In our globalized society today, there are various cultural spaces with which one may be submerged and even be part of. Whether it may be a place exhibiting historical artifacts, a place of worship, or even a place of entertainment, these spaces are established institutions which could serve as arenas where different political identities could emerge from. One cultural area which could be identified is an institutionalized fitness center, in other words, the gym. Although merely perceived as an established area containing weights and machines for people to utilize when working out, the gym can actually be a vessel for empowering the female persona. This essay will take a look into the history of the famous Gold’s Gym which was primarily dominated by muscle men, and how, eventually, fitness institutes would enable to rise of feminism in its field.
Back in 1965, former bodybuilder and United States Marine, Joe Gold, opened up his very own gym in Venice, California. The gym was intended as an area for Joe, together with his friends, to train. Joe kept the costs of his gym very low by making his own gym equipment. Little did he know that, one day, his gym would become one of the most known fitness centers all over the globe. It would be a very interesting question to ask; why open a gym? In the early 1950s, numerous muscle men would flock going to California in order to join the community of bodybuilders in Venice. However, due to sexual misconduct by some body builders, the city council eventually ordered its removal from the beach pushing body builders to train indoors. Now, come the year 1965, Joe Gold decided to open his own training facility. With the events happening, his first pool of clients were his fellow bodybuilders in Santa Monica. Gold’s gym eventually became as the institution where bodybuilders must train. In fact, it attracted various physique artists such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Franco Columbu, and Bill Grant to name a few.
Aside from noticing the establishment of a new playground for bodybuilders, one significant aspect that could be identified from this is that it is mainly male dominant. The initial start was about a former marine who simply wanted to train with his cohort of Santa Monica bodybuilders. It would clearly appear that this gym was made for the community of male lifters whose desire is to mold their bodies like the Gods of Olympus. In addition, the traditional shows organized to be held in the wooden deck of the beach would only see women as part of the audience. It is the men persona who could be named as the face of the show. Although it may have primarily appeared to be a place that would only cater to men, the modern day fitness center is a place where women would even be able to gain the respect of men. It is a big shift comparing it to the primary establishment of the famous Gold’s gym.
As the gym culture spread throughout the globe, with modern day women also participating in aesthetic, functional, and powerlifting training, the gym has become a place where women could achieve empowerment for themselves. Recalling the first theme of post-modern feminism, its main focus is “liberation through narrativity”. As one could point out, post-modern feminists even reject the idea of a “male grand” narrative. Some would even stress that feminist narratives are, indeed, needed in order to achieve that form of liberation to create the identity. By considering these insights and taking into account the context of the gym cultural area, it can be seen how the said space is, indeed, a place that would provide women a narrative of their own since they are engaging in activities which were presumed to be a “male’s activity”. For one, the fact that women have the ability to get up and train as men do already debunks the whole notion that only can dominate the fitness world. Moreover, women can create their own narrative with the concrete idea that there are certain workouts that are majorly done by females. There is this culture that could be observed within fitness centers on how women would focus on body definition and fat loss while men would be inclined to muscle gain. Now, given this circumstance, it is clearly seen how both men and women have an identity in the fitness world. This context adheres to the second theme of post-modern feminism which emphasize on difference. Nevertheless, this identity doesn’t totally split each other from doing the same activities. Thus, still proving how women can accomplish what men can.
On to a more specific branch of weightlifting, powerlifting which could be observed in the gym is an exhibiting of the “Beyond Bitch” Feminism. In powerlifting wherein the main events would include the squat, the bench press, and the dead lift; there are no differences with the actual execution between men and women. Thus, the barrier between masculinity and femininity is destroyed because women showcase their talent, or more specifically, their strength, in the same way a man would do so.
Lastly, I believe this also opens up a clear illustration of how the queer theory plays in our world. There are men who have openly admitted to themselves as well as to the people around them of their homosexuality. Nevertheless, these homosexual individuals could train as hard as the so-called “straight” men do. Their inner feelings of a woman does not serve as a hindrance for them to be physically strong. This would go the same way as how some women could no longer be distinguished from a man in terms of strength. Clearly, these phenomena in fitness institutions show a fluidity of the gender identities. The idea of a strong man and a weak woman is destabilized.
As a whole, going beyond the idea of the service it provides, fitness institutions are arenas where ideas of feminism are illustrated significantly. It is a place where not only men can exhibit their capacities, but women as well. In addition, the fitness culture allows men and women to both have different narratives. Thus, paving the way for non-degradation of the other by empowering both identified sexualities. The gym has pushed for the deconstruction of the idea that there is gender dominance because its culture pushes for fitness, strength, and health which could be achieved together by both men and women.
Heffernan, C. (2015, April 30). The history of gold’s gym. Physical Culture Study. Retrieved from https://physicalculturestudy.com/2015/04/30/the-history-of-golds-gym/