Historically buildings have been defined as masculine due to their form, the gender of the architects who designed them and what they have represented. The two key theorists I examined to further my understand of gendered space were Diana Agrest and Joan Ockman. Diana Agrest’s theory was that ‘analysis of gender in modern architectural criticism reveals a social system that has historically functioned to contain, control or exclude women.’ (Agrest, 1996) Her explanation for this was that men held a deep rooted jealousy of womens maternity and it was due to this male architects ‘give birth’ to their buildings.
Male architects create buildings as monuments to themselves, projecting onto their buildings how they themselves wish to be seen by others. Joan Ockman put forward the theory that ‘the design and practice of architecture continue to be bound up with the representation of power and pleasure’ (Fainstein and Servon, 2005). Men use buildings as representation of their own power whilst the excess and grandure lavished on many buildings to further represent the mans power is a representation of the pleasure found through architecture. These two theories combined give a much greater understanding to a skyline oversaturated with phallic, dominant buildings. Cultural views towards woemn have been found to have an impact on the forms created in architecture. Mimi Lobell highlighted how cultures ‘that revere the feminine principle and treat women at least as equals produce built forms related to the morphology of the female body’ (Lobell 1989) therefore if society held women in higher regard this would be reflect in our architecture. Whilst phallocentric forms are common place amongst modern architecture yonic forms are far harder to find.
Many of the late Zaha Hadid’s great architectural work has been described as yonic such has the Al Wakrah stadium in Quatar and the Tokyo 2020 stadium. Both buildings faced enormous public outrage whilst the Tokyo staduim faced a petition against it filed by 100 architecture led by a male Janpanese architect Fumihiko Maki siting one of their main issues with the stadium being its form.(Kyodo, 2013). Many who rushed to defend her work have pointed out the numerous phallic modern buildings which have not created contreversy and she herself sugguest that ‘would not have been made had the architect been male.’ (Fairs, 2013) Historically gendering buildings as masculine in part due to the previlence of male architects is a case fortified by the historical gender disparity within architecture as a profession. Although women were first allowed to study architecture in the UK in 1917, 2016s Women in Architecture review found only 1% of architects world wide who have been practicing for over ten years are female. Only 2% of women were associate directors or sole practitioners and only 3% were architectural academics or directors. (Tether, 2016) This is in combination with the findings of the Global Gender Gap report of 2017 that although a higher percentage of women are educated to an advanced level in the UK, only 6.
1% of graduates within the feilds of engineering, manufacturing and construction are female. (SOURCE). The overarching theory that comes through from my research is that it is the architecture of a building and space which defines its gender.
It is this architectural theory which I seek to test in examining modern fitness spaces and gymnasiums.Modern fitness spaces and gymnasiums are interesting places to test these theories because they are such modern spaces. The increase in economic mobility and subsequence increase in disposable income in the 1970’s made the emergence of modern fitness gyms possible. Working out became part of a lifestyle for an urban community of middle class and single people (Andreasson, and Johansson, 2013). It was this popularity that caused such a rapid expansion of the fitness industry allowing nearly 7 times as many gyms to be open in the USA in 2002 compared to 1978(Stern, 2008) with similar patterns being seen across Europe.(Crossley, 2006)(Sassatelli, 2010). As of 2018 are nearly 7000 gyms in the UK and 1 in 7 people are members (Fuller, 2017).
It is the rapid expansion from almost obscenity to being a 4.5 billion pound industry in the UK alone, in less then 50 years that designated gymnasiums and fitness spaces as being such a modern architectural space. As a result of how modern these spaces are there is a case to be made that historic architectural theories may not necasserily assist in establishing the gender of modern gym spaces. Classic architectural theory is based on entire buildings and their forms whereas modern fitness spaces and gyms are often parts of buildings rather than being stand alone structures. When examining socail spaces such as gyms, architectural does not take into account the socail dynamic which may have more impact on determaining the gender of the space than the architecture of the building. To stand in an empty gym, you do not feel a sense of gender radiating from the space itself.
Gyms are not often designed to include prodominently masculine design features or colour schemes. In both examples provided of fitness spaces, the colour palettes are intentionally ungendered, both with industrial but minimal design features. The interior design of fitness spaces appears to focus more closely on fitting as much equipment into the space as possible rather than giving preferance to either gender. It appears what gives gym spaces their sense of gender is the encouraged dominant masculinity from the activities performed within the space and those who are performing the activities within the space. The gender struggle takes on a whole new dynamic when in a fitness space.
Gendered architectural theory has many different lines of enquiry to evaluate before denoting men and the ‘birth’ of their buildings to be dominent however socail dynamics within a gym have very different things to consider. If in order for women to be considered equal to men within a fitness space, socailly men have to accept and encourage womens strength as being equal to theirs it is this acceptable that would ultimately definate the gender of the space rather than the architecture. It has been shown historically that women struggle to assert their power and authurity in modern fitness spaces and gymnasiums. It is widely accepted that ‘many of the training techniques and exercises in fitness are directly imported from body building’ (Andreasson, and Johansson, 2013) however it is practice rather than theory which proves this point.
Within strength training and weights areas of modern gym most machines there focus on the expansion of your physical form rather than improving any particular bodily function. Body building has historically been a ‘male body subculture.’ (Andreasson, and Johansson, 2013).
Women attempted to engage with the space the same way men had, women began strength and weights training in the 1970s. As body building was a natural extention of these activities within the gym, the first female body building competition took place in 1974. Continued rule changes stiffled equality within the sport, by 2000 women were required to wear heels for competitions and were to be judged on their make up, skin tone, face and healthy appearance in addition to their physical prowess. However with these rules changes came a reiterated warning that muscularity should not be taken to the extreme. (Jim Manion – Chairman/Professional Judges Committee 2000).
In December 2004 when ‘for aesthetics and health reasons’ all female competitors in all physique competitions from body building to figure athletes were told that in order to continue competing they had to decrease their muscle mass by 20% (Office of the Vice Chairman IFBB Professional Division 2004). By 2012 Ms. Olympia winners were being awarded less then 12% of the prize money awarded to Mr. Olympia before finally Ms.
Olympia was cancelled altogether in 2014. These competitions were born directly from activities which take place within modern fitness gyms. They serve as a clear demonstration of women struggling for equality within these fitness spaces. This sits in direct opposition to the theory that the gender of a space is determined by architecture because was those who make up the demographic within the gym that aleinated women. The popularity of home fitness videos in the 1980s, championed by the likes of Jane Fonda, further demonstrate womens attitudes towards the modern fitness gyms present at the time.
This attitude still provails with a third of women in America working out at home rather than in a gym. (SOURCE) Fitness gyms were more affordable then ever and keeping fit was more fashionable then ever however the vast numbers of women who chose to work out at home is evidence fitness gyms had not becoming welcoming spaces for women. Fearing judgement because they are not sure what they are doing was common answer to a survey I conducted concerning womens attitudes surrounding fitness gyms. 83% of respondents said they felt judged or stared at whilst in the gym and other respondents voicing their desire for more help to be offered to women. Many felt this judgement was because they were ‘doing it wrong’ (survey 2). Many respondents characterised their behaviour in the gym as keeping their head down and trying not to draw attention to themselves (Survey B). During my interview with Owen Hubbard, a freelance personal trainer, he provided the insight that many women come to him from other gyms because they feel like they dont know what they are doing.
(Hubbard, 2017). This further proves that women struggle to assert their power and authurity in modern fitness spaces. Judgement and a lack of knowledge historically appears to keep women away from fitness gyms with many feeling this judgement comes from men (survey) it again goes against the architectural theory that the gender of space is defined by the architecture of the building.
Women are still struggling to exercise equal power and authority over the weights area of a modern fitness gym. Many respondents to my survey echoed the sentiment that ‘girls do cardio, boys do weights’ (Survey 1) and 78% said that the weights area was more intimidating with 62% of those respondents voluntarily sighting men as the main cause of this intimidation. Many people spoke about the behaviour of men within the weights area, displaying overly aggressive behaviour such as grunting (survey 10 and ‘intending to show off’ (survey 19) creates an atmosphere in which women do not feel comfortable or equal.
The unwelcome atmosphere has reached a stage were 69% of respondents to the survey said they would prefer private weights rooms with further 50% of that group voicing their desire for female only areas with a gym and female only classes. During my interview with Owen Hubbard he provided the insight that ‘until you are at the top of your game 80% of men wont want to train with you because they still have that thought that they don’t want to train with a lady’ (Hubbard, 2017). This demonstrates a clear stigma towards women to try and access the gym space the way men do. If it is that the gender of a gym is determined by the demographic and from the activities performed within the space then the exclusion of women from certain part of a fitness gym is a clear demonstration of how a gym would become male gendered. Increased female participation in strength sports does indicate that more women are interacting with the space the way men do however the socail judgement from both inside and outside the gym demonstrate how the demographic still dictates the gender of the gym to be male. Female body building does not have the recognision it once did but has been growing steadily, retaining many committed and devoted fans (McGrath and Chananie-Hill, 2009).
Other strength based sports such as crossfit, strongwoman and power lifting have all seen increase in popularity and participation from women. Crossfit have a equal gender divide amongst membership (Every Last Rep, 2016) and the largest sporting event in their calender the Crossfit games, pulls in over 15,000 seated spectators (SOURCE) and boasts equal prize money for male and female competitors. (Castro, 2017). Strong woman now has annual World’s Strongest Woman events sanctioned by the International Federation of Strength Athletes, won the last two years by a British Donna Moore. These events are now televised on ESPN and in 2017 the Arnold Classic held its first Strongwoman event, which is an indication of its growing popularity. Power lifting has seen one of the largest increases in female participation. Although less then 40% of the British Power lifting membership was made up of women (Britishpowerlifting.org, 2018) it has grown to a point where women now have their own events and weekends.
When interviewing Owen Hubbard, who has been a competitive power lifting for nearly ten years, he said that ‘in the last three years probably there has been a massive boom in ladies power lifting’ with top level competitors numbering around 15 only three years ago to now having over 100 top level competitors. (Hubbard, 2017). With the expansion and help of social media many women interested and involved in strength sports have found safety in numbers online however there is still a stigma surrounding women accessing certain areas of fitness gyms. Dispite the process that has been made many have argued that in order for all women to feel comfortable the creation of womens only gyms and fitness centres is the solution however this throws up both moral and legal ramifications.
Female only facilities have prevailed dispite this with companys such as Curves claiming to have helped over 10 million women more than 4,500 clubs worldwide, in 76 countries (Curves.eu, 2018). Although Curves is now an international company, Spa Lady and Lucille Roberts represent the other two market leaders providing female only gyms in America. Such expansion and growth with the market would suggest popular support however there are growing legal challenges being levelled at women only gyms. In America, successfully lawsuits have been filed in Santa Rosa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, California, Orange County and a case against Women’s Workout World in Chicago led to $30,000 being paid in damages for men who were denied access and denied employment (Mock, 2011). Legal challenges have been brought against gyms in the UK as well with Peter Lloyd suing his local gym in Kent over their womens only hours. Although he sites the loss of 442 hours of gym time annually with no monetry compension due to their policy his arguement was that in having such policies gyms are branded men as ‘dangerous by default’ (Llyod, 2013).
As more lawsuits are brought forward, the dubious legal ground to which women’s only gyms are based is being exposed. A closer examination of the laws set out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission states that ‘equality law applies to any business that provides goods, facilities or services to members of the public’ and specifically citing business examples like ‘leisure centres, swimming pools, gyms; and ‘health and fitness clubs’ (Equalityhumanrights.com, 2016) within their guidelines. It goes on further to state that ‘it doesn’t matter whether the service is free… or whether it must be paid for – it will still be covered by equality law’.
Therefore any facilities that ignore legislation and offers gender specific services to one gender rather than both are leaving themselves open to potential lawsuits and damages.The evolution of fitness education and natural changes in demographics sugguest that the gender balance within fitness gyms may with time reach a nature equilibrium. In my interview with Owen Hubbard he talked about how ‘strong is the new skinny’ (Hubbard, 2017) whilst discussing weights training.. This has been a battle cry and catch phrase of a recent socail movement encouraging women to incorperate weights into their training.
Numerous articles have been written encouraging women to pick up weights citing health benefits from better sleep (HUff + Live Strong + Self + Hens Health + mens fitness + simply shredded) to improved mental health (huff+shred+Live strong + Fitness mag) to improved heart health (Huff+live+shred+fitness) amongst many others with an emphasis from many that women wont get ‘bulky’ from lifting weights (Fitness+Live strong+Shape). Fears over women’s physical size or ‘bulkiness’ were also echoed in the survey with one women being told by her mother that she ‘shouldn’t lift weights as boys don’t find bulky girls attractive.’ (SURVEY C) When speaking to Owen Hubbard, he spoke about how ‘with strength coaching and Pting I still get women saying I dont want to get too bulky, I dont think they realise that strength training dont make you too bulky’. The strong is the new skinny movement is trying to reeducate women about strength training, promoting not just having a strong body but also a strong mind and spirit (HUff). Socail media has played a big role in providing safety in numbers for women starting strength training with the hashtag #girlswholift taking off on platforms like instragram, where it has nearly 20 million connected posts. Due to this movement and the current reeducation about strength training at fitness gyms the gender bias present in modern fitness gyms may start to level out naturally over time. Many modern buildings such as skyscrapers are still gendered as male even if they are designed by female architects due to their mascluine forms.
Due to this many urbanised spaces such as cities are very masculine spaces dispite an increasing number of sky scrapers being designed by female architects. The Aqua Tower in Chicago was particularly ground breaking skyscraper because it was the tallest skyscraper to ever have been designed by a female architect. The building itself has 82 stories and sits at 250 metres high. The buildings design was cheifly presided over by Studio Gang Architects which was founded by Jeanna Gang. However this did not mean that the sky scraper did not take on a masculine form, the building can still be seen as a phallic structure.
Another example of this is the New Arts Museum in New York City which has been designed by the architectural firm SANAA. Kazuyo Sejana heads up this architectural firm and dispite having female influences the building can be seen to be very dominent and masculine. It is in this way that Lobell’s commentry about built forms can be seen so clearly. Her notion that societies which treat women equally create more yonic built form can be seen by the prevence of masculine forms being created even by female architects. However it is this maculinity and presence of phallic forms within modern architecture that proves the architectural theory put forward by Agrest and Ockman that buildings are gendered male by their architectural enviroment.
This demonstrates how, to a point, their architectural theory can still be seen as correct in modern architecture. However spaces with such gendered enviroments socailly such as gyms have been proven to be spaces that are gendered through the people and the activities that take place within them. The gender struggle and intimidation many women feel within fitness gym spaces has been shown to be caused by those who make up the demographic of the gym and how they made it more difficult for women to fully engage with and access the fitness spaces available to them.