Today I had a my first tutorial with Lesley regarding my dissertation topic of gender performance in the parameters of bodybuilding with focus on female body builders. Through my current research I have been delving into the writings by Judith Butler who at first I found incredibly difficult to understand, but with persistence and use of similar texts I have been revising specific chapters over and over until it stuck. I have come to understand Butlers theories on the difference between gender performance and gender being performative. Butler articulates gender as a performance is the role we play, the role we act that is crucial to the way our chosen gender is perceived. Gender as performative is the effects that are created from our acting, the way we talk, our mannerisms and bodily gestures and behaviour consolidate the gender we are portraying and presenting ourselves as. Since undertaking the topic of gender as performance I am applying this theory to the gym culture and I have since been observing the performances of gender in the gym.
I have observed the way in which the men behave during and after they have finished one set of several weight lifting exercises and have found it incredibly eye opening. I have observed every single man in the gym perform “the walk” which they will perform after finishing exhaustive resistance training. This performance consists of a pacing up and down around their equipment, huffing and puffing loudly , observing their reflection in the mirror as they pace.
I perceived this walk as a type of territorial marking, like a dog pissing up a tree the men make a dramatic act to display their power and dominance over the surrounding males training. Whilst observing this as I was also on a nearby piece of equipment, most of the men would often make eye contact with me for several seconds almost as if to make sure I was watching their display, not specific to me as a person but to me as a surveying female, which was quite resembling in behaviour to that of gorillas beating their chest or birds of paradise displaying their plumage to attract the attention of the nearby females.
I then made over view observations of the females training in the gym. What I observed was a polar difference in the mannerism and attitude in which the women conducted themselves as opposed to the men. Many of the women would grab a set of free weights and take them over to the matted area to train away from the prevailing male gaze that are on every woman in the gym. They were more often than not in groups of two to three and almost never alone, I noted only a handful of women training solo, those who did train alone did not venture into the free weight section and mainly stuck to the cardio or matted area. What was astounding to watch was that almsot every woman I observed seemed to conduct themselves in a timid and unsure fashion, as if they were only allowed in the gym by the grace of man or that they knew they were in a predominantly masculine domain. This made them slightly timid and making effort to not encroach on the territory in the gym, to remain small and not take up a lot of physical and maybe mental space.
More importanly I noted the way in which a lot of the women seemed to come into the gym more concerned with looking attractive and presentable than actually concerned with the purpose to improve fitness. I watched serval girls come into the gym wearing Lycra shorts, sport crop tops and full head of makeup and begin a light abdominal and squatting workout. There was not one male eye that did not linger on these two girls and it was evident to me that they were aware of this. As articulated by Berger, these girls were viewing themselves through an internalised male gaze. Women are always aware of being gazed upon by the prevailing male and in turn they are constantly aware of the image the project. Never more had this been blatant until I watched these two girls squat slowly almsot provocatively, sticking out their bottoms and watching themselves in the mirror as they did so. I even caught one of them pouting and tilting her head at a more flattering downward angle, almost suggesting a surrender to the surveyance of the surrounding men.
These obsevations are only skimming the surface of gender performance, but I feel the performance of gender is culturally engrained but more so in the gym it is in emphasised, and evidently in bodybuilding culture it is emphasised to a hyper real extent. Tomorrow I will be training as my part of my usual routine and goal to become an amateur female bodybuilder, my personal insights into the culture make my dissertation take on a ethnographic approach which is incredibly illuminating about the culture of gender for it is never more so crucial and blatant than in the environment of a gym.