How To Stop Men From Treating Gyms Like Pick-Up Joints?

To poke at the machismo bubble and stop my gym from turning into a pick-up joint, I’ve decided to come up with a line of slogan t-shirts to wear when working out: DON’T TALK TO ME

Namrata Zakaria
Apr 13, 2023 04:26 IST
Gym harassment, Sexual Harassment At Gyms
Wear a t-shirt that says ‘Don’t Talk To Me’

The highlight of my week is when I am at the gym. I say this with great embarrassment, as I wish I looked like a gym-goer and not like someone who takes an occasional walk. I don’t know why but gym discipline is my biggest bugbear. More so since working out is especially good for the mind, the body, and feminism.

Yes, you read that right. And if you don’t agree, you’ve obviously never stepped into a gymnasium. Gyms are a man’s playground. This is the sandbox they exercise their legend in. They may be sweaty, stinky and unshowered, but hey, you’re on their turf. Or so they will keep reminding you.



I’ve been going to the gym for four years now. The multiple ways sexism works in that place needs a book of its own, a column just cannot do justice. It’s odd because I was a (bikini-wearing) swimmer before this, and no man ever tried to get into my lane. Maybe because I swim really fast and, unlike running, you can’t really see what you’ve left behind.

So, despite me looking away unapproachably, sometimes glaring angrily, sometimes pretending I cannot hear – the staring/ grunting/ come-ons/ mansplaining/ manspreading just doesn’t stop.

Gym harassment: How to curb the rampant toxicity?


A 2019 study of 2,000 women conducted by deodorant brand Sure, found one in four women suffered from ‘gymtimidation’.

British news magazine, Metro, recently did an article on sexism in gyms that stated, “It’s still a place where men can go to stare at themselves in the mirror while lifting heavy pieces of metal, grunting for everyone to hear, flexing and often wearing very little. Sweat is a status symbol, apparently.”

The article referred to a study conducted in the UK called ‘The Gym-timidation Report’ where six in 10 women revealed they had been harassed while they exercised in mixed gyms. The women said the men stood too close to them, made inappropriate remarks, flirted or made sexual comments. A third of them said a women’s-only gym would make them feel more comfortable, instead of choosing ‘shy girl workouts” by retiring on a mat without any equipment.


The Guardian writes in 2020’s ‘Gym harassment: how sexism, stalking and surveillance stop women working out’ about a woman whose squats were mimicked and laughed at by a man who followed her around the gym. She couldn’t complain as he was friends with everyone at the gym. That week, a local gym’s employee dismissed a woman’s complaint saying “Testosterone levels are high, especially during workouts”.

“It can take so much for a woman to get through the door of a gym,” says Kate Dale of Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign. “And it doesn’t take much to put her off when she gets there,” The Guardian writes of men’s insidious gym etiquette.

Newsweek picked up an online post about how a woman was offered unsolicited advice and her posture corrected by a stranger. “Thanks random man,” she said to him, leaving those next to her in splits.


To poke at the machismo bubble and stop my gym from turning into a pick-up joint, I’ve decided to come up with a line of slogan t-shirts to wear when working out: DON’T TALK TO ME

Once I saw a burly bald man have a near heart attack on the gym floor, and was revived by some trainers and a glass of nimbu pani. In a few minutes, he had his breath back and decided to walk up to me to correct my plank. Perhaps he thought his mansplaining would restore his self-respect, in vain.



An underweight, seemingly anorexic sod thought he needed to correct the weights I was pushing on a chest press (obviously). He made me tell him rudely and loudly, “thanks but I have a trainer”. Of course, he never spoke to me again, but I see him take his antics elsewhere.


“You need more range”, a chubby guy corrected my calf stretch by following me into a very uncomfortable corner behind a giant pillar at the gym. Clearly, no one bothers with calf stretches except me and Telly Tubby. “I’m fine,” I replied without a smile, when what I wanted to say was ‘you stink’.



I was once kind to a sweet-looking elderly man, who I swore wore dentures, and got up midway from a machine and offered it to him instead. “Thank you,” he said. “And you are so beautiful”. “Thank you,” I replied, “But please tell that to your wife.” His smile disappeared, and I didn’t have to see his dentures for the next hour.


I was being stalked on my Instagram daily by a young man with comments that kept saying “hot” “sexy” and the like. I looked him up and realised we had one common friend. I called the friend and discovered a gym-rat had slid into my DMs. I threatened to complain to his father, who is part of the management and blocked him.


I found a friend who had once helped me in a personal matter at the gym. He followed me all around, and kept trying to make small talk while I was working out. I eventually moved into the next section of the gym, so he wouldn’t be misled into believing we were here working out together. Of course, he showed up there too. Eventually, I said to him aloud, ‘Stop staring at me”, and he replied, “I can’t help it.” Of course when I spoke to him later and told him he made me uncomfortable, he said I was a psycho and had imagined the whole episode. We are not friends any more.

But I have a whole lot of amazing t-shirts instead.

Views expressed by the author are their own.

Suggested Reading: Stop Staring! Is Wanting To Work Out At The Gym In Peace Too Much To Ask For?

#gym harassment #sexual harassment at gym