What Do You Do About Base Gym Bullies?

“I would never let my wife get that fat.”

This short sentence was from a young military student directed at a military spouse friend of mine who was working out at the base gym.

The student was surrounded by his friends. The wife was alone. She was trying to get her weight training workout completed for the day. After this remark, the workout was over.

Even though she continued the routine while trying to not let them see she was fazed, this sentence, and the wave of painful emotions deflated her.

After a culmination of comments and glares from servicemembers, she told me that she now hates going to the gym. This isn’t from any lack of motivation on her part, but from the bullying.

Many of the female spouses I’ve talked to feel also uncomfortable going to the base gym. If they do go, it is usually with their husband, another female or small group of females.

Some spouses reported they experienced glares and rude comments. They have been intimidated out of using the machines by male servicemembers, especially in the weight room.

To be clear, not all males are guilty of this intimidation. We live on a training base with many young students who are about 10 years younger than the instructors and their spouses.

Certainly, the husband cohort respects and supports their partners in staying healthy and managing stress via exercise. And, I’m sure there are students who would show nothing but respect to these their fellow patrons.

But the pattern remains, inhibiting women from going to the gym--especially at “peak” hours when the numbers of servicemen are high.

We live in a very rural community with few off-base gyms and now with the change of seasons, service men and their family members try to work in a trip to the gym when they can.  Sometimes the only opportunity for spouses to workout occurs at the same time the students work out.

So what can we do about this bullying? I have run through various scenarios in my head about how I would handle it. I’ve thought I could

-- Try to stay quiet like the friend mentioned at the top of the post and focus on the workout.

-- Confront the young men and trying to get information about their commanding officers to report them.

-- Question their maturity level out loud to myself within their ear-shot.

-- An outburst of some sort that would publicly call out the absurdity of their disrespectful comments in a place that tries to promote tolerance and health.

Each tactic has its benefits and risks, of course. I don’t know if any of them would work. For a lot of women, silence is not the answer. Still they don’t feel comfortable confronting the perpetrators out loud and publicly martyring their self-esteem for the cause of acceptance in this “ultra-man’s” world.

Has anyone else been intimidated at the gym? If so, what did you do about it? Other than going to the gym with other females, or with their husbands what would you all suggest?

Kristen is an Air Force wife  currently living in the midwest.

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