Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Workin' it Out

People have their pet peeves, and I certainly have mine. I think my list of things I find irritating is much longer than the list of things I find enjoyable. What can I say? Having been a negative person for so long, it is hard to get rid of some of the effects. I want to talk about men's vs. women's vs. "open" time at the Saudi gyms/swimming pools.

Now, I want to say first of all that having allotted times for men and women is a pretty cool idea. I have nothing against it. If you are a woman and have ever felt the gaze of some creepy-looking dude while you are on the treadmill in short shorts, you know that women's time is a fantastic idea. You can wear whatever you want, use whatever machines you want, without having to worry about that gaze. Then again, other women still look at you. You'll have to deal with that in a different way. All in all, however, if you are a woman who does not like having guys seeing you sweat your stuff, you should have every right to your own time. That is why women's gyms still exist all over the world. Everyone should have the choice.

If you are a dude and you feel uncomfortable seeing women in those short shorts, then having men's time for you is probably welcome as well. A lot of men from different cultures (yes, including Saudi culture) just don't want to see women like that. Since women should have the right to dress the way they want to, I think it is a fair compromise. Give everyone their time, right? These guys should have the right to using the gym without women, just as women should have their time without men if they so desire. It's all cool with me.

However, the real pet peeve is about to show up: "open" time. This is supposedly when women and men can both use the gym at the same time at their own risk. On paper, this seems pretty good - some people don't care whether or not they are sharing the gym with people of the opposite sex. Some people are only there to do their exercise, and they don't care about the gaze or the clothes or whatever; or they come from cultures where men and women mix all the time so they are used to it. Other people want to go to the gym with their spouses or children of the opposite sex for moral support. My Mom and Dad go to the gym together all the time. How they dress and how they work out is totally up to them. Some women go during open hours and just wear modest clothes, like long gym pants and loose t-shirts with their headscarves. So what? They feel comfortable.

At night, the open times are used by people who visit after work. This is usually when the families go, so the people checking at the front desk understand and let you sign up without any issues or questions. They just want you to sign up and go. However, in the daytime, I find that the attitude of the people working up front are completely different. This is the time of day when housewives go to the gym, and there aren't that many housewives in my compound. Instead of acknowledging that open time is for both women and men, they get all abrasive or pushy when they see that a single woman is going into the gym during open hours. They seem to at as if it is wrong or that the woman doesn't understand the terrible consequences of having a man in the gym with you. I don't really get it.

To give you an example, a year ago I went to the gym during women's hours which ended at 14:00. Open time was to start right when women's hours ended, so I just decided to stay there and finish my workout. So what if some guys walk in? It's open hours! I don't care. I had done it before without any issues, but there was a different person working at the front desk on this day. While I was using some weight machine, the woman working up front came down to the gym from her desk and asked me what I was still doing there. She asked me if I knew it was now open hours. I firmly said that I didn't mind that it was open hours, and that I was going to stay. She told me that there were men waiting upstairs to enter. I told her they were welcome in, because it was open hours.

She actually seemed upset with me, and she kept asking over and over as if I didn't understand. Like I was some little kid. She kept saying, "Men are going to be coming in!" and I kept saying "It's okay, ma'am! I don't mind!" She also asked me if I was "single" and I said that I was sponsored by my parents. Finally, she just left. I was really irritated. I didn't even feel like working out anymore.

If the gym is having its open hours, I understand that both men and women are going to be using the gym. Open hours should not be another term for men's hours. I think that is wrong. In the end, it is my choice whether or not I share the gym with some other guys. If the men didn't want to share the gym with me, a woman they did not know, they should have just come during men's hours. Those hours are there for a reason! I don't waltz in during men's time or open time and expect all the men to leave!

I really don't know whose fault it is. I don't think the bylaws of the gym say anything about having no women attend open hours. That wouldn't make any sense! Maybe the woman who came to bug me was under some instruction by the men who were apparently waiting upstairs. A couple of guys did come into the gym a few minutes after the woman left but they ignored me and I ignored them as usual. They didn't look at me funny or say anything to me, and I think I had even been in the gym with them before. If they had told her they didn't want me in there, what was their problem? It wasn't men's hours! Who are they to pester me, or that woman at the desk? I don't think it is fair, if that ended up being the case. It could have just been the woman herself.

If she were trying to get me out due to her own personal beliefs about men and women and the gym, I think that is extremely wrong. She does not have any authority over what the women do. Sure, this is Saudi Arabia and it has a reputation for  a lot of things, but am I supposed to just wrap myself in a blanket and avoid men altogether? No! The gym gives me a choice, so I will make my own choices. If she came up to me to warn me that men were coming in, and then left after I said it was okay, I'd actually be fine with it because I would think she was just looking out for me in case I didn't know what time it was. Sometimes when you are at the gym, you lose track of time. I would appreciate that she was just trying to help. But this was more than just that to me. It seemed way too pushy. I didn't like her tone or her words one bit.

Today, I experienced something similar. It was the same deal: I was at the gym in women's time right before open hours. I looked at the clock, saw that it was half an hour to open time, and thought that I'd be fine. What did the woman at the front do to get me to leave? She used the newly installed intercom speakers. Yes, now the gym has this loud, obnoxious intercom thing like they used to have at school which allows that woman to blast "It is [x] minutes to open hours!" in the gym. I know this is good for women who really do not want to be there during open hours, but guess what? I was the only woman in the gym and that woman at the front desk knew it. She didn't just call out once - she called out 3 times, starting from half an hour all the way up to ten minutes before the end of women's time. If I had wanted to leave, I would have left!

In the end, I feel so annoyed that I no longer even want to go during open hours in the daytime. I'd rather just wake up early and go during the very beginning of women's hours every day to avoid that annoying hassle. I never know who is going to be at the front desk; it could be someone who is relaxed and who doesn't feel the need to bug me or it could be someone like those two women. I have had the two extremes. I am tired of the nagging extreme.

Being a woman in Saudi isn't as hard as some people make it out to be. Some people (like me) are content with how very considerate Saudi culture is to women. I really do appreciate the different hours for men and women that are given to me at the gym. The fact that there is a choice at all is definitely a good thing. However, don't be so damn annoying! Women are capable of making their own decisions and taking care of themselves!

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