On Exercise, and the perils thereof.

Living and working in a small hospital in a North Indian city amounts to a fairly sedentary lifestyle. My food, for the most part, comes from the hospital kitchen and has never been known for either flavour or nutritive value. I don’t have a refrigerator (it hardly seems worthwhile to buy one, seeing as I only plan to stay here for nine months) so that means I have minimal control over the quality of my food.

In an attempt to take some charge over my fitness, I joined a nearby gym recommended by one of my consultants. Over a period of five months, my endurance and capacity for cardiovascular exercise have improved to the point where I can feel good about my fitness. My body has toned up to a shape and size that makes me feel attractive. And I have far more energy than I used to.

So far, my workouts were easy – go when I have time, run for forty minutes, stretch for ten minutes and leave. My interaction with either the trainers or other members was minimal, limited only to one trainer’s exhortations to do more with my workout. Yesterday, I decided to listen to him and asked him to start me off on light weights and circuit training.

Today was my first day of strength training. I warmed up with cardio, paid attention to form, faltered a little on the push-ups (always my Achilles’ heel) and finished off with a ten-minute jog. The gym was filling up with men in muscle shirts lifting heavy weights and injuring themselves. I pretended not to notice.

I finished and was leaving, saying bye to my trainer on the way out, when he suggested I come sometime in the morning instead of around 4 p.m. since the gym was filled with “cheap people” in the evening. “You know how boys say dirty things” he told me.

So now I know that all the while that I was working out, there were men risking sports injuries and thinking and saying dirty things to other men about my body – this body that I value and work hard to maintain. And not only were my efforts negated (to them) by my sole worth as a sex object, but I – I – need to change my daily routine to accommodate their rampant hormonal urgings.

Lucky Manatee rolls as he likes
Lucky Manatee gets to roll as he likes

How do you fight a lecherous thought? Do you avoid its circumstances? Do you ignore it and carry on as usual, hoping that with time its owners will be desensitized to your presence and your various appendages? Do you take your pepper spray with you in case someone tries to take advantage of the fact that you are there, that you are female, and that you don’t seem to mind people looking at you? And what do you do if your pepper spray doesn’t work?

In its most simple form, this feels like being bullied – being hit and not being able to hit back, like in dreams where your limbs seem to be moving through syrup. My anger is circling with nothing to land on, or maybe the target is too big. Do I get mad at the men in the gym? Do I get mad at the system and the society that made it okay for them to treat a woman like they would never treat another man? Do I get mad at this violation of my privacy, at this negation of my work, at this stupid disruption of my routine? At the perennial risk of talk turning into harassment, turning into assault? At all of the above?

Anger needs sharp focus to be of any use. My anger is spread too thin and this thing is too large to be contained within it. I will stay safe, and wake up early and go work out in the mornings.

But oh, how I hate them for it.

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