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First, watch this video to get a good idea of the ramifications of grunting in Planet Fitness. The man in the video was not only chastised for grunting while squatting 500 pounds (you squat 500 pounds without grunting), when he became understandably annoyed, a gym worker called the cops on him.
As I wrote yesterday, Amanda Marcotte got her granny panties in a twist over an article written by Luke O’Neil at Slate in which he reported on health club Planet Fitness’ “no lunkhead” strategy which basically shames and marginalizes bodybuilder-types.
As Sofia points out in the comments, it is difficult to figure out exactly what Marcotte is angry about. She flits around from beef to beef covering O’Neil’s failure to consider why Planet Fitness would adopt such a strategy then to lamenting the double standards faced by women in gym culture. At the root of it all is her hatred for big guys lifting big things.
Marcotte characterizes O’Neil’s piece as a snarky, privileged, one-sided dig at a particular gym franchise whose strategy is to distance itself from the masculine norm. But any reading of O’Neil’s piece clearly shows that he is bringing up a legitimate question: why is Planet Fitness so openly hostile to lunkheads? Additionally, O’Neil wonders how healthy it is, socially, to run away from your anxieties – in this case, judgmental lunkheads – instead of dealing with potentially adverse and uncomfortable situations – which seem to be features of the real world. Finally, O’Neil questions how serious a health club can be about health if it offers pizza and candy – things easily obtained elsewhere – at its facilities.
Marcotte tries to extremify O’Neil’s piece by implying that he derogates women by quoting a man on Facebook who wrote, of Planet Fitness, “it’s just a Curves that allows men.” Marcotte develops faux outrage at this but then goes on to point out that Planet Fitness’ strategy is to cater to the marginalized gym-goer – the person with the most baggage when it comes to work-out hang-ups: women. Since Planet Fitness allows men, this makes it a place that caters to women but also allows men – call it Curves Plus Herbs.
Marcotte then makes this illogical point:
“Smart gyms go out of their way to reduce anxieties and pressures for this reason, which is why the “no judgment” trend is so big.”
Interestingly enough, Planet Fitness is premised precisely on judgment. Check out this sign in one of their gyms.
And this one:
One wonders if Marcotte can still stand by her claim that Planet Fitness is a judgment free zone. Marcotte essentially advocates the trade off of what she perceives as silent, tacit, invisible, unspoken, gendered judgment for loud clanging bells, derogatory signage, and the grunt police.
This is really no different than larger feminist arguments which are premised on an invisible force holding women down – the “glass ceiling”, “rape culture”, “patriarchy”, “toxic masculinity” that all require their own heavier, more serious, and better-armed police action to correct.
Marcotte directly states that “lunkheads are a problem” because their grunting and “over-the-top masculine performativity” makes women feel unwelcome and fosters anxiety. She also states that lunkheads often directly stoke the flames of gender anxiety. Since Marcotte provides no evidence to support this claim – empirical or anecdotal – I must take it upon myself to shed some light on her argument.
As Mucius Scaevola and OneSTDV commented yesterday, less-large men face anxiety when entering the den of these lunkheads. This anxiety may be different in nature than that of women, but it is actually more dire if taken to its logical end – if I stare a lunkhead in the eye I might get a barbell to the cranium; if a woman looks a lunkhead in the eye the worst she’ll get is a phone number. So if Marcotte is trying to make the argument that this anxiety is gendered which provides the base for the Planet Fitness business model, she ignores that men face anxiety both in entering this den as well as being feeling pressure to obtain the masculine ideal. Which would speak to why Planet Fitness could be a good strategy if Marcotte weren’t making the gym franchise out to be a vehicle for female empowerment.
Marcotte is somewhat unrealistic and unfair by attributing grunting and bigness and all of the characteristics of lunkheads to some sort of desire to put anxiety in the hearts of women and herbs. If you’re trying to lift heavy weight, you often grunt. You sweat. Your adrenaline and your testosterone are pumped and you might get psyched up a little bit. In that Marcotte is conditioned to think that men are out to get women at every turn and through every tiny behavior, it’s easy to see why she’d take these noises so personally.
Marcotte and others who support the ideology behind Planet Fitness should just admit what this gym stands for. It is no coincidence that the same post-ironic hipsters who prefer certain bands only because other people don’t like them (which, since Marcotte is an Austin-bred and Brooklyn-based scenester kind of connects the dots here) rather than because of any positive philosophy would also turn to a gym that markets itself as an anti-establishment outfit. It remains to be seen, then, if the people who transition to Planet Fitness will go the same way as scenesters who are famously known for their music snobbery and their “True Hipster” mentality. This could very well become a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. If this Planet Fitness trend gains traction, it’s not hard to imagine that instead of being judged by grunters you become judged by non-grunters. Instead of people judging you for being too puny, you are judged for being too muscular. By setting up a “no lunkhead” gym culture, Planet Fitness is perpetuating the very thing they’re running away from. If you explicitly say “no lunkheads”, people start wondering if you’re actually a lunkhead or if you might turn into a lunkhead or if you have lunkhead tendencies.