Gym attire policy seen as gendered by some women on campus

Oct. 18, 2018, 6:56 p.m.

In early October, second-year law student Isabelle Sayyah entered the Arrillaga Center for Sports and Recreation (ACSR) wearing a sports bra. On her way into the building, she was stopped by a staff member, who told her she should wear a shirt at the ACSR in the future.

Sayyah and other members of the campus community feel that the attire policy of the ACSR and the Arrillaga Outdoor Education & Recreation Center (AOERC) is unfairly gendered.

“[The woman who stopped me] said, ‘Hey, we’re being kind of lax for this first month,’ but [that] they were going to start implementing their new [two-layer] gym policy” Sayyah said.

The official policy of neither the ACSR nor the AOERC includes any mention of how many layers one must wear at the gym. According to Associate Director of Recreation Services Robin Embry, the policy is that participants are required to wear shirts, shorts or pants, and clean, closed-toed shoes. Shirts are required to be worn at all times, and undergarments must be covered by shirts. In addition, bare-skin contact with equipment is not recommended. Some specific types of clothing – including denim jeans and shorts, pants with belts and exposed metal (like buttons or zippers) – are not permitted in the Fitness Center.

On the same day that Sayyah was stopped, third-year law student Emily Hayes was also told by an ACSR staff member that she had to wear a shirt in the gym. When Hayes asked why, she said she was told that gym policy forbids people from showing their stomachs.

But Embry said the attire policy was amended in September to remove language that prohibited “bare mid-drifts” – specifically to avoid gendered language.

“We amended the policy to remove the reference to this clothing that is typically associated with the female gender,” Embry said.

However, both Sayyah and Hayes said they felt that the policy described to them by gym staff unfairly targeted women.

“Even if the policy isn’t gendered, it has a disparate impact on women,” Sayyah said.

Embry said the AOERC and ACSR seek an all-gender policy that promotes the health and safety of all participants. He noted the possibility of communicable diseases spreading through sweat and other bodily fluids.

“Proper guidelines for sanitary conditions are essential to a safe workout environment,” Embry said. “As an added benefit, policies like these can help extend the life of the equipment in the centers.

But Hayes said she doubts the health benefits of the attire policy.

“I’ve seen plenty of people absolutely dripping sweat on the stairclimber when wearing a shirt,” Hayes said. “[The attire policy] obviously does not prevent that. It is clearly a prudish attempt to cover women’s bodies. The rule, as articulated to me, just makes no sense and is offensive.”

Sayyah expressed similar views about the policy.

“I think it’s a ridiculous policy, and when I’ve gone to the gym since [being stopped], I’ve always put a shirt on because I don’t want to deal with it,” she said.  “But I would definitely think about taking further action to protest it.”

Embry said the revised policy is designed to be accommodating for everyone, adding that many peer institutions have policies that list body parts that must be covered and/or restrict specific types of clothing. However, Hayes remains concerned.

“I’m constantly aware that when I’m running or working out without a shirt over my sports bra that I will be sexualized and observed by men, and that puts me at risk in many way,” she said. “But overcoming that and putting my own physical comfort over social constructs around what parts of my body should be hidden is something that is important to me. So to have Stanford as an institution tell me that that is unacceptable and forbidden is upsetting and regressive.”


Contact Sofia Monroy at sofiam ‘at’ and Adesuwa Agbonile at adesuwaa ‘at’

Sofia Monroy '22 is a writer in the Campus Life beat. She is from Walnut Creek, California and plans on studying English and film. Contact her at sofim 'at'

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