Existing research on gendered spaces consistently overlooks one of the richest sources to investigate how gender is produced and reproduced: the gym. On the one hand, women have become increasingly successful in athletic pursuits; strong, muscular bodies are the new ideal. And yet, the words “gym” or “weight room” are still associated with men and masculinity. This is the puzzle my thesis aims to solve. First, how does an ostensibly gender-neutral physical space become “gendered,” and does an understanding of spaces as gendered in turn reproduce gender norms? Second, what happens when individuals violate previously established gender norms? Combining data collected through participant observation at the on-campus gym of Strong College and in-depth interviews with students (N=14) who frequent this space, I argue that the spatial layout of the gym - even absent human behavior - carries gendered connotations that discourage women from venturing into the weight room. I also find that, due to both the spatial layout itself and men’s behavior, women often feel like the “odd ones out.” To cope, women employ various tactics such as making their own space, and finding empowerment in their deviant status. These findings underscore the frequently overlooked importance of sociological spatial analysis in the study of gendered behavior . This research exposes the often subtle ways in which gender norms are maintained and perpetuated within society.

Type of Work

Thesis - Limited Access

Department or Program



Hamilton College


Bachelor of Arts

Date of Graduation


Faculty Advisor

Matthew Grace

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.