Gender and Gym: An Inside Look

Gender and Gym: An Inside Look

When gym teacher Dan Vanderjeugdt was in high school, girls and boys were literally on opposite sides of the school for gym class. Gym teacher Teri Langston, who grew up in Texas, didn’t even have gym class. Rather, she trained with her sports team, which only included girls.

Times have certainly changed. Today, most gym classes are co-ed or at least open to both genders. This is meant to provide equal opportunity for both girls and boys.

But in reality, many “co-ed” gym classes are dominated by one gender.

According to Student Services, the data for first semester class enrollment in Aerobics, Dance, and Strength and Conditioning broke down like this:

Gym chart final

The data suggests that students choose certain classes based on gender differences. When asked, most Niles West students believe gender stereotypes should not play a role in deciding what class a person takes, yet they admit that stereotypes likely play a part in that decision.

“When people hear the stereotypes, they don’t want to look weird with other people. [It’s] like peer pressure,” junior Vincent Pham said.

Boys do not want to jeopardize their masculinity by taking Dance, and girls do not want to appear buff in Strength and Conditioning. Even though students say these stereotypes exist, most also say girls and boys should take part in activities they succeed in and enjoy.

“If they’re into it, and they have the ability, why not?” junior Sabina Mackie said.

Director of Physical Welfare Joaquin Stephenson, hates these stereotypes, especially the notion of women being weak when it comes to working out.

“I want to eliminate that perception. As long as you work hard and show growth, that’s the key,” Stephenson said.

Despite the belief that students should break through gender stereotypes, it may be difficult to encourage students to take classes so heavily filled with the opposite gender.

Senior Emily English presses 40-pound dumb bells during Varsity P.E. English plays volleyball. PHOTO by Rachael Kossy

Senior Emily English presses 40-pound dumb bells during Varsity P.E. English plays volleyball. PHOTO by Rachael Kossy

Senior Alex Johnson, who is the only boy in 2nd-period Aerobics, believes that his experience in class builds character. He wanted to learn more about cardio and getting fit, so he didn’t let his gender stop him.

“It’s kind of awkward, but my personal experience in life… humility is a good thing,” Johnson said of his time in class.

Teachers are aware of gender differences in gym and do their best to modify workouts to fit the needs of each gender. Aerobics teacher, Langston, who has Alex and another boy in her classes, clarifies that she doesn’t really treat the boys differently in class; she simply helps them adjust their workout level as needed.

“I talked to both the boys at the beginning of the semester… I can tell them how to modify/ progress their exercise to make it more challenging, depending what we’re doing,” she said.

Because Aerobics relies mostly on individual participation, workouts can be easily modified. That’s not the case with classes like Individual and Team Sports, where students rely heavily on one another to get their workout.

“In Team Sports, it’s more challenging to have a co-ed class to get gender equality. Because usually it’s male-dominated in a team sport,” Langston said.

Vanderjeugdt agreed, noting that the class incorporates sports that girls and guys don’t necessarily both enjoy. For example, girls do not get as involved in flag football or basketball, while both genders like soccer.

“They used to have two different sections of Individual and Team Sports. One steered towards girls and one towards guys. But when they added Varsity P.E., they cut that out,” VanderJeugdt said.


Senior Danny Morrison takes his place for dance class during 8th period. PHOTO by Rachael Kossy

Despite activity levels being an issue in class, both teachers say that socially, the girls and boys get along just fine. It’s only when there are significantly fewer boys or girls that they stay separated in class.

“If the amount of girls and guys in a class is about even, they mingle with each other,” Langston said.

Ultimately, students seem split on whether they like gym co-ed or single-gendered.

Freshman Eli Hanami advocates co-ed gym class, which he will soon experience second semester.

“I hate being with all guys, and most of my friends are girls,” Hanami said.

But junior Sabina Mackie says she prefers single-gendered gym.

“I just feel more comfortable,” she said.

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  1. avatar

    I tried to sign up for Aerobics and was advised repeatedly by certain adults not to because it would be a mostly “girls class” and told to pick Strength & Conditioning instead. I ended up going with Team Sports.

    However, this isn’t just about students’ individual perception.

  2. avatar
    Rebecca Yun

    Honestly, being in strength and conditioning was probably the best thing ever. Okay, sure, I hated waking up every day at 6 for early bird, but s&c was the difference between JV and varsity for me. If I hadn’t taken strength and conditioning, I wouldn’t have gotten where I did this past year and I’m extremely glad Niles West offers a gym class that helps each sport out in different ways. In a normal gym class you would run in the cardio lab one day and play a sport for the other few days, with a fitness day mixed in. I liked s&c more because I did exercises to help my technique with swimming and it helped me build muscular endurance for races. Thanks to Vandy I actually went farther this past season than I ever thought I would.

    Also, the whole fact that I was in a mostly male-dominated course didn’t faze me because being one of the few girls was pretty cool. Gender shouldn’t matter in gym; if a boy wants to take dance or if a girl wants to take strength and conditioning it shouldn’t matter as long as you enjoy what you do.


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