On Planet Fitness and the question of judgment

My parents worked hard to instill good judgment in me, because kids are born with no judgment at all: I will put this dead bug in my mouth! I refuse to wear a jacket in winter! Watch me climb up on the roof and jump off into a pile of sofa pillows I have arranged on the lawn for this purpose!

Judgment – a complex function of the brain’s frontal lobe that includes risk assessment, long-range planning, the determination of similarities and differences between things and events, and an understanding of future consequences resulting from present actions – doesn’t fully develop in humans until our mid-20s. Remember the crazy noises AOL made when you tried to get online in 1997? How you couldn’t be on the phone AND the Internet at the same time? That’s what we’re like! Attempting to connect. Page loading. Page failed to load.

Good judgment is a sign of intelligence, character and maturity. That’s why I’m baffled by Planet Fitness’ “No Judgment” policy, which is all over the news this week: A female member got booted from the gym after taking issue with a full-grown male body in the women’s locker room.

As a veteran of 25 years in various and sundry gyms, I think the “No Judgment” policy sprung from a good intention: Eyes on your own workout; don’t comment on other people’s bodies. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how free some people, usually men, are with their opinions of strangers’ physiques and techniques. Men like to step in and correct your form, or tell you that what you’re doing will make you “bulky.” I’m all for a policy addressing this. Buzz off, dude. Go do some squats at the curl rack.

But what Planet Fitness seems to mean by “No Judgment” is: “Don’t judge the unclothed male body next to you in the women’s locker room as ‘male.’ If he says he’s a woman, accept it and keep your mouth shut.”

I assume the reverse would be true – an unclothed, female-bodied person identifying as male – a trans man – could change in the men’s locker room at Planet Fitness. If that happens, how do you think the men in there will react? Do you think they’ll just go along with it? If one of them complains, do you think he’ll be called a piece-of-shit bigot? And if he IS called a bigot, do you think he’ll internalize it or feel guilty for even one second?

The right-wing news is all over the Planet Fitness story, gleefully lumping all lesbians and gays in with those who believe that male-bodied individuals should have access to female spaces whenever their feelings demand it. This story is being used as evidence of what non-heterosexual people want; what we do and what we believe. This troubles me: I don’t wish to be lumped in. I’m not on board with this, because I have a well-developed sense of judgment informing my opinion: It’s not OK for male genitalia to be bopping around in women and girls’ private space. Public-accomodations laws must be followed, but this isn’t the right way.

I’m not afraid of penii. Seen plenty. No pearls to clutch here. I’m not concerned about being raped in the locker room, either. I can squat 1.5x my bodyweight and I’ve got nice sharp teeth, so if you touch me I’ll make you sorry.

Thanks to a combination of vigilance, circumstances, and sheer luck, I’ve never experienced sexual violence. I’m not elderly; I’m not frail; I’m not a young girl; I’m not a survivor of rape or abuse. Not every woman can say all this, though, and I can’t speak for them.

Neither can Planet Fitness. Or anyone else.

The world isn’t a safe, comfy Gender Studies class where we get to sit around and discuss our preferred pronouns at leisure. Most women who live in the real world aren’t inclined to obsessively parse the question, “What is a woman, really, you know?” It’s straightforward: They don’t want penises in the locker room. They shouldn’t have to defend their reasons why. A woman who does see a penis in the locker room ought to be allowed to freak out and ask questions later without being pilloried as a bigoted asshole.

I’m keeping my judgment, and women, I support yours. Our judgment – built and honed by all our lived and learned experience – is our most valuable asset. Whether that judgement tells us to stand our ground or run away, it’s more vital to our well-being than our heaviest squat or our longest set of pull-ups.


P.S.: Planet Fitness is a terrible gym. There’s a reason it’s $10 a month. Go to Gold’s, seriously.

P.P.S. Feminist at Sea has written a great piece on this. Read it here.