Women have literally every right to be in the weightroom, and if you think otherwise, you're a raging asshole. Further, they have every right (and reason!) to work out in the same way that men do. (This is not to say that they should always use the exact same programming as men, only that it shouldn't be forbidden to them. Everyone's body is different, and some people react better to certain programs than others.)
In my previous article about what separates good from bad personal trainers, I mentioned that bad trainers often keep their clients in the dark about the principles behind their exercise programming, so that the clients are forced to keep coming back to them for more sessions. I also mentioned that some trainers actively promote fitness myths in order to further their career, and that these are some of the worst. Celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson is one of these such people; it is her opinion that lifting weights heavier than three pounds will instantly cause women to bulk up to male hulk-level size, and that spot reduction is totally a thing. The problem is, she's wrong. Dead wrong.
Tracy Anderson has virtually no credentials. She has no scientific background, and literally no idea what she's doing. Everything that she claims to be fact is in fact just stuff that she made up over time. Women do not ever bulk up like men; the reason men bulk up is because testosterone promotes the growth of fast-twitch, bulky muscles, and women do not naturally possess enough testosterone to build muscle the way that men do. Female bodybuilders often only achieve that 'masculine' look through the use of steroids. Go look at any figure competition, comprised entirely of women who have lifted heavy weights regularly to get into competition shape. They're cut, but not bulky; women tend to be better at endurance exercises, and often don't get very large because they simply don't build strength in the same way that men do, gaining more from neuromuscular adaptation than from mass gains. What trainers like Tracy Anderson are good at is PR – and here, Tracy is queen. She's managed to convince half the celebrity world that her completely unscientific programs are not only functional but superior; in reality, she's basically just ordering you to do a lot of cardio and starve yourself forever in order to get the leaner while harming your health. Hilariously enough, Tracy herself has all the signs of being in bad shape: she's skinny but not defined, having confused weight consciousness with health, which I've already argued simply isn't the case.
Women have every right and reason to lift heavy like men. Lifting heavy weights is not a bad thing, and it won't make you less feminine or more mannish looking. I'm surprised by how goddamn often I have to tell this to people, because it's a myth that just won't seem to die in our sexist world of meatheads and submissive women. Every time a woman comes in to me to train and tells me that she's afraid of bulking up, I want to shoot myself. It's a sign of how bad things are that I recently was approached by a woman (who had previously worked in the fitness industry) who wanted to train with me, mostly because she wanted to get back into lifting heavy weights again and needed a little motivation, and I was sooooo overjoyed upon hearing this. In reality, a lot of the physiques that women have in mind when they hire bullshit trainers like Tracy are exactly the kind of physiques that are built through heavy weight training. Think of a beautiful woman who you admire for being in great shape. Visible abdominals, lean, defined arms, a nice ass? It's called core work, heavy weights, and squats.
Furthermore, men who expound this stereotype are worse than the women. Most often, you hear it from bro-douches in the gym looking to kick out women so that they can go back to lifting heavy things themselves. The taboo against women in the gym is a hegemonic trait expounded by the patriarchy, because it disables women from taking control of their fitness and their life, and helps promote their submissiveness to big, strong, abusive men. Women, go lift some weights and learn some martial arts so you can kick those misogynists' asses. Women have every right to be in the gym, and they have every right to use the gym in whatever way they want, without having society tell them what is and isn't acceptable exercise.
Women have the right not to be harassed and assaulted in the gym. Guys, imagine walking into the gym and loading up your plates to do a few squats, when suddenly this annoying guy/girl comes in and begins talking to you for no reason. You try to shrug that person off, but s/he keeps coming back, to the extent that you are unable to do your workout because this person is continually in the way. You like to zone out and listen to heavy metal on your Ipod, but this person simply refuses to let you get into your groove and complete your sets. You eventually leave, but the next time you come in this person is here again. It becomes a problem, until you eventually grow sick of going to that gym and consider getting a membership somewhere else, even if it's more expensive or further away. Okay, now let's examine the point of this example: this is exactly what it's like for women in the gym, all day every day.
Women on treadmills are on treadmills because they want to get their cardio in, not because they want some guy to come up to them and hit on them. They don't come to the gym to get hit on, they come in to work out, and they don't need you bothering them and detracting from their workout, no matter what that is. Now, I'll grant that many larger gyms become more about community than fitness, and that people go to them not necessarily just to get in shape but also to interact with other people, and there's nothing wrong with that. But smaller gyms (which a lot of people use) tend to be packed with people just looking to get their workout in and get out. They're not here to find a partner. They're not here to get objectivized by the male gaze.
There's a guy I knew who, despite being a fifty plus year old male and somewhat obese, spent his time essentially stalking all the young women in the gym. He didn't mean anything by it, of course. He just liked to strike up conversations with them. The problem is that he liked to do it despite all social cues. He'd get off the bike he's on to walk halfway across the room and hop on the treadmill next to a young woman and strike up a conversation. The woman, repelled by his body odor, would be polite for a few minutes before moving to another cardio machine so as to avoid him, only to find that he soon moved to continue the conversation. One girl joked to me about it so much that whenever it happened, she looked around the gym with a jokingly horrified expression until she could make eye contact with me and laugh about it. It's great that we could make a joke out of it, but it's still a shitty situation. Please, guys, don't be this guy.
I'm also lucky in that my gym has a good concentration of women, and that many of them are just as dedicated and strong as the men. I once went to my other gym which I use solely for the fact that it has a single squat rack (my gym does not, as a twenty four hour gym) to find a woman in the room using that squat rack. She was doing squats wrong, and it was quite obvious she didn't know what she was doing, though also somewhat aware of this fact. At some point she apologized to a nearby guy (a masters class powerlifter, btw, which is impressive in its own right) for taking up the space, and asked him if he needed to use the squat rack. What happened next was perhaps the best thing I've ever seen in a gym, ever: the man refused to take the rack, telling her that it was obviously more important for her to use it than him, and then he immediately set about to showing her how to do squats right. Within minutes she had (after dropping the weight a little bit, of course) managed to nail the form perfectly, and was soon squatting like a pro.
This is what real, respectable gymgoers look like. They don't make fun of women, they don't objectivize them, they don't belittle them or force them into specific 'womanly' types of exercise for their own benefit. They're supportive and accepting, and always willing to help. Men, if your masculinity is founded on the necessity of the oppression of strong women, then it's clearly not a very strong one in the first place. Sometimes being strong means learning that the things that have to be punched in the face aren't people but worthless and outdated social constructs that hold us down.