Brosef, I’m not a threat to you.

Or, maybe I am.

The gym is filled with ego. People grunt at their image in the mirror as they lift dumbbells. They sneak looks at the person beside them doing the same exercise, judging their ability and strength, and they might slide on an extra 5 lbs in response. After lifting heavy weight, people drop them to the floor with a bang and celebrate loudly and vigorously.

Okay, maybe that last one is just me.

Still, the gym is filled with egos. The most fragile of them being male egos.

“But D!” You protest. “Why are you singling out men?”

Let me skip the feminist history lesson to say this: Men are often raised to view women as lesser beings. Going along with this, men are raised to view women as things to be protected, and coddled, to be lifted up on dainty pedestals.

The “weaker,” though fairer, sex.

Men are not taught that women are their equals. In fact, masculinity teaches men that their manhood is based on being bigger and stronger than women. On not crying, not showing emotion. Because those are “womanly.” Most importantly, a woman should not pose a threat to you, should not embarrass you in any way. That is definitely not manly.

This brings me back to the gym and male egos.

A few weeks ago, I encountered two versions of someone who I will call “Brosef.”

You know Brosef, right? The guy in the gym who decides to show off and be loud about it. The guy who likes to proclaim how much weight he is lifting in comparison to the person next to him. The guy who likes to “teach” his friends the “proper” way to lift, despite telling them something that doesn’t really matter at all.

Behold, the gym bro.

I’ve come across various versions of Brosef throughout my lifting journey, and I’ve noticed one thing they all have in common. When I lift heavy weight — even if it’s just heavy for me and not for them — if it’s above what they think a woman could lift, it triggers a reaction in them. This reaction is usually to proclaim that they need to put more weight on their bars, or to talk about how much more they lifted the other day to make themselves feel better.

Need an example? Take Brosef #1.

I was deadlifting as usual, trying for 190lbs again for the second time. I had the mat to myself. Brosef #1 came over with a friend, wearing Sperrys and shorts, and decided to deadlift barefoot. I didn’t notice him at first. I was resting between my warm-up sets, sitting on the floor behind my weights. When I did figure out he was talking to me, I had to say, “Say that again?”

“That’s 45 and 25 on each side right?”

“Yeah,” I said. Not exactly accurate, but close enough.

He brought his weights over to his friend and proceeded to put them on and teach his friend to deadlift. He was still barefoot. He told his friend, “If you have to use those (he pointed to the clips that hold the weight on the barbell), you’re not doing it right.”

“That’s odd to say,” I thought, looking at the clips on my barbell.

Brosef #1 proceeded to deadlift 135 lbs. After he finished, he immediately ran over to get more weight and told his friend to start lifting.

I started my set of 3 reps at 190.

After I finished the first set, Brosef #1 yelled to his friend across the mat, “Do you need more weight? That weight was weak sauce.” His friend took a quick glance at me and replied, “No, I don’t.”

I kept lifting and they moved on to other things in the weight room. I saw them glance at me again.

Brosef #1 was grandstanding to make himself feel better. He didn’t need to count my weight. He didn’t need to talk loudly about whether using clips or not means you’re doing a deadlift correctly, or try to badger his friend into lifting more weight because a woman next to him was lifting 190lbs.

“But, D,” you exclaim. “How do you know he was talking about you?”

To be honest, I don’t. But context clues by the quick glances tell me otherwise.

Another example: I’ll call them the young Brosefs, a group of about 6 or so teenagers who just came from playing basketball and were waiting around for something and decided to hang in the weight room.

I saw one of them walk by while I was setting up for my first attempt. They disappeared into the adjoining room but wandered back to the machines behind the deadlift rack to sit down, glancing at me. I knew what this meant. They wanted to watch me but appear like they were working out. I had an audience.

I finished my first set; Brosef #1 left. More young Brosefs came to hang out in the area, loudly taunting each other but hovering within view of the mat. As finished my last set, they suddenly decided they wanted to deadlift, too. The mat became crowded, the youngsters loudly asking each other how much they could lift at their max. One of them proclaimed “405!”

“What? How much?” Someone asked again.

“4–0–5!”

I packed my things and left the mat. Thank God I was done.

#annoyed

Need another example? Take Brosef’s #2 and 3.

While not as annoying as Brosef #1, #2 and #3 fell into the same trap. The “this woman is lifting heavier than you at the moment, or another man is clowning you about the IDEA that a woman is lifting more than you, so you need to defend your manhood” trap.

This was a few weeks ago, and I was attempting 180 lbs on deadlifts. It was my first attempt, so I wasn’t expecting much. The gym was slightly busy — the end of the night brings out the night owls — and there were 4 people on the mat: me, a man in front of me, and Brosefs #2 and 3, who were discussing the weight they had to lift as part of their Army training that day. Harmless, right?

I attempted 180 and got 2 reps. While pulling the second rep, I said “NOPE” loudly at the top of the rep because I didn’t think I did it correctly. I dropped the weight and examined the calluses on my hand as I walked it off. Then, I sat down.

As I did, an older black man walked up to me.

“You know what I told those guys over there?” He points to the Brosefs.

“What?” I asked.

“I told them to get their weight up because they’re getting beat by a girl!” He burst out laughing.

I smiled and refrained from telling him that I’m a woman. Gotta take the compliment, backhanded though it was.

“You’re doing it, girl!” The man gave me the pound and walked away, laughing.

Immediately, the Brosefs started discussing how they were deadlifting 225 easily the last week.

While I have encountered many encouraging and genuinely helpful guys at the gym, it nevertheless frustrates me when guys think I’m in the gym to compete with them.

I do this for me. Not to be some thing to be gawked at like an animal in the zoo, especially not by people who can’t hide that they’re staring. Not to drop weights and run around screaming in every guy’s face, “I’m better than you! SUCK IT, MEN.”

I’m in competition with myself. Unfortunately, most men think I’m in competition with them; and they look like children in the process.

So I say this to the bros of the world:

Calm your gym shorts, bro. I’m not here for you. While I would love to pay $40 a month to show off to people I don’t know but…

See you in the gym,

-D