Restricted Hours at the Gym – In Conversation with the Ashoka Iron Eagles
Updated: Oct 24
The male and female bald eagles are nearly identical, except the female ones are bigger and heavier. Naturally, they are often the more dominant ones. In conversation with the Iron Eagles, we discover how one sees a similar yet contrasting scene at the gym. The Iron Eagles are the newly formed fitness club at Ashoka. Informally founded about a year ago, they started by organizing the Deadlift Party as one of the batch championship events and eventually took on more projects in the later semesters. Their most recent event was on October 10, Tuesday, which featured the introduction of non-cis-men-only hours at the gym, a cause that the founding members of the club have been working on for two semesters.
The Edict spoke to Riya Jethithor and Divyanshi Kaushik, two UG’24 members of Iron Eagles, about the importance of their newly launched program and the promotion of an inclusive gym culture at the University.
The founding premise of Iron Eagles, according to Divyanshi, is in re-shaping what the gym as a space is supposed to stand for.
“Looking at the fervor of lifting at Ashoka, everyone wants to hit the gym, beginner or advanced. This is really good because it forces a social environment for everyone to work together and make friends. And it is also a place for self-improvement. Our vision with Team Iron Eagles was to bring all of these people together, even bring those people who were hesitant to step into the gym and make it a more inclusive space,” she said.
Throughout the interview, one got the impression that the purpose of non-cis men hours, and specific measures to encourage non-cis male participation at the gym was not simply about extending the benefits of fitness and self-improvement to all members on the Ashoka campus. Its importance also lies in subverting larger, gendered, societal norms surrounding the occupation of space itself.
As Riya says, “There is this notion that only the ‘gym bros’ occupy the space in the gym, which I can't even deny. It is something very prevalent. And a lot of people looking from the outside are influenced by this idea. With the non-cis-men-only hours event, what we are trying to do is make the gym a safer place for those who are afraid to enter the gym and give them the mindset that they have the right to occupy the same space as everyone else. Even within the team, we have an inclusivity department, where we try to think it through the perspective of those who would fervently want to join a project, but also those who would want to join but need a nudge.”
The Iron Eagles exist to provide that nudge: not just to promote a culture of fitness on campus, but also to negate notions of gendered ownership of spaces. The uniqueness of restricted hours at the gym is that it doesn’t just stop at encouraging otherwise reluctant students to go to the gym – it goes a step further and facilitates an environment that reinforces the fact that there is no hierarchy with which senses of belonging exist at the gym.
“When I started going to the gym about two and a half years ago, in the beginning, I felt very intimidated. To put things into perspective, I couldn’t even bench the bar, so my dad gave me the smallest dumbbells, the pink ones, and he told me to just do it. I was like, ‘I can't, this is too embarrassing.’ There were people waiting in line. But he told me to just not care and do my set. I feel like that really helped me internalize the fact that I can own this space, I can own this equipment as much as any other man out there, and I don't have to feel embarrassed about what weight I am lifting or if my form isn't right or not. This is something that I feel every person who comes to the gym should also internalize eventually”, said Divyanshi
Divyanshi and Riya also comment on how men go to the gym in big groups and encourage each other — and they want non-cis-men to do the same! They want them to come out of their shells, and for that, they need to feel safe and occupy the space they need without any shame. Towards that end, the Iron Eagles have insisted through their messaging on the gym being a site of fun and social interaction, just as much as it is one of self-improvement. This is, according to the pair, an underrated aspect of ensuring that non-cis men occupy public spaces to the same degree that men do.
“I feel like I have found friends, I have found a family when I go to the gym. I have found so many like-minded people that I can't imagine my life without them. It is a huge social place for me”, added Divyanshi
While restricted hours was an idea that the club had been discussing for a while, they felt the need to send out a poll amongst non-cis-men to better understand their need, if at all, for provisions at the gym. The results were overwhelming, and almost three hundred people voted in favor of having non-cis-men-only hours.
This was the tipping point for the club – “We realized that there is a necessity for this, so we need to work towards achieving it.”, said Riya
The next thing they did was send out another poll to select the timings, and when these were finally decided they faced a lot of initial backlash from people whose workout timings clashed with the non-cis-men hours.
“We can't just accommodate for women when men are not going. It is not fair to them. We are going to face criticism, but because there is a need for this, it is our responsibility to provide it.” Riya added that there are many projects to come for the Iron Eagles, where they aim to create an even more inclusive environment by accommodating people with disabilities, and also some smaller events for beginners to help them feel comfortable at the gym. One of the things they plan to do is have a QR code on each piece of equipment, which will be directly linked to a video explaining how to use the equipment correctly. When asked if they wanted us to know about anything else that would be coming up in the future, all they said was: “Deadlift Party coming soon.”
Space is not simply physically constructed, but also socially maintained, and the Iron Eagles seem to have intuitively understood that their role in the University lies in the social reconstruction of the gym as a space, which, judging by the popularity of their launch event and subsequent instances of restricted hours, is so far a roaring success.