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By on October 22, 2012

My name is Alexis and I have bystander guilt

Alexis Marbach
Alexis Marbach

Last night, I went to the gym – a place where I usually tune out, rock out to my headphones, and well, workout. I say hi to the people I know, catch up with a few friends, but I don’t spend much time listening in on others conversations. Last night I was working out near a group of young women and men who were training as part of a team. I was thinking – oh man, how cool. I think I would have felt really empowered as an 11 year old girl being so physically fit and part of a team like that. I was getting all excited about how there were more girls than guys that were part of this team, and how they were doing equal workouts, and giving them mental feminist high fives all around. Then, I got knocked right off my treadmill.

The coach of these girls pulled them aside and said, “You need to stop showing your midriffs. It is inappropriate and that is my personal preference, you can do what you want but I think you should stop and take a moment to think about what you are wearing”.

PANIC!! Okay what was I going to do – step in and fight for their right to show their midriffs? The boys were allowed to walk around without their shirts – why not the girls? I declare a double standard!! This was definitely not a policy of the gym, girls and women were walking around in sports bras all of the time. His personal preference?! Since when does HE get to decide was is appropriate and inappropriate?!

I could see the girls smiles and energetic laughter morph into feeling self-conscious, confused, and embarrassed. The amazing author Caitlin Moran would describe this moment as their first feeling of, “This is sexism! Sexism is happening to me!”.

What did I do? Nothing. I was doing that thing that I talk about in my trainings, “Is this something? Is this nothing?”. I froze. And for the last 12 hours I’ve been feeling guilty. So I’m writing this blog to confess and then writing an email to the gym owner to express my concern. Next time I see that coach I will pull him aside and say something.

Why confess on this blog? To relate to all of the other bystanders out there who struggle when deciding whether or not to intervene and then struggle to understand whether they made the right choice. It’s a process, one we are all participating together as a community of potential bystanders. I encourage you to share your process with your friends and colleagues, as well as in the comments section here!

2 responses to “My name is Alexis and I have bystander guilt”

  1. Hi Alexis,
    Thanks for sharing this. I am working on a primary prevention plan for my organization and I would like to use this story in our board training. It is a good example of societal norms and what message we send to girls and to boys with statements like the coach made. It also reminds us to speak up.

  2. I love this, Alexis! Thank you so much for sharing. You are creating a positive ripple effect by doing so. Bystander guilt / triumphs would be a great topic for a regular blog! I think men and women should both be allowed to be shirtless, so the fact that this coach was complaining about just the midriffs showing really blows my mind. And I’m sure the girls DID think about what they were wearing; that’s why they decided to wear it.

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