CW: This piece contains mentions of sexual assault.
If you’ve been to the gym, you’ve probably found yourself glancing up at the TVs more than once. On the cardio machines especially, it is difficult to look at anything else. Even if you’ve brought reading, or are watching videos on your phone, your gaze eventually and inevitably drifts upward. Your attention might fall on ESPN sports coverage, it might fall on the never-ending parade of political horror that is CNN these days. If you’re me, whether you like it or not, you can’t help but let your eyes land on HLN. By day, a fairly innocuous, if ridiculous, news network (I recall one afternoon on the elliptical watching a fifteen-minute-long segment on how to pronounce Anthony Weiner and Rod Rosenstein’s last names). As day fades into night, though, HLN shifts, its screens filling up with true crime documentaries.
The exact content of these documentaries varies, but the basic nature stays the same: an exploration of someone (usually a man) who does violent and murderous things to other someones (usually women). While these documentaries tend to show little more than interviews, grainy footage from Ted Bundy’s trial, vague shots of highways and houses in the night, they can also get horrifically graphic. I recall in particular working out on the elliptical one evening when HLN was broadcasting a program on a serial rapist, which abruptly shifted from mere interviews to a re-enactment of a woman being stalked, kidnapped, and physically attacked. Luckily, the documentary returned to interview footage before the worst of the violence. What struck me most as I tried to grapple with what had just been broadcasted in a university gym for entertainment value was that the reenactment was from the perspective of the attacker, that the viewer was forced to see what he saw, to narrow in on this woman as a hunter might narrow in on prey.
That evening I decided I’d had enough. I went home and crafted an email to the faculty in charge of the gym TVs, asking that they please change the channel to something less potentially traumatizing. The staff member was apologetic, if a bit patronizing, explaining to me that news and sports channels generally provide the most “satisfaction” to gym-goers, and asking if I was sure I’d watched something on HLN as opposed to CNN. They said they would attempt to resolve the problem, and I heard nothing further. HLN stayed on the TVs for the rest of the semester. Feeling ignored and trivialized, I let the issue drop.
This semester though, returning and finding that, if anything, HLN had become even more murder-centric than ever before, I made a WesAdmits post and discovered that many more students felt as uncomfortable, frustrated, and disturbed as I did. With the help of WSA member Keishan Cristophe ’19 who contacted the deans on my behalf, HLN vanished from the gym TVs, replaced with HGTV—for which I’m very grateful, not least because I’ve sorely missed having regular access to “Love It or List It.”
The issue with the TVs is a simple one, relatively small, seemingly easy to fix, and yet speaks to larger structural issues. As I’ve said, it is most difficult for those of us using the ellipticals and stair-steppers to avoid looking at the TVs, and, as anyone who frequents Freeman can confirm, those machines are an incredibly woman-heavy space. This is not to say that anyone was intentionally trying to expose the women of Wesleyan to traumatic content—I do not claim that this was in any way an intentional misogyny. It was, however, a functional misogyny. Violence against women was being used for entertainment value, and was presented in such a way that scores of women had no choice but to watch it, to see nightmare scenarios they’ve been warned against since they were old enough to go out without a chaperone splashed casually across a fitness center TV, apparently mundane enough to be seen in the same glance as slo-mo replays and congressional proceedings. It is a simple issue, but a pivotal and pernicious one, and we would be remiss to ignore it. At least, though, we can now consider it while watching home makeover shows.
Jaime Marvin is a member of the class of 2019 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.