Barbara Boxer Wanted the Congressional Gym to Allow Women, So She Sang a Song for Congress

When researching Washington, D.C. gyms for my day job, I fell down a delightful research rabbit hole that led me to the book Climbing the Hill: Gender Conflict in Congress by Karen and Herbert N. Foerstel. In it, I found out that not only did U.S. congressional gyms used to be men-only, but women had to go to some pretty ridiculous lengths to get them to change that.

From the book:

Even fundamental recreational facilities have been denied to women because of a “men only” tradition. In the mid-1970s, it took the strong urging of Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) to make the men’s swimming pool available to women. Next came the challenge to one of the most sacred male sanctuaries on the Hill, the House gym, which, until recently, was closed to all women. The gym provided men with weight machines, bikes, a swimming pool, and other exercise equipment. When then-freshman representative Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) complained about the all-male gym, she was told to use the “Ladies Gym,” a facility which, in the words of Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), consisted of “ten hair dryers and a ping-pong table.”

Boxer had doubts about the “separate but equal” facilities, and during her second term she recruited some younger male members like George Miller (D-Calif.), Marty Russo (D-Ill.), Tom Downey (D-NY), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to lobby for the integration of the congressional gym. But the “gym committee,” composed of older male members, was unwilling to alter tradition. In response, Boxer, along with Congresswomen Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), wrote a song to dramatize the “gym problem.” Set to the tune of “Has Anybody Seen My Girl,” the lyrics were:

Exercise, glamorize,
Where to go, will you advise
Can’t everybody use your gym?
Equal rights, we’ll wear tights,
Let’s avoid those macho fights,
Can’t everybody use your gym?
We’re not trim, we’re not slim,
Can’t you make it hers and him?
Can’t everybody use your gym?

The Boxer trio actually sang its song at a meeting of congressional whips, and as a result, the men’s gym was soon opened to women.

The congresswomen didn’t exactly perform it on the floor of Congress, but singing at a meeting of congressional whips is plenty impressive in my book.

If you’d like to sing the song to yourself, “Has Anybody Seen My Girl” (officially, it’s “Gal”) is often referred to as “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue.” (Apropos of nothing, Representative Barbara Boxer is 4’11”.) As in this song:

Featured image by JD Lasica, used under Creative Commons license

Ashley Hamer

Ashley Hamer (aka Smashley) is a saxophonist and writer living in Chicago, where she performs regularly with the funk band FuzZz and jazz ensemble Big Band Boom. She also does standup comedy, sort of, sometimes. Her tenor saxophone's name is Ladybird.

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