Letter to the editor: Women-only gym hours not a final solution

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After reading the Tuesday, Feb. 24 issue of the McGill Tribune, specifically the commentary “Exercising Justice at the McGill Fitness Centre”, I feel it’s important to point a few things out.

I believe that with regard to women who are insecure using the gym due to the presence of men, women-only gym hours should be viewed as a stopgap measure or band-aid solution at best. Men will not vanish simply because women use the gym at a different time, nor will the sexual aggression or harassment that is at the root of this problem.

Being afraid of working out simply because men are there—and condoning this fear with women-only gym hours—is a tacit accusation that all men are boorish and judgmental, and cannot be trusted in a co-ed environment. I would never deny that women disproportionately face harassment and aggression from men in many aspects of their daily lives, but simply separating those two genders is not a final solution; it is a temporary one that addresses a symptom instead of the actual issue, and disenfranchises the majority of well-mannered men who frequent the gym in the process. The actual issue is enforcing proper conduct and a respectful, safe environment for all patrons of the McGill Fitness Centre, regardless of gender or fitness level, which requires effort and coordination from the staff at the fitness centre and the clients as well.

In addition, the notion of paying for a service that you do not use seems to only bother people when it’s their money on the line. Childless couples pay taxes so we can enjoy free primary and secondary education and cheaper tuition; people without cars pay taxes so our roads are maintained; people with jobs pay taxes so that people without jobs can have access to a better safety net. The idea that paying for access to the Athletics Centre as part of our tuition is unfair simply because one chooses not to use it absolutely boggles the mind. Not to mention that the extra cost of the fitness centre is completely optional. Nobody is being forced to pay for that at all.

The assertion that a lack of women-only hours is denying people their rights is also incorrect. Everyone who pays still has the right to use the fitness centre. Whether or not they exercise their right to use that facility is up to them, and any of their own personal preferences (excluding religious considerations, which I believe are a separate but related issue that requires more consideration) are just that—preferences. There is no such thing as a right to never be self-conscious, and as such, co-ed hours are not denying anyone rights, but they do present a conflict with some people’s preferences. Forbidding a portion of the clientele from using the gym at certain times would actually be directly curtailing their right to use the facility. 

People getting fit and having fun are of course the top priorities of the McGill Fitness Centre. Women-only hours at a gym may help some women transition into using the gym during co-ed times as well, which is a positive thing. But the ultimate solution to people’s pervasive insecurity is not to sequester them. I would argue that this actually prevents lasting change. The solution is to make all visitors to the McGill gym unavoidably aware that menacing, intimidating, or lecherous behaviour is grounds for punishment, or ejection from the gym. Creating a welcoming environment, encouraging a cultural change in gyms, and helping people to overcome their insecurities would benefit not just women, but all clients.

It is everyone’s responsibility to make co-ed spaces inherently safe spaces.  No judgment, no intimidation, from anyone. This cannot be achieved in the long-term with ham-fisted solutions like single-gender hours. 

  • Shane Caldwell

    “The solution is to make all visitors to the McGill gym unavoidably aware
    that menacing, intimidating, or lecherous behaviour is grounds for
    punishment, or ejection from the gym.”

    I trust that the author will be submitting a proposal to institute such a policy.

    • Andras

      An excerpt from the fitness centre rules:
      Members are expected to act in a courteous and respectful manner while utilizing the facility. You are required to follow the instructions of the fitness staff at all times. There is a zero tolerance policy in effect for any type of harassment or bullying of staff or other members of the facility
      As someone who goes to the fitness centre, I can say that I have yet to see a case of harassment happen.

      • Shane Caldwell

        Hmm, that’s weird. Almost like the author was arguing against a straw man to begin with.

        • Nick Uhlig

          Or, Shane, perhaps it’s that the aggression or intimidation that these women face does not get reported; and that the rules governing these types of behaviour do not get enforced.

          For my part I have never seen the staff at the McGill fitness centre do anything but sit next to the computer chit-chatting. Many rules that do exist get broken constantly (dropping weights or slamming machines, using equipment improperly, not putting things back where you found them). Is it so hard to believe that other rules get broken, too?

          My point with this piece was that the rules of conduct need to be better enforced as part of a more permanent solution. Getting the staff to be more active in their duties would certainly be a part of that.

          • Shane Caldwell

            Is the problem really incidents of intimidation or harassment?

    • Albert

      Does that include women who harass men?

  • stu

    I for one am tired of being treated like a potential rapist simply for being male.

    • Jordannne

      I agree with you Stu – this sort of backwards ideology is terrible for both men and women. The greatest feminists (the original meaning of feminist seeking equal rights for women only) include both men and women.

  • Nuel Edeh

    People both male, female, and LGBTQ should learn how to deal with their personal insecurities. It is really appalling that the society does not encourage this habit, rather it seeks to circumvent it by labelling and trying sequester a particular gender. If anyone cannot deal with their personal issues while at McGill gym, It questions their ability to incorporate into a larger and continually evolving society where it gets even harder to change. Most females enjoy the working out together with the opposite gender, If anyone feels Insecure, deal with it and stop creating tensions amongst others who have recognized their own insecurities, dealt with it and come out strong.

    I hate it when it’s all about women. Soon, they’ll want seperate times for the Library, classrooms and Cafeteria. Loads of bollocks!

    • Nick Uhlig

      Let’s not fall down that slippery slope.

      Women only hours would not be a catastrophe and are not some evidence of women oppressing men. I just think that in this particular case there are better solutions.

  • Jordannne

    Every time I post my thoughts, I get cyber-attacked and my views are picked apart by the bleeding hearts of accepting Canadians… but I will post this again when I really shouldn’t. I have been educating myself on certain religious beliefs and the source of certain customs. I truly believe that creating segregated spaces in the name of religion is a mistake and a huge red flag. I don’t have all the answers, but I do feel that religious beliefs should not effect the public sphere… and I also wonder when is the right time to have boundaries? Our constitution is about having freedom OF religion, but I feel that it’s initial intent was to have freedom FROM religion.

    It is in my opinion that these customs reinforce the idealism that women are objects, that it is up to them to be “moral” (or suffer the consequences in this life or the hereafter), and it’s a custom derived from the view that women are considered lesser beings. And yes – some argue that it’s the woman’s freedom to live this lifestyle… but it’s the source of her decision that concerns me. I have been reading their “hadiths”, I’ve also been reading blogs from ex-muslim women on their views about this kind of thing, and I have spoken to other Muslim women who have expressed concerns as well. Many told me that they came here to escape this sort of thing, but now it’s just becoming more and more acceptable. I read everyday where public spaces are disrupted to accommodate these backwards ideologies, and it scares me… and it’s the people standing against segregated spaces being attacked and punished; not the folks that walk into a gym an demanding that women be separated from the men.

    None of us have really had to fight for the rights and freedoms we enjoy today… we tend to take it all for granted. I have read countless novels and watched several documentaries on the struggle of women to become “persons”, to be educated, to have equal rights – so seeing this sort of thing being accepted gives me great anxiety. I hate to sound like a hate-monger, but I do feel that when a minority is becoming a majority, there will be some major changes to the freedoms we hold dear today… and that our country will be a very different place in 100 yrs (if we are still around by then). It will start with the small things that don’t seem like a big deal. A woman’s body should not be considered “immoral” or be blamed for tempting a man to do horrific things… it’s insulting to women and most of all – to men.

    I suggest people look up Wafa Sultan and listen to her message to everyone in a secular country.

  • Cyndy

    More power to McGill for not giving in to one Muslim student. We don’t need segregation. She can stay at home and exercise and pray. Too much accommodation!

  • Albert

    if these women don’t want to use the same gym as men they should join curves. Everybody at the school has a right to use the gym, and the men at the school should file a joint sexual discrimination law suit against McGill University if the pass it. What about the men who can only get to the gym during the “Women’s only Hours”? This is sexual discrimination against men, misandry , these “women” (more like spoiled little girls)are trying to turn your school into a male oppressing gynarchy.