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.