Controversy stirred on campus last week as Soumia Allalou and Raymond Grafton, two McGill Law students, reached out to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) asking for endorsement for the implementation of women-only hours at the McGill Fitness Centre. Despite the fact that this is a common feature in many athletic facilities, including the fitness centres at York University, University of Toronto, and Ryerson University, the proposal itself has been met with negative responses. However, a critical look at the matter reveals that McGill Athletics has a responsibility to institute this change in order to remain consistent with the university’s goal of creating a safe and inclusive environment.
At the heart of the issue is the topic of religious and cultural tolerance. The primary reason female-only hours are being asked for is because some women are unable to exercise around men due to religious reasons. From hosting dry frosh activities to educating students about the importance of respecting other’s sexual decisions during Consent Week, the McGill administration and student body work hard to ensure that no student’s experiences on campus are hindered or devalued by his or her personal or religious decisions. The same approach applies to academics; McGill aims to ensure fairness with its policy that students are not to be penalized if they cannot be attend an exam on their religious holidays. Considering all of these policies that McGill has in place, it is odd that the same level of religious respect and promise of equal opportunity is not in effect with McGill Athletics.
Furthermore, the change would not only benefit those with religious restrictions. In fact, many women without religious restrictions may prefer to work out in a female-only setting because they may feel intimidated or uncomfortable using the gym in the presence of men out of fear of judgment or attracting unwanted attention.
The intimidation factor applies especially to the weight section, which is dominated by males. Some females may rarely ever enter the weight training area because of this. Therefore, women-only hours would even benefit the women who already go to the fitness centre by allowing them to experiment with new sections that they may typically not approach. In fact, women-only hours would help divide up the machine usage in general. Anyone who has gone to the Fitness Centre knows that there is a different distribution of men and women in the various areas of the gym. The cardio section is used frequently by females, and is usually the most crowded area of the gym. Women-only hours would help reduce this clog during the high traffic hours. Overall, this would allow for a more equal balance of the different machines between men and women, and would encourage, or at least make it possible, for everyone to try new activities.
Some may argue that women-only hours are unfair to men who would have to pay the same amount of money for fewer howers of service, and that those desiring that those desiring this feature should look for another gym. However, there is a large discrepancy between the student price offered by the McGill Fitness Centre and gyms outside campus. For example, a nearby female-only facility, Energie Cardio Pour Elle, charges $43 a month for students, compared to $25 per semester for the McGill Fitness Centre. Therefore, the argument that women-only hours are unfair to men fails to realize that some women are completely missing out altogether on the right to access fitness facilities that all should have as paying students, while the ones making the argument would only have shortened hours. Therefore, in order to remain faithful to McGill’s goal of creating a safe, tolerant, and community-oriented environment, the McGill Fitness Centre should introduce women-only hours as soon as possible.