In his article “Why I’m suing my gym over their sexist women-only hours” published in the Daily Mail, men’s issues journalist Peter Lloyd argued that the Kentish Town Sports Centre in London unfairly charges men a full-price membership, since they don’t get men-only time in the gym. “Not only is this an outrageous business model, but it’s also sexist,” Lloyd writes. “Especially given that council officials base it almost solely on women’s needs.”
But here at UTM, the student population seems to have a more mature approach to the issue. In fact, according to some students, this doesn’t even qualify as one.
The RAWC and its associated recreational programs allot a total of 13 hours a week for women’s-only purposes, including three hours every other day that are set aside in the main gym. During these times, these visually isolated areas are available only to women. The rest are used for various intramural sports and specialized fitness and dance classes.
Louise Vanderwees, the program coordinator at the RAWC, explains that the planning of such hours is deliberate: when certain programs or spaces are in use by women, there are still plenty of other places and recreational options available to those who prefer a coed environment.
Some women’s-only activities, including belly-dancing, ballet bar, and Zumba classes, are available outside of the regular gym facilities. These classes seem to appeal more to women and aren’t attended by men. When these classes are on, the RAWC considerately offers drop-in fitness classes for those who prefer a coed workout environment.
Though there are no men’s-only hours at the RAWC, no male students seem set on suing the RAWC, and the lack of men’s-only hours has not affected male membership. One only has to walk past the gym on the main floor during open gym time or drop-in basketball to notice how few women make use of the facilities at these times.
Vanderwees also highlights the little female representation at the High Performance Centre as a reason for the women’s-only hours. She says that the women’s-only program was initiated in “an attempt to remove barriers to being active and foster inclusivity across culture, religion, and activity level”.
At UTM, the program has received mostly positive feedback. According to Vanderwees, belly-dancing, ballet bar, and Zumba are all very busy classes.
Susanne Gretka, a third-year UTM student, makes use of both the women’s-only and the coed gym hours. To her, the time and place of her workout don’t matter much, but Gretka supports having such options for women who need their space for solitude or religious reasons.
On the other hand, Hanifa Behram, a fifth-year UTM student, only makes use of the pool during the women’s-only hours because she wants a more private experience, and she’s glad that the RAWC offers them.
Even so, the situation isn’t always ideal. Vanderwees explains that sometimes men aren’t very receptive to the idea, especially if they’re wrapping up a workout or just starting one. Some students are surprised to find out that women’s-only hours are offered at the RAWC. Sami-ul Haq, a second-year sociology student, says that the program doesn’t bother him because he was never really aware of it in the first place, likely because women’s-only time isn’t allotted during peak hours at the gym.
Haq believes that the accommodation shouldn’t be an issue, because society has advanced to understand that people are different and have diverse needs, and that it’s necessary to accommodate these differences when possible. “To think otherwise, especially in a city like Mississauga, in a country like Canada, would be just plain ignorant,” he opines.