Women-only gym hours are an insult to women
The University of Winnipeg in Canada is rolling out a pilot policy this year to try out women- and non-binary-only gym hours. Officially titled the ‘UWSA Inclusive Gym Initiative’, the project is the creation of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) board of directors (similar to students’ unions in the UK).
The policy is being introduced on the back of analyses of surveys and gym attendance records which showed women were not using the gym as much as ‘we would expect’. One survey carried out by the UWSA board of directors found that women and non-binary people were more than twice as likely as men to feel ‘unsafe’ or ‘uncomfortable’ in the gym. Yet, strangely, the survey results do not include any explanation as to why certain students might feel ‘unsafe’ or ‘uncomfortable’.
The UWSA’s pilot policy suggests women and non-binary students’ level of comfort with gym use is solely dependent on men’s presence. And yet this sentiment was not expressed by the students themselves.
This policy demonstrates a patronising view towards women and non-binary students, as it is predicated on the idea that men need to be removed from a physical space in order for women or non-binary individuals to be autonomous.
Moreover, UWSA’s solution of segregated gym-hours has distinctly Victorian overtones, the suggestion being that women and non-binary students must be protected from men, and are incapable of participating in public life in the same way as men. This is a form of paternalism that old orders of feminism sought to eliminate.
Women and non-binary individuals are perfectly fine being fully immersed in public life – and that includes using the gym along with men. Yet this policy is an encouragement to retreat from that. And while UWSA’s ‘inclusive’ policy is, no doubt, an attempt at being progressive, ironically, the policy explicitly excludes people.
Opposition to the scheme has already been expressed by some women and non-binary students. In the interest of our autonomy and to show that we don’t need to be governed, we should all kick back against this childish policy and the paternalistic attitude that spawned it.
Jacob Sünd is a writer based in Canada.