OTTAWA-- Met with both support and opposition, the idea of a women’s only gym hour has become a hot topic on the Carleton University campus. From vocal support in the University’s atrium to hate from anonymous students online, the campaign has already created much discussion and debate.
Carleton's Physical Recreation Centre is currently co-ed, and open to students and members of the public.
It was two years ago that the idea of a women’s only gym hour was first proposed. It’s only been in the recent few months that the campaign has picked up any traction. Now, a stroll through the school’s tunnel system, and other postering locations, will have you find many yellow and blue posters. These posters ask the question, ‘where is our women’s only gym hour?’
“It’s a really intersectional campaign, it’s not about one ‘type’ of woman. It’s looking at Muslim and Jewish orthodox women who adhere to religious dress codes, and also victims of sexual violence,”- Sydney Schneider, CUSA Womyn's Centre Programming Coordinator
In 2014 the then-president of the Muslim Students’ Association brought the idea to the CUSA Womyn’s Centre. Immediately, the Womyn’s Centre wanted to make this proposal a reality.
Other groups and campus leaders did not have the same enthusiasm for a women’s only gym hour. The proposal was set aside, suffering from a lack of support.
The proposal was only seriously brought to Carleton students’ attention again in the fall of 2016. CUSA Womyn’s Centre’s Program Coordinator Sydney Schneider says newfound support helped the platform become more of a reality.
According to Schneider, the support of other campus groups and having the Vice President Student Services, Ashley Courchene, support the proposal has been a huge help. With their support the CUSA Womyn’s Centre has been able to bring their campaign to the student body.
At the beginning of the school year, a survey was brought to students’ attention. The CUSA Womyn’s centre wanted to know what students wanted to see out of a women’s only gym hour.
Alumni Hall is the building on campus that houses the university's gym
“I first heard about the women’s only gym hour on Facebook about a month ago,” said second-year psychology student Jessica Scott. “I think it’s really great that the idea is actually out there and that we, as a student body, can decide what this proposal will look like.”
The survey closes in January, and the information will be used to develop a proposal to bring to management of Carleton athletics in the new year.
“It’s a really intersectional campaign, it’s not about one ‘type’ of woman. It’s looking at Muslim and Jewish orthodox women who adhere to religious dress codes, and also victims of sexual violence,” said Schneider.
“After going through a traumatic experience such as sexual violence people say, ‘oh go to the gym’. Forgetting that the gym is a very male dominated space that it can be really retraumatizing,” continued Schneider.
“Women should be allowed to have an hour to themselves where they can feel comfortable away from the male gaze,”- Mark Johnson, Carleton University Student
“I would say I’m personally not very intimidated at the gym. But, I could see that being a very nerve-racking space for those women who are uncomfortable in a co-ed gym,” said Scott.
“I would use the women’s only gym hour purely to become even more comfortable at the gym,” she continued.
To raise support for the proposal Schneider and other Womyn’s Centre volunteers have been handing out flyers around campus and keeping the centre’s social media platforms updated with information.
“Women should be allowed to have an hour to themselves where they can feel comfortable away from the male gaze,” said Carleton University student Mark Johnson. Johnson considers himself one of the many supporters of the campaign.
No one has openly opposed the proposal while the Womyn’s Centre volunteers have been working on campus. However, on social media a backlash is being felt.
“I see online that a lot of people, mainly men, are claiming it’s not fair for women to have their own gym hour when men don’t. I feel like if that was really a valid argument and something men wanted, they would have started their own campaign for their own gym hour. Fairness isn’t about restricting a group of people based on something you don’t have, it’s allowing everyone to have a comfortable space to work out in,” commented Scott.
The popular social Facebook page, Spotted at Carleton U as well as the comments on Womyn’s Centre social media posts are a popular place for students to discuss their oppositions.
“The fact that this proposal has been met with such offensive backlash speaks volumes about the ideals of male youth. The men who don’t want a women’s only gym hour are predominantly misogynistic,” said Johnson.
Schneider says she has personally received rape threats from anonymous voices online.
“That’s telling me there is a rape culture on campus and proving why we need a women’s only gym hour,” Schneider said.