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McGill’s gym debate a universal concern for female students’ fitness

Photo: Spencer Murdock

Earlier in March, two law students from McGill University submitted a proposal to implement women-only hours at the university’s fitness centre. Reportedly, the administration is open to this proposal, and the local student union has already shown their support.

Even though such a thing isn’t unprecedented for other Canadian universities—including the University of Ottawa, which has its own female-only gym hours—this announcement has McGill’s campus in a bit of a panic, with some signing an online petition to oppose the proposal.

This kind of sentiment is baffling. Women-only gym hours should be available at every Canadian university, and they should not be limited to ridiculously early or late times of the day, as they so often are.

When university athletic centres only offer women’s exclusive workout times early in the morning, they are not wholly catering to women that could utilize those hours.

Women’s fitness hours at the U of O are only offered at Montpetit gym on Tuesdays and Fridays for an hour, starting at 7:30 a.m. While this is better than having no hours dedicated solely to women, like at McGill, it still feels like more of an afterthought. Women have many reasons for wanting to use the fitness centre during female-only hours. Whether it’s just for personal comfort or to have better access to weights and machines, these hours are necessary. But having them at a variety of times is just as imperative.

Like most students, I’m busy with classes and work during the mornings and afternoons. And by the time I get to the gym after supper, the weights are all taken, mostly by men. This means I have to modify my workouts and waste time between my sets.

Giving females more exclusive hours is an easy solution to a problem that may seem insignificant, but which currently adds discomfort and time to the workouts of many women at our school.

Opponents are likely to argue that everyone should be treated equally, and that women should just “get over it.” What these people don’t realize is that this is simply about the practical dynamics of fitness facilities, where women are often outnumbered and outsized by their male counterparts. This isn’t to say that all women have low self-esteem, but the culture of fitness facilities is often alienating, especially when women’s fitness is sexualized, whereas men’s fitness is all about getting muscular.

The U of O could look into a few different solutions without heavily disrupting their regular gym schedule. Instead of two early mornings a week at Montpetit, they could provide four days a week: two in the day and two at night. The university could also look into scheduling the female-only hours at Minto Sports Complex, where the fitness facility is spacious, instead of only at Montpetit, which is about the size of a walk-in closet.

The need for female-only fitness spaces isn’t just McGill’s problem. It’s long been a problem for any female university student in Canada seeking comfort and accommodation for their workouts.