The Montreal university’s gym segregation pushes us backwards, not forwards
The demand of two McGill law students for women-only gym time is strikingly reminiscent of the separate (but equally legal) doctrine that legally justified racial segregation—in this case, let’s call it “gender segregation”. The reasons behind this demand are that some students feel uncomfortable around men in the gym due to instances of sexual harassment, or, due to religious values whereby a woman’s body and hair is a source of sin (and therefore men are not allowed to see it). For some, maybe it is a mix of both. But the solution put forward here is disastrous and, if anything, will further exacerbate the problem.
Segregating genders in universities emulates the model used in many ultra-religious societies. This model proved its complete failure to bridge the gap between genders, and contributed to the prevention of gender equality and led to the subjugation of women. Real gender issues—such as harassment and intimidation—are rarely, if ever tackled, and no one learned how to respect the other gender.
The best course of action depends on understanding the reasons behind this demand. For those who demand women-only hours for religious reasons, I think the case is settled. If we are aspiring to create a healthy environment in our universities, we cannot inject sexist and old religious values in our educational institutions, such as the sexualization and inferiority of the female body and—most importantly—the view that women and men cannot be at the same place at the same time because it challenges “religious commandments”.
Yes, every individual is entitled to his/her own religion and should be respected for it, but religion cannot be part of university policy. It would marginalize the non-religious students and students of other faiths, and impose on them an orthodox a lot of students will likely disagree with.
On the other hand, for those who demand women-only hours due to instances of harassment and intimidation, then I think instead of separating the gym and burying our heads in the sand, McGill University has to impose stricter regulations to fight these practices and continuously educate its students about gender equality.
I also think that it is very important not to conflate religious requirements with feminist demands, as many of the proponents of this resolution are doing, as the moral justification for both is widely different. Also, this conflation can be smartly and intelligently used to pass some religious ideas on our campuses, under the guise of social justice. I find this has been heavily employed by the religious parties who opposed the charter of values , yet drew sympathy by playing on this conflation . However, if you look at their history, you will find it is void of any involvement in social justice actions.
At the end, I hope that this proposal will be struck down, either by the student union and/or by the university’s administration. Otherwise, our future will be going backwards as opposed to progressing forwards, and the gender gap will be widened.