Guest Editorial by Samiha Rayeda

Credit: Naheen Ahmed
Credit: Naheen Ahmed

The campaign to implement women’s only gym hours at Carleton University is in itself an embarrassing task, since the need should automatically be accommodated by the university. Instead, students have to  run an entire campaign and complete  research to demonstrate why this is necessary. However, the reaction that this campaign has garnered from some students is another level of embarrassing. Carleton students — and just to be clear, this is some Carleton students, particularly those that hold extreme right-wing views — have likened the campaign to segregation and oppression of men. While most people will find this laughable, the fact that comments like these are in fact taken seriously is gravely concerning and just simply wrong.

Segregation and oppression need to have historical and institutional contexts to be considered as such, otherwise the accusations  mean nothing. The term segregation is applied to instances of racial segregation for example, when a dominant power group purposefully separates itself from other groups to prevent them from accessing and benefiting from services. In this instance, women and non-binary folks at Carleton do not hold any form of power in gym environments, nor are they taking away men’s rights to access the space forever.

Instead, the campaign is asking the university to acknowledge that there is a prevalent culture of toxic masculinity in the gym that is threatening and unwelcoming to women. It should be the university’s job to accommodate women, since a large portion of women do not use the gym, even though they pay for the facilities with part of their tuition every semester.

Furthermore, the campaign is not directly demanding that the entire athletics facility be shut down for an hour everyday and only be accessible to those with a woman card – that would be ridiculous. The campaign is creating a way for women and non-binary students at Carleton to show that they do not feel comfortable, for a myriad of reasons, using the athletic facilities and that these students want an alternative. Currently, the campaign is only asking people to fill out a survey, so it can be determined exactly what students want.

The survey itself has already received an overwhelmingly positive response, indicating that students want this to happen. So why is it that the conversation around women’s only gym hours has been dominated by men who oppose it? The conversation needs to change so that constructive criticisms around the campaign can be addressed and relevant details can be discussed, without having the campaign misrepresented by false accusations.

This article was first published in the Leveller Vol. 9, No. 3