Discriminatory, women’s gyms? | Journalism

Are women’s gyms discriminatory? Journalism The question was posed to experts after an abundance of messages from readers who believe the practice no longer has a reason to exist in 2019.

Posted on December 16, 2019

Susan Colbronne

Susan Colbronne

It was the conversion of a 100% women’s gym into a mixed gym that sparked controversy. In the fall, the Éconofitness Sports Center located on Mason Street announced that it would accept men beginning December 20. The decision did not suit a section of clients who have since tried to push management back.

“I thought it illegal to deny access to an activity on the basis of the participants’ gender. One wonders who would advocate such a case and assume that the other participants are aggressors,” wrote François Gagnon.

“Wonderful. Fortunately not the other way around. It will be a revolution. When will the bars reopen? Added Michelle Guay.

“GYMs for women discriminate on the basis of gender,” Jeffroy Dumont says. They do this because users feel comfortable. However, we have long forced women to open pubs or submarines for national defense by literally crushing this “men who feel better amongst themselves” argument because this kind of discrimination is prohibited by charter. »

out of sight

What does the Commission on Human Rights and Youth Rights (CDPDJ) say?

Although he received complaints against sports centers, the CDPDJ did not act on the matter. She simply exercised her right of discretion and did not take these complaints to court.

“On the face of it, a gender-based refusal to enter into a legal proceeding with respect to services ordinarily rendered to the public would not be consistent with the Charter. However, such exclusion may be justified depending on the circumstances.”

A similar case was heard in 2006 in British Columbia, where a man filed a complaint against a women’s gym. Result: lost. In its ruling, the court stressed that the basic rights of women must be observed.

“The Court considers that the possibility of playing sports away from the eyes of men falls within the framework of the right to security, respect for private life and equality between women and men. These rights are also protected by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms,” explains CDPDJ.

unequal society

Alexandra Ketchum, a professor in the Institute for Gender, Gender, and Women’s Studies at McGill University, looked at the spaces of women in the United States and Canada, from 1972 to today.

“We don’t live in an equal society,” she recalls. It is important for marginalized and oppressed groups to have places to socialize and organize. »

Mme Ketchum acknowledges that designing female-only spaces can be problematic because not everyone is identified as male or female and this division can exclude transgender and non-binary people. But, according to her, “having spaces in which less powerful communities can congregate is important and a step towards a more just and equitable society.”

Suzanne Laberge, a full professor in the University of Montreal’s School of Kinesiology and Physical Activity Sciences, agrees.

“Where would Jewish and Muslim women go for training if there were no women-specific gyms? She asks. If men say there is discrimination, can they tell me the contexts in which they are excluded from public life?”

American concept

Women-only gyms appeared in the United States. Here, the first doors opened their doors more than 10 years ago. Today, there are about thirty of them in all regions of Quebec.

At Énergie Cardio, Claire Tremblay, co-owner of the brand with Eveline Canape since 2016, opened the chain’s first “for Her” center in 2002 in Boucherville.


Claire Tremblay, co-owner of Energy Cardio

“We believe there are needs that are catered to by women-only centers,” she explains in her gym on Place Versailles. We also have so-called hybrid gyms with dedicated sections for women. I thought we would mainly have clients aged 35 and over in these centers. But to my surprise, there are a lot of young women, too. »

Melissa Gagnon trains at Place Versailles gym, one of four Énergie Cardio pour Elle centers in Quebec.

Why join a women’s gym?

“Of course it’s close to my house, but I’m glad it’s a women’s center because I feel less comfortable with my body,” she explains. In the gym with the guys, I always feel like it’s a little judgmental. In addition, I have a small handicap in my arm. There are exercises that others do not like. »

Christina Scully also prefers to train in the women’s gym. “Men take all the devices. There are fewer people here.”

Josiane Hamon, trainer at the Place Versailles lounge, appreciates the atmosphere. ” I feel good. It’s welcoming, it’s warm. The social aspect is nice. There is a sense of belonging. I also gave lessons in a mixed center, it’s a different atmosphere.”

More complicated than you think

However, Professor of Law at the University of Sherbrooke, Maxime St Helier, believes the topic is more complex than one might think.

“In my opinion, there is an apparent discrimination,” he said. This discussion allows us to bring up something that escapes the knowledge of the general public. »

According to Mr. St Helier, a 100% women’s gym is not discriminatory in that the services provided are specially adapted to the situation of women, and that the center would suffer from “excessive demand” if it was open to both genders.

However, men can never claim a men-only gym because, unlike women, they are not part of a historically disadvantaged group.

However, “you have to be part of a victim group to be a victim of discrimination,” he says.

“The women-only gym opens the door to the debate we have around the world: what does it mean, a gym adapts to women on a biological level?”

Mr. St-Hilaire wonders how long these exclusive spaces will continue to exist if they are to prove their adaptation to the status of women in a context in which the definition of women is no longer valid.

“There is a danger of a conflict between the idea of ​​sex and the concept of gender,” he says. I’m already guessing the debate about mixed gyms and transgender people. »

Discussion, therefore, which is not closed.

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