On separate swimming hours for women

Hamilton City Council is proposing that up to three hours a week be set aside at one of its community swimming pools for a women-only session.

Man ban at public pool

And the response is…. predictable. Start with the headline, with its overtones of “Begone, ye wicked men!” It’s designed to elicit a negative response.

Then there the usual “PC gone mad” trope.

…the proposal was concerning and represented “separatist thinking”.

Excluding ratepayers from public facilities based on their gender was “political correctness going too far”.

“If we are going to do this for women, what about all the shy men among us. Can we have a couple of hours free from women?”

I’ve gotten very tired of the “PC gone made” trope. I’d like to know exactly what the speaker thinks is wrong with the proposal, and his reasons for thinking it’s wrong. Perhaps he’s concerned that it will lead to divisions in the community. Perhaps he’s concerned that it means that some people will miss out on swimming altogether because they are not able to use a particular facility at a particular time. If he had spelled out his concerns, instead of waving his hands in the air and saying, “PC gone mad”, then at least we would have the beginnings of a conversation.

Of course, it could be that the speaker *did* specify some of those concerns, and they just didn’t get reported.

And, Kiwiblog is onto it. DON’T READ THE COMMENTS. Really, just don’t. (‘Though there are a few people in there fighting the overwhelming tide of, you guessed it, “PC gone mad”.)

How much better to think of this from the point of view of what the community needs. Hamilton is a diverse community, and it includes people from cultures where women traditionally wear loose garments and cover their heads, as well as women who have left countries which are not as peaceful as New Zealand is. Many of these women might like to swim, and would benefit from learning to swim, but do not want to wear the form fitting and really rather revealing clothing that New Zealanders usually wear when swimming.

It’s all very well to say that women should just adapt and fit in and get on with it. The net effect will be to exclude these women from swimming altogether, all for want of a little flexibility. Setting aside this time means that Hamilton City Council is working towards providing for the needs of *all* the members of its community. More to the point, there are plenty of other swimming facilities in the city. No one is going to miss out on swimming, or on swimming at a particular time (there are other venues), or on swimming at a particular place (there are other times).

If we are to live in a tolerant and inclusive society, then we need to find ways to accommodate difference. Yes, there are some differences we must not tolerate (forced marriages and clitoredectomy performed on people who have not consented come to mind, and no doubt there are others). This is a difference that a society can tolerate, and ought to tolerate, on the grounds of being inclusive.

And a big shout out to my lovely friend Anjum Rahman for making the case for setting aside a few hours to allow women to swim only in the company of other women.


5 comments on “On separate swimming hours for women

  1. […] The article shows cultural insensitivity of the media outlet. “Hamilton is a diverse community, and it includes people from cultures where women traditionally wear loose garments and cover their heads, as well as women who have left countries which are not as peaceful as New Zealand is,” says New Zealand-born Deborah Russell. […]

  2. Daleaway says:

    I grew up with separate pools for males and females – in the days of the old Te Aro Sea Baths in Wellington in the 1940s and 50s. A pool for males and a (smaller) one for females, separated by decks, changing sheds and a dividing wall. Separate entrances too. Honestly, we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

    Men liked to sunbathe naked, you see. Who needs that in a public place?
    They also used to like swimming under the decks and changing sheds that sat high above the water, separating the two adjacent pools, in order to spy on the women from holes they cut in the dividing wall that went right down into the sea. They couldn’t see much (I tried it myself to see how good the view was), but there are always some men who can’t control their own behaviour so the authorities have to do it for them.

    All that went when the Te Aro Baths were demolished in the 1960s and replaced by the Freyberg Pool. Now it was all muck in together. I did not miss the jelly fish down my togs, but I did miss the modesty.

    Let men and women have their separate spaces. Women needing privacy and modesty when they get undressed for a sporting activity is not just a question of cultural practice, it’s a matter of individual preference as well.

  3. Sarah says:

    We have a few separate hours at our local JCC centre – the men also get some separate hours, because orthodox men also do not generally bathe in the company of unrelated, uncovered women. The centre is open to anyone who wants to join (like a YMCA, I imagine) and I notice when I take my girls to ladies’ night, there are also women who are not religiously observant and women who are not Jewish, who choose to come specifically for these hours…. It took years to get it up and running (I gather – I wasn’t here yet), but no one objects…

  4. Southern says:

    Its easy to quote the whole ‘we need to be inclusive’ debate. But take a good look at England, have a talk with some English people. There is a Western culture who went down this path and see how it is working for them now.
    Inclusive, how the liberals use it, is not inclusive at all. It means that we have to bend to fit other cultures values and rules because they won’t bend to fit ours.
    Inclusive involves compromise, something many of our imported cultures are not willing to embrace.

  5. […] space for people with different cultural needs around a proposal to have a few hours set aside as Women only swimming hours at a local swim centre. There is intolerance in the idea that people should just change and act […]

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