Thursday, December 13, 2007

Viva Las Vegas, baby!

Oh how I love to discourse about the gym. And this case in Nevada where a man has filed a complaint with the Nevada Human Rights Commission citing the Las Vegas Athletic Club for providing discounts to women and women-only spaces is a great place to start a conversation. It's the first gender discrimination claim ever brought in the state where the discrimination is against a man.

According to lawyer Todd Phillips, who filed the complaint, when he was touring the LVAC with his wife he found out that women received a lower sign-up fee and also had access to areas of the gym men did not. The issue of a lower fee was analogized to those ubiquitous and atrocious "Ladies' Nights"--ever so-popular in Vegas apparently. I am not going to address that particular connection, though it appears some bars and casinos are concerned they won't be able to lure women in, ply them with alcohol, and then let the men in after them: an event that eerily resembles ones that took place in the Coliseum--the one in ancient Rome--not the one in Caesar's Palace where Celine Dion performs.

Though it's odd that women get a discount on their joining fee, the whole joining fee has always been negotiable from what I understand. There are times of the year when it is waived. Sometimes it is waived for students. Sometimes it is waived for friends of the staff. I had a friend who worked at a gym who was able to get it waived for a woman she was interested in dating.

Obviously the discount, as it is being employed at this club, is an attempt to get more women working out there. I could take the view that LVAC is encouraging women, who have been historically excluded from strenuous physical activity, to get active and isn't that great. But hell hasn't frozen over yet so I'll revert to my cynical explanation: they're there as eye candy. The article itself makes that implication with the analogy to Ladies' Nights.

On to the women-only workout areas. Chad Smith, the executive VP of the club said those were there to enable LVAC to compete with women-only chains such as Curves. A lot of gyms have similar spaces for similar reasons but also for ones that center around the alleged fact that women don't like working out next to all those sweaty, grunting men or they feel self-conscious, etc. In general I oppose women-only spaces, but not because I feel like men are getting screwed by them. [The one in my former gym had older equipment, was small, and had poor ventilation--in part because the women refused to keep the door open because they were preoccupied with men peeking in.]

I used to be on the fence about women-only gyms and spaces because I thought they enabled women who would not otherwise work out because of general discomfort to do so. I had problems with these women, of course. I wanted them to suck it up, show up in the weight room, and show men that women can and should and have a right to be there--all women, no matter their fitness level. Because certainly I see all types of men there who do not appear the least self-conscious about their weight, etc. But I also want women to be healthy and strong and if they felt they couldn't get there by working out alongside men then so be it.

But I changed my mind when I read "'Cause That's What Girls Do': The Making of the Feminized Gym" by Rita Liberti and Maxine Leeds Craig about women-only gyms (they used a pseudonym but it seems obvious that they visited and spoke with women who went to Curves). [The article was in the most recent issue of Gender and Society. I downloaded it so email me if you want a copy.] Basically it reifies all my fears about women-only spaces. They are infantilizing and heteronormative; fail to empower women; encourage women's dislike of physical activity; fail to teach them anything substantive about fitness and their bodies; and emphasize weight loss over all other indicators of improved health and fitness.

I'm not planning on making Mr. Phillips my bedfellow any time soon but we both, for very different reasons, have problems with these spaces.

But what I am really interested in should a decision come down that women-only spaces in a mixed-gender gym are a legal no-no is what it means for the locker rooms. I would find it ever so amusing if Mr. Philips reactionary complaint about discrimination against men lead to the quite radical result of mixed gender locker rooms.

[h/t to EB for sharing this story.]


MisseLaneius said...

I must say, I was excited to see what this post had to say, but your conclusion was some of the most childish reasoning I have read in a long time.

You say you read a book which made clear to you why you are uncomfortable with women only spaces in gyms, yet do not explain why. You attatch a whole host of labels to these spaces - "infantilizing and heteronormative; fail to empower women; encourage women's dislike of physical activity; fail to teach them anything substantive about fitness and their bodies; and emphasize weight loss over all other indicators of improved health and fitness." - but no where do you demonstrate how this is so.

Me, I am a big fan of women only gyms. The big chain in Australia was the first gym that I went to, and the women there were supportive and were interested in my own goals - not what society's goals for me were. I'm not saying that your points are invalid, I'm merelly waiting to hear what they are.

ken said...

As I wrote, I have always had misgivings about women-only spaces and choose not to use them myself but felt they served a purpose for some women. The article I read--article, not a book--pushed me over to one side of the debate. My "childish reasoning" was based on the results of this research by two excellent scholars which found the spaces to be all of the things I listed. I didn't delve into the evidence because the post was not meant as a literature review. I am happy to send the article for you to read so you can assess the evidence yourself.
Also note that the research was done in an American chain. I do not know enough about the culture of sport and physical activity and gender in Australia to say--and the authors of the article certainly do not say this either--that the results are the same all over the world.
Here, though, these gyms only serve to reify sex and gender stereotypes.