Women's-only gym sessions. Are they sexist?

No boys allowed. Sorry boys.


Meet Peter Lloyd. He’s a London-based reporter that writes for the Daily Mail. And he’s suing his local gym for discrimination, because he evidently has a bit of spare time – and money – on his hands.

You see, Kentish Town Sports Centre in North London have introduced women’s-only fitness sessions. According to their website – for a few hours on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, only women are permitted in the pool. And on Thursday nights, from 6:00-7:30pm, only women can access the Fitness Center.

Peter didn’t like that. Hence the whole suing-for-discrimination thing.

In his article for the Daily Mail, he says:

Peter Lloyd

“In an age of political over-correctness, they ban all men and boys for 442 hours every year – simply because they are male.

Adding insult to injury, they still charge them the same full-price membership fee as women, but refuse to offer the equivalent option of male-only sessions.

Not only is this an outrageous business model, but it’s also sexist. Especially given that council officials base it almost solely on women’s needs.  Fair? I think not.”

How do I put this gently: CRY ME A FREAKING RIVER, PETER.

Did you know that in Saudi Arabia, women still aren’t allowed to drive? That millions of young girls around the world are still subject to female genital mutilation? That in India, sexual violence is on the rise and is not taken seriously as a crime?

But who cares about any of those things when you can get outraged about the 1.5 hours per week (out of the 168 hours in a week) that you can’t access a fitness centre? Or the 6 hours you can’t get to the swimming pool?

To me, it seems a little extreme to liken it to “”when African Americans were separated from their caucasian peers in 1940s America”.

Anyway – there’s no explanation for the Sport Centre’s decision on their site, but they DID send Peter an email. Apparently, the Centre’s reasoning is based on a report by the Women Sport and Fitness Foundation which found that 26 per cent of women “hate the way they look when they exercise”, and “feel even more self-conscious when taking part in sport and physical activity when men are present”.

Peter ‘translates’ this to ‘plain English’ for us:

This means that a group of agenda-driven feminists say a minority of women ‘feel’ bad about their bodies. And because heterosexual men are naturally attracted to women, their very existence makes it worse, so they should be banned.

Two things, Peter:

1) Guess what? A lot of women feel bad about their bodies, unfortunately. Not just “a group of agenda-driven feminists”. I started feeling bad about my body at the age of five – before even I knew what an agenda-driven feminist was. So… the whole feeling-bad thing? Often just comes along with the being-female territory. Of course I wish that wasn’t the case – but sadly, it is.


Additionally, I’m not surprised that 26% of women hate the way they look when they exercise. Because usually exercise involves unattractive facial expressions, messy hair, red faces, unflattering clothes and body odour. If you look great while you exercise – you’re probably doing it wrong.

(Note that there are more female-only hours for the pool than the fitness centre. I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s because women are wearing far less clothing in the pool and therefore feeling even worse about themselves.)

Are you intimidated by this? I am.

2) The presence of heterosexual men might make it worse for women. But it’s nothing to do with attraction. It’s to do with what I’ve previously referred to as The Gym Intimidation Factor.

It’s what happens when you’d like to use the weights section of the gym, but it’s entirely populated by a large number of burly men, all of whom are lifting giant dumbbells and saying things like “I’m two sets down, man”. And the weights you use are absolutely tiny compared to theirs. And you’re not really sure how to use the assisted leg-up machine. And you don’t want to get laughed at, so you just stick to the treadmill.

The Intimidation Factor is why women’s-only gyms have taken off in the last few years. Places such as Contours, Curves and Fernwood are all supportive environments where the equipment and workouts are designed specifically for women. Other gyms have also introduced ladies-only training areas with limited amounts of equipment, so that women can do their weighted squats without feeling ridiculously self-conscious.

I admit that not all women feel intimidated at the gym. But for those who do, it’s obvious that women’s-only gyms or women’s-only training areas have worked for them. And so I’m proud that the Kentish Town Sports Centre is taking the insecurities of their female clientele into account, and doing their bit to attempt to make the gym accessible – and comfortable – for everyone.

That said, to avoid being accused of discrimination, the gym would ideally take steps to also satisfy male customers – such as also introducing equivalent male-only gym sessions, or discounting rates for male customers.

Do you think women’s-only fitness sessions are a good idea, or do you think it’s discrimination? Should gyms stick to being entirely women-only – or is that also a form of discrimination?