In January, Quest’s student gym announced the opening of women’s-only gym hours, which are held every Monday and Wednesday from 4 to 6 PM.
During Jean-Francois (JF) Plouffe’s morning fitness classes in Quest’s gym, many participants requested the creation of women’s specific hours. “About 90% of the people who come [to these classes] are women,” he said. Plouffe implemented women’s hours as a response to these requests.
“The intention of the women’s only hours is to create a safe place for exercise. The hours open the gym up to students who don’t otherwise feel relaxed or comfortable in the daily [gym] environment,” added Plouffe.
Students immediately voiced their reactions to the new hours, writing comments on some of the signs advertising them. “This seems sexist,” read one comment; “Prioritizing women’s rights can’t be sexist because women have been oppressed for so long,” read another.
Despite occasional opposition, the new hours have received overwhelmingly positive feedback. “I like that it is a less-competitive environment, and it’s inspiring to work out with other women,” said first-year Tara Warkentin.
“I think women’s hours are great because I feel intimidated to work out in front of male athletes. Women’s hours allow me to feel more comfortable,” said an anonymous student.
The women’s-only gym hours are not an unprecedented initiative. The Kermode Cave has been running women’s-only climbing hours for several years. The climbing gym’s staff have been working hard on issues of accessibility on campus and the creation of safer spaces.
“I think it’s safe to say that there is a gap in safe spaces,” said fourth-year student Olivia Trim. She added that Quest is doing a good job in trying to address this issue. Trim, however, felt that there is still a lot more work to be done. “I won’t ever say that women’s hours are enough, but I think it’s one super necessary step,” she said.
When asked why these were specifically “women’s” hours, as opposed to hours accommodating people of all marginalized identities, Plouffe said that he was directly responding to requests by women. However, he expressed willingness to make further accommodations as requested. One motivation for implementing the hours, he added, is to create an alternative to an otherwise overwhelmingly “macho” gym culture, so that people of all identities can feel comfortable. The women’s hours fill this role, he believes, even if the name still implies exclusivity.
Overall, Plouffe thinks that the hours fill a necessary gap on campus. “Everyone feels stress and anxiety from their daily lives and it is important that they can feel comfortable to exercise in a safe place,” he said.