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Monday, March 10, 2008
Harvard's Women-Only Gym Hours

Last week, my undergraduate alma mater made the Fox News hitlist for announcing that it had decided to make a campus gym, the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center (QRAC) closed to men for a few hours a week. As the Harvard Crimson's former editorial chair Andrew Fine wrote, this story wouldn't have been news (or all that controversial) were it not for the source of and justification for the request: a group of female Muslim students requested women-only hours because they must otherwise be fully clothed when working out alongside men.

Much ado about something? The QRAC is not the centrally located gym on campus -- in fact, it is a 20-30 minute walk from the main classroom area and the bulk of the university's undergraduate population (a far closer gym, the Malkin Athletic Center, has its own problems). The hours selected for the gender limitation are "off" hours, during which very few students would likely trek from their classrooms to the QRAC. Still, the confluence of religious and gender concerns has made the story on subject to much commentary in the press and blogsophere, including some good discussion of the legal issues involved:
My colleague Howard Friedman's Religion Clause

Volokh Conspiracy, "Women Only Exercise"

Title IX Blog

Harvard Crimson, "No Boys Allowed: Women-only hours at the QRAC constitute a pareto inefficient policy"

Harvard Crimson, "The All New Girls' Club QRAC Turns Single Sex"


This is a very interesting blog.

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous test equipment -- 3/11/2008 6:25 PM  

This does not seem to me to be a women's issue or a religious issue. It is a comfort issue. Muslim women want to work out more comfortably, with less clothing. Should their comfort trump the rights of men who have presumably paid their activity fee to have access to this (and other) facilities on campus? And what about the male workers at the facility who presumably cannot work during that time? Even if it is off hours and out of the way, that is going way too far. Muslim women's religious expression is in no way being burdened by a co-ed athletic facility. They can express their religion, they just need to sweat a little more.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 3/11/2008 6:39 PM  

Of course it's the Islamic angle that matters. There are many women-only private gyms and no one minds. Had the Harvard students who requested women-only hours done so for reasons other than religion - for instance, if they had body image issues and felt uncomfortable exercising in front of men - it would have been similarly uncontroversial. I'll take it a step further and say that there would have been only mild controversy had the students cited religion for their request but they were evangelical Christians rather than Muslims.

Anonymous Peter -- 3/12/2008 1:06 PM  

Is this blog dead or what?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 3/17/2008 10:16 AM  

I don't think we should have to cater to religious superstitions of any stripe, be it the elevators for sabbath in new york, any sort of harry potter- type censorship for fundamentalist christians, or hiding women from --god forbid-- (pun intended) being seen by *gasp* a man.

get over it already.

Blogger Caroline -- 3/17/2008 6:26 PM  

Harvard cannot get over itself, Caroline. Iowa did with the pink locker room issue, but Iowa "is no Harvard"....

Anonymous Anonymous -- 3/17/2008 6:42 PM  

My take on this is that their was not a demand from Muslim women with a genuine desire for working out in most comfortable conditions but that it was a political move. If there was a significant and genuine request from many Muslim women for a space I think it should be considered, separate areas etc or even separate hours if the request was overwhelming. I also think most people would be sympathetic. I think people see this for what it is, even if only subconsciously.

Harvard is plagued by gender debates as are most universities. It even defines domestic violence as being only perpetrated by men

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/09/2008 1:09 PM  

oops link broke

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Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/11/2008 12:09 PM  

It seems the hours were on a test basis last year. Are the women-only hours continuing this year? I could not find any mention of them on the Harvard Rec Sports pages.

Blogger Colin -- 3/03/2009 2:30 PM  

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