More on Single-Sex Exercise:

To follow up on Eugene's Thursday post, here is what I wrote about the issue in Chapter 11 of You Can't Say That!:

Approximately two million American women belong to women-only health clubs. Some women, such as those with religious objections to wearing revealing clothes in front of men, and abuse survivors who find it traumatic to display their bodies in front of unfamiliar men, use these clubs by necessity. Other women join these clubs to avoid unwanted male attention while they exercise. Still others, including overweight women and women who have had mastectomies, feel much less self-conscious exercising in an all-female environment. The owner of one women's health club boasts, "I like to think we're for real women. We don't have everyone looking like a Barbie doll. They're average size and shape. And we don't let men in. We say, 'No men, no mirrors, no kids.'" The owner of a club that holds women-only aerobics classes explains, "It's a privacy issue. The women are sweating, they don't have makeup on, and they feel that the guys are staring at their butts."

Some women find men to be a distraction when they go to coed gyms. Cynthia Parziale, director of research and development at the Naturally Women chain of fitness centers opines, "If you're really serious about your workout, it's distracting to have people of the opposite sex around. Women will spend time getting dressed or fixing their hair or putting on their lipstick before they come to the gym. The coolest thing about a women's gym is you can be ugly." Joan Pirone, who patronizes a women-only exercise club in Anchorage, Alaska, told CNN that "[a]t coed clubs you feel like you're on TV, like the men are constantly looking at you. Some women enjoy the attention from men, but some of us are intimidated by it. I'm glad I have the choice of going to a women-only gym." Other users of women's health clubs find that the women-only facilities are cleaner and smell better than coed gyms. Women's clubs also often emphasize the workout equipment that is used more frequently by women, and many even have special equipment built for women. The two women-only clubs in Anchorage, for example, have smaller-than-average Nautilus machines designed for women's bodies, with the weight stacks increasing by three-pound increments instead of the usual ten. Women-only clubs also emphasize educational programs focusing on women's health concerns, such as preventing osteoporosis and losing weight gained during pregnancy.

Despite their popularity and the privacy interests served by allowing women to work out free from male oglers, women-only clubs have sometimes run afoul of state laws banning sex discrimination in public accommodations. In 1988, noted feminist attorney Gloria Allred filed a sex discrimination lawsuit on behalf of a Los Angeles man who was denied admission to a women's health club. Allred dismissed the concerns of women who join all-women gyms to avoid male ogling. She contended that the idea that all men ogle is a stereotype and that men who misbehave can be excluded from sex-integrated clubs on a case-by-case basis. Yet common experience suggests that heterosexual men are inclined to "check out" women, particularly women wearing small shorts or tight leotards. Further, Allred did not explain how a club would enforce or prevent an anti-ogling policy on an individual basis. It would be very different to actually prove the subtle act of a man evaluating a woman's body (Mr. Jones, please stop undressing Ms. Smith with your eyes), and sensitive women could very well feel ogled whether or not it was actually happening. Despite these


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  1. More on Single-Sex Exercise:
  2. Single-Sex Exercise:
  3. Women-Only Exercise: