When I became a member of my local gym, it was to exercise my body – not my human rights. But that’s exactly what I’m doing with the Kentish Town Sports Centre in north London.
The venue, owned by fitness company Better in association with Camden Council, attracts hundreds of people from all sections of society: religious, atheist, male, female, young and old. There is no dominant demographic. Everybody is welcome and everybody gets on.
But not everybody is equal.
Because, 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. But, because we live in an age of acceptable misandry, most people are too polite to say anything.
Several weeks ago, I formally complained to the general manager, asking him to change the policy with one of three alternatives: A) maintain a women’s hour but introduce a men’s alternative for fairness, B) keep women’s hour (and only women’s hour) but annually charge men less, or C) scrap single-gender sessions altogether.
After all, if demand for women-only sessions is so great then the gym should put their money where their mouth is and fund it themselves.
Unsurprisingly, they declined.
‘A report by the Women Sport and Fitness Foundation showed that a significant proportion of women (26 per cent) “hate the way they look when they exercise”.’ they replied in an email.
‘This takes on an even greater significance when you consider that women feel even more self-conscious when taking part in sport and physical activity when men are present. If you are wondering who or what [we are] it’s a charity that specialises in increasing women’s physical activity levels.’
Translated into plain English, 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.
That’s like trying to clean a dirty face by rubbing a mirror.
A report by the Women Sport and Fitness Foundation showed that a significant proportion of women ‘hate the way they look when they exercise’
It also assumes that all men in the gym are straight, when many of them are gay and have no interest in the female aesthetic. In fact, if they really wanted to, these men could be voyeuristic in the showers. So what next – gay and straight hours? And what about lesbians - can they attend women-only sessions, or would it make their straight sisters uncomfortable? Gimme a break.
If these women have issues with their bodies, I truly sympathise – but it’s their problem, not mine. Nor is it any other man’s.
And who’s to say we don’t have our own body hang-ups? We know for a fact that increasing numbers of men suffer from anorexia and bulimia as well as ‘bigorexia’ – the need to be as muscular as possible. Rates of men having cosmetic surgery are also increasing year-on-year, so the facts speak for themselves.
Interestingly, women’s hour also has little to do with religion. The gym have scarcely used faith to justify their policy, but – even if they did – it still wouldn’t excuse their unequal price structure.
Want women-only sessions for religious reasons? Fine – more power to you. But don’t ask men to pay for 442 hours they can’t possibly use. No God would approve of 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 say we should be banned.’
Furthermore, when I explained that men typically die before women, thus have a greater need to access fitness services – something based on cold, hard fact rather than feelings – they had no convincing answer.
Tellingly, the gym’s policy also assumes that only men can objectify the opposite sex. But if TV shows like Sex and the City taught us anything, it’s that women can be just as forthright. In fact, only two weeks later, I was forced to complain when four teenage girls were wolf-whistling at boys in the weights area – jeering and laughing, while ranking them by size.
This wouldn’t be acceptable if the sexes were reversed, so why is it tolerated here?
This is precisely why I’m suing them for gender bias. Not simply because their policy is unfair, but because it pathologises masculinity while simultaneously repressing it.
As far as I’m concerned it also breaks the law.
So far, the legal team at Camden Borough Council have simply made me laugh. They’ve spent hours quoting Harriet Harman’s Equality Act, but continue to miss the point. No customer, male or female, should pay for gym time they’re not allowed to use. It’s that simple.
Ultimately, however, it has nothing to do with money. At best, I want a 10 per cent refund; something I would donate to men’s charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), but, like the test case of mis-sold PPI, it would empower other men to demand the same compensation - hitting the gym where it hurts.
‘If these women have issues with their bodies, I truly sympathise – but it’s their problem, not mine. Nor is it any other man’s’
But, finances aside, the Kentish Town Sports Centre has a social responsibility to encourage equality as well as physical health. Forcing men – whether 70 year-old pensioners or 13 year-old boys who attend with their mothers – to leave a room because of their gender, rather than their behaviour, is degrading. It’s also eerily reminiscent of when African Americans were separated from their caucasian peers in 1940s America.
Not least because the underlying maxim is the same. In this instance, that all men are inherently bad. This is a toxic message to send out, especially when those affected are frequently young boys in crucial stages of puberty and self-development.
Such messages are pernicious. They criminalise men for being male, while telling women that they have less responsibility to contribute to functional gender relations.
Interestingly, it’s not just patrons who are angered. Last week I spoke with two of the gym’s male fitness instructors who expressed their frustration with the ban – not least because, in the middle of a double-dip recession, neither can work during female-only sessions. It’s insane.
‘I’m suing the gym for gender bias. Not simply because their policy is unfair, but because it pathologises masculinity while simultaneously repressing it.’
Fortunately, I have other helpful supporters who want to liberate them. Erin Pizzey, the woman who established the world’s first-ever domestic violence shelter in 1972 before becoming a men’s rights activist, has offered her backing. ‘This discrimination has no place in modern society’, she said.
Meanwhile, equality charity Parity and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell have described my fight as ‘sensible and fair’.
Stateside, U.S. website AVoiceForMen.com have recently added their weight to my case.
Now, I ask common sense and British law to do the same.
Being a test case, my claim has sparked global interest because of its potential impact. If I win, gyms all over the country could be forced to update their policies. And rightly so.
Not only would this be physically healthy for people who want to exercise without restriction, but it would also be socially healthy for those who understand the toxicity of sexism, whether directed at men or women.
For some, this might be a revelation in itself, but trust me: it comes from a place of genuine fairness.
Yes, my case may raise some eyebrows, but hopefully it will also raise some consciousness. Because, currently, the staff at my gym are telling our young men they’re dangerous by default.
And that’s a weight no man should learn to carry.