Jeez, even here in Seattle. Although this time it’s about women-only (and sometimes also men-only) times at municipal swimming pools. That’s a bit of a special case, in a way, since it requires being sparsely dressed. But…it’s also the thin end of the slippery nose under the tent. Wait, that’s not quite right…
Earlier this month, a resident filed a gender-discrimination complaint with the state Human Rights Commission (HRC), challenging not the women’s swim time at the Tukwila pool but the men-only component, after she said she was unable to accompany and supervise her 11-year-old son there.
Last Thursday, the HRC closed the complaint, saying that since the pool offers swim times for both women and men, no gender discrimination exists under state law. The pool also offers swim times for families.
Although the ruling clears Tukwila, it raises a legal question for other cities and programs that offer women-only swims without a male-only option.
Laura Lindstrand, policy analyst for the Human Rights Commission, said it’s possible such a facility could be in violation of state law. “We would need to closely look at the facility’s reasoning for having such a policy,” she said.
Because god, comes the reply.
But such legal matters were far from the minds of the more than two dozen women — many dressed in the Islamic hijab — and a handful of men as they spoke emotionally to commissioners in Tukwila about how they and their families use the pool.
“This isn’t just something I’m doing,” Farole said. “ It’s a commandment from God; men and women are not to mix together. That’s my religious belief.”
Ah. Well in that case you’ll have to do your swimming at the mosque, because city governments don’t take commandments from God.
Councilmember Dennis Robertson said while he understood the need for the single-gender swim times, city officials needed to be careful not to contribute to gender inequality. “It’s not what this country is about,” he said.
The arguments being used to support single-gender swim times were used to justify racial segregation in the South, he said. “We are walking on dangerous grounds here,” he said.
Carroll, who also spoke, echoed that position.
Their comments worried Farole and the other women who at last week’s meeting submitted petitions bearing 132 signatures defending the program.
“For the first time as a resident I felt unwelcome,” Farole said.
But after listening to the women, Robertson appeared to be walking back his earlier position on the women-only swim times.
While he pointed out that many business deals historically have been made in settings where women have been denied access, Robertson said it’s clear this is not one of those settings.
“It’s easy to jump to conclusions, and I jumped to the conclusion about what this might mean,” he said.
Carroll said her main concern is that young Muslim women feel they cannot be safe around men in a community where she lives.
“If I was convinced we were initiating women-only swims to empower women, I would be very happy about it,” she said. “But I fear that we are just introducing the 21st-century version of more marginalization.”
In the end, there appeared to be reason for optimism, from all sides.
Commissioners announced the single-gender swims would continue at the pool, and Carroll and some of the women and men discussed their differences.
I dunno. I’m not crazy about it, but I don’t feel anything like as strongly as I do about gender segregation of public debates and other public functions at universities, as if women are so fragile they can’t ever be around men at all.