Swimming in Tukwila


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.

Comments

  1. A. Noyd says

    as if women are so fragile they can’t ever be around men at all.

    More like as if men are so brutish that even the strongest of women can’t afford to be around them. Sadly, too many men will live down to that expectation. (And I don’t mean just Muslim men, but men from any culture that insists that men are naturally horrible towards women whose lives aren’t restricted.)

  2. iknklast says

    This is the new normal. In our town, we have a law that a man can’t even be at the swimming pool by himself. He can be arrested just for being in the same place where young girls are swimming, even if he is engaging in no suspicious behavior, simply goes there to swim, or to accompany his daughter. This is not the way to solve the child molestation problem. This is the way to violate the rights of everyone.

  3. rq says

    Considering that swimming requires me to reveal very much of my body, it would be nice to have the option to avoid leers* (which are, sadly, inevitable in a public swimming space), to have a chance to be in a comfortable environment, where I can be slightly less self-conscious and concentrate on the swimming rather than my floppy love handles. That being said, I absolutely support a similar option for men, because I’m sure there are men out there who do not wish to be leered at by women.
    Also, these should be times available for men/women of any religion or race or background, and everyone should still have the opportunity to participate in family time or general public swims. But not everyone (and not only for religious reasons) is comfortable revealing themselves in front of strangers not of their own gender.

    * While women can leer at women too, it isn’t nearly as intimidating/potentially threatening as when men do it. This is a personal feeling. And yes, women judge women’s bodies too, but it’s slightly different and (for me) easier to shake off.

  4. Shatterface says

    A lot of this is more about embarrassment about weight than concerns over ‘leering men’ and applies as much to men as to women.

    Anyway, as in every case of binary segregation, what day is transgender day? Are there seperate days for pre-op transexuals and post-op transexuals, for male to female transexuals, female to male transexuals, or what?

  5. Donnie says

    Men only times at 4am….out by 5am for mixed lap swims. Else, once a month during the weekday. Other then that, sorry, build your own pool using your own money and set your own rules. Public pools means public rules.

  6. geekgirlsrule says

    As someone who was a member of a women’s only gym (Living Well Lady) for years, I can appreciate times blocked out for just women to swim, given that sometimes I just want to work out without running a gauntlet of entitled male comments on my body (whether “complimentary” or not). I kind of wish the pool at the University where I work had those, because there have been days I’ve been sorely tempted to drown someone, usually male, for bullshit body shaming. I miss my women’s only gym, but not enough to give money to those anti-choice assholes who run Curves.

  7. geekgirlsrule says

    PS Most pools in Seattle had women’s only hours before the relatively recent influx of Muslim immigrants. Even in predominantly white areas.

  8. Bernard Bumner says

    Ultimately, I think that there are many reasons why gender segregated sessions for swimming could be useful, and there is much more to gain from enabling people to take part via this route than there is by obstructing their participation on the basis of principle.

    Swimming is swimming, and nothing is necessarily lost by segregation; segregation can take place whilst equal opportunities are still granted to both groups (however, only representing a large majority of society, I recognise).

    Segregation during debates clearly undermines one party (women), not least of all by reinforcing a social hierarchy which affords inherently less value to the views of that party, in culture, in law, and society at large. It therefore directly prevents full participation in the activity, and to the massive detriment of one side.

  9. says

    I get it about the special nature of swimming (and having to be mostly stripped down in a public place to do it). But at the same time, the pools are public, and any time slot that is reserved for X excludes everyone else. I think of public pools as drop-in places like parks…but maybe they’re more like you might have to schedule it places like tennis courts or ball fields.

    In short I’m not sure what I think about it.

  10. Bernard Bumner says

    Most pools with which I am familiar apply timetabling for various reasons; for open swimming, for lane swimming, for classe, family sessions. Pools can function both as public spaces and, sometimes, as venues for specific activities. The main point is that if an individual can’t swim at one time, they will be able to find another.

    The equivalent is not true of debates.

  11. Smaug the Desolator says

    without running a gauntlet of entitled male comments on my body (whether “complimentary” or not)

    Amen, I tend to get this from a lot of women though. It’s the women that usually come over to me, smiling and saying “can you flex it, please?” or “show me how to use this machine”. It annoys me to hell that they feel so entitled to smile at me and even disturb me while I am working.

    Sorry, you can just fuck off and leave people alone. Do you go to a gym to stare or workout?
    Other than that, good article Ophelia.

  12. freemage says

    iknklast
    November 26, 2013 at 9:23 pm (UTC -8)
    This is the new normal. In our town, we have a law that a man can’t even be at the swimming pool by himself. He can be arrested just for being in the same place where young girls are swimming, even if he is engaging in no suspicious behavior, simply goes there to swim, or to accompany his daughter. This is not the way to solve the child molestation problem. This is the way to violate the rights of everyone.

    This post? Comes with a big ol’ bag of Citation Needed. At least a town identifier, and maybe a link to the law in question. Because I don’t see how this could remotely withstand a challenge (especially with the bit about a man who is accompanying his daughter to the pool).

  13. MarcL says

    I’ve been reading this blog for years and I never comment, but I just want to say that I’m going to start using that. “Thin end of the slippery nose under the tent.”

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