From the 8th to the 14th of May, the University of Warwick will run the ‘Warwick Girls Can’ campaign across campus. The campaign aims to set a ‘new tone for female participation on campus’ by running numerous free sporting events and classes to encourage more women to take part in sport. The university itself has pledged to become the most active campus university by 2020 and this campaign is being utilised to get more female students involved in order to reach said goal.
However, will a week’s worth of free classes that are ‘female only’ encourage women to be more active in the long term or will it make them feel separate from their male counterparts? Yes, many women may take part in a week’s worth of activities but in the long run this will not be sustained and sadly female participation in sport across campus will decline, again. But why is this? Is it because women are stereotypically the weaker sex and therefore can’t do the same sport or exercise as men? Is it because women feel judged if they wanted to take part in a more male dominated sport such as boxing? From my perspective, a week’s worth of sport based only on females only separates women further from the equality we want to achieve in sport with men.
Having a ‘female only’ gym for certain hours of the day is not only demoralising in the fact that it is being made totally obvious that women struggle to find confidence to go a mixed gym but it is also highly discriminatory towards men. I don’t see any campaigns for ‘Warwick men can’ or ‘this man can,’ so instead of encouraging a society where both women and men participate in sport and activities on an equal level, this campaign is separating the two genders and from a feminist perspective, moving downhill rather than uphill. Understandably the campaign wants to encourage those women who may feel intimidated walking into a Strength and Conditioning room full of men to overcome this fear however, creating an environment without these men who will be back in the gym a week after is not a long term solution.
The university-wide campaign uses slogans such as ‘the woman who cycles to work clears her mind,’ and ‘the woman who runs to escape and explore’. What is the woman escaping from and what is she clearing her mind from? The daily stresses of work or family life or the patriarchal society that still exists in many forms in the UK. Gender stereotypes remain in the workplace, from women being forced to wear high heels to men deciding what the length of women’s skirt should be to domestic violence that is still at an all-time high. Is taking part in exercise the only way to free ourselves from this? Will anything worthwhile actually ever be done to safeguard women from violence and patriarchal restriction or will we just have to keep going to ‘female only’ gyms to feel safe from patronisation, ironic I know.
From my perspective the campaign is useful however it needs further thought. Making a week specifically dedicated to women without any counterpart for men highlights an inequality in society. Yes, women are still not treated the same as men, but making free classes and activities for ‘females only’ not only discriminates unfairly against men but gives them a reason to highlight that women may be weaker or ‘scared’ of men in social situations such as in the gym. In my opinion the campaign outwardly demonstrates the stereotypical physical inferiority of women rather than highlighting women’s strength and determination both physically and mentally.