I have always been grateful that my local gym has a women-only area for women to work out. It's been so nice to exercise without being leered at, propositioned, or harassed. I have tried to exercise in the mixed -sex spaces, I just don't feel comfortable, so finding a gym with a women-only section was important to me. The women's area is behind closed doors, and there are clear signs that mark it as a women's space. The gym has always been careful to inform us if a man will be entering the area to repair machines, and only female gym staff enter.
The other day while working out, a man wearing women's athletic clothes entered the women's space. He spent a long time wandering between the machines, and staring at the women. He didn't seem particularly interested in working out, and spent a long time staring at me. I decided to use the technique I often do when men stare at me, stare back until they look away. This was effective. I usually have to do that sort of thing on public transport, I was not expecting to have to do it here. I felt deeply uncomfortable, and all the of safety, comfort and security I felt previously in the space was completely gone. Eventually he entered the women's change area, I imagine to do more leering. I left quickly, feeling violated and angry.
What's even more frustrating is that despite all the efforts the gym puts into keeping this section women-only, there is nothing they can do to restrict this man from entering the women-only section. In Canada, gender identity is protected in the human rights code because of a law called Bill C16. If the gym tells the man he can only use the mixed-sex section, he could take them to a human rights tribunal and they could be fined.
Women have so few spaces to ourselves, and exercising in a women-only space allows women, who spend so much of our lives caring for others, to spend time taking care of ourselves without being bothered by men. It's endlessly frustrating that we have no ability to protect these spaces in law in Canada.