Curves’ gym prerequisites- a lesson in discrimination

Curves is a hugely popular international gym franchise originating from America; by its own admission an exceptionally fast growing and award-winning enterprise. There’s a Curves fairly close to my house and workplace and should stand as one of the competitors for my gym membership. However as it stands it will never become a competitor by its own policy. Curves, as it is well known, is a woman-only gym.

I’ve had quite a few good arguments with friends and family over the years and I’ve noticed a tendency for some when using informal arguments to tread on a fallacy I would like to call arbitrary delineation as while I’ve read up on other sorts of fallacy, I feel none of them quite fit the bill. Arbitrary delineation is kind of like a reverse slippery slope, except the slope itself is not a series of unlikely but logical events (such as A to B to eventually Z) but a rather short obvious one, maybe even A to B. Arbitrary delineation occurs (as far as I am aware) in two instances. The first is when an argument (or counter-argument) appeals to some sense of logic but is completely arbitrary, having no real definition as to why a particular assertion was chosen. As an example, some time ago I was in discussion with a family member about the importance and power of science. I said that science is by far the most powerful force humanity has, and deserves every respect and acceptance. They replied, “if science is so great, why haven’t they made a cat?”. A strange suggestion to be sure, and a good example of arbitrary delineation. Why a cat, why not a dog? Why not a cell? Why anything at all? When I explained to the family member (in my ignorance of the fallacy) that we have cloned cats, their reply was “no, not cloning, I mean actually making it from nothing”. This is a second example – why from nothing? I was a little better at responding to this suggestion. Being a businessperson, I appealed to their craft:

“that’s not saying anything. By your reckoning, any person in business worth their salt needs to build up a business rubric completely independent to what is established, then somehow use that rubric to make what is already there. That means no relying on business textbooks, listening to advice or doing anything that makes you work with previously established methods”.

“It’s not the same.”

“Why?”

“Because of the complexity of a cat.”

Hopefully you’ve picked up their response as example three. “Complexity” is about as arbitrary as you can get. Unless you have an anchor that separates you from what you don’t adhere to, you must either accept it or abandon the argument. This is the second reason arbitrary delineation occurs.

I believe most people who join Curves participate unknowingly in arbitrary delineation to which they must answer for. The advantages I have heard of from members and (mostly) women about Curves are straightforward and do appeal to sense. They enjoy the fact they don’t have men perving on them, judging them. They like the fact that there is no potential for a guy to step into the changing rooms. The fact that its tailor-made to women is another advantage. The last point I don’t really think stands up as a good reason to select Curves out of other gyms (any gym possesses more or less the same equipment after all), as a result Curves is perceived good because it relies on pure discrimination based on gender. It is outrageous to suggest all men are perves, in the same way to say all women are not.  I really do sympathize with lesbians for no-one taking their love and arousal seriously. Sharia law enforces brutal laws to ensure an unrelated man does not even see a woman (and even more brutal for the “crime” of male homosexuality) but all bets (and headscarves) are off when unrelated females are with each other. I am aware that lesbianism is illegal and brutal punished in sharia law, but the same policies of public discourse do not apply.

The actual reasons for liking Curves is beside the point beyond stating that the active refusal of customers based on an uncontrollable aspect of themselves (in this case their gender) is a good thing for those customers who have access. Should this be acceptable or law-abiding behaviour? I’m not sure, because if we are to move past the arbitrary delineation of a gender issue (which still strikes me as pretty unethical anyway) we are faced with uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory. This same justification can equally apply to race with no real “anchor” to seperate Curves from flat out racism. If a bar holds a policy not to serve or allow people with black skin on their premises based on racist virtues, what then? They may argue that black people statistically are more likely to end up in jail (this is uniformly true for various reasons) and it is a benefit to other patrons that they not be served. I have yet to find a good reason for this sort of policy to be found wanting while letting Curves ban the male sex altogether. We are left with a choice. Either we stop this sort of discrimination until a suitable delineation is found or we accept it and its consequences. I’m not sure either choice is a good or bad one- after all, I have a notion that a  business does have a right to conduct itself in the way it wants to, even if it is grossly unethical, racist, sexist or discriminatory. On the other hand discrimination is a massively unfair, pointless and horrible practice. What is to be done?

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~ by freeze43 on February 14, 2011.

11 Responses to “Curves’ gym prerequisites- a lesson in discrimination”

  1. I like Curves because it’s close by, I know a lot of the people that go there and the extras they provide are really cute- the glittery shoes and meal options etc. It’s sort of a personal gym- nothing to do with the gender side of things.

    Stereotypes regarding men and women will always be made, but I like single-sex gyms as I feel that it has a “girly sleepover” feel. Not because men might be perving on me (as if ANYONE perves at a gym when you’re covered in sweat, wearing the most unbecoming clothes… and generally have a reason for being at the gym?!). It’s also a much smaller gym, whereas places like fitness first are a bit more impersonal. I ended up knowing basically everyone at Curves. It’s also nice to be able to talk about women’s body issues around other women who understand. That is by no means to say that no males understand the strife of “back fat” etc, but on the whole women know exactly what you’re talking about.

    For some people that are a little shy and/or have a religion that dictates a need for modesty, if a single-sex gym is there it solves the problem really. Although that’s another argument all together.

    Besides, whether the perving, or the judgements, are in our own minds… and even if the arguments are completely ridiculous… if it makes someone feel comfortable (and obviously it does, as the gym is successful) then why not?

    • I agree there are many advantages a gym might possess that excludes a particular gender- specialisation being one of them. However this is precisely one of the points I made in the post. If you are comfortable with males being barred (not merely disencouraged or considered not a part of the target market like say, Bras N Things) from going into Curves, are you comfortable with having pubs and clubs that bar black people, or people of a middle eastern appearance, or caucasians? There may or may not be inherent advantages (ones as you rightly point out, they can even be in the customer’s own minds), but if you were to say you would find such a possibility unacceptable, how do you delineate you approval of Curves and disapproval of Racist Club Co.?

  2. Can’t say I agree with this. I strongly disagree with the one size fits all argument, barring black people from bars and barring men from a ladies gym is not an apples for apples comparison. You have to approach this matter with discretion if you want an optimal resolution. If your argument is “discriminate against none or discriminate against all” then you must also be of the opinion that separate male / female bathrooms at restaurants and night clubs are also a bad idea. The bathroom example is a more relevant, gender based comparison. As a rigorous supporter of science, you must also accept that the anatomy of a male and female is somewhat different, whereas the differences between a white male and a black male are only minor.

    • The bathroom comparison is not a suitable equivalent. If you were to walk into a restaurant that for some reason only had a male bathroom without a female one, then that would be a meaningful comparison and a situation I don’t think anyone would find reasonable. I have no complaint regarding any business or institution that only directs itself towards a target market, causing unrelated markets reduced capacity to implement the product or service. As an example, a suburb in Sydney, Ashfield has many restaurants aimed at serving customers with an Asian cultural background given the Asian script menu and food which is quite contrary to western food ideals. That does not however, mean that my status as a Caucasian bars me from entry. My status as a male bars me from Curves.

      My argument is not about discrimination, rather, the concept of arbitrary delineation which you have helpfully pointed out. Why is it that the differences between males and females is something that deserves instances of clear-cut enforced discrimination non-physiologically based? That is, something not like for example having a pregnancy test for men but rather some esoteric cultural “necessity”? Curves could have the exact same plan, not change a thing (except allow for male change rooms) and have men allowed in and there would be no discrimination. Why should we allow this to occur but also think racially-motivated discrimination based again on non-physiological requirement is not OK? In order to do so (which may be possible but I have not found a satisfactory answer) you need to delineate effectively.

  3. The bathroom system is a perfectly suitable equivalent, your example of the restaurant in Ashfield actually supports my argument but again your mixing race and gender example which in my opinion makes it void. For equality purposes, would I prefer to see a Curves option for men? Absolutely, but that refers to an inverse of your arbitrary delineation example, where I know it’s the right thing but do I care? Not really. And the reason, there is no demand for it. This is what separates us from machines, we do things that make common sense and not necessarily follow rule or procedure.

    Secondly you mention..

    “I have no complaint regarding any business or institution that only directs itself towards a target market, causing unrelated markets reduced capacity to implement the product or service.”

    The first part of this makes perfect sense and I agree, women want a womens only gym, men don’t want a mens only gym, done. However how does a bathroom facility (albeit not a business) warrant an exclusion to your rule above? Easy. Common sense, men and women are different, they have different needs, should there be a place to exercise in male/female only environment? Sure why not? It makes SENSE. If you don’t like it, simply don’t frequent the establishment. Same goes for all boys / all girls schools too, whilst I personally wouldn’t send my children to a gender specific school, I certainly wouldn’t deprive anyone else with the desire to do so.

    • There are actually men only gyms, and I find them equally objectionable. I’m not even concerned about equality, but what Curves does illustrate is discrimination.

      “Easy. Common sense, men and women are different, they have different needs, should there be a place to exercise in male/female only environment? Sure why not? It makes SENSE.If you don’t like it, simply don’t frequent the establishment. ”

      Physiologically speaking there are indeed differences, and you can theoretically cater a gym (although needlessly) to suit women. I probably would not find it suitable, however your suggestion that I “don’t frequent the establishment” isn’t even an option for me- I *can’t* frequent the establishment! There are no doubt men who have a requirement for cardio, who have a Curves nearby and could benefit from it- they do not have an option to chose it as their gym.

      How does the Ashfield example support your argument and how does it void mine? Please illustrate why you feel gender is a more salient divisive attribute than race because for many people it is not. Do you believe a pub or club therefore has a right to bar entry for a patron based upon a difference that patron has no capacity to control? Superficially such a bar could make sense- even if it was to make sense to racist customers.

      “And the reason, there is no demand for it. This is what separates us from machines, we do things that make common sense and not necessarily follow rule or procedure. ”

      I would like to give common sense a bit more respect than suggesting it goes out of its way to follow real rules and procedures.

  4. “There are actually men only gyms, and I find them equally objectionable. I’m not even concerned about equality, but what Curves does illustrate is discrimination.”

    I see your point about Curves lack of male oriented offering in its portfolio, the only way to vindicate them in this particular instance would be for them to cater a male only gym. Due to lack of demand for M only and their place in a niche market I would be willing to excuse them, also the nature of their business (body shaping) does warrant a closer look at why they don’t cater for men.

    “How does the Ashfield example support your argument and how does it void mine? ”
    It supports my point in that you fail to delineate between a gender discriminatory argument and a racial one and you keep falling back racial examples to support your arguments. I never alluded to gender being more salient – all I said was they much each be treated on their own merits in a discretionary manner, no generalisation, on a case by case basis. Back to what makes sense, without generalising, I could not see any reason to reject entry to a patron based on gender or race (if you can think of any I’d like to hear them). Age however, yes I do see a problem with allowing entry to underage patrons, as do the majority of the general public, hence it is outlawed.

    • “It supports my point in that you fail to delineate between a gender discriminatory argument and a racial one and you keep falling back racial examples to support your arguments.”

      The burden of proof lies with your assertion that you *can* delineate.

      “Age however, yes I do see a problem with allowing entry to underage patrons, as do the majority of the general public, hence it is outlawed.”

      Age has good concept to delineate. Adolescent and child brains behave differently and desire different outcomes than adult ones. Intoxicating substances will stunt or damage development. This is fair and logical. Discrimination based on gender and race is not.

      “I could not see any reason to reject entry to a patron based on gender or race (if you can think of any I’d like to hear them).”

      Superficially I could. I could say for instance that black men are much more likely to be jailed, but this for me and ethically speaking is not appropriate. But this also hits the mark with regards to Curves- there’s no particular reason why men cannot in theory be allowed to join beyond superficial reasons.

      If Curves was to allow a male only gym you have the same problem- discrimination based on gender. I don’t care if Curves offers a “male orientated offering in its portfolio”. They have every right not to bother. What they may not have a right for is the capacity to refuse men membership based on their gender… again unless you feel that private businesses should get the OK to discriminate how they wish.

  5. “The burden of proof lies with your assertion that you *can* delineate.”

    I don’t see how you can’t? Progressively each of the common discriminatory attributes (gender, race) have had their history in spot light. Racial discrimination has been vilified so that there have been moments of racial backlash (resulting in more racism) like the apartied / post apartied policies in South Africa. Gender discrimination I feel is far more prevalent today (took Australia over 100 years to produce the first female prime minister), although in most instances more subtle. Are they both pivots in discrimination, absolutely, but is it the same to be racist and sexist, no.

    With regards to your “superficial” argument, still does not float. Statistically speaking (although I have not looked into it) black people may have a higher incidence of jail time per capita than white people, however conservatively speaking it would be no more than 20-30% higher. If you want to base your argument on statistics then, the chances of a male having a male reproductive organs, 98-99% chances of males having higher testosterone levels, 98-99%. These aren’t exactly superficial.

    Again back to my argument on gender specific bathrooms, ever notice those large porcelain receptacles hanging on the wall of male bathrooms? Not exactly designed for use by females. Similar to a female gym, the equipment is going to be different, designed to have a focus on specific female body types, not body building / sculpting. They also offer more in the way of services like yoga, aerobics and pilates, obviously directed at the female market.

    Anyways – back to work tomorrow so won’t have time to rebuke further but I’m pretty steady with my position on this.

    • “Are they both pivots in discrimination, absolutely, but is it the same to be racist and sexist, no.”

      But you remain comfortable in having a gender-based discriminatory gym? Why does gender allow this while race cannot?

      “black people may have a higher incidence of jail time per capita than white people, however conservatively speaking it would be no more than 20-30% higher.”
      It is much, much higher. In America for instance, black people constitute about 46% of the prison population yet represent 13% of the overall population. This is orders of magnitude higher. Not that it matters of course, as again I am only taking this argument in a superficial position.

      “If you want to base your argument on statistics then, the chances of a male having a male reproductive organs, 98-99% chances of males having higher testosterone levels, 98-99%. These aren’t exactly superficial. ”
      Probably the best point you’ve made as you’ve attempted to put a bit of scientific justification. However the argument remains superficial. 99% of women have more oestrogen then men, and that oestrogen causes violence. But even then, dependence on a singular hormone behaving in a particular way is definitely a superficial assertion.

      “Again back to my argument on gender specific bathrooms, ever notice those large porcelain receptacles hanging on the wall of male bathrooms? Not exactly designed for use by females. Similar to a female gym, the equipment is going to be different, designed to have a focus on specific female body types, not body building / sculpting.”
      As I said prior, there is nothing wrong with having women-geared gyms, but there is always room for some males to use one. Who are you to say all women don’t want to body build? Equally, who are you to say than all men do not?

  6. Feel silly posting this, but let’s get down to the real reason. It’s okay to discriminate against men, not okay to discriminate against women.

    There were men only fitness centers before “Curves”. They were called “country clubs”. Much screaming was made about them.

    But now a female only club comes along and “that’s different”.

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