Should We Really Have Publicly Funded “Women’s Swims”?

Last week, a New York Times editorial rightfully criticized New York City’s Metropolitan Recreation Center for it’s women’s only swimming hours.

For at least the past decade and a half, the pool in Brooklyn has dedicated special swimming hours each week to “Women’s Swim.” By the current calendar, this thrice weekly event is listed as a one hour and 45 minute period where pool access is limited to women only. The restricted swimming hours were apparently good intentioned, as many government rules and regulations are, aiming to provide the local Orthodox Jewish women with an opportunity to swim without men in the pool—a separation that is mandated by their religious beliefs. pool

The problem, as was raised via a complaint to the rec center, is that these practices are, in effect, discriminatory.

I don’t blame the pool for the policy they hold. They’re catering to a local demographic, and that would seem to make sense. Surely, no one has a problem with these women wanting to pursue modesty and swim separately from men. I, personally, think it’s admirable, and I don’t think the hours would be all too restricting for most men.

So what’s the big deal?

The problem is, when taxpayer money is being used, you can’t start carving out special niches for every group that has a different set of needs. I can create any number of hypothetical circumstances where someone would want special accommodation from a public pool—but why should everyone else (who has paid taxes to use this pool) be inconvenienced? If Christian women were only allowed to swim with other Christian women, should we block out another two hours in the day to accommodate them? What begins as a seemingly “reasonable accommodation” can become unruly in no time flat.

The answer to this problem, as it is in many cases, is privatization.

The government has no business building pools with taxpayer dollars in the first place. Look, I love swimming. It’s entertaining and healthy. You know what else is both entertaining and healthy? Watching a movie while drinking a protein shake. Oddly, I haven’t seen many publicly funded SmoothieScreens (yes, I just coined this term) around town.

Second, a private pool can set up women-only swimming hours guilt-free. Why? Because, if you don’t like their policies, you can cancel your membership and take your business to a different pool! Though I personally would have no problem with my private pool having special swimming sessions for women, at least I’d have the option to take my money elsewhere—unfortunately, it turns out the city doesn’t let you cancel your portion of taxes for public pools.

There is absolutely no need for the city, state, or any other level of government to provide public pools—and if a city insists on using taxpayer dollars to fund one, it certainly shouldn’t be carving out special swimming sessions for any demographic.