In an ideal world, perhaps women wouldn't need women-only spaces. But unfortunately, we don't live in that world. Body Blitz, a popular Toronto spa, offers a space where women are free to relax among other women — to strip off their clothes, go for a swim and have a spa treatment without having to worry about men showing up to ruin the party.

Body Blitz came under fire recently after being accused of refusing service to a self-identified trans woman. On Twitter, Toronto resident Jia Qing Wilson-Yang posted: "My wife tried to book me a surprise appt @bodyblitzspa but they won't allow 'male genitalia' at the spa and told us not to come."

The news quickly spread among trans activists online, and Body Blitz was accused of "transphobia" and "transmisogyny." People swarmed the spa's Facebook page, leaving negative reviews and comments.  

Body Blitz

The controversy around Body Blitz is particularly poignant now since the Canadian Senate just passed Bill C-16. (Google Maps)

While the spa does not have a policy against trans people, it is a "single-sex facility" that allows full nudity. As such, it would be fair for women who visit the spa to assume they won't see male genitalia.

Trans activists would argue the distinction between women and trans women is an unimportant one — that people who identify as trans women are women like all other women. But the reality is that internal feelings don't change outward impressions. To some women and girls, the presence of a male body can leave them feeling uncomfortable, uneasy and even threatened.

Bill C-16

The controversy around Body Blitz is particularly poignant now since the Canadian Senate just passed Bill C-16, which amends the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to prohibit discrimination based on gender expression and identity. (Full disclosure: I testified against Bill C-16 in the Senate back in May.)

Trans people absolutely deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. But as many feminist and women's groups have argued, Bill C-16 has the capacity to actually undermine women's rights.

Until relatively recently, women were not treated as persons under the law or allowed to participate in public life. Women have had to fight to access jobs in male-dominated workplaces, and fight to be protected from harassment within those spaces. And even now, women are still fired — or simply not hired in the first place — because of their reproductive capacity, because employers worry about female employees getting pregnant and taking time off work. 

The Canadian Human Rights Act protects women because as a society, we understand that women face discrimination based on their biological sex. But our ability to organize on behalf of women's liberation and to maintain women-only space is threatened by legislation that protects people based on "gender identity" and "gender expression." How can we argue for women's rights, based on the understanding that women are oppressed specifically due to their biological sex, if we simultaneously say that sex doesn't matter, but that "gender identity" and "gender expression" do?

On average, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner every six days. One in three women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime. It is for these reasons that women should have the right to certain spaces — such as gyms, change rooms, transition houses — in which they feel safe. The concerns of women who have experienced trauma because of male violence should not be dismissed.

True, Body Blitz's policy might inconvenience a few trans individuals who have to choose a different spa. But as an oppressed class of people, females as a whole deserve the right to maintain women-only spaces. And for women who have been sexually assaulted — those for whom seeing a penis could have a triggering effect, especially in what they perceive as a safe space — the experience goes way beyond "inconvenience."  

Considering the extent to which male violence and fear of male violence shapes women's lives, it should not be unreasonable to keep certain spaces free from male bodies — even if the people in those bodies identify as women.

To read a column making the opposite argument, click here.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.