A women-only hotel to avoid the male gaze? It’s just evading the problem

I get it; when a woman dons a swimsuit on holiday, the last thing they want is an unsolicited catcall or a wolf-whistle. But the problem won’t go away by sequestering ourselves in women-only spaces

Lucie McInerney
Saturday 28 September 2019 16:17
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The fact that fear of harassment from men is a deciding factor in choosing a holiday hotel shows that a lot needs to change – and it is men who need to do the changing
The fact that fear of harassment from men is a deciding factor in choosing a holiday hotel shows that a lot needs to change – and it is men who need to do the changing

The Som Dona hotel in Majorca opened its gleaming glass doors for the first time earlier this summer with sparkling white sunbeds, modern minimalist decor and one rule regarding occupants to make it stand out from the pack: absolutely no men.

The hotel boasts a pool, a spa, a roof-top terrace, healthy food options and is open to all women (and girls over 14) whether they are travelling solo, as a couple or in a group with other women.

However, from the claim that the hotel’s “bold decoration is inspired by feminine features” – it’s painted white and pink – to the question on the website that asks “Did you know that you can be wild, healthy, fun, beautiful, relaxed, adventurous, curious and social all at once?”, this particular exercise in catering to women’s needs feels less about really providing for what women might want and more about cashing in.

The president of Som Hotels, Joan Enric Capella, when describing why she chose to create the Som Dona, didn’t have what would have been an admirable ambition to give women sanctuary away from the male gaze. No, her reasoning was down to the simple fact that the company saw a gap in the market following a customer survey – travel trends show that more women are choosing to travel alone or in same-sex groups.

If Som Hotels really wanted to provide for women on holiday in a truly meaningful way, feminine hygiene products would be available in all rooms; not just the most expensive. It’s not just the richest women that get their period. As things stand, the two other kinds of room available appear to be absolutely no different from any hotel I’ve been in.

At the launch of a similar project, the ridiculously expensive women-only retreat, SuperShe island in Finland last year, founder Kristina Roth talked of how “being on vacation with men can cause women to become sidetracked, whether it’s to put on a swipe of lipstick or grab for a cover-up”. It bloody does not. There are women who go on holiday and don’t bother with make-up at all and there are those who love to wear lipstick. I’m fairly sure their choice has got nothing to do with them “becoming sidetracked” by the presence of a man.

I get it; when a woman dons a swimsuit on holiday, the last thing they want is an unsolicited catcall or a wolf-whistle from some bloke who has knocked back one too many under the blistering Spanish sun. That isn’t going to happen in a women-only environment.

But the problem won’t go away just because we women are sequestered in an XX-chromosome-only space. And anyway, it’s not just men who comment on women’s appearance – I’ve heard plenty of women making snarky remarks about others’ sartorial decisions.

Yet my overriding feeling towards this phenomenon is one of sadness. The fact that fear of harassment from men is a deciding factor in choosing a holiday hotel shows that a lot needs to change – and it is men who need to do the changing. Fewer women would feel the need for these kinds of same-sex-only hotels if so.

To those who say, “But there are men’s clubs! There always have been!” I would respond that yes, there are men’s clubs – and that’s a huge part of the ongoing problem between men and women. The idea that we must retreat into gender groups to find understanding and empathy, and in order to be treated with respect, is sad and, frankly, only skirting around the problem.

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