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Thursday, 27 December 2007

Subculture I

By Lia of the Yum Yum Café blog

Recently, I passed an Italian restaurant and there was a sign in the corner of one of their windows saying, “Thursday Night, Ladies’ Night”. Naively, I thought the sign meant only ladies were welcomed on Thursday evenings. It only came to me later that what they probably meant was that women could eat for free or get a free drink if they came with their male counterpart that evening. Whatever.

Still, the sign triggered a memory of our municipal pool’s Women’s Sunday Swim that I attended over a longer period of time two years ago. A women’s activist group had arranged this ladies’ only weekly event for the large female Muslim population in Luebeck. Muslim women and girls are not allowed/encouraged to bath in public which is understandable if you know how lax/tolerant the Germans are about nudity, topless bathing, and tanga bikinis.

I decided to go to the women’s Sunday swim, after having unsuccessfully tried to swim a few lanes one Saturday with hundreds of children and teens jumping in, on, and around me the whole time. As I was handing in my locker key at the main desk, I mentioned that it had been a useless endeavour. The cashier said I should try Sundays, if I wasn’t uncomfortable about being the only non-Muslim swimmer there; hardly anyone came. That certainly piqued my interests.

So, off I went the next morning. Bliss. Where forty to sixty people had populated the pool the day before, seven or eight women were swimming; four of them were holding onto the side of the pool moving their legs around, while deep in conversation. The children’s pool was quite busy, but not in the least rambunctious. Along the sides of the pool, tables were set up with numerous women eating and drinking. All in all, the atmosphere was lively without being loud.

I swam alone in my lane, luxuriating in the experience of swimming without interference. I was hooked. Thereupon, preceded many such lovely Sunday swims. Sometime I went alone, sometimes I brought a friend along, but I always felt welcomed and accepted by the women there.

What I learnt most during that year of women’s swim (it was unfortunately eventually cancelled because of sparse attendance) was how completely sensible it is for women to be offered an opportunity to share all-female company. Until then, I could not remember the last time I had gone swimming in public and there was no aspect of “How do I look?”, “How do I compare?”, “Is he looking at me?” Nothing.

Instead there was just women in absolutely every type of swim attire (e.g. bikinis, one piece suits, T-shirts and bicycle shorts, and even rather elaborate dress things which I couldn’t quite understand how they swam in) having a lovely time together.

The women were kind and friendly towards me, making me feel part of the group without strain or falseness. I was fortunate to get to know a few of the grandmothers and mothers of my daughter’s Turkish schoolmates over that period of time.

When I remember back to those swims, I think about what it is like to feel feminine but not sexual, to enjoy the sensuality of water and skin without it being erotic, and to have fun without it being frivolous. It was such a fine time particularly because the Muslim women kindly invited me into their world and made me feel welcomed.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:58 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I was just visiting our YMCA pool yesterday. It was quiet. Classes were cancelled for the holidays and family swim had not yet begun. As I read your story, I imagined our pool populated with women as you described, Lia. Lovely.


Sharry, the unfettered joy of those swims were in part because we were an all women group, but mostly, I think, because most of the women, beside me, were Muslim. I have previously been in all women groups in ballet studios, university gym classes, and fitness studios, and none of those experiences came close to those Sunday morning swims.

Sounds like bliss to me. Thanks for sharing your peace-filled experience.

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