Unisex changing rooms are depriving me of getting naked with my fellow women

Hands up for segregation of the sexes in the changing rooms of the swimming baths Photograph: LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
My local swimming pool has been undergoing refurbishment for many months, during which period the men and women were forced into temporary, unisex changing rooms. It was all a bit uncomfortable, and awkward, but there was a certain blitz spirit about, and we smiled grimly at each other as we waited for the next available shower stall, and carefully choreographed our eye movements to avoid any appearance of staring.
Last week, I visited the refurbished pool for the first time. The new changing facilities were roomier, brighter, even, for now at least, a tad cleaner. Unfortunately they were also still unisex. This appears to be a new policy on the part of municipal leisure facilities – the Aquatic Centre in the Olympic Park operates a similar system – and I now feel as if all that time, I was taking exercise under false pretences.
The Zaha Hadid-designed London aquatic centre, in Stratford operates unisex changing rooms
The Zaha Hadid-designed London aquatic centre, in Stratford operates unisex changing rooms Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer
You can argue that feminists should have no issue with unisex changing rooms. We should be reveling in the liberté and egalité that has broken down the barriers of plasterboard and hospital tiles, and allowed us to stand locker-to-locker with our fellow man. We should rejoice that we are free to embrace our mutual humanity, and share our shampoo.
After all, it’s not like we’re expected to get naked in front of anyone: the etiquette of these new, communal changing areas are strictly and repeatedly stated. Appropriate clothing must be worn in public, and all actual changing activity is confined to individual cubicles. So what’s the harm?
Changing rooms at Tooting Bec Lido, London,
Changing rooms at Tooting Bec Lido, London, Photograph: Julia Gavin/Alamy
After I’d got over the shock of queuing behind a young Harry Styles-a-like for the hairdryer, I realised that my objection was not prudishness, but rather the opposite. I’m no exhibitionist – although I don’t expect you to believe me after this argument – but perhaps for that very reason, I have always appreciated the one small part of public life where women’s bodies are allowed to be on display to each other, with no stigma, judgment or agenda. Where else do women feel safe enough to just let it all hang out?
I fully appreciate that many women don’t feel comfortable stripping off in front of strangers – that’s why those small cubicles, with their damp benches and their poorly positioned hooks, exist. But it seems good, to me, that one convention remained in which it isn’t considered perverse, or embarrassing, to be naked among my fellow women. To be invisibly nude, and to know that that is still OK. 
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