Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Female Spaces

It's already hard to remember but three days ago the weather in London was fantastic. It was scorching hot and the skies were clear and blue. It was beautiful if rather uncomfortable on public transport or in garden-less flats. I found an escape though - a perfect way to spend our (probably) last day of summer. I swam in a pond.

To clarify, at a brilliantly clever friend's suggestion, I visited Highgate Ladies' Bathing Pond. People have been swimming in the Hampstead Heath ponds since at least the 1860s and I doubt much has changed. The ladies' pond idyllic, if rather difficult to find. we were sweaty and rather cross by the time we finally found it, after trekking up and down the poorly signposted Heath for over an hour. It was probably for the best though since the water was cold and, despite the weather, it was busy but not overcrowded.

A warning sign declared the water 'opaque, cold and untreated' and all of these things were, undoubtedly, true. Luckily you could climb or dive in without ever having to touch the bottom, which was my worry. No algae or duck poo either. It was bracing (what my family calls 'fresh') - deeply unpleasant at first but if you kept moving it quickly became bearable and even pleasant. The water washed away our accumulated London sweat and we slowly baked dry in a sunny opening in the trees afterwards. Bliss.

Photo via Liberty London Girl who is also a big fan

Or of things I found most interesting about the pond was that it was women only. We walked past the mixed pond and the men's pond on our way to the ladies' and the atmospheres were very different. The mixed pool was raucous and overcrowded with noisy youth showing off to each other; the men's pond was quieter but their was still a lot of posturing, flirting and assessment going on. There was no posing at the women's pond, just a lot people chilling out, chatting quietly, napping or reading books. There were women of all different ages and backgrounds peacefully sharing space. There was probably an above average amount of toplessness going on but no one was really interested. I was delightful and relaxing and I found it very relaxing.

I don't know if it is my life style but there aren't any female spaces in my life, I don't think. The office, pubs, restaurants - they're all mixed, as they probably should be. There are private spaces but that is different; the occasional changing room but they are transient. Maybe there are still female spaces with religions but I'm not religious. Perhaps I should discourage and disdain the division and gendering of space but it was so peaceful and lovely. I want more.

Do you inhabit or enjoy any female spaces? What do you think of the idea? Less philosophically, Londoners, have you been to the ponds? Do you want to share the love?

Chuck x


  1. I have been to the mixed pond several times, and my mum has been to the ladies one. I have never seen it with my eyes, are you sure it exists?? Where on the Heath is it? One day I will find it.. x

  2. Really interesting post. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, just been working at an 99% company, and now moving to a place where I'll be the only woman for most of the time.

    Never been to the ponds, I've heard from a friend that the male one is extremely flirty/cruisey, whereas the woman's one sounds like a lovely calm place. The only all-female events I semi-regularly attend are hen dos, which tend to be a bit too shrieky and hysterical to be truly relaxing.

  3. That comment should obviously say 'a 99% female company'...

  4. I've never been to a female only pond but there's a natural spring in Austin that I used to frequent that this reminds me of. The water was always a chilling 60 degrees and such a relief during the summer heat. Unlike this one, there was algae growing that you could touch (ew) but that was all apart of the experience

  5. All I experienced of this took place on public transport or in a gardenless flat, and I wanted it to rain the whole time. I am such a failure!