I was glad to see this nuanced column. Here's another piece of the conversation. Given the astonishing difference that women's sports have made in the lives of women and girls since Katha Pollitt and I were that age, is it better for Muslim women to participate in sports and gym work-outs, or to avoid them because of modesty concerns?
My daughter was co-captain of the Radcliffe (they decided not to change to "Harvard") Rugby team. One of her teammates, from Pakistan, attended practice in a neat headscarf and head-to-toe long-sleeved black shirt and pants. I asked her how that worked with the uniform, and she said the coaches and USA Rugby had said it was fine for her to wear the scarf as long as she put a regulation cap over it. That seemed reasonable. At home, of course, she would never have been able to play at all, and I'm not sure she had told her parents.
For some women who honor the Islamic dress and modesty codes, the choice is either women-only hours at the gym, or not going at all. I'd rather see them able to do the activities, and commend Harvard for making that possible.