women-only spaces are not sexist spaces, they are necessary spaces.
I’m depressed that this blog-post has to exist, but after searching the internet for a good justification of women only spaces (and failing) I figured I’d justify it myself. There are a lot of people (mostly men, but shamefully sometimes women) who don’t see why women need a space for themselves.
“It’s sexist- you wouldn’t want a men-only space”.
The first flaw in this argument is that it refuses to accept that the rest of the world is exclusive of women- that though they may be physically present (they aren’t “banned” from the room as men and self-identifying men are in a women’s only space), they are not intellectually or politically present. The world makes us the Other, and if the only time when some women feel that they can be honest and productive is in the company of fellow “Others” (I use the term begrudgingly), then that space must exist. Even when women are intellectually/politically respected, they have probably become more like their male counterparts. One study found that women high on the career ladder were more likely to have more testosterone; Margaret Thatcher had voice therapy to lower the tone of her voice (read: to replicate a man’s); when women join the military, they have to enter into masculinist attitudes to be accepted, they have to be “one of the lads”. If a woman’s input was equally valid, I’m sure these tendancies wouldn’t be as offensively prominent. Most political spaces are male-dominated; UK parliament has just under a 5:1 male:female ratio (http://www.parliament.uk/about/faqs/house-of-commons-faqs/members-faq-page2/), THIS is man’s space- do not deny woman hers.
“Well, I don’t feel threatened by men, so I don’t see what the problem is”.
This kind of experience denying is incredibly problematic. It’s so problematic because it’s such an easy thing to do- we are empirical creatures, and we construct our lives around our experience, so it makes sense to base our view of others on our experience. Yet, an abstraction from our own experience is essential if we are to understand any kind of struggle. As a white british I have never experienced racism/xenophobia- but I could never deny its existence, nor would most people who deny the feminist’s struggle. Yet they still use this very argument against feminism. Baffling. I imagine the main reason that this isn’t seen as 1) logically flawed, 2) fucking stupid, 3) outright offensive is because woman’s struggle isn’t as felt as racism is. I mean, women aren’t killed/raped/beaten/fired because they’re women, right? There is always another reason- walking alone at night, a short skirt, not listening, being physically weak, having children… is my point evident? Women are almost always abused for the reason that they are a woman, anything else is an excuse for what is nothing less than sexism. You are privileged if you don’t feel threatened by men, other people are not so privileged.
“I’m not intimidating/offensive/dominating”.
Yes, you are. Even in saying that you are being intimidating, marginalising/guilt-tripping women for wanting to be alone with people they feel more connected to and safer around. It is very hard for many women to feel secure talking about their experience with men present, particularly when issues such as rape/sexual assault are on the table. It is very difficult, if not impossible for men to even empathise with women when they’re talking about these issues, and that is fine, we do not expect you to understand, but we do expect you to understand our need for a sisterly community and a comfortable space in which to talk about very personal, very real, very emotional experiences.
“Women-only spaces are just women sitting around man-hating”.
Wrong. Wrong in so many ways. Firstly, it’s wrong because it conflates patriarchy with men. Feminism is about destroying patriarchy, not about destroying men. It just so happens that most patriarchs are men, but women can also be patriarchal arseholes, so it can be a very constructive way of dealing with female sexism. Women have a lot to offer, but we also have a lot to learn, and a safe space in which we can discuss and debate is healthy. Some of us are still indoctrinated with partiarchy, I probably am, and I always appreciate it being pointed out, but it’s more constructive if this happens in an understanding community. Anyway, that’s sort of beside the point. Women-only spaces aren’t misandristic places because we have better things to talk about- we’re not interested in spending our time bitching. It is used to talk about the barriers that we face in life, how we deal with them and how we remove them for others. Mainly, they are used as a support network- the every day struggles of being a woman are unimaginable for anyone who doesn’t live that life. Every woman has been sexually assaulted- even a drunken man pinching my arse is sexual assault. People don’t seem to realise that, nor do they realise how demoralising it can be to deal with that experience- a women-only space provides an opportunity for women to de-stress, to let out their feelings and to get support from comrades. It is very difficult to feel comfortable with talking about these experiences, from the “minor” tap on the arse, to the much more serious problem of rape. A 2007 poll of 1000 women found that 97% of women felt that they should have the choice of a women-only support network after a sexual assault. Confronting and discussing these issues is something that I have only very recently been comfortable with, having had the experience of a punk-upbringing, an education and a politically active friend-base. Not everyone has had such privileges, and so they should be accommodated for and given whatever necessary to make them feel comfortable. We have the right to that space. Believing anything else is quite simply vile.
There are probably other reasons, I’ll update when I think of them.