I’ve been thinking about women-only spaces and feminism more generally.
One of the arguments often made by otherwise feminist women against women-only spaces is that women’s spaces are not safe spaces for many women – that feminist women can be racist and ableist and homophobic and capitalist, and that women can sexually assault each other and enact other forms of violence against each other, and that women’s spaces can generally reproduce the privileges and marginalization present in wider society – and that therefore women-only spaces only serve privileged women.
How does including men solve any of these issues? The inclusion of men will always make a space less safe in terms of violence and sexual violence. Marginalised men can speak about their oppressions, but will often fail to grasp the specific intersections of oppression faced by marginalised women.
More importantly, in my experience of mixed “feminist” space men – especially white straight able-bodied neurotypical men from socially middle class backgrounds will always twist the agenda of feminist space towards themselves. This is done in several ways, from dominating space and forcing women to explain fundamental concepts, to subtly (or not-so subtly) changing the emphasis of the space or the feminist activism that goes on there (ie anti-porn activists who end up discussing the negative psychological effect that porn has on male viewers rather than the exploitation of women, discussions of how patriarchy hurts men too, validation of male doms as “sex positivity”), to performing the role of the good pro-feminist male ally for the cookies while refraining from actually challenging other men. Privileged men can be just as racist, ableist, and homophobic and capitalist as privileged women, but will bring an added dose of misogyny. Marginalised women are often even less included in mixed feminist space.
I know there may be many reasons why women – particularly marginalised women – may want to organise with men on some issues. My aim in writing this is to defend women-only space not to tell women how to organise. Women-only spaces are very important however (i also support marginalised women organising autonomously).
When women-only spaces reproduce oppressive structures, where privileged feminist women are racist, ableist, homophobic, and capitalist, or where women are violent against other women, this needs to be challenged. Feminist women – especially more privileged women – need to actively work on including lesbians, women of colour, disabled women, and other marginalised women, and need to actively challenge racism, ableism, homophobia, and capitalism both inside and outside feminist movement. What is needed is to change the nature of women-only space and women-only feminist organising: but to abandon women-only spaces or invite men into feminist organising is only counterprouctive.