thinking about women-only spaces

Reblogged from:

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.


This entry was posted in community, feminism, gender, identity, lesbian, politics, Uncategorized, women and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to thinking about women-only spaces

  1. Linuxgal says:

    Seriously, female separatism? So you can create a space where alternative ideas cannot enter? I can think of no worse fate than to surround oneself with mirrors rot in the stink of one’s own reflection.

    • Lol! The above comment is so funny I had to approve it :). Haven’t you noticed the world is run like male only space? I find it funny that you think occasional women only space is so concerning. Its a choice to utilise women only space, not mandatory and in a world where women are continually given less human rights than men, face subtle and overt subjugation, women working together is sometimes necessity to help define our own thoughts and actions autonomously. The real concern or ‘stink’ here should be the cultural and systematic subjugation of women globally, the epidemic of male violence towards women including sexual violence and the misogyny which pervades so much in life.

    • Henke says:

      Heh, Don’t know how you get “female only spaces” to full front separatism but even if we should talk about separatism, what is so bad about that ?

      We males have a whole world filled with “male only spaces” but it has been so normalized that few even thinks about it.

  2. shediogenes says:

    sure, because a few days without men equals SEPARATISM!! and all women think alike so no alternative ideas yaknow, after all ideas that dont include mens ideas arent really valid alternatives. spaces with only women would naturally devolve to stinking rot and we’re all just sitting around stinking, naval gazing and indulging in our own vain, fetid reflections, because we are all so alike, singleminded in our Stepford hive mentality. give me a break. do you listen to yourself?

  3. Linuxgal says:

    You know, up here in Washington State, we fought for and won a great victory, marriage equality enacted by popular referendum rather than judicial fiat. We’re finally breaking through with the idea that we don’t have “gay marriage” just “marriage”, we don’t have “lifestyle choices” just “lives”, so yeah, that’s why I don’t have patience with folks who deliberately bill themselves as victims and want to go hide in a corner somewhere. I’m funny that way.

    • shediogenes says:

      Oh, well in that case…. Washington state, I’ve heard of it. It’s that place where women have pay equity, only get pregnant by choice, are never beaten or abused, and live full, complete lives and are treated with dignity all the time. Women there don’t need to meet privately to organize, no sir. Only time women get together among themselves in WA is for tupperware parties and bunko, and they never talk politics, lest they be seen as separatists. You are crackin me up!

  4. Mary Sunshine says:

    We don’t want or need your impatience. You can avoid female-only space for the rest of your life. Leave your ignorance outside our door, please. 😉

    • Thanks Mary, great reply.
      Its sad that this person can’t understand that the sort of gay rights that they mention had to be fought for over many decades and didn’t just appear. Yes, on the way I’m sure many gay people would have met exclusively to work on these issues. And during this process I’m sure they were also often referred to as seeing themselves as ‘victims’ .
      Fighting ignorance, hatred, violence etc is not ‘a lifestyle choice’, its actually to achieve the sort of rights so gladly welcomed.
      If you don’t want to be involved in very occasional women only space-fine, don’t get involved. But don’t ignorantly and lazily criticize those of us who do and who in doing so have aided in achieving the human rights you seem to take for granted. The suffragettes, for example, used women only space as part of their campaign to enable women to vote. Were they crazy ‘victims’ too? They were also often referred to as ‘man haters’ for believing the crazy notion that women should be allowed a political voice-something that many of us now take for granted.
      ALL movements have included space where people can meet exclusively to autonomously work on the challenges they/we face-from the Civil Rights Movement to Gay Liberation.
      If you’re benefiting from the results of any of these campaigners’ work, at last TRY to understand the process.

  5. Tobysgirl says:

    I find the comments objecting to female-only spaces bizarre, but I’ve run into this aspect of liberalism before: If we just pretend there are no differences between people (and no forms of class-based oppression), then voila! they don’t exist. And if you dare to challenge my fantasy, I’ll tell you that you are the bigot. I find liberals as immune to actual reality as any right-winger I’ve ever met.

    • Yes you’re absolutely right.
      Though if you look at where these comments came from……their ‘About’ reads -‘Need a spiritual home? Consider joining us at Mary Queen of the Universe Latter-day Buddhislamic Free Will Christian UFO Synagogue of Vishnu’.
      Lol. I think we don’t need to take any of their comments that seriously……

  6. Interesting post, but why would people find it bizarre to hear others objecting female only spaces. To a degree female only spaces create a kind of seclusion that is really not helping at least well from where I come from Pakistan/South Asia, if men will not learn how to behave in the presence of women in private and public life then we can kiss the idea of gender equality in the longer term. Just saying… and yes LOL I love Mary Shine’s ” We don’t want or need your impatience. You can avoid female-only space for the rest of your life. Leave your ignorance outside our door, please. ;-)”

    • Perhaps in an ideal world we wouldn’t need but sometime simply want ‘seclusion’. But its not an ideal world unfortunately. Women only space is necessary for many reasons. For women to express themselves in a world which usually only listens to the voices of men. For strength and solidarity in a world in which we are still largely excluded. For safety in a world where male control and male violence towards women is a horrific epidemic, and so on.
      If men object to women only space they must first address their own behaviour towards women and work out for themselves why it is sometimes so necessary.
      It also doesn’t mean women who want to work with men can’t do so or that all women must be involved in women only space. There is obviously a choice involved!
      Thank you for your comment.

      • I agree with you and have been part of several women only projects and spaces movements for all the valid reasons you have quoted here, think again am a Pakistani woman so I get what you mean, however for a longer term strategy things have to change from this men only and women only otherwise both sexes won’t outgrow taboos, restrictions, ways of interaction and co existence. I say this with deep respect for you and your work, but this has been my reflection after 15 years into the NGO field.

  7. I think many women already do work with men (and many are still finding this extremely difficult). In fact the vast majority of all groups of all kinds, political, social etc are mixed sex. It is possible to be involved in both women only and mixed groups. Being involved in women only space does not automatically make you a separatist in the rest of your life. It is usually only for a tiny percentage of women’s lives.
    We have many ways of coping with an unjust world and women only space is just one of those ways. It has also resulted in many positive actions and ideas, so I support it for the many reasons stated.

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