Women-Only Space Does Not Mean Safe Space

August 29, 2014 at 1:29 am 2 comments

I am really sick of the assumption by *some* feminists that women-only space is necessarily safe space. To begin with, I don’t want to have anything to do with all the transphobic crap that usually surrounds it, and furthermore even as a cis woman I don’t feel really welcome in the Girls Only Club. If these folks are so insistent on their narrow definition of womanhood, I’m sure at some point I’ll violate their pre-conceived notions. Too straight or too queer, too butch or too femme. Too something. I’m fine with participating in “anyone who IDs as a woman is welcome” spaces, but I do not go into them with the assumption that they’re automatically safer than spaces with men. 

I was never really a part of your “sisterhood” or “shared girlhood“, so save your cutesy speeches about sleepover parties and announcing when you got your period to your friends. I was That Weird Kid. I did have friends, growing up, but as I grew into puberty being a girl became less about having fun on my own terms- dressing up, having tea parties- as well as catching bugs and playing in the mud- and more about a list of obligations and rules that I had to follow. A few of these things I learned from my mother, who is a feminist herself and not inclined to push me into forms of femininity that weren’t my thing. But most of them were proclaimed and enforced with bullying, shaming, staring and shunning by other girls. In junior high, I got bored with all the fuss over makeup, clothes, diets, boys (really is anyone impressed by junior high boys?) and dances. I retreated to my books. Same with high school. Boys, for most part ignored me, but girls obsessively enforced “the rules”. 

After taking women’s studies classes in college, and observing how my experiences compare to other women, I’ve realized how much gender performance is part and parcel of faking being neurotypical. It’s suspected that women and girls are less often diagnosed with autism, or are labeled later in life because we are often better at passing as neurotypical, often by mimicking others, and just being quiet and withdrawn. My partner jokes that I have “male pattern autism”- I threw tantrums, I expressed loud opinions. My behavior was impossible to ignore, so I was labeled at fairly young age (at about 8 or 9) Anyway, I’ve gotten to the point that whenever I see a book or article, or hear a statement that “women think this way, communicate or develop this way” or whatever, I just think “That’s neurotypical women they’re talking about.” And most of the time whatever generalization was made doesn’t fit me very well, and may not even fit a lot of neurotypical women, but least of all me!

Now, I have indeed been bullied, harassed and sometimes abused by men but those experiences haven’t taught me that men, as a category of human beings are to be feared. I’m equally cautious with men and women in general social settings, though more cautious with men when walking down the street. 

So really, I ask you is really so much better for womanhood, girlhood, femininity or whatever to be defined and enforced by women rather than by men? I think the nastiest tool of the patriarchy is not the average man, but rather other women, even ones who call themselves feminists. We are our own worst enemy. I’m not letting off the men off the hook here, certainly they should be held accountable *as individuals* for their actions, but let’s not pretend we have this glorious utopian sisterhood. 

From transwomen and transmen, and cross-dressers and all manner of gender-diverse folks, I’ve learned that there are so many more options of who I can be as a human being, I feel more comfortable with being a woman in my own way *because of them* They are not in any way threatening to my identity as a woman. If they threaten yours, I think you’re the one who needs to work on having a healthy gender identity, one that’s based on being yourself rather than worrying about how other people identify.

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Entry filed under: Autism/Asperger's, Concepts & Definitions, Feminism/Gender. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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  • 1. Sage  |  August 29, 2014 at 8:26 am

    For a lot of reasons I am supremely uncomfortable with the idea of being in women’s only spaces.

    First, I was hazed at a woman’s college in an attempt at “sisterhood bonding.” The whole campus went through it nonconsensually, not just a sorority. Five years later I’m still trying to process that experience and it’s really messed me up in a lot of ways. (You wanna talk about navigating religious and spiritual spaces when any ritual that even hints at an initiatory experience could be a possible trigger for me… it’s a problem!) This is also what took me longer to come around to feminism than perhaps was necessary. It’s really, really hard to put stock in something when you’ve been traumatized by folks who identify with that something.

    Second, I’m genderqueer. I pass as cis and am comfortable with using my birth name and pronouns. And because I’m DFAB, it’s okay if I present more masculine at times (in a way it might not be for a DMAB individual to present more femme). So my experience of women’s only spaces and experiences is that 1) I’m automatically assumed to want that space and 2) my actual experience of having a wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey gender is never itself honored.

    Not all women’s only spaces panic me; I was certainly fine in a female-only dorm. And sometimes spaces that just happen to have only women are fine. It’s when a space is solely dedicated as /a woman’s space/ that I tend to be extra cautious. Because what does that mean for me – as someone who’s been traumatized by women, as someone who has bits of them that are woman-like and other bits that aren’t but are labeled as such anyway?

    I tend to find this the most in religion. Goddess-centered spirituality has never served me well and I’ve encountered a lot of transphobia and not-listening-to-me in it. I also find certain assumptions made about how I navigate Pagan spaces. Like thinking about starting a Pagan group at the local UU fellowship and having someone continually refer to it as a women’s spirituality group.

    My gender identity, my experiences, your (general you) respect.

    Reply
  • 2. caelesti  |  August 29, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    *I saw you mention the hazing on your blog. That is horrible!
    *I loosely/tentatively ID as genderqueer too. (Tentatively due to the sometimes volatile politics of the trans community…)
    *The only initiation I’ve been in ended up being a cult.. while I’m not necessarily ruling it out as a future possibility, I’m definitely with you there as far as trepidations go. Kinda the way a divorced person might look at marriage.
    *Paganism in a UU context started out as a women’s spirituality/feministy All Our Goddesses Are Belong to Us kinda thing- I definitely think we need to work on educating people that Paganism is much more diverse than that.

    Reply

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