A room of one’s own

An issue that always seems to crop up around young white educated types who want to attack Feminism (or Those Radical Feminists, Not The Nice Ones, or Those Extreme Man-Hating Feminists, Not You, etc etc) is the concept of Women’s Rooms.

You can talk pay parity and reproductive rights and sexual violence till the cows come home and not raise so much as a “meh” in these crowds.  But so much as hint that maybe it would be nice to have a small discreet space where women can go and be and eat their lunch or read their psych notes without the presence of men?


It’s unfair.  It’s reverse sexism.  If men wanted a men-only space feminists (the Evil kind, not the Good Like You kind) would be furious (possibly even hysterical).

In a room full of bored students whose interest in politics is limited to trading Bushisms and reciting the anarcho-syndicalist commune portion of Monty Python’s Holy Grail, the thought of a women-only area can incite the kind of overblown rhetoric that would make Glenn Beck say “Dude, too far.”

So what the heck is the objection?  Are these detractors really so incensed by the notion of gender-excluding places?  Do they sincerely perceive reverse sexism as a troubling societal trend? Are they really deeply invested in analysing the inherent hypocrisies of a given ideology?

I’m sure they think so.  I have a few theories of my own.

Gender-Only Spaces Are Bad, Mmkay

This is a wonderfully revealing argument – especially when followed by its close cousin, “Why Can’t Men Have Men-Only Spaces?”  It’s almost like gender-excluding places are only inherently bad when they’re excluding the dominant gender!

This one always strikes me as a genderized version of the good old damn-immigrants-speaking-their-heathen-tongue line, so often couched in terms of “health and safety” in the workplace.  But what trouble can there possibly be with a group of people with a common language speaking that language amongst themselves?

Why, the trouble is that they might be saying nasty things about us white folk, that’s what.  So is the trouble with women-only spaces simply that it’s deeply worrying to men that women might be able to go away and talk about them?  But doesn’t that entirely rely on the assumption that the only thing migrants/workers/women could possibly have to talk about is whites/bosses/men?

Well, I suppose that’s actually not a totally stupid assumption when you’re the privileged, dominant group in society, the demographic the world revolves around.  And that’s exactly what it’s about.  Women’s rooms make a statement:  “Women are here on your campus and they are not content to meekly follow your lead and accept your institutions.”  (Just like people speaking another language makes a statement: “We don’t actually care about your input on this.”)  And that’s something that privileged groups aren’t used to.

They’re also not used to facing limitations.  Oppressed groups are quite accustomed to the idea that they may not ever get to be President or set the first foot on Mars, that there will be clubs they can’t enter and parts of society they can’t party with.  But for the privileged, this is a whole new ballgame.  Me? they ask.  Told I can’t do something? SACRILEGE!

Why, suddenly all that silly talk about discrimination and prejudice and oppression makes sense!  Because *I’m* the victim!  This must be what those dumb broads were nagging me about all those years!  It’s …

Reverse Sexism!

It’s a room.  Usually (from my experience of two major NZ universities) it is a pokey little room completely off the main thoroughfare with minimal signage.

Pay disparity?  Actually affects women’s lives.  Lack of childcare facilities, getting fired when you get pregnant, expectation of having to work fulltime AND be Supermum, massively disproportionate rates of sexual violence and family abuse?  Actually affects women’s lives.

One room set aside for women to use that you can’t go into, that doesn’t block your access to anywhere else on campus, that you probably never noticed was there?  Does not actually do shit to you, menfolk.

Butbutbut …

If Men Had a Men’s-Only Space Those [Evil] Feminists Would Be Outraged

Because of course, men’s-only spaces and women’s-only spaces are exactly equivalent concepts, if we ignore everything.

If we ignore the fact that traditional “women’s spaces” are kitchens and laundries, while traditional “men’s spaces” are universities and Parliaments.

If we ignore the fact that women’s-only groups were never designed that way – but when all the men get to go to work, go to war, go to their men’s clubs, and stay at the table after dinner for cigars, the women have to be somewhere and what’s the point in being a hermit when there’s plenty of other bored, lonely chicks out there.

If we ignore the fact that men’s-only spaces are where the world is run and  the history is written.

Women-only spaces are not equal to men-only spaces because women are not equal to men.  It’s right there in the very fact that the concept of a women’s room exists.  There never had to be men’s rooms because men are the default.  Men are the norm.  Men are everywhere.

Which is exactly why we need a women’s room.



  1. Deborah

    Sigh. A deep, contented sigh. You write the most fabulous rants, and this one is truly excellent – snappy arguments in snappy tones.

  2. QoT

    Thanks so much, Deborah! I’m trying to get back into the habit of writing. Should be more rants in the works!

  3. stargazer

    yes, i’ve been missing your writing too, and this one is particularly good. thank you for providing me with well-reasoned arguments when i next hear this kind of complaint.

    • QoT

      Thanks! It all suddenly just crystallized in my head, and I like noting these things down for future reference too!

  4. NickS

    Awesome rant, and if I run into this sort of bs at canterbury I’ll merrily cluebat them over it.

  5. newswithnipples

    The other nice thing about women-only rooms is that you get a break from being looked at. Every time you leave the house, some guy will check out your arse, or your boobs, or your face if he looks up from your boobs.

  6. Paul

    “If Men Had a Men’s-Only Space Those [Evil] Feminists Would Be Outraged”
    Men are the norm? What decade are you from?
    Do you really not know of any women in government or women that make decisions? Or business women? Your view of traditional women’s places has been outmoded for a very long time now and most women who find themselves IN those places in westernised countries are because they want to be.
    I personally don’t care if women have a Women’s room. Or building. Or campus really. But you would see complaints about a Men’s room getting put up. I wouldn’t go to it myself, my beef is that the people crying out against it are being total hypocrites. Much like yourself in that paragraph.

    P.s. Newswithnipples: As soon as you carve out the animal portion of your brain that notices attractive features on a person’s body (male/female I don’t care) I’ll do the same.

  7. QoT

    Thanks for mansplaining that for us, Paul. I guess now that an African-American is President you can also happily declare racism is dead in the US.

    Assuming sincerity on your part, I can only suggest Feminism 101 as a valuable resource that might explain why saying “some women are successful in business and politics” isn’t exactly the damning argument which shall shake this blog to its knees that you think it is.

    The claim of hypocrisy on my part seems to suggest you didn’t actually bother to read the post, which kinda spells out exactly why comparing men-only and women-only spaces isn’t actually apples with apples.

    As for your comment to NWN, there is certainly nothing wrong with a brain’s programming to find certain features attractive. But you know what else that marvellous organ can do? Control your fucking eyes so you don’t stare at chicks’ tits to the point where they feel the need to get away from you.

    Any future arguments about “the animal part of your brain” better be accompanied by a picture of yourself chowing down on some raw meat while sitting in a tree.

  8. NotAFeminist

    I too can think of a handful of successful women, thereby entirely nullifying your argument. And biology means I’m meant to look at the titties, and women shouldn’t be looking so damn appealing anyway, they’re just asking for it, etc etc etc.

  9. newswithnipples

    Sorry Paul, just because I find some men attractive doesn’t mean I stare at their crotches. Particularly when I am talking with them. I’m kinda evolved like that.

  10. Octavia

    “In a room full of bored students whose interest in politics is limited to trading Bushisms and reciting the anarcho-syndicalist commune portion of Monty Python’s Holy Grail, the thought of a women-only area can incite the kind of overblown rhetoric that would make Glenn Beck say “Dude, too far.””

    Gosh, whoever could you mean?! Hmmm who springs to mind…

    Pokey, poorly funded, and generally run down from memory.

  11. Joanna

    The following rant about the way men communicate etc isn’t aimed at all men, because i do know men that can communicate in the female style…rapport not report, consensus not competition, sharing not stating. :)and don’t try and tell me this isn’t the way it is, 15 years of observing for myself is hard to put aside for ‘you’re wrong…and what aboout women? they do this etc” lol

    You know what else is great about a women’s room? Or just a space free from Men…conversation that isn’t a constant struggle that leaves you kinda exhausted.

    You know what I mean, their whole motive is simply competition & one upmanship but I’m yet to figure out what it is they think they’re winning?

    When you’ve been hanging around mainly guys for too long, then talk to women again, it’s like you can relax & take pleasure in the conversation without having to talk plus manage their stimulus/response pattern, try to keep them on topic when you’ve made a good point (that they can’t acknowledge so a new track is needed to win, or whatever’, try to get a straight answer when their ego is throwing up that coccoon-of-protective-lies etc.

    Even writing that I think “I sound like a man hater” because that’s what’s been drilled into me, but I’ve reached 29 and decided enough is enough. I feel this way because of 15 years of observation & experience so it’s valid.

    Oh yeah and to Paul, please try and imagine what it’s like for us. We never have any privacy in public. Everytime you look up a man is watching you. When you’re stuck on public transport and one is openly leering at you it makes you feel slightly nauseous…it’s like an attack because it really does make you uncomfortable. Plus there’s nothing you can do because if you stare back they take that as a challenge and of course winning is everything (never mind resolution, that’s stupid right?. If you say something then it’s going to be the old denial trick i.e. if they don’t acknowledge the truth it’s not real. Then it’ll go to “You’re full of yourself, why would I stare at you” or “you should take it as a compliment”. FFS! If it wasn’t a problem it wouldn’t be a problem! And then there’s pubs & clubs…and anytime you walk past a group of guys that decide you need to be used to make them look big in front of their mates or whatever…”Hey sexy..oh you ignoring me huh? stuck up bitch blah blah blah”.

    How many times has that happened to you Paul, when you walk past a group of women? How many times in your life have you been aggressively propositioned by a group of chicks? And does your life pretty much feel like you’re stuck in a used car sales yard with extremely pushy salesmen & the only way you can leave or get left alone is to grow old enough, get fat enough or become disfigured? AND why do men who are 30 years older than me think I would be interested & get nasty when I’m not? ahhh feels good to vent 🙂

    Lol I got here through a google search “male argument ignore points reality” because I’ve been wanting to know if my observations are right or it’s just warped perception. Ideally I’d love to ask guys to go into detail about what their minds are doing when they argue but I wouldn’t get a straight answer…if they wanted to f*ck me I’d get told what they think I want to hear, otherwise it would appear like i was launching an attack so the defenses would come up 😦 too hard basket. I just want to learn so I can find a way to get a consensus.