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?
HOLY CRAP SOMETHING JUST HIT THE FAN AND IT SMELLS REEEEEAL BAD.
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 …
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.
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.