Safe spaces are not just physical entities. They can, and should, exist inside your own mind. The most intimate safe spaces — the physical boundaries of your own body, the theoretical boundaries of your own self-definition — should be the most inviolable ones of all.
Most women know that this is not how things work in practice. They have known it all their lives. Taught to be accessible and passive from birth — not hard, boisterous and demanding — they learn that their safety is partial and contingent on a lack of resistance. Do what the nice man says and no one will get hurt.
Feminism has fought against this, arguing that women deserve the space to be whoever they are, freely, as complete entities rather than as adjuncts to the male ego. There have been political outcomes to this (the creation of women’s refuges and family planning clinics, for instance) but also internalised, personalised ones (women being able to acknowledge that they are more than passive accessories — and in doing so learning that they have the right to say no).
An internalised liberation — the creation of an inner safe space — is neither frivolous nor self-indulgent. Women have a right to their own inner lives, their own words, their own ways of reading their physical reality and their own interpretations of whatever abuses they suffer. Constant demands that women open themselves up — whether this is meant physically or metaphorically — are both anti-feminist and inhumane. The age-old notion that those born female are required to suck up whatever interpretations of their reality those born male wish to impose on them cannot be part of any feminist project. Nor can the belief that a superior breed of female — those who have aligned themselves with maleness through claiming a trans or genderqueer identity, or through claiming to have been penetrated by a sufficient number of penises — represent the only females fit to judge what “Woman” really means. Feminism is not screw or be screwed. Feminism prioritises active consent and the integrity of every woman’s physical and personal boundaries.
The “e” in TERF or SWERF does not really mean “excluding” or “exclusionary”. It doesn’t even stand for anything starting with “e”. It means “non-compliant”. It means “having the temerity to be female — to be walking the earth with that hole between her legs, that body and mind that invite invasion — and still having the nerve to say no”. The demand that women do not “exclude” is really an insistence that they abandon this right of refusal. It is about recontextualising experiences of abuse (including rape and physical assault) so that their relationship to one’s female body is denied. It is about ceding headspace so that one’s conception of oneself as a full, rounded human being — non-binary and fluid, like a person — is denied. It is about saying “I don’t mind — I don’t mind objectification for the sake of your self-definition, I don’t mind the violence of gender for the sake of your self-esteem, I don’t mind being less so that you can be more”. It’s about gritting your teeth and staring at the ceiling because hey, you owe him. You can’t back out now.
The ceding of space is personal — but it is also political. When you deny the value of female language and self-definition as a principle, you implicitly do so for all women. It is unfair to demand that every woman take the risk of publicly asserting her right of resistance, or to ask that she flee an identity and level of social coercion which (apparently) does not bother her as an individual. Nonetheless, no woman has the right to define the conditions of another woman’s internal space on the basis that “it doesn’t bother me”. Until you have lived another woman’s life, with deprivations that you do not know, abuses that you have not experienced, pressures that you have not faced, you have no idea of the value attached to being able to say “no, I am not that. I am not cis. I do not embrace or align with my oppression. My space and my words are mine”.
In public spaces such as twitter and in blogs women are expected to stand on show and take whatever abuse is thrown at them. After all, you asked for it, exposing yourself like that. A woman on twitter is the metaphorical unlocked house, just asking for intrusion. You can’t back out, though. That would be “a flounce” — if the woman on twitter is a slut, the flouncer is a prick-tease, thinking she can show bits of herself in public then change her mind. Flouncing is shameful. You’ve led everyone on so how can you just walk away? (Because feminism, if it says anything, says that you can.)
I have slept with men because they have made me feel I am not “allowed” to say no and because they found ways to make me pity them. I have offered up my thoughts for derision because I’ve believed I “owed” it to those who positioned themselves as less privileged than me. The truth is, I don’t owe bits of myself to anyone. I owe the resources I take unfairly — as a westerner who gets to piss around on the internet while others truly have nothing, with no space to even think of boundaries — but as for parts of my intimate self? What I call myself, how I conceive of my womanhood, how I tell the story of the abuses I have experienced, how I defend the space in my head and that between my legs? No.
I already know this post could be ludicrously misinterpreted by some. I know that some, upon seeing it, could be tempted to take to twitter with a dramatic, heartfelt “no one is saying [ludicrous misinterpretation] @glosswitch. Stop it”. The reason I know this and am even thinking it is that space in my head has already been occupied, and like anyone who has tried to say no and failed, I feel ashamed. I think I should have been better at resistance. I can’t seem to get rid of the occupation, the second voice telling me I am bigoted scum for thinking I have any right to safe space at all. You don’t have to believe the voices for them to have an effect. As soon as they are there, the space inside your self is no longer protected.
I’m not opening up comments on this post because I don’t want to and I don’t have to. I know what the type of comments I receive does to me; this is my space and I decide whether I need to deal with that. Why should I choke on what hurts me? Why should any woman? I don’t want to take a seat and listen when all this means is getting down on my knees to suck more dick. Like anyone born female, I have swallowed enough.
Victoria Smith Humourless Mummy, Cuddly Feminist [@glosswitch]