Women only spaces : An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writers

I would like to apologise to everyone who submitted their writing. I’ve only just read the submissions and they are all beautiful, inspiring, and provoking. I will email everyone this week for my failure to be in touch sooner. I am suffering from severe depression and anxiety disorder from PTSD and have been struggling a lot these past few months. My support for women’s writing remains. Just waiting for my brain to catch up.

 

Women only spaces are a fundamental part of the feminist movement and represent women’s right to self-determination and liberation. We’re collecting short stories, poetry, and essays that illustrate, explore and define the importance of women-only spaces for the feminist movement and women in general: as a space which prioritises women’s voices over mens and that refuses to allow men to dictate the terms of the conversation.

Currently, the definition of ‘women-only spaces’ is under debate and those that exist are under annihilation by so called “austerity cuts” that are destroying women’s access to refuges and rape crisis centres. But, women only spaces are essential not just for women experiencing male violence. They are an essential space for all women as libraries, sports centres, and community centres.

 

The proceeds of this book will be used to support this platform covering the costs of hosting and website maintenance and development.

email: louisepennington@hotmail.co.uk

Submission deadline: September 30, 2018

MichFest: One Year Ago, by @smashesthep

Cross-posted from: Smash the P: Women's Liberationist
Originally published: 02.08.16

One year ago, I arrived at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival for the first time after hearing about it for years. It was an amazing experience and it changed me forever.

At the time, I wrote about my experiences, but since they were so personal I shared them in bite sized pieces on tumblr, feeling that I wasn’t ready for them to be exposed to a wider audience and all together.

On this important anniversary, and the first year without a MichFest, I have decided to share them here. Many women are grieving this loss for what it is. But there is hope. Womyn are creative, innovative, and powerful. Amazons get shit done. This is not the last time we will gather.

Here are my words from last year, interspersed with some photos for you all.

Arriving at MichFest: Challenges and Gratitude

outside michfest

 


Read more MichFest: One Year Ago, by @smashesthep

A UK GUIDE FOR NON-LAWYERS ABOUT PROTECTING WOMEN-ONLY SPACES: June 2016

Cross-posted from: Louise Whitfield
Originally published: 16.06.16

HOW LEGISLATION PROTECTS WOMEN-ONLY SPACES AND SERVICES:
AN OVERVIEW

by Louise Whitfield, Public Law Specialist and Partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn

Click here for a PDF version of this legal briefing

INTRODUCTION

This briefing is designed to highlight the existence of legal protections for women-only activities, spaces and services to help ensure that these rights are properly understood and to avoid misinterpretation that may threaten their existence. The following topics are dealt with below:

  • Summary of what is and isn’t covered by the Equality Act 2010
  • When discrimination is lawful
  • Women-only associations
  • When discrimination against women-only events is unlawful
  • The legal responsibilities of public bodies


Read more A UK GUIDE FOR NON-LAWYERS ABOUT PROTECTING WOMEN-ONLY SPACES: June 2016

Feminism, Men and Women-Only Spaces, by @LK_Pennington

Cross-posted from: Louise Pennington
Originally published: 22.12.12

The demise of feminism is back in the news again. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Katy Perryhave both made public statements about how unnecessary feminism is to their personal lives. Suzanne Venker has not only declared feminism dead but claims that there is now a war on men. Ironically, this death of feminism has coincided with very public demonstrations of feminist activism, as well as increased public debate on the issue of the inclusion of men within the feminist movement.

Yet, the debate over the inclusion of men within feminism movement has always been important. It has never stopped being important. It has only re-emerged in the mainstream British press due to the backlash to the women-only RadFem 2012 conference in London in June; as well as the no-platforming on the Manchester Women-Up North Conference who chose to have one session for FAAB-women survivors of sexual violence only. The inclusion of men within the feminist movement has been debated for 40 years now. It never stopped being debated. 
Read more Feminism, Men and Women-Only Spaces, by @LK_Pennington

Why Women’s Spaces are Critical to Feminist Autonomy by Patricia McFadden

Cross-posted from: Isis International

The issue of male presence, in physical and ideological terms, within what should be women-only spaces is not just a matter of ideological contestation and concern within the Women’s Movement globally; it is also a serious expression of the backlash against women’s attempts to become autonomous of men in their personal/political relationships and interactions. As human societies have become more public through the intensified struggles for inclusion by various groups of formerly excluded constituencies (the largest of which is made up of women of differing classes, ages, sexual orientations, abilities, ethnicities, nationalities, and locations), so the struggle for the occupancy and definition of space has also taken on a concomitant significance.

In this short article, I want to explore some of the reasons why this contestation over women’s spaces has arisen. I also want to argue strenuously that women must not allow men into our spaces because strategically this would be a major political blunder for the future of the Women’s Movement, wherever it is located and engaged with patriarchal hegemony and exclusion. To argue for men’s inclusion into women’s political and structural spaces is not only fundamentally heterosexist; it also serves an old nationalistic claim that women need to take care of men, no matter where they are located and or what they are engaged with. This claim is inherently premised on the assumption that women who are not attached to or associated with a man are dangerous, rampant women who must be stopped. That is why the statement that women need to “take men along” smacks not only of the deep-seated patriarchal assumption that women’s mobility requires male approval. It also facilitates the transference of socio-cultural practices into the Women’s Movement that nurture male privilege and pampering in spaces that women have fought for centuries to mark as their own.  ….

The rest of this article is available at Isis International.

The Political Left and Sexual Harassment

Cross-posted from: Liberation is Life
Originally published: 18.12.15

screenshot-sevensistersfestival.com 2015-12-17 23-51-17.png

Ginny Brown

Until we support girls and women in setting boundaries for their own safety and comfort, we cannot accurately describe ourselves as opponents of rape culture.

The core of female oppression is the appropriation of our reproduction, care provision and sexuality by more powerful social sectors (in this era, we’re talking men and the capitalist class), for the purpose of maintaining their power. Our speech is discouraged and ignored. We are impeded from shaping society, but society insists on shaping us.

This means that a prerequisite for feminism is supporting women in working out which boundaries we want to set and maintain in support of our political, social and individual needs, as well as safety. Not jeering at girls and women who defend these boundaries. “How are you going to keep the attendance female-born – are you planning on doing panty checks at the door?” has to be one of the most shameful responses to anyone organising a female-only activity*, whether it be commercial, social or political. And yet I was part of a socialist group in which some members did that. It’s one of my more embarrassing memories of the Australian Democratic Socialist Party’s intervention at a Fem X (student feminist) conference in the late nineties, and I don’t think I said anything in response.
Read more The Political Left and Sexual Harassment

The Demonic Feminine. by @terristrange

Cross-posted from: The Arctic Feminist
Originally published: 24.10.14

When I first read Engel’s “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” I had this flash of insight telling me that the whole story of Eve really was a metaphor for the fact that women were the ones who invented agriculture, through our wisdom of the manipulation of nature women created the conditions which led to their own enslavement. Now I don’t really know if this is true, it was just a thought that popped into my mind that I held for awhile but its a good place to start. Patriarchal mythology is full of metaphor and lessons that are especially geared toward controlling the minds of women. If you control the mind of a person you train them to stop themselves before you ever have to get involved, its proved to be a fool-proof system for the most part. Eve is the perfect female, dumb but easily controlled, a willing vessel for the seed of Adam. A willing dupe for him and the Abrahamic God to play their misogynistic games out on.
Read more The Demonic Feminine. by @terristrange

Women Only by @PortiaSmart

(Cross-posted from Portia Smart)

Women-only spaces are VITAL for women – all women.

I have attended many feminist gatherings over the last 2 years – some were formal such as conferences and some were informal such as social gatherings. For me feminist gatherings should be for women only because only women can be feminist. However, post modernism and liberalism have developed an uneasy, amorphous, glutinous mass within feminism. Boundaries are blurred and many social groups no longer have the ability to gather without interference from more privileged social groups. I find this incredibly sad, damaging and erasing.

Men have been present at 20% of the feminist gatherings I have attended since 2012 and the impact of men in feminist spaces has been significant. Men silence women – even the “good” ones. Men in feminism fill the space. They infiltrate, dominate, captivate and warp feminism into a movement that is no longer about the liberation of women, but what men want. Karen Ingala Smith wrote about men’s role in feminism perfectly, as did Zeeblebum and it does not include access to women-only spaces.

The most abuse I have ever received online was when I tweeted “men can’t be feminists”. That was all it took to receive misogynistic abuse, death threats, rape threats, images of male violence against women mostly from men. This is no coincidence. Men are socialised to dominate, subordinate, silence and use women. A few men do manage to deconstruct this patriarchal violence and recognise that their role is to help end male supremacy over women and not become leaders or commentators on what feminism is. But the numbers are small. In 2014 we have men writing about the issues that feminism should care about, men telling women that men’s rights should be included in feminism and men leading University Feminist Society groups. This is patriarchy in action.

At the end of my first feminist conference I was crying and in shock. Many mitigating factors were present and days after the realisation hit me – this was the first time in 30 years that I was not on alert. I experienced a level of security that has been absent for most of my life and could only come from being with women. I was accepted for who I am, not what I look like. I was free. Free from wandering hands, suggestive comments, infiltration of personal space. I was free to speak, to be heard and understood. I realised that being in women-only space was so alien to me yet had so much power. Many women at the conference reported similar feelings and all of us knew that we not only wanted women only space, we demanded it.

Women-only spaces aren’t perfect. They aren’t “safe”. But by being free from men, they are a space where we are free to just be. In women-only space we explore our shared and diverse experiences, we challenge each other’s behaviour and beliefs, and we listen to and support each other. We grow in confidence, in strength, in passion. I rarely engage in challenging women outside of women-only space because men are always watching. Men gain power from our fragmentation, our competitiveness, our destruction and I won’t allow them to access this from me. Women-only spaces are the most empowering spaces that I have ever encountered. I believe that it is this that frightens men so much. It is this that we need to protect. The more of us that gather in women-only spaces, the stronger we become. The stronger we are, the greater the chance of stopping men from accessing our spaces, our movement and ourselves.

Men – you have most of the space all of the time. Keep the fuck out of ours.

 

Portia Smart: I write about feminism, politics, male violence and mental health & wellbeing. My blog is women-centred [@PortiaSmart]

In the coming year, I have ambitious plans to expand AROOO, including a full professional blog redesign to increase accessibility and optimise sharing of individual bloggers’ writing across multiple social media platforms, as well as publishing feminist reviews of books, radio, television, and film. I also want to expand outside of traditional blogging platforms and start a chat forum. In order to do this, I need to raise £ 3000 so that I can pay the women web designers for their work. The work I do for AROOO is out of love for women and their writing, art, photography and lives. My tech skills simply aren’t adequate to develop AROOO to its full potential. The women involved with AROOO deserve to have their work shared to a larger audience and this requires financial support. This platform will remain non-profit, and advertising free, but the amount of work to redesign the site is substantial. Even one pound makes a huge difference to my ability to support feminist writing by creating a professional platform for feminists by feminists.



The importance of women-only spaces

This speech is cross-posted with permission from the campaign group Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]. The speech was given at the opening of a new rape crisis in Lincolnshire.

Good evening. My name is [redacted], co-founder of the training, consultancy and campaigning organisation Ending Victimisation & Blame.

I’m delighted to have been invited to speak at this event, launching a new Rape Crisis service in Lincolnshire. Thanks to Laura and her team for extending the invitation to our organisation.

I founded EVB in May 2013, both as a response to the media coverage of domestic & sexual violence and abuse, and to challenge the associated disbelief of those who disclose such abuse. Regardless of which professional service I have worked within, it had the threads of domestic & sexual violence woven through it. My experience in education, specifically pastoral support, found children and young people living with domestic abuse. My work with families in crisis via children’s services, found women with experiences of sexual violence as both an adult and a child, current domestic abuse and the after effects of all of these. My work with women and children who had experienced domestic abuse, found sexual violence woven through their experiences. In short, I have not been employed within a professional organisation that didn’t come into contact with Domestic & Sexual Violence.

I am also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. When I disclosed my experience as a child, I was met with disbelief.  The perpetrator was believable. Much more believable than the ‘out of control’ teen I presented as. As a direct result of this, when I was raped as an adult, I didn’t tell anyone for over 17 years. The reason for this was that I didn’t expect to be  believed. I had consumed some alcohol (and incidentally have an overwhelming urge to say ‘But I wasn’t drunk!’), I knew my rapists. I had voluntarily got into the car with them, made choices that I knew would be questioned by the police. I’d grown up in local authority care, I wasn’t a ‘good victim’.  All of those things combined into a cycle of self blame that completely absolved the perpetrators of any responsibility.

At the time of my rape, I didn’t think rape crisis was for women like me. I had become politically active in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I knew about Women’s Liberation, but in many of the activist groups I joined, women issues were considered marginal.  Almost as if we’d be sorted out after the revolution – which of course meant after the men. In the early 1990’s, I stumbled across ‘Surviving Sexual Violence’ by Professor Liz Kelly & it changed my life. Knowing that there were networks of services set up for women like me helped me to re-evaluate my experience. It didn’t help me to disclose, but it did help me to be kinder to myself and to know that I wasn’t the only one.

I could stand here all evening and talk about the benefits of the Rape Crisis network; instead, I’m going to pick out 2 benefits that I think are crucial, and why they matter.

The first is women only services. We know women make up the majority of those who experience sexual violence. It is important that we have designated services just for women and these services must be run by women. When we are talking about violence perpetrated by men, we should be naming it as such. We should not be derailed by comments such as ‘it happens to men too’. We know this. We also know that sexual violence against men is most often perpetrated by other men and that specialist services for men are important. But not at the expense of women’s.

In January 2013, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office released its first ever joint Official Statistics bulletin on sexual violence, entitled An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales.

    It reported that:

  • Approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year

  • Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year

  • 1 in 5 women (aged 16 – 59) has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.

These women deserve a service that will help them to feel safe.

The ‘Why women only spaces?’ Research published by the Women’s Resource Centre in 2006 tells us that women want women only spaces. If they have been a victim of sexual violence perpetrated by men, they need a safe space to heal. When reading the research, one comment stood out for me: The Latin American Women’s Rights Services stated: ‘We provide this service for women to come here and feel safe… in addition to this, it’s very important for women to see women doing this, and thinking they can do something like that in the future’. So women only space has a multitude of benefits. Helping women to feel safe and recover from sexual violence, and supporting their aspirations. All of the women that I have spoken to when preparing for this speech were positive about women only spaces, and how they should be protected.

The second benefit that stands out for me when looking at the service provided by Lincolnshire Rape Crisis is how this is a Feminist space. Why is this important? Do we need to identify as feminists in order to provision an appropriate service for women who have experienced sexual violence? Do we need feminism at all? The answer to this is a resounding ‘yes’! Feminism is the liberation of women from oppression, and the prevalence of sexual violence shows a clear need for feminism. The position of women in society contributes to the rate of sexual violence. Women being considered objects, lesser value and the property of men, leads to violence against women and girls. If we think of violence against women and girls as the trunk of a tree*, its roots are patriarchy.  Patriarchy upholds other oppressions, such as homophobia, class inequality, disability discrimination and racism.  The ‘branches’ of our Violence Against Women Tree are rape, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, domestic violence, stalking, trafficking, FGM, so-called honour based violence and gang related violence. We have to be able to name the problem of men’s violence in order to solve it.

Research confirms that men silence women just by their presence. Dale Spender did an experiment to find out just how this happens. She published her results in Man Made Language – which is a very interesting read. This is a summary of what she found:

    Present at the discussion, which was a workshop on sexism and education in London, were thirty-two women and five men. Apart from the fact that the tape revealed that the men talked for over 50 per cent of the time, it also revealed that what the men wanted to talk about – and the way in which they wanted to talk – was given precedence.

    […]

    There is no doubt in my mind that in this context at least (and I do not think it was an atypical one) it was the five males and not the thirty-two females who were defining the parameters of the talk. I suspect that neither the women nor the men were conscious of this. There was no overt hostility displayed towards the females who ‘strayed from the point’, but considerable pressure was applied by the males – and accepted without comment from the females – to confine the discussion to the male definition of the topic.

So what does this say? Men set the agenda. Men often talk over women, sometimes without any awareness that they’ve even done so. Women need space within which to discuss their oppression and manage their activism.  That space does not need to include men. If men wish to talk about feminism and the oppression of women, they do not need to be in women’s spaces in order to do this – men can use the space they have in the rest of the world, and make it more feminist.

In preparation for this speech, I did an unscientific straw poll of some of my women friends, all of whom identify as feminists. I asked them to sum up why we need feminist women only spaces in one or two sentences. These are the responses:

“Because of the sheer volume of women who’ve suffered at the hands of men, in many differing ways.  Women need a safe space to trust.”

“Without a feminist understanding, all we have are myths and excuses for men’s violence – all of which disempower women.”

“Because women need to feel totally safe.  That isn’t possible when men are around.”

“Men’s presence means they will be prioritised. Our shared consciousness is important.”

“Because men talk over us, undermine us, and attack us. We need the women running the services to understand how this is systemic.”

Recent research published by Ruth Lewis & Elizabeth Sharp following the North East Feminist Gathering in 2012 adds gravitas to the unscientific straw poll I’ve completed! Women said that being released from having to defend their feminist politics:

“enabled deep discussions. In this safe space, women explored their potential rather than censoring themselves. Safety fostered confidence to speak, to share, to explore one’s skills and talents as well as to be emotionally expressive.”

Defending ourselves from the everyday sexism experienced by all women takes up space that women should be free to use to free ourselves from oppression. Defending our politics is often exhausting. Understanding the roots of the ‘hairy man hating lesbian’ or ‘angry feminist’ tropes as homophobic and misogynistic gives us the freedom to challenge these concepts outside of feminist women only spaces. We should not need to explain what we do, or don’t do, with our body hair. Nor explain our sexuality. Being angry gets things done – we should be angry. Women make up almost 52% of the worlds population, and yet own less than 1% of the worlds property. In the UK, less that 16% of high court judges are women. This should make us all angry, not just those of us who identify as feminist. When a billion of us on the planet are exposed to men’s violence; when the atrocity of rape affects so many of us; when our internal risk assessments become completely normalised – we are right to be angry.

So how does EVB link with Rape Crisis? One of the most significant things we have in common with those services within the Rape Crisis network is that we believe women. When they disclose their experiences of sexual violence, we do not question what they did to ‘provoke’ the abuse. We do not suggest that they should have behaved differently in order to avoid abuse. We do not hold them responsible for the choices men make. And we use that word ‘choices’ deliberately. We do not believe that men are hardwired to be abusive. We know that they make a calculated choice to behave in that way; and that not all of them do so. Questioning a woman’s choices, what she was wearing, why she consumed alcohol, asking why she doesn’t leave, telling women how to avoid abuse, making women responsible for men’s choices – all of these contribute to the expectation that if women changed their behaviour, men would not abuse them.

In the few short months that we have been set up, many women have told us that we are the first people they have disclosed their experiences to. Our supporters said :

“Since finding your site, I can’t tell you how much it has changed my life. I finally felt safe enough to disclose all of the sexual violence I had experienced to my Rape Crisis counsellor. You told me that she’d believe me, and she did. Without your service, I might have taken that information to my grave”

“Thank you. Thank you for all that you do. When I found your site, I didn’t think my experiences were bad enough to be considered sexual violence. I decided to look at the support services you list on your site, and call my local Rape Crisis anyway. They helped me to see that there isn’t such a thing as ‘bad enough’, as we all have different experiences. I couldn’t have done this without you, knowing that you are there for all of us, regardless of how ‘bad’ our experience is considered to be.”

Comments such as these give us hope that we can challenge the institutional disbelief that affects so many survivors. Together, we can support women and say “we believe you and know it wasn’t your fault”.

(*Thanks to Imkaan for the Violence Against Women & Girls tree analogy)

Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]: This campaign is about changing the culture and language around violence against women and children.  We aim to challenge the view that men cannot help being violent and abusive towards women and children.  We want to challenge the view that women should attempt to ‘avoid’ abuse in order to not become a victim of it.  We challenge media reports of cases of violence against women and children where there is an almost wilful avoidance of the actual reasons for these acts.  Power, control, women and children being considered ‘possessions’ of men, and avoidance of personal responsibility all contribute to a societal structure that colludes with abusers and facilitates a safe space in which they can operate. This is what we are campaigning to change.

You can find more about Ending Victimisation and Blame‘s campaign on their website, Twitter, and Facebook.