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.
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.