• Cynthia Roy

Why We Need Women-Only Spaces


Women’s March events are upon us. Men may be excluded from some of the events and it might not be for the reasons you think.


Last year, organizers of the Southcoast Women’s March hosted a female-only (including non binary individuals) luncheon. The event was a forum to frankly discuss our challenges that we felt hadn’t made as much progress as we would have liked.


A nurse got up and shared a story about what is commonly referred to as "tone-policing." She had noticed her voice’s tone change when she talked with the male doctors on staff. Another woman chimed in to add that she found herself apologizing with “I’m sorry but…” before she asked for something required to do her job. A police officer shared that she needed to "demand" respect in order to get it.


Topics ranged from diet culture and body positivity to birth control and reproduction to voting and leadership. The women’s voice and posture would have been different if men had been in the room, which is why they were invited to join the event after the discussion wasn’t sensitive. This wasn't a space for participants who don’t have first-hand experience of being a woman or having a female body.


But, beyond the topics being relevant to women, there is a much greater reason -- and we'd argue the reason -- we need to be exclusive sometimes.


It's liberating for women to be alone together. In this space we get to be our authentic selves. We share honestly and vulnerably. We get the opportunity to fill roles we are traditionally excluded from and be the players. Our agency is activated. We are intellectually and emotionally expressive. We swear, we cry, we do whatever the hell we feel in our hearts, because we aren't in the presence of the oppressor -- the ones who've kept us silent or small.


Women get together with other women not because we are exclusive. We get together with other women to FEEL our power so that we may then leave our space and head out into a historically oppressive world to exercise our influence and share power.


Women get together with other women not because we are exclusive. We get together with other women to FEEL our power so that we may then leave our space and head out into a historically oppressive world to exercise our influence and share power.

We create these spaces and take these moments in order to equalize the playing field.


Because of a resurgence of sisterhood over the past two years, women have bravely faced the longstanding sexual harassment in the workplace, and civic engagement has boomed. Record numbers of women are no longer just the players in female-exclusive spaces, but are taking their place by the sides of their male counterparts. By activating women and through solidarity, we’ve seen some of the greatest social movements in history, including abolition, the creation of public education, and the 40-hour work week. The most recent energy is encouraging more women going into the building trades and technology, and new records of women and minorities running and winning public office.


Men must be part of the fight for equality and there is great value in practicing feminism in a gender-inclusive way.


Why is it so hard for a few vocal opponents to allow us a moment of fellowship? Female-only gatherings can't remain a baffling concept.


Authors:

Diana Painter of Fairhaven, MA. is an associate board member of Shout Out Loud, a non-profit that is working to end child sex slavery in Massachusetts, and one of many organizers for the 2019 Southcoast Women’s March.


Cynthia Roy of New Bedford, MA. is a high school educator of thirteen years with experience in organizing. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Lesley University and is the author of the blog www.moveshakeeducate.com