Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow conference

This is the speech I had written for the Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow in May 2014. I didn’t actually say what I had written. Instead, I spoke specifically to male violence as a silencing tactic and erasure of women’s work because of male violence.

I want to thank every single woman who has supported AROOO since our inception. I never thought this network would be as successful as it so thank you.

Founding A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network

 

Male domination of speech, both in public and private, has been well proven in research for thirty years now.Margaret Atwood wrote about men dominating classrooms in early 1980s. Dale Spender wrote about it in The Writing or the Sex? in 1989.[1] There have been countless studies in education and within the workplace that demonstrate the silencing of women’s voices within the presence of men. Recently, the largest global study on violence against women found that it was the feminist movement that had the biggest impact on tackling the issue; much of this was accomplished with women-only spaces. Dworkin’s famous passage from her seminal text Intercourse is truer now than when she wrote it:

“Men often react to women’s words – speaking and writing – as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper, Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men – control, violence, insult, contempt – that no threat seems empty.”[2]

I have been online for nearly 20 years and the abuse of women online has gotten worse. The misogynistic attacks on feminists like Caroline Criado-Perez and the racist/ misogynist abuse directed at women of colour[3] make it very clear that online spaces are not safe for women. In many ways, Dworkin’s words are an understatement of what occurs online. Men’s reactions to women’s words has become more violent, more hateful, in many ways, more socially acceptable.Women can’t hear one another when we’re forced to plough through thousands of threats of rape, torture and death in online spaces. We lock our twitter accounts, censor ourselves and hope we don’t become the next target. We don’t need a threat to be directed at us personally to act as a silencing tactic.

The media explosion in the winter of 2013 on so-called “twitter wars” was the final impetus to the founding.The level of misogyny directed at women by male media for the crime of disagreeing with one another was simply unbearable. Much of what is dismissed as ‘twitter wars’ is marginalised women seeking recognition of the multiple oppressions within their lives. Dismissing these concerns as ‘twitter wars’ is a new patriarchal silencing tactic. The recognition of intersectionality is absolutely vital to the future of the feminist/womanist movements.we do need to acknowledge that women internalise misogyny and these traumas do impact on how women interacts with each other. Considering the trauma of being raised female in a racist, disablist, lesbophobic culture where male violence against women and girls is the norm, it’s hardly shocking that many women have internalised the woman-hating messages and lash out at each other. After all, lashing out at other women is unlikely to result in you dying which is a realistic fear of calling out men.

Rather, it was the assumption, mostly from men, that disagreements on activism and theory within the feminist movement were a sign of hysterical women incapable of rational thought. In my anger, A Room of our own was born. It is a women-only space both in terms of preventing men from joining the network but also actively preventing them from joining in conversations via comments and on twitter and Facebook. I started from the expectation that members will have fundamentally different definitions of feminism/ womanism and that these differences are worth exploring, debating and celebrating.

AROOO does have members with very strong opinions on issues like prostitution and pornography but we are also one of the only online spaces where radical feminists and pro-sex industry feminists share a platform. It’s for women new to feminism and womanism and for those who kick started what is commonly referred to as the Second Wave. I work very hard to keep it a safe space in face of quite intensive abuse and whining from me. Our youngest member is only 10 years old, and writes as Sexism in Schools. Giving her a feminist platform where disagreement, debate and discussion are encouraged and not dismissed as hysterical, irrational women fells really powerful. I want feminists and womanists, new and old, to experience the same. Many of our members have disabilities which prevent them from accessing ‘real life’ feminist activism or caring responsibilities that means they are trapped in the house. Online feminist spaces are essential for these women’s participation but also their mental health.

I do get a lot of complaints about alienating men, hurting their feelings and demands that we include men lest we be viewed as man-haters. Apparently, men can’t learn about women unless we expend our energy teaching them. Frankly, any man who can’t work out how to google isn’t someone I want to waste my time on. It also isn’t women’s responsibility to ensure that men never feel excluded. After all, very few men spend any time actually considering the exclusion and erasure of women.

More importantly, men spend vast amounts of time online policing women’s conversations and even the language we use. Men don’t spend vast amounts of time policing other men, even those making threats of violence. Women-only spaces remain fundamental to the success of feminism as a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women. Women need a space to discuss and debate issues without having to worry about male violence. The violent threats of rape and death are daily and most men don’t bother to challenge it. Instead, they pretend its some other man over there when we all know its not some random man on the internet. It’s actually most of them -either engaging in violence themselves or pretending it doesn’t exist.

The only way to stop the silencing of women is to uninvite men and that’s the lesson men need to take from this. If they insist on attending, whose voices are they really silencing?

[1] Dale Spender (http://dalespender.com.au)

[2] Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, (http://radfem.org/dworkin/)

[3] I have chosen only to name Caroline Criado-Perez here because two people have been convicted of abusing her via twitter. Women of colour experience misogynistic and racist abuse daily on twitter and neither twitter nor the police seem all that concerned about these attacks. As their names are not publicly known via press coverage, I will leave them unnamed to protect their anonymity. Criado-Perez has waved her anonymity in press coverage of her abuse.

[4] Bidisha’s personal blog: http://bidisha-online.blogspot.co.uk

[5] A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network (http://www.aroomofourown.org)

Reclaim the Night must remain women-only

(originally published in the Morning Star)

The Leeds Revolutionary Feminist group organised the first Reclaim the Night march in Britain in response to victim-blaming and poor practice by police officers in Yorkshire following the serial murders committed by Peter Sutcliffe.

The Byford Report into the investigation, released in 2006, made clear the serious failings of West Yorkshire Police which had actually interviewed Sutcliffe nine times during the investigation.

Very little has changed since 1977.

Only this week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has released a damning report on serious failings by the police to report crimes appropriately.

This includes under recording 26 per cent of rapes and sexual assaults reported to them. Considering less than 10 per cent of sexualised violence is reported to the police, this figure is an utter disgrace.

The West Yorkshire Police response to the brutal murders committed by Sutcliffe was to tell women to remain inside at night. This same “safety” advice is repeated by police forces across Britain to this day. Curtailing women’s freedom is a tried and trusted method of blaming women for being victims of a crime.

After all, no safety campaign ever suggests that violent men — and the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men — remain inside in case they are overcome by the urge to commit violence.

Instead, we tell women what to wear, where they can go, and what they are allowed to drink.

If only women stayed inside at night (and if you work shift work, well, that’s your fault too) or wore longer skirts or were more polite to men, then men wouldn’t feel obligated to harm them.

Reclaim the Night is about women standing together and reclaiming public spaces. It is about women supporting women and raising awareness of the reality of male violence and the consequences of it on the bodies of women and children.

They were a reaction to police failures but also about a community of women.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the new Reclaim the Night marches in London. It is the largest march in Britain but also one of the few that remains women-only.

The trend now is to allow men to attend. Supposedly this inclusion is to ensure that men feel involved in the campaign. In reality, the inclusion of men makes a mockery of the spirit of Reclaim the Night.

Reclaim the Night is meant to be a safe space for survivors of male violence. Many of the women marching will have experienced rape, 90 per cent by a man known to them, and then were blamed for that rape.

Focus on male inclusion is at the expense of survivors of sexual violence. The concerns of these women are dismissed by the prioritisation of men’s feelings — and it is very clear that male inclusion is about men’s feelings.

I have attended numerous Reclaim the Night marches over the years. So many have been forced into including men. These men show up at planning meetings demanding the right to attend and silence any woman who objects by insinuating they are hysterical or silly.

They replicate the same male entitlement that results in rape culture and this is without addressing the men who see Reclaim the Night as their own personal dating pool. Nothing quite says sexism like a man propositioning women on a march about sexual violence.

One concession has been the creation of women-only sections at the front of marches. Women are forced to ask permission to walk in public with other women which rather negates the point of women reclaiming the street.

These sections mark survivors out as “other.” If you walk in one, you are the problem — not the men insisting on their right to access all women’s spaces.

At one Edinburgh march, a man following the women’s block kept banging into the women in the “safe space” in the march. He couldn’t understand why women were so angry at being touched, repeatedly, by a man in a march about sexual violence. He clearly thought he was a “feminist ally.”

The women he was touching without permission saw him as the problem. Women had come to march to end male violence but even in this safe space they could not prevent a man from touching them without permission.

Reclaim the Night marches must remain women-only — anything else is the capitulation of the fight for the liberation of women and the continuing violation of women’s boundaries.

Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings

Earlier this week, I was asked to put a trigger warning on an article I published on A Room of Our Own. The request wasn’t to include a trigger warning about domestic violence or self-harm or rape or the consequences of limited options of women living in a patriarchy. It wasn’t about the reality of male violence. I was asked to include a trigger warning on a post written by a woman who regrets having an abortion. Apparently, a feminist space which includes a very personal post by a woman who regrets her abortion – an abortion she was effectively forced into – isn’t a ‘safe space’. The violence this women experienced did not require a trigger warning, but regretting an abortion does.

A Room of Our Own started in December 2013. Since then, I have published articles on rape, domestic violence, murder, infant loss, post-partum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, racism, homophobia and all forms of violence against women and girls. The very first request for a trigger warning was on an article where a woman expressed regret about an abortion – an abortion that was a direct consequence of male violence. Seemingly, this one article where a feminist spoke of her regret was enough to invalidate the entirety of the blogging network.

AROOO was never intended to be a ‘safe space’. It was created to combat cultural femicide by building a space where a full gamut of feminist and womanist thoughts, musings, anger and reality was explored. It was never intended to be a space where everyone agrees with everyone else. And, this is the problem with the current rhetoric around ‘safe space’. It isn’t about ensuring that women have a place to discuss without experiencing male violence or silencing.

Currently, ‘safe space’ means a space in which no one disagrees with one another ever. There is no room for discussion or questioning. We see campaigns to have women no-platformed for daring to criticise the sex industry as criticism might hurt the feelings of women who work in it. The feelings of the many women who have survived prostitution don’t count in the rhetoric. Instead, we see sex workers referring to abolitionists with abusive names – a member of the sex-worker open university used the name ‘Rachel Whoran’ on their twitter account for ages. Former prostituted women who talk openly about their experiences of rape and abuse are mocked, insulted and harassed by supporters of the sex industry (including members of the Sex Worker Open University). Where is the safe space for women to talk about their negative experiences? Why aren’t they entitled to the same right to a safe space?

There are attempts to prevent university student unions from saying anything critical about the sex industry because it makes it an “unsafe space” for students working in it without giving a thought to the fact that many of their students working in it are actually unsafe. The motions put forward by some students unions would effectively bar their officers from supporting a woman leaving prostitution if she so chose because it wouldn’t be a ‘safe space’ for women who want to remain in it. How does this make universities safe for female students?

The answer is pretty clear: it doesn’t and it isn’t intended to make them safe. Young women on campus experience high levels of sexual harassment and violence and it is now individuals which criticise the sex industry that are blamed for making them ‘unsafe’. It isn’t the fault of the rapists on campus or the university management who collude with rapists, but feminists criticising pole dancing as ’empowerment’ for women (and until I see someone suggest that members of the UN take up pole dancing to empower themselves, I’m going to keep believing it is nothing more than a misogynistic attempt to limit women’s choices through perforative constructions of their sexuality).

This idea that universities must become ‘safe spaces’ free of dissent or discussion is infantilising an entire generation of students. Staff put content notes on lectures which some students might find difficult, but you cannot study history without learning about genocide, mass rape and religious wars. There is no literature, in any language, which is free from racism, homophobia, classism, and misogyny. Science is not free from these structures. You can put a content note on a lecture which discusses Sapphire’s Push, but that note isn’t about supporting the students who are living with child sexual abuse. It’s a clause that allows students to refuse to engage with material that they might find challenging. How many times have I heard students refuse to read about the Holocaust because the thought of it upsets them? And, those who want learn about the V2 rockets because machines are cool and not the thousands of slave-labourers who died building them because it made them sad.

We absolutely do need to make universities safer for female students – not by preventing discussions on difficult topics but by actually tackling rape culture on campus appropriately. Today’s tweet from the National Union Students Women’s Group asking the audience at their event to stop clapping as it “triggers anxiety” demonstrates the failure of universities and students unions to understand the difference between a space free from male violence and a space free from anxiety.

I suffer anxiety in these kinds of situations. I can fake it now but social situations make me incredibly anxious and I do not like loud noises, like prolonged clapping. My daughter still hates the sounds of hand dryers in public toilets and the flushing mechanism on trains and planes. The noise makes her visibly upset. Equally, the use of ‘jazz hands’ isn’t new. It’s common in BSL and is used with children who have auditory sensitivities. It is a way of managing specific situations where clapping would not be appropriate.

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Women who have survived sexual and domestic violence and abuse can be triggered by a million sounds: police sirens, stomping, whistling, a name. We cannot stop every single thing that might potentially trigger a student – we can help them access appropriate support and help them find ways to manage their anxiety, but we can’t pretend away the very things which caused their anxiety or PTSD in the first place.

NUS Women’s Group tweet requesting delegates not clap demonstrates the fundamental need for immediate, specialist training of all students unions officers and all staff on campuses in trauma awareness, as well as male violence. This type of suggestion doesn’t read as though it comes from someone with an in depth understanding of trauma, but rather from someone performing what they assume is social justice – as was the request for me to put a trigger warning on an article about women’s abortion regret.

This is the reality of discussions around safe spaces and triggers warnings now – its all about the performance and not actually making spaces free from rape and other forms of male violence.

 

 

Why Men Can’t Be Feminists Redux

 

They say shit like this on twitter and think it makes them a feminist and a gender egalitarian.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 09.34.26

 

Granted, it’s possible he’s being ironic in his twitter bio:

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 09.36.15But, we all know he isn’t. And, this is why men can’t be feminists.  Hell, it’s why most men who identify as feminist are suspect.

Suggesting that women who wear a religious item of clothing are “spineless” is misogyny. It is a total failure to understand structural oppression, choice, faith, and survival. It is equally racist.

Women aren’t property but we also aren’t spineless or stupid – as this man implies. Women make choices within a very limited range to survive. Many women have no choice not to wear the hijab because of threats of violence within the home or the community. Others choose to wear a hijab for a million reasons that this man is clearly too dim to even begin to contemplate.

Telling a woman to wear/not wear an item of clothing is just a bullshit erasure of male supremacy and structural oppression. It holds women accountable for men’s behaviour.

The Dude who came up with #NoHijabDay is equally as misogynistic and racist, but at least he’s not pretending to be a feminist. Not that that is any comfort whatsoever in the grand scheme of things.

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Feminism, Men and Women-Only Spaces

The demise of feminism is back in the news again. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Katy Perry have 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 backlashto 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.


I support women-only spaces. I think they remain fundamental to the success of feminism as a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women. Yet, no one ever seems to ask feminists why they believe women-only spaces are important or why the exclusion of men from *some* feminist events is necessary for revolution. No one asks why feminists are moving back to women-only organising or why feminists are increasingly identifying as political lesbians or lesbian separatists?  Why are women-only spaces, once again, becoming so important? No one asks why there is such a backlash to thought of women-only organising? When people do ask, they don’t appear to be hearing the answer.


Whilst the inclusion of men within the movement is necessary, they do not need to be involved at every meeting and conference. There are thousands of ways that men can be, and are, involved with feminist activism that doesn’t require them encroaching on women-only spaces. They can help financially support women’s organisations like Rape Crisis, Shakti Women’s AidWomen’s Aid, Nia, or Southall Black Sisters. Men can join activist groups like Object, UK Feminista, Fawcett Society, and Abortion Rights. Men can fundraise by holding car washes and bake sales. They can join the White Ribbon Campaign and help to raise awareness about male violence against women and children.


The most important thing men can do to help the feminist movement is to challenge sexism every time they witness it. They have to challenge every rape joke. They have to challenge every man who minimises domestic violence. They have to step up every time; not just once in a while but every time they witness sexism. Sometimes this means they have to challenge themselves and recognise that their own behaviour is sexist. Sometimes it means accepting that they won’t be allowed into every feminist space. As a white, heterosexual feminist it would be hypocritical of me to demand to be allowed into feminist spaces for Black, Ethnic and Minority Women. It would be equally hypocritical for me to demand entry into a feminist space for lesbians-only, just as it would be hypocritical for me to demand entry into a room of male survivors of sexual violence or testicular cancer. Campaigning for women’s liberation to bring about the destruction of the capitalist-patriarchy and the creation of true equality does not mean every person deserves equal access. It means hearing the specific needs of specific groups and taking those into account. Like kindergarten, it’s about learning fairness.


We need men in the feminist movement. We need men who understand the real long-term effects of male violence. We need men who listen. We need men who support without dominating. Male domination of speech, both in public and private, has been well proven in research for thirty years now. Dale Spender wrote about it in The Writing of the Sex? in 1989. Andrea Dworkin wrote about male silencing tactics in her classic text Intercourse:

“Men often react to women’s words – speaking and writing – as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper, Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men – control, violence, insult, contempt – that no threat seems empty.”

Margaret Atwood wrote about men dominating classrooms in early 1980s. There have been countless studies in education and within the workplace that demonstrate the silencing of women’s voices within the presence of men. The largest global study on violence against women found that it was the feminist movement that had the biggest impact on tackling the issue; much of this was accomplished with women-only spaces. This is what men need to recognise and understand.


The main reason why I believe women-only spaces are integral to the feminist movement is because the silencing of women’s voices never stops. Sometimes the only way to stop the silencing is to uninvite men and that’s the lesson men need to take from this. If they insist on attending, whose voices are they really silencing?

Published in the Huffington Post here.

I Thought This Was Kind Of Obvious: Women Organising For Women

Now, I haven’t actually read the full study yet, mostly because I can’t remember my JSTOR password (or even know if the journal is covered by JSTOR), however this brief announcement leads me to believe this is one of those things that is totally self-evident to feminists and only needed to be undertaken as research owing to the preponderance of stupid MRAs running about. Turns out, the biggest factor in causing positive change in the War on Women is the feminist movement. The study, published in the American Political Science Review, the largest of its kind, was “conducted over four decades and in 70 countries reveals the mobilization of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians.” 

This is the release:  

The study in the latest issue of American Political Science Review (APSR), published by Cambridge University Press for the American Political Science Association (APSA), found that in feminist movements that were autonomous from political parties and the state, women were able to articulate and organize around their top priorities as women, without having to answer to broader organizational concerns or mens’ needs. Mobilizing across countries, feminist movements urged governments to approve global and regional norms and agreements on violence. 

Strong, autonomous feminist movements were the first to articulate the issue of violence against women and the key catalysts for government action, with other organizations sidelining issues perceived as being only important to women. Strong movements commanded public support and attention, and convinced the media the issues were important for public discussion. In countries that were slower to adopt policies on violence, feminist movements leveraged global and regional agreements to push for local policy change.
S. Laurel Weldon, co-author of the study, said: “Violence against women is a global problem. Research from North America, Europe, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia has found astonishingly high rates of sexual assault, stalking, trafficking, violence in intimate relationships, and other violations of women’s bodies and psyches. In Europe it is a bigger danger to women than cancer, with 45 per cent of European women experiencing some form of physical or sexual violence. Rates are similar in North America, Australia and New Zealand and studies in Asia, Latin America and Africa show that violence towards women there is ubiquitous.”
 

The scope of data for the study is unprecedented. The study includes every region of the world, varying degrees of democracy, rich and poor countries, and a variety of world religions – it encompasses 85 per cent of the world’s population. Analyzing the data took five years, which is why the most recent year covered is 2005. 

Mala Htun, co-author of the study, adds: “Social movements shape public and government agendas and create the political will to address issues. Government action, in turn, sends a signal about national priorities and the meaning of citizenship. The roots of change of progressive social policies lie in civil society.”  

So, basically, women organising for women’s rights and the end to VAW is the single most important factor in change. I hope we all remember that the next time MRAs try to derail women-only conferences and activism. Of course, they may never hear about this study since it’s unlikely to get massive media attention.

And, if anyone can access the study for me, I’d be profoundly grateful. 

In Defence of Women-Only Spaces

I’ve been thinking about the issue of women-only spaces recently but two events have crystallized for me just how necessary women-only spaces are and how much the requirement that “everyone” be included simply excludes women. At least, when I first started thinking about writing this blogpost it was based on my feelings of two protest marches that I had just attended. Then, the unnecessary violent response of a group of MRAs towards the women dominated safe space that is Mumsnet made me realise just how frightening some men find women-only spaces. Or, as my dear friend Blackcurrants, once said:

Honestly, I think some men walk into a space where they are not likely to be (1) amongst other men and thereby automatically treated as ‘in the gang’ or (2) fawned over by women who think they exist to make men feel good and have a complete existential crisis. If the world doesn’t revolve around ME, an insecure man thinks, it can’t be working right! PANNIIIIC!

I suspect that for some men, women-dominated spaces are a threat to their perceived sense of entitlement to be the voice that gets heard. And women-only spaces are threatening because, as the oppressing class has always known when they try to restrict the ability of the oppressed class to gather together unmonitored- they must be up to something. Protecting women-only spaces is more and more important as formerly safe places are lost under the guise of being “fair” to all sex/genders, which is a policy that just ignores the political, social and cultural implications of The Patriarchy as it affects and effects all marginalised groups.

I’ve been on lots of protest marches: against the war in Iraq, nuclear weapons, against the current destructive cuts in the Welfare Bill, in support of youth and leisure centers, Reclaim the Night, and Million Women Rise. Of these only the Reclaim the Night and Million Women Rise marches in London have been advertised as women-only. There is a very real difference in being in a woman-only protest march. It simply feels safer because the organisers make the effort to include vulnerable and marginalised women. This starts with allowing disabled women to march at the front in a protected space. It does have secondary impact of slowing down the march and ensuring that the march take up as much space as possible for as long as possible. More importantly, however, it ensures that disabled women are considered an essential part of the protest and not simply an inconvenience.

The two events which crystallised this for me were the Million Women Rise March 2012 and the International Women’s Day: March Against the Cuts. Million Women Rise was inclusive with transport arranged for those who did not feel physically able to complete the march. This included women who were pregnant and had mobility problems as a consequence. This is a group of women normally ignored because pregnancy is a “choice” and it isn’t “permanent.” Both of these theories require a refusal to acknowledge just how much damage pregnancy can do to a woman’s body. More importantly, no one was bumped into or knocked over and children were free to bounce about shouting slogans and dancing because they were safe. They were safe because they were in a protected space where everyone’s particular needs were catered for and attended to. Being knocked and bumped is a very real problem for many women due not only to physical disabilities which make it extremely painful but also the added trauma of women who have experienced sexualised violence. Being knocked into by men does not make these women feel safer or feel like the protest respects their bodily integrity and personal experience. It simply further marginalises already marginalised women.

The International Women’s Day: March Against the Cuts held in Glasgow on the Saturday following Million Women Rise was a very different atmosphere. It was specifically organised to recognise the very deliberate gendered effect of the cuts on women but it was not a women-only space and it showed. Two men holding a large banner kept walking over women in order to get closer to the front of the march. Having a large banner bash you in the back of the head is hardly a pleasant experience. It is also completely defeats the purpose of a march about gendered political experiences when two men decide that their voices must be more visible that women. There was no attempt to make sure that the march was inclusive of marginalised women and resulted in disabled women being left behind and trailing the march whilst the police tried to hurry us on. The police always try to hurry marches up; in a protected march this doesn’t happen because the organisers are aware of the issue. This is not the deliberate fault of the organisers themselves but is what happens when men are involved and women’s [and other marginalised people] needs are not addressed. Men take over the space and make it about them. They marginalise women without even being conscious of doing so because they are so used to being in charge and being heard.

The last two Reclaim The Night marches in Edinburgh resulted in similar behaviour with the distressing addition of the male band conductor repeatedly banging into several disabled women without ever once apologising or making an effort to be more aware of the effects of this behaviour. When men are involved, women’s voices get silenced. We need to stop that. One of the best academic examples of this type of male behaviour is a study of classroom behaviour of men and women undertaken at Harvard. As feminists, we need to stop pandering to these men and make sure that all our sisters are involved and heard.

The second problem with including the men who whine about not being allowed to participate in women-only marches and demonstrations is that they never ever show up nor do they bother to take responsibility for organising their own protests. If they did, I would show up because I truly believe that the Capitalist Patriarchy is harmful for everyone. But, they never do and that is the problem. Women are asked to be “inclusive” which allows men to abdicate responsibility for standing up and being counted. The notable exception to this the White Ribbon Campaign which is organised by men in response to the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal in 1989 wherein a male gunman killed 14 women, injured 10 more women before killing himself. However, it is not surprising that when we think of the massacre of these beautiful and talented women, we can immediately name the perpetrator and not his victims. These are the women who paid with their lives for the “privilege” of entering male-space:

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

We need only-women rooms to give us space to breathe, to love and support one another and to hear one another. Unless we start hearing each other, we won’t ever be able to support one another and that is what women-only spaces give us: the opportunity to just be.