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SAFE(R) SPACES- WHY SOME EVENTS EXCLUDE MEN.

More and more frequently you might come event descriptions that are “FLINTA only”, meaning that those formats provide a space for women, inter, trans, non-binary and agender people solely. This has lead to a lot of discussions among companies who wonder, whether they too should offer the option for exchange based on gender. In our workshops many employees feel torn between the idea of supporting women and marginalised people on the one hand and the fear of excluding cis-men*.


Safe(r) Spaces: because neutral places are not neutral.


Safe(r) spaces are places (in physical or non-physical space) that aim to provide minorities with a feeling of (emotional) safety in order to network, exchange ideas or create together. Why do we need this and why do we have to exclude other people?

 

There seem to be many misunderstandings in connection with the topic of safe(r) spaces and a lot of confusion as to why one would exclude men, or anyone on the basis of gender for that matter. To put it simply, safe(r) spaces assume that there are benefits in enabling women, inter, trans and non-binary people to be among each other in order to enable a safe (or at least safer) space for exchange.

 

Unfortunately, the "normal" places that we provide in our society and in which gatherings take place are not neutral. There is no such thing as neutral in our society, because the power over how gatherings are organised has historically rested with white men, who have oriented them towards their needs. These structures still have an effect today, for example, they lead to men being more present in public life (especially in the evenings and at night), holding more board and other leadership roles and political offices. Put simply, you could say that most contexts in our society have a bias (such as public life, work, research, etc.).


 Safe(r) spaces: Why would you exclude cis men from the event? 

 

In gender studies, contexts such as those listed above are understood as social fields whose culture reproduces social gender relations (Paulitz, 2012). They have established a gendered practice that is so normalised that most people do not even notice it. Studies show, for example, that the proportion of speech between the genders is perceived as balanced, even if women are interrupted more often than average and say far less.

 

In research, for example, the centuries-long exclusion of women established an inherently male habitus of the scientist. This image still characterises research culture today and continues to represent forms of discrimination against women (Weller, 2006). As a historically evolved institutional space for the reproduction and construction of binary gender, research and the associations associated with it is a male-dominated sphere in which the "reconstruction of processes of gender differentiation" (ibid., p.127) takes place and men are stylised as gender-typical actors with corresponding organisational hierarchies.


Sharing common experiences without having to explain oneself is empowering

 

Of course, not all men benefit from these after-effects. Men also suffer from the patriarchy, many would like more freedom to develop or would like to structure their work differently. However, the consequences for other groups are much more damaging. For groups that are particularly affected by patriarchy due to their social identities, a space away from the realities and divisions of power can be an important tool for exchanging ideas and sharing experiences based on their identities. Especially when it comes to experiences of discrimination in relation to physical and mental wellbeing, it is helpful to provide a space where people can share their experiences without feeling like a minority. 


 Safe(r) spaces: Why are cis men not allowed to take part in the event? 
 Safe(r) spaces: Why are cis men not allowed to take part in the event? 

For example, BIPoC gatherings that explicitly exclude white people are an opportunity to share collective experiences without having to explain or even justify them. Or without having to do the educational work that defines everyday life for many marginalised communities. The purpose, similar to formats that exclude cis men, is to find a common understanding of the existing mechanisms of action that make it difficult or even impossible for such groups to navigate systems in which power is unequally distributed.

 

Seperation based on gender is a not a goal but rather a helpful tool in the process of achieving gender equity

 

So it's not about excluding cis men from the discourse, nor is it about painting the image of men as villains. On the contrary: it's not really about cis men at all. It's about creating a space in which a community can develop that is far removed from the conditions that have characterised us for centuries. Since gender differentiation is firmly anchored in our society as a continuous social practice, we need to break through it as a way out.


There is plenty of criticism about safe(r) spaces. Assuming shared experiences based on solely one social category does not do justice to other social categories that shape one's life. Thus, events that exclude men for the sake of fostering an environment that is based on a shared experience of women might actually only work for white women and not be safe for women of colour or women with disabilities. Some argue for establishing other concepts, such as braver spaces.

 

For us, safe(r) spaces function selectively. They are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. The idea is to give people the chance to talk about very personal things that others can empathise with - because they are discriminated against in the same way due to their gender identity and have had corresponding experiences. This includes issues such as sexual harassment, abuse of power, care work, which disproportionately affect people who have been socialised and/or read as women. This brings people together and encourages them to take a collective stand against these systemic disadvantages. However, this first requires a collective awareness, otherwise those affected far too often think they are "the only ones".

 

And then, that much is also clear, cis men have to be brought on board - a joint commitment to equality is the only way.

 


*Cis men are men who have been assigned male from birth.

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