Lauren’s post on women’s spaces asks some really good questions. In fact, one question in particular is serving as a jumping off place for this post: “If we want to break down male-only clubs and structures, what’s the point of building female-only spaces? Isn’t that moving in the opposite direction of what we all want?”
I’ve been practicing saying this word and so I will say it now, in my most resounding and confident Internet-voice possible: “No!”
Last year I was speaking with a close friend of mine at Union and I asked her what it would be like, or what it feels like if or when white people enter predominantly Black spaces, churches in particular. “Why can’t we all just worship together and get along,” I thought. My friend told me something that changed me forever: when white people come into Black spaces they bring their privilege with them. Privilege means when you and another person are vying for the same opportunity, odds are you’re going to get it because the system is constructed by people like you for people like you. And while whites, males, the rich, and straight, cisgendered people, etc. might be intentional allies, they can never truly shed their privilege because it is woven into the fabric of the system in which they live. Granted, privilege works differently for people in different contexts; a poor, straight, white farmer will certainly experience his [straight, white, male] privilege differently than an rich gay black actress will experience her [upper-class] privilege.
That said, I understand that compartmentalizing privilege is really frustrating when considering the entire human experience. But that does not mean that one cannot consider isolated privilege dynamics such as the ones named above (class, race, etc.). No matter how hard someone is trying to be an ally to someone who has less privilege within one of these isolated aspects, they cannot possibly be aware of the entirety of their own privilege. This is because, when one acts out of his/her own privilege, s/he probably won’t sense a whole lot of tension. This is because s/he is operating within the status quo, thus his/her systems of meaning-making won’t be challenged, and s/he won’t change.
So, what does this mean for spaces reserved for those who are not privileged by their contextual system? They are completely, absolutely, necessary for all those interested in radical social change. The disenfranchised need places where the privileged are not present in order to share deeply personal and even dangerous experiences, develop new systems of thought, come together to support and protect each other, and strategize to get out into the system and fuck. it. up.
Now, if you’re still worried these places will be isolation chambers that serve no purpose after all that, please excuse me while I have a good laugh, and ask you to take a good look at your motives. All Female, all Black, all Queer, all Poor, etc. spaces are almost constantly infiltrated by the pernicious force of their oppressors. The moments of true escape from the forces of the powerful are rare and they are precious. So, please, if you really want to be an ally, allow us to create these spaces and help us protect them. And when we emerge from them (we will emerge), ask us what you can do to help.