Do We Still Need Women’s Only Spaces?

by June 10, 2015
filed under Activism
Topics ,

women in a bike shop

I’m not going to lie…I used to think women’s only spaces were a stupid idea. Wait! Hear me out! Please don’t take away my Feminist card, I need it to go to cool parties and rally against the patriarchy!

I realize my ignorance was a product of my privilege. That privilege being is that I rarely feel uncomfortable in male-dominated environments. With that privilege, I figured having women’s only spaces worsened the cause of helping women feel comfortable with men, and thought it was being discriminatory against men.

This opinion couldn’t be further from the intent of having those spaces, and I think what has happened recently with the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society (EBC) is a reflection of that ignorance.

For 3 sundays a month, the EBC hosts a women, trans and gender night where volunteer bike mechanics are available to help customers purchase, fix or build bicycles. On May 31, a man by the name of John walked into the space with his wife and 2 daughters, only to be told that he couldn’t enter. This provoked him to file a complaint to the human rights commission, as he felt discriminated against.

The EBC hosts these nights to to recruit more volunteer mechanics and to promote a more inclusive space during the week. Mechanic work is a field dominated by men, and these nights are important for promoting gender equality.
You can preach all you want that male-dominated spaces accept women, but I grew up with a father in the oil industry. I know the whole ‘the old lady is mad at me for not cleaning up’ attitude. I have interests and hobbies that are considered ‘masculine’ and have had to fight for my space and a voice all my life. Women know what goes on in the ol’ boys club, and we’ve been observing it our whole lives. So to balance this out, we’ve started our own clubs to become the participant rather than the observer.

John experienced being the observer that day. Something he’s probably rarely encountered. He’s never had a man come up to him at a bike shop, call him sweetheart and try to sell him a lesser product. He’s never overheard a misandrist conversation while at the mechanic, then felt torn between getting what he needed and leaving a potentially toxic situation.

But on that sunday, John was told he came on the wrong day, because it was a women, trans and gender non-binary night, and that he could come back the next day to get what he needed. And instead of reflection, this man chose to react to feelings of rejection. Rejection can cause a man to forget to listen, and make him cry ‘reverse sexism’ without thinking about why that space needed to exist in the first place.

Rejection can prevent a woman to take her bike, car, mechanical appliances, etc for repairs. Potentially causing worse problems, or accidents down the line.

Rejection can cause a gender non-binary person to hide their true identity and expression, which can result in depression and feelings of anxiety in social situations.

Rejection can cause a trans person to turn to suicide because they feel they’re not welcomed.
Creating an environment for women, trans and gender non-binary people to excel in multiple ways is crucial. It fosters a sense of community that we desperately need.

The intent is not to discriminate or hate against men, but to empower a group who often feels powerless – to nurture past hurts, and slowly recover from a life time of rejection – a mechanical group therapy session if you will.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to ride my bike.

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