Friday, February 1, 2013

The Fallacy of the "Women's Space"

Something that I think has been plaguing LGBTQ communities in particular for quite some time is the controversy surrounding the "women's space."  There is no doubt that, in theory, the idea is very appealing: a space women can go to where they can escape the pressures of the patriarchal society in which we live.  Still, when in an LGBTQ context, this can become sticky.  If a women's space is put into effect, who then decides what the qualifications of "woman" are?  Can one do this by the way a person looks or dresses?  Does long hair or an affinity for skirts make someone a woman?  I believe that this isn't the case; the topic of gender and sex, after all, is far more complicated than that.  Trans* people of varying identities may or may not feel a claim on the space as well, and therein the mere descriptor of "woman" (as society commonly defines it) becomes inadequate.

This issue is one that I have seen everywhere, to varying degrees, and it is most touchy when applied to a space that is also aimed at LGBTQ individuals, such as the Gender and Sexuality Center or an organization or group that is advertised for LGBTQ-identifying women.  Recently, too, I went to use the bathroom and was stopped by a sign that I saw pasted on the door of the women's bathroom.  It said: THIS BATHROOM IS FOR WOMEN ONLY!! in big, menacing letters.  I was halted by this for a moment, thinking about the implications of that, and found it strange that the men's bathroom didn't also have a similar sign on its door.  I suppose I can make several assumptions as to why this is, but the bottom line is that a sign like this has several unfortunate implications.  Though it may seek to protect the safety of women who want to peacefully use the restroom, it also creates an uncomfortable climate for trans* people, for whom the mundane task of using the bathroom may already be stressful.

The reality is, signs like that exist everywhere, whether implied through attitude and prejudices or physically manifested.  These signs shows up explicitly in regards to women's only spaces, and it becomes difficult to tell what it means for all those who want to claim those spaces.  I believe that it should be possible for women to have their own space while still allowing trans* identified individuals to fit in and feel comfortable.  The biggest obstacle, I believe, is combating the transphobia that can exist among women and, as I have seen most particularly, lesbians.  Of course, I don't think that this will ever be an easy issue to solve, but I do think that it is possible to get closer and closer to creating a setting for female-identified individuals and all those who might rightfully claim that space through dialogue and re-evaluation of what "women's space" truly means, as I believe that definition can be quite different for everyone.

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