Women Only Spaces and the Demonization of Men
Planting the seeds for a women-only music festival in Sweden, its founder tweeted, “What do you think about us creating an awesome festival where only non-men are welcome until ALL men learn how to behave?”
Well, she had me at "non-men." Had me laughing, that is.
Identity politics and the #MeToo movement have gone overboard in the terminology department, and perhaps in the ideology department as well. Demonizing men is not the answer, in my opinion, and yes, #MeToo, I'm speaking as a victim of assault, rape, and a male boss who demanded that I cover up my luxurious armpit hair.
Punishing cisgender men, ahem, for the behavior of their worst cohort is counter-productive and absurd. Just as some women are proudly anti-feminist and anti-choice, but we don't believe they represent Womanhood, men deserve a rational response to the problems of patriarchy.
In other words, my husband and sons and my close male friends don't deserve being tarred and feathered as the Brotherhood of Brett Kavanagh and Harvey Weinstein. Excluding them from public events is wildly discriminatory. Getting together to indulge in our distrust of men is just a glorified hen party. As women, we need to understand and empathize with the pressure men feel to project masculinity. Artist Grayson Perry makes a good point when he describes masculinity as "a straight-jacket that is keeping men from being themselves, whatever that means."
The rules of traditional masculinity are harmful to both genders, despite the privileges of power conferred on men. The constant pressure to be strong, in charge, unemotional and infallible is the key to behaviors we rightly view as toxic. But we all need to examine this together, not as warring factions. We need a conversation, not a sermon where men are admonished for speaking.
I was fascinated to learn about a ladies-only retreat called SuperShe Island, off the coast of Norway. It's a place for wealthy women to lie around saying "Namaste" and walk around feeling empowered. Aspiring members are asked the question, “Have you ever wanted to run away to a deserted island, breathe fresh air, swim naked in the sea, and sleep under the stars?" For $4,675, the chosen few can embrace their female energy with no pesky men around to spoil things. The cabins were built by men, who were then whisked off the island (or eaten by female black widows for all I know.)
Other female-only social clubs are sprouting worldwide, promising a new way for women to network. A company called The Wing, with its flagship female-only space in New York City, offers among its benefits a "beauty room" stocked with products by Chanel, a brand partner. The Wing now has 1,500 members paying between $2,100 and $3,000 a year, with a long waiting list. It has more than 150,000 Instagram followers and has launched its own magazine, called (duh) No Man's Land. Its motto is "The Magazine for Women with Something to Say and Nothing to Prove."
While the notion of female-only doesn't necessarily mean a world of Goop Gone Wrong, it does suggest a new form of discrimination that smacks of hypocrisy. Only the moneyed class has the option of kicking out men, for one thing, and the ennobling of females offers no mechanism for social change.
Viewing all men as potential rapists is not the way forward. A performer at the Swedish man-free music festival discussed the "dangerous atmosphere” at integrated festivals, telling a reporter: “You cannot relax; you don’t feel safe. You have to hold your keys in your hand like a weapon. You have to hold your cellphone in your hand ready to call the police.”
And yet most of us trust the men we know, and feel comfortable in their presence. Among the comments on an AFP report about the festival, was one that spoke to me personally.
"I am so glad that this is not an issue for me. I like people - including men who identify with the gender they were born with. The vast majority of men I know are kind and harmless and I do not ever want to treat them disrespectfully. They deserve better - such as being judged by their own actions and not what other people do. I mean, really, these people have gone off the deep end."
Right? Or not? A year into the #MeToo movement, it's an issue we all need to grapple with if we want a more just and equal society.