On The Map: Something Special for the Ladies

Mandy Van Deven
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I grew up in a house full of women–my mom and two sisters–so perhaps I am predisposed to appreciate spaces where no men reside. In my adult life, I have frequently found myself more at home in radical, queer, women-only environments, and while they are by no means perfect, I prefer them to the exhaustion of butting heads against guys who just don’t get it. Most of the time, I’d rather use my energies hashing out issues, finding solutions, and creating community with other women. (Sorry dudefriends. You know I still love you!)

I have mad respect for folks who fight for gender desegregation and break into male-dominated careers. I certainly support the many brave women who do this work. It’s just not a path I find myself paving. Instead, I focus on creating spaces where women can find a reprieve from the hassles and dangers of the sexist world in which we live.

Moving to India has only deepened my resolve in the need for women-only spaces, as my view of how the public arena is affected by gender has been changed by my experiences living in a country where patriarchy is thickly visible. While walking down the street or riding in a subway, you can feel the boundaries and tension between the sexes. I’ve written a lot about the intersection of gender, race, class, national origin, and public space in India over the past year and a half because it is something I am only able to escape when in the privacy of my own flat. Therefore, I am constantly thinking and re-thinking these issues, and I can’t seem to come up with many answers… only more questions, like where is the balance between reclaiming public space and demanding a space of one’s own? And how does one negotiate one’s need for safety with one’s desire to live freely? And how much of that should be an institutional responsibility?

There are no easy answers, but I wonder what yours may be.

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3 Comments Have Been Posted

Segregation of the Sexes

Your post hits home with me for a different reason: I have recently converted to Islam and as a feminist the most obvious point of contention for me is the way the sexes are segregated at the mosque. I have found that my reaction is two-fold:
1) I actually appreciate the fact that men don't try to butt into the women's business. We pray the way we want to, talk about what we want to talk about (including about the men) and can even take off our headscarves.
2) Being kept off the main floor of the mosque, where the men are, is annoying, especially when the sound system isn't working well, and it can also be annoying when some of the women don't pay attention to the prayers.
But over all, it doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would. I don't expect to change a religion as monolithic as Islam is. And there are some mosques that are enlightened in this regard, just not any in my city.
For the record: women are not forbidden to have contact with men and I have been in situations where I was sitting with the men having a conversation with them. It's just that that's not going to happen during prayers.

Wohoo!! for Safe India!

This reminds me of that Article by Leslie Feinberg which really emphasizes the need for A safe space that women can go to without the effects of a Patriarchal society,Yay!! women in women's spaces!

women's spaces in martial arts

I'm one of those women that tries to make it in male-dominated spaces: I'm an engineer, I'm a martial artist. But at the same time as I believe it's important for women to integrate with men in those pursuits, I value relationships with other women [engineers/martial artists/whateverers]. I think that women-only groups and spaces are even more important when I don't see women around as a normal part of doing what I do.

Perhaps I got to the "female role model" party a little late -- when I was growing up it didn't much matter to me if the person I looked up to was a man or a woman. But now? Hell yes it matters to see a woman being an expert Brazilian Jiujitsu competitor instead of just another huge muscle-bound guy. You bet your buttons I appreciate having had a woman as my advisor in grad school and having one as my manager now. Women are few and far between in most of what I do, but many of us actively look for each other and try to get to know each other. Being able to say "I feel that way too" has power like nothing else.

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