The concept of "Female-Only" space was considered radical and exciting when I was at university in the 1990s, so it astonishes me now that my hometown's school board is encouraging children, teens and teachers to use whatever washroom (W.C.) they want, based on what gender they "identify" themselves with.
This leaves women with the unwelcome prospect of men (rather eccentric ones, too) in the one public place we can be relatively sure we can be away from men. (And men might feel the same way about women.) I can think of all kinds of embarrassing reasons I might suddenly need to flee to the loo, and I don't want to find even the world's nicest trannie there.
When I was a child, the boys' washroom was so taboo for girls and the girls' washroom so taboo for boys, that one of the worst humiliations possible was to be shoved by bullies into the wrong one. Now I wonder at the power of these taboos, and I think perhaps it was because we were all busily forging gender identities. We had some assistance in this. For years there were queues for girls and queues for boys. (In my mother's day there were separate entrances for boys and girls.) But that was more or less it for segregation at school. Additional female only space--like girls' gym class--would have been nice, and the day I went to my my all-girls high school was the happiest of my young life.
But as a matter of fact, I was in a few female-only spaces as a child. There was Brownies, Girl Guides and Pathfinders. There was ballet class and girls' hockey. In the summers, I had a week or two of Girl Guide camp.
My brothers had a lot of male-only space. They went to boys' school from the age of 8. They were on boys' hockey teams in the days before the boys' hockey teams were forced to accept girls and therefore ceased to be boy's hockey teams. They were in a renowned boys' choir. One was in Cub Scouts; the other was taken out of Beavers when my father witnessed the Beavers making offerings to the statue of a beaver. One joined the military, the other the military cadets--but these were not, in fact, male-only spaces, of course. And that is just as well because I think my brothers may have been a bit fed up with so much male-only space.
They had a father at home, too, a kindly one, which I think may become THE hallmark of privilege, the ultimate status symbol, if he isn't already. I suspect one of the biggest psychological or developmental problems for men of my generation, and even more for the men of yours, was not having a kindly father at home. As Tyler Durden says in Fight Club, "We're a generation of men raised by women." And because boys are usually more of a handful than girls, and there are no longer so many men around to just pick them up and hurl them around or shout at them with real, God-given authority, showing who's boss in a way boys respect, frustrated, exhausted women try to get boys to act more like girls.
I think. I'm not a mother myself, so I'm guessing here.
Anyway, I think it is odd how North American society is growing increasingly unisex, which means that either men and women just act like men are women or women are men, cursing like troopers around each other, banging each other on the back, getting sloshed down at the pub, or (if male) confiding their romantic secrets, etc., and then wondering why the entire opposite sex seems to think they are "a friend type."
How much of that "we're all boys together", for men anyway, is an act? I received an email from a girl complaining that a male friend, clearly interested in her, hugs her "from the side" instead from the front. "I have breasts, so what?" she scoffed. So a lot, actually.
Meanwhile, it seems that there is a tiny but powerful collection of ideologues doing their best to eradicate the certainties of human society, like marriage, male/female and even mother/father. In Britain, despite the overwhelming majority of those polled rejecting the idea, both David Cameron's and Alex Salmond's governments want to redefine marriage as something other than the legal, social and financial union of a man and a woman. The Toronto School Board is trying to enforce a notion that your gender is not what it is but what you want it to be. The U.S. State Department announced plans to replace "Mother" and "Father" on passport application forms with "Parent 1" and "Parent 2", apparently to please those few people of the 2% of American citizens who identify as homosexual who have children "together." This is all absolutely mad.
But that strikes me as slightly off-topic. What I wish to suggest is that men and women are enriched by having some time off from each other, women (not just women who identify as gay) having places where they can go and be with women only, men (not just men who identify as gay) having places where they can go and be with men only, and then come back together, refreshed, to carry on ordinary life together.
My own particular contribution to "woman-only" and "man-only" space is to make some in the middle of my dinner parties, according to the traditions that would have held sway in the Historical House when its family still lived in it.
When dinner is over, I bring in the port and disappear with the other women to the sitting room. (It's not grand enough to be called a drawing room, although withdrawing is exactly what we're doing.) I don't know if the men actually tell "port stories" when we're gone, but as men around here talk a lot, it certainly gives us women more freedom and space to speak. And of course it is always nice to see the men again. They rejoin us, not vice versa, which at least feels flattering, even if I have to steal their port bottle to encourage them.
Update: Oh, and this is a "woman-only" space, of course! Well, a "only women allowed to leave comments" space anyway.