Thursday, 4 October 2012

Female Space, Male Space, Our Space

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.


Meaghen said...

There is also this - France is banning the words "mother" and "father" from official documents.

Seraphic said...

In Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," the word "mother" is a shocking obscenity. Way to go, France.

Sheila said...

I try not to make a big deal of this, but it's true, we do enjoy our same-gender spaces. Like the La Leche League. I see no reason why a breastfeeding support group should be anything other than an all-female group. I mean, breasts are required, right? So it should be all female?

But there was an ... individual ... lately, born female, now identifying as male, who breastfeeds and has been attending La Leche League forever. And she (I'm going to say she because she IS, in my opinion, still a she and nothing's going to change that) petitioned the LLL to be a group leader so she could provide breastfeeding counseling. She was really excited about the idea of being the first-ever male LLL leader.

The LLL said no. They said that while they had no problem with transsexuals at their meetings, the LLL is a mothers' group, and to be a leader you have to be a mother. Since she wanted to be referred to as a father, that wouldn't do.

And oh, the outrage and howling we heard! It's so sexist! So homophobic! How DARE we say that breastfeeding is an action just for mothers?!

Sigh. I brought forward the argument you did: it's not that I hate men, and not even that I hate transsexuals. It's that I want my women-only spaces. I do not want someone who identifies as male giving me breastfeeding advice. But this is a terribly old-fashioned thing to say nowadays.

Seraphic said...

Now that's an interesting problem.

To this situation I would say that leadership is for OTHERS. Leadership is not so someone can thrill to the fact that she or he is THE FIRST blah-blah-blah in the history of humankind.

This poor woman--I don't care how she's had herself mutilated,
unless she has Y chromosomes, she's a woman--is simply not leadership material. I imagine that vulnerable women (and I imagine breastfeeding mothers of very small babies who rely on them for nourishment are pretty darned vulnerable) do not want wild, egotistical eccentrics as leaders.

But the all-woman space argument still holds, because if there's one kind of woman who is going to be a downer in an all-woman space, it's a woman who says it isn't an all-woman space 'cause she's a man. That's just too much crazy.

Charming Disarray said...

I'm a huge believer in this kind of thing. Men and women do things so differently that it's hard to occupy the same space unless there's a good reason for it--like in families or marriage. And if they're not doing things differently, it's because one side has probably adapted a lot more than they should really have to. This is why I would never have male roommates. Even if they were the nicest guys in the world, I would still find their presence jarring. And I grew up with three brothers and a dad so it's not like I'm just not used to being around men--I am. But there has to be a reason for it, or asking me give up my space and my peace of mind is asking too much. And I wouldn't ask a man who wasn't in my family or who I was married to to put with my foibles, either.

And ugh, there is nothing worse than shopping for ladies' underthings and seeing some man hovering around. Why women feel the need to drag their menfolk into these places is not something I will EVER understand. I'd like to be able to buy those kinds of things without having some man around watching me. I mean, I know he's probably not, but why is he THERE?