If you are not much of a participant on the feminist or transgender politics blogospheres, you might not know what a Safe Space is. I wish I didn’t.
According to wiki, A safe space
‘is a term for an area or forum where either a marginalised group are not supposed to face standard mainstream stereotypes and marginalisation, or in which a shared political or social viewpoint is required to participate in the space. For example, a feminist safe space would not allow free expression of anti-feminist viewpoints’.
No wonder I have problems!
Women only spaces have long since been an aspect of feminism. Growing up in a feminist household in the 1970s, I remember my Mum and her friends being part of various women’s groups. I was in ‘women’s CND’ in the 1980s and spent some time at that most excellent of ‘women’s only’ spaces, Greenham Common Peace Camp. Though, I have to tell you, it wasn’t just the lovely lesbian ladies, the feminist politics and the all-women anti-nuclear protesting that I liked. Because at Greenham, I actually encountered quite a few men, most of whom were in uniform! Whether it was coach drivers, policemen or those exotic, taboo figures on the other side of the fence: US soldiers, my favourite women’s only space wasn’t women only at all.
Since the internet got into its stride in the 1990s and 2000s, ‘safe spaces’ have come to fit the definition given above. these online ‘safe spaces’ exist alongside some women’s only ‘safe spaces’ in ‘real life’ such as rape crisis centres, women’s refuges and women’s discussion groups. Not to mention the Women’s Institute and women’s organisations which may not consider themselves ‘feminist’ at all.
I am focussing on internet ‘safe spaces’ here. The question I want to ask is, who are they protecting? Who is ‘safe’ in these spaces and who/what are the ‘dangers’ they are being protected from?
A lot of the language of ‘safe spaces’ focusses on issues pertinent to ‘radical feminism’. So safe spaces tend to be identified as places where women are safe to state their pro-choice views, to discuss and campaign against sexual violence (against women), and domestic violence (against women). Many ‘safe spaces’ online are tightly moderated and posts are flagged up quite a lot with ‘trigger warnings’. Trigger warnings
‘are designed to prevent people who have an extremely strong and damaging emotional response (for example, post-traumatic flashbacks or urges to harm themselves) to certain subjects from encountering them unaware. Having these responses is called “being triggered”. A trigger warning usually takes the form of some emphasised (usually bold) text describing in broad terms the upsetting nature of the content, and contains the words “trigger warning”‘.
The whole language and atmosphere of these online ‘safe spaces’ is one in which it is suggested that the women who participate in them are potentially vulnerable. That certain arguments, subjects and discussions are ‘dangerous’ or harmful to their well-being and that they should be protected from particular viewpoints and styles of debate.
Frankly I find this insulting. Not least because I am often labelled as the ‘danger’ to these women, and have my comments deleted, or am blocked completely from participating in discussions on a website/blog.
When you log on to your computer and when you sign in to comment on a blog, you do not have to state your gender identity, your political viewpoint or your status in regards to gender violence. So the moderators do not know which of the commenters are in need of the ‘protection’ a safe space is said to provide.
The fact that, though I hate the phrase and the label, I am a ‘survivor of sexual violence’, a ‘survivor of domestic violence’ and someone with ‘gender identity issues’ means nothing. I have been treated as a threat, and accused of ‘triggering’ women on feminist blogs, and been kicked off them accordingly. These spaces are definitely not ‘safe’ for me, even though I tick all the stupid, infantile and patronising boxes that suggest they are supposed to be.
My most recent conflict with a feminist ‘safe space’ was just today, on this UK feminist blog, The F word, discussion about ‘the tyranny of silencing’ of minority and marginalised voices. Haha.
As you can see, I said on the discussion that I am continually ‘silenced’ by feminists, on blogs and websites, for stating my views and challenging their dogma. The result was, they did not publish all my comments, I was told I was ‘derailing’ the discussion, and someone made a long and personal diatribe against me before the whole comments thread was closed down. Before I could respond to her. The moderator left this comment before closing down the comments:
‘Just a reminder that the original post is by an agender person.
From here on out, comments which ignore that fact in favour of derailing/recentring/name-calling and carrying on personal feuds will not be published – not out of any intention to silence anyone but because it’s making this space feel quite unsafe.
With that in mind, I’m temporarily putting *all* comments on this post on hold for the rest of today.’
And that was that*.
It is laughable to me,but also quite worrying, that in this environment of mollecoddling women, and apparently ‘agender’ people (though I get the impression many trans women and gender non-conforming people do not feel protected by feminist safe spaces), someone is always presented as the ‘aggressor’, the one who threatens this cosy little therapeutic atmosphere. And it doesn’t matter how nasty, personal or rude anyone is to that designated aggressor, because they have broken the law of the ‘safe space’.
It’s clever really. It is yet another ruse by feminists to shut down debate and stifle any challenges to their perspectives. As Mark Simpson and I have pointed out before, tropes like ‘whataboutthemenz’ have entered feminist discourse, to dismiss and belittle anyone, especially men, who question their ‘gyno-centric’ view of everything.
‘Safe spaces’ do the same thing. On another discussion recently on an American feminist blog I got accused of ‘triggering’ someone’s trauma as a rape survivor and was told to leave.
Now, I may be cynical. But I have this sneaking suspicion, that if I said I was upset as a result of the content of someone’s remarks about sexual violence or domestic violence, I don’t think they would be told to leave the feminist ‘safe space’ for the sake of my ‘safety’. Thank goodness they wouldn’t. I’d hate to limit other people’s rights to speak on any subject.
And that’s the thing. This isn’t about safety at all is it? Feminists are actually ‘abusing’ people’s real traumatic experiences and using them to justify their tactics of shutting down debate and keeping any dissent out of their little world. What this is really about is ‘silencing’. The tyranny of silencing.
I use the term ‘silencing’ with some reluctance. I don’t think this is a clear-cut case of ‘censorship’. I am not literally silenced. I am writing my response here on my blog. But in terms of feminist discourse and feminist spaces, the regularity with which I get my comments deleted or am blocked completely from sites, does constitute a form of ‘silencing’ in my view. And I know I am not alone in this.
They don’t care I know. They think they have to keep people like me from saying what I believe about gender issues, because I am ‘derailing’ their discussions, I am a ‘troll’ and a ‘timewaster’ and they are all ‘sick’ of me.
I bet they are sick of me. But maybe not quite as sick as I am of them!
Gender is the subject about which I care most about I think. Gender in its widest sense that is. Which is really like saying ‘people’. As such I won’t stop discussing gender issues wherever I see them arise. If I get told to ‘go away’, ‘kindly fuck off’, to take my ‘anti-feminist’ views elsewhere, I will have to abide by their ‘safe spaces’ and do just that.
But this version of sisterhood is precisely why I think ‘sisterhood’ is a farce. As someone once said, ‘it’s like being in the sisterhood without any sisters’.
I am not frightened of anyone. I don’t need protecting and treating like a child. I deal with my own traumas and my own painful memories on my own. I don’t think that ‘safe spaces’ exist in this world. Because one person’s safe space is another person’s hornet nest.
I am the girl who kicked the hornets’ nest.
I hope you don’t get stung.
*The F-word thread was re-opened the next day and nearly all comments published. I only apologised to the original poster as I was being ‘polite’ and didn’t want to blame that individual any of the criticisms I was making in the discussion of ‘feminism’ ‘safe spaces’ ‘silencing’ or ‘the F word’. I did not apologise in order to take responsibility/blame for the way that discussion went!