Safe Space or Derailment?


During the London Feminist Film Festival the men in the audience were asked to leave by Julia Long, the author of Anti-Porn, The Resurgence of Anti-Pornography Feminism. Long’s account of what happened is So I’m a Feminist Troublemaker for Requesting Some Women-only Space? and one of her detractors, Marta Owczarek, wrote about her perspective on the incident at How a feminist debate was derailed by asking all men to leave.

I’m a big believer in peership spaces. I fight for them in the kink community, and there is a TON of resistance to them there. I believe strongly that peership spaces, like women’s only space, TNG spaces (events that are for people under 35 usually in the kink world), and queer spaces, have their place in building strong movements and empowering groups of people who lack power in our society.

I believe this because there are benefits to the community as a whole when peership groups can have their own space for awhile, and then come back to the broader movement feeling supported and connected. But they have to come back to a larger movement, a big tent, in order for this to be effective. Peership groups do their best work when they do not create an us-vs-them feeling. TNG groups in the kink community can serve two purposes; one is to demonize older people in the community, and when they do this it’s seriously damaging. The other is to create space to educate younger people and bring them into the larger kinky community in groups where they can feel safer, instead of having to go into the larger community feeling intimidated by being the youngest person in the room filled with people their parents age in a sexualized environment.

Therefore, when deciding if an event or group should be a peership space or a big tent space it’s crucial to consider the REASONS for doing so. If the intention is to educate the general population and to bring more people into the feminist movement (as this film festival seems to be) then it is appropriate for it to be a big tent space – inclusive of a wide variety of feminists (and even non-feminists!) who can all learn something. If it had been intended as a support space for women, it should absolutely be treated as such.

I think it’s crucial for those who create events to think hard about the reasons for making them peership or open events. It sounds like the organizers in this case did what I would have done, and created an open event.

Before this came up I was not familiar with Long but it sounds to me she doesn’t have a good grasp on the reasons for or appropriateness of peership spaces. The feminist movement needs peership spaces, but it also needs events that are open to everyone in order to spread the movement and educate a wider base. This is true of many movements, including kink and skepticism too.

For what it’s worth, I would have left. I would have been annoyed about it, but mostly because I was loosing an opportunity to learn, and that always annoys me.

The featured image is a shot from the movie, Lesbiana, that was being shown/discussed at the time of this incident.

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  1. Thanks for posting this. It has given me the vocabulary to say what I was not able to say before.

    I think it’s important to think about the context. I also support peership spaces, but it is not always appropriate to request such a space. And since she was not an organizer, I do not believe she had the right to tell people to leave–only the organizers should have the right to do that and to decide how they want the space they are creating to operate.

    Also, I do condemn the nasty attacks that have been levied at Long that have nothing to do with her actions and everything to do with sexism and misogyny.

  2. The question, as with all question of power, is who determines when is it appropriate or not to request a peership space?

    That is what worries me with the responses we often get to radfems – they invariably devolve into deep personalist hatred of a sexist misogynist kind.

    Can we find a way to respond to radfems that doesn’t amount to calling them hysterical or a variation of “die cis scum” (not that “dcs” is bad per se)?

    And more importantly, can we see past the provocations and engage the content?

    • To get at your first question, who determines when it is appropriate or not to request a peership space? Generally I think the organizers/planners of an event should do that. Long was not an organizer or planner of this event, but her request could still have been productive in some circumstances anyway. I don’t think these were those circumstances.

      I do feel that there is a big difference between a space designed to be a peership space in the first place, and one that someone decides they want to make into a peership space after it has already begun. The first seems perfectly fine with me, while the later seems divisive.

      You asked “And more importantly, can we see past the provocations and engage the content?”

      What content do you mean in this case? The content I brought forward is a discussion on peership spaces, and appropriate and inappropriate uses of them. I’m curious about what you mean here.

  3. >What content do you mean in this case? The content I ?>brought forward is a discussion on peership spaces, and >appropriate and inappropriate uses of them. I’m curious >about what you mean here.

    I mean the more general discussion being had over this event. Not your particular contribution. I apologize for my lack of clarity.

    • Ah! Well I don’t have much to say about that, since I haven’t seen the film that was being discussed. Apparently Lesbiana is about lesbian separatists and a commune in the 1970’s, but that’s all I know about it. It sounds like something I would like to see and discuss though.

  4. Dear Ms. Long,

    Let’s say it’s my birthday. Someday soon, it will be your birthday.

    I invited you, and Joe, and Bob to my party. You don’t like Joe and you don’t even know Bob, so you probably wouldn’t invite them to your party. Maybe you’ll ask me to reconsider the invite. Maybe you’ll even decide not to come to my party. That’s ok.

    But if you do come, please don’t uninvite Joe and Bob right before I blow out the candles. That’s just rude.


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