No Boys Allowed: Are Women-Only Spaces Empowering Or Detrimental?

Women-only health spas, publishing houses, movie premieres...people have a lot of opinions. So, are they worth leaving others out?

November 20, 2017
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When you hear the term “women-only space,” do you nod approvingly, or do you get angry? You might get offended; after all, plenty of people believe that designating an area for just one particular gender is exclusionary. As such, women-only spaces have the ability to stir up quite the debate. What’s the point of these spaces? Are they empowering or detrimental?

While the point is positivity, women only spaces aren’t short on critics. For example, a movie theatre in Austin, Texas, also faced heat by wanting to show a screening of the movie Wonder Woman to a female-only audience. Opponents of the no-boys-allowed showing were quick to use words like “discrimination” and “sexist” when airing their grievances about the movie theatre’s decision.

Similarly, a women-only health spa in Toronto came under scrutiny by transgender activists for not allowing anyone in their facility who has male genitalia.

These spaces allow women to be surrounded by peers who share their gender (and some of their life experiences), and they were designed to lift women up. People still question, though, should this come at the expense of leaving people out?

The Positives of Women-Only Spaces

Having the opportunity to spend time in the company of just women may sound unnecessary to those who just don’t get it, but you may be surprised at the benefits of hanging with your girls.

Women Have Earned Them

Besides yourself, no one can relate to what you’ve experienced—but someone who has gone through a similar experience is a good start.

They’re not anti-male clubs. They’re pro-women clubs, something that men have been benefitting from for centuries.

When you’re a woman, it’s unlikely that any male has endured the exact same treatment you have, regardless of life experience. The best that most men can do is sympathize (and try to empathize) with what you’ve been through, but it’s hard to say that someone who identifies as a man will ever truly understand what it’s like to walk in your shoes.

A woman, however, has seen what you’ve seen. She’s probably suffered through the same inequality and received the same judgments, pressures, unrealistic expectations, and treatment as you. Because of this, she is able to provide you with the support, treatment, and encouragement you need in a way that a man probably never could.

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For these reasons—and many others—women deserve to have a place in which they feel supported, important, valuable, and heard. In fact, they’ve earned it. They’ve seen some things together. They deserve a space that is only theirs.

Just as men have had their “gentlemen’s only” clubs for years, women, too, should receive the advantages of being in a group surrounded by peers of the same gender. The public usually doesn’t scoff at the idea of these men’s clubs, but women-only spaces are often criticized.

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Members of the Knights of Columbus, a longstanding fraternal organization (via Queen of Angels Foundation)

Brooke Warner co-founded She Writes Press, a publishing house that only works with female authors; she tells HealthyWay: “I get this all the time since I run a women-only press. People have told me they think our policy is discriminatory, not recognizing that men have had men-only spaces for thousands of years. I think a lot of people—men and women alike—believe that women asserting women-only spaces means that they don’t like men, or that the women are somehow trying to be ‘like men,’ all of which is absurd to me.”

Warner continues, “Women-only spaces are proactively supportive of women, and that’s it. They’re not anti-male clubs. They’re pro-women clubs, something that men have been benefitting from for centuries. It’s time women get to have these spaces—unapologetically.”

Connections Are Made

No matter how you slice it, adding the opposite gender to the situation changes the dynamic. Whether it is in a friendship, an office, or even in a public setting, the comfort level changes when the space is no longer same-gender only.

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Consequently, a person may not feel completely comfortable with themselves or those around them, which could potentially stop a genuine connection, and friendship, from forming. A woman may feel safe in a women-only situation, allowing her to open up more than she may otherwise if a man was in the room.

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“Many women don’t feel comfortable to speak their minds or to speak as much when men are in the room,” says Warner. “Many women are conditioned to believe that men get to take up more space, and because many men are conditioned to believe this as well, oftentimes men do take up more space without even recognizing they’re doing so. I believe women thrive in women-only spaces because it gives them space to connect, relate, and oftentimes to be more honest in the company of other women.”

The Potential Negatives of Women-Only Spaces

Although women-only spaces are often successful, they can run into a few hiccups along the way.

They Assume Women-Only is “Feminine”

Whether you realize it or not, marketing occurs everywhere, from multi-million-dollar companies to your local elementary school’s PTA. Marketing is about promoting your product to reach a certain market. The problem with the way many women-only spaces market is that what they promote assumes all women like the same things.

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Many women’s events are typically geared towards the stereotypical gal who loves pink, shopping, and getting her nails done. But that doesn’t float every woman’s boat.

By only offering women what they are already limited to, these types of women-only spaces don’t help them succeed or grow. Unless that’s what you’re into. In that case, a super-feminine female-friendly hangout is the perfect place for you to find what you’re looking for. Bottom line is women should have the choice.

Potential Cattiness

In a perfect world, women would ban together in solidarity, serve as each other’s support systems, and want to make each other better. In reality, however, it can be a whole different story.

I think some women are raised or taught to believe that there’s only enough room at the table for a certain number of women.

The term “mean girl” came about after stories and stories of women attacking other women—both physically and emotionally—made their way into the media. Over time and after hearing more and more accounts of girls bullying each other, it became expected that women aren’t able to get along.

Of course, this is a generalization, but the term “cat-fight” had to come from somewhere. The sad truth is, some women simply cannot entertain the idea of being close with other women or having relationships with them that are genuine and respectful.

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“It’s interesting because in my experience, women are also each other’s greatest allies. So it makes me sad when I see women being rivals with their female peers,” says Warner. “I think when this happens it’s because of scarcity mentality. I think some women are raised or taught to believe that there’s only enough room at the table for a certain number of women.”

“[To win, they think] they have to be part of the boys’ club as much as they can, so this means edging out or being competitive with other women,” she continues. “In my experience, the truth is quite the opposite, of course. Women supporting women is one of the most amazing ways to succeed, especially when it comes to creative endeavors.”

Where Do Sororities Fit In?

Who didn’t love Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, adorable sorority gal turned lawyer, in Legally Blonde?

Well, for starters, many sorority girls.

Woods’ fictional sorority, Delta Nu, was the stereotypical portrayal of female Greek life: bubbly blondes who count working out, getting manis and pedis, and going shopping as their majors. Understandably, this upset sorority sisters who use their time pledging in other ways.

If your only experience with sororities is what you’ve seen on TV, you may have it all wrong.

Do they paint the wrong picture about feminism?

Admit it: When you think about sororities, you likely imagine a bunch of well-dressed gals, sitting around and gossiping about the latest frat party and who is dating who. You likely don’t think about a place in which women get together to discuss how to empower other women and help out their community. This, however, is exactly what Lauren Remmert experienced when she joined the Delta Zeta chapter at Frostburg State University in Maryland.

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Members of the Delta Zeta sorority at Frostburg State University (via Delta Zeta)

From 2001 to 2003, Remmert was a part of the Delta Zeta sisterhood. Being in a sorority, however, wasn’t something that Remmert planned.

“I was hesitant,” Remmert says. “I’m not that kind of person, and I’m still really not. I’m very independent.”

Despite her reservations, Remmert joined the sorority after she says a hazing situation left it in need of members. She does say the group is heavily involved in its philanthropy of choice (Gallaudet University, the only university where classes are designed to educate the hearing impaired), but she doesn’t believe that her sorority was either feminist or anti-feminist.

“We were just a bunch of girls getting together to have fun,” she says.

She does believe, however, that her time as a member of the Greek community bettered her.

“I didn’t go into it as a freshman, so I think it’s different for me,” says Remmert. “I already had a friend base, [and] I was already growing into being a way stronger person than I was growing up, but it definitely helped.”

With all that is going on in the world right now, you would think that the topic of women-only spaces wouldn’t have so much attention.

But whenever the issue of leaving someone out is presented, you’re going to find large amounts of opposition.

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Look at the benefits women experience in women-only groups, however: they usually feel more confident in themselves, are more likely to speak up and have genuine conversations when in a room full of women, and are inspired to become better versions of themselves because of the high-caliber women they’re surrounded by. Perhaps these positives are what should receive the attention, not the fact that no boys are allowed.

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