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Men need single-sex spaces, too

They've been demonised as dens of casual misogyny for far too long.

Jenny Watson

Topics Identity Politics UK

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As a staunch advocate for women-only spaces, I have come to understand the need for such spaces for the opposite sex, too. This is grounded in my interactions with men who’ve shared their experiences with me.

Over the past year, I’ve been battling to set up a lesbian private members’ club. One thing I’ve noticed is that while women’s spaces are sacralised as sanctuaries in some quarters, the equivalent spaces for men are demonised. Male-only golf clubs or private members’ clubs like the Garrick Club in London are castigated as dens of back-slapping machismo and casual misogyny – the last refuges of the Neanderthal. This seems deeply unfair to me.

It’s not just that I would be a hypocrite to deny men the same right that I’m fighting for. I also believe society risks overlooking the practical benefits of letting men have their own hideaways.

Men’s exclusive spaces, often stereotyped as the embodiment of male privilege, serve an important purpose. Like women’s spaces, they provide men with a refuge, a space to talk about challenges and experiences specific to their sex, without societal judgement or mixed-sex dynamics. As a male friend of mine explained, men sometimes need ‘spaces where we feel safe to talk about issues that affect us’. Not every man needs or wants that, of course. But for those who do, appropriate provision needs to be made.

Men-only spaces, from book groups to discussion groups, are not about excluding women. They’re about creating friendship and support networks. These can allow men to freely discuss issues like fatherhood, professional pressures and other personal matters. In the relative privacy of a men-only environment, these discussions can delve into areas that might typically be stigmatised or deemed unmasculine in mixed-sex company.

It’s important to address the misconception that men-only spaces perpetuate sexual inequality. That they allow men to preserve their social and economic advantages over women. That might have been the case in the past, when sexism was prevalent, but it’s not anymore. Their main function today is to offer a private space for men to challenge and support each other, much like women’s spaces.

Part of the problem with the current debate around single-sex spaces is that it is often framed as a conflict. Women-only spaces are often deemed to be inherently good and men-only spaces to be inherently bad. This oversimplification overlooks the benefits these environments can offer both sexes. Single-sex spaces can allow men to explore mental-health issues and emotional struggles, something that can be more difficult in the company of women.

Defending single-sex spaces goes hand in hand with challenging gender-identity ideology. Gender ideology threatens the very idea of sex-based rights and, therefore, single-sex spaces, too. To make the case for single-sex spaces, then, we need to re-assert the reality and significance of biological differences between men and women – differences that are inherent in every cell of our bodies.

Men may not require the same types of single-sex space that females do. Their need for refuges or crisis centres is certainly less than it is for women. But some still need the safety and community that all single-sex spaces can provide.

So, as women, let’s show some solidarity with our male counterparts. Let’s defend men’s right to freely associate on the basis of their sex.

Jenny Watson is a founder of L Community. Visit the L Community website here.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics UK

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