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Jun 18

Not a safe space

Back from a much needed vacation and ready to write a short post. Yesterday I read the transcript of the Great Penis Debate translated by the wonderful Kate Donovan. I didn’t have time to watch and I am always grateful for transcripts because I have hearing loss in one of my ears.

One thing that irked me a great deal reading the transcript is the idea that when Rebecca Watson said skepticism wasn’t a safe space for women, she meant that skepticism was an “unsafe space” for women. That sentiment, that interpretation of Watson’s words was made throughout the debate but was concisely uttered by Travis:

But it’s being billed as an unsafe space.

Is it being billed as a “unsafe space” Travis? Is TAM or any other con being billed as “unsafe?” I don’t mean by commenters on blogs. I mean by bloggers themselves. Please direct me to bloggers that said TAM and/or other skeptic/atheist cons are unsafe for women. I don’t read all the blogs so I must have missed it somewhere.

Now that that is out of the way I want to talk about what is meant by “not a safe space” since I obviously don’t think Watson meant “TAM is unsafe” or “skepticism is unsafe” at least not any more unsafe than the general population.

hmmm. general population. that may be the key to the difference.

See, the general population is not what I call a “safe space for women.” What do I mean by that? At work, if I am sexually harassed by a coworker, I don’t feel confident that it will be dealt with when I report it. I have watched sexual harassment being reported. It wasn’t taken seriously.  Another example: If I am raped, If I am sexually assaulted, I am fairly confident that reporting it will result in slut shaming and victim blaming. I am fairly confident that my entire past sexual history will be cause for my rapist or assaulter to go unpunished, that it will be assumed I was asking for it.

To me for the general population to become “safe for women” it needs to take extra precautions to make sure that the current attitudes of a culture (you know that patriarchy) don’t prohibit women from seeking legal or even emotional recourse for those if’s that may come up. Creating a safe space for women in the general population may be having something like specially trained police to deal with victims of sexual abuse. It may be that a workplace has sexual harassment training periodically. It may even be a domestic violence shelter that has gone so far in making a safe space for women that it creates a “not safe space” or “unsafe space” for men genderfluid or transgender people.

Making the general population “safe for women” overall won’t happen until the culture changes. No matter how many rules we create, we also need to trust those rules will be enforced. So instead we carve out lots of little niches and claim some places as “safe for women” some places as “not safe for women” and some places as “unsafe for women.”

Like it or not, it is we women who get to decide for ourselves where a particular place exists on that “safeness spectrum.”  Watson’s words were describing her initial thoughts that skepticism existed on the safer than the general population end of the spectrum. She learned in the shitstorm following Elevatorgate that actually is wasn’t any safer than the general population. She learned that being a  skeptic didn’t automatically make you immune to misogyny. Being a skeptic didn’t automatically make you care about creating a safe space for women. She learned that skepticism is “not a safe space” where she can rest easy that everyone sharing the space with her cared about women enough to take us seriously on those pesky little issues of the he said/she said variety.

Yeah we all pretty much know that the general population is not a safe space for women. We know that women are damned if we do and damned if we don’t in most scenarios. What we seem to have a problem understanding is that the groups we are a part of aren’t necessarily any better than those we oppose on this issue. We seem to have a problem accepting that we skeptics and atheists are not better than everyone else like we thought we were. We seem to have a problem accepting that we are sometimes, maybe even often, wrong.

One way we are often wrong is when we insist that skeptics and atheist conventions don’t need extra precautions in place to protect attendee’s. When we insist that the extra steps to make women (not just women btw) feel safe are frivolous, when we ignore that it is those extra precautions that make a space safer than the general population, we become part of the problem. When many women say “we don’t feel taken seriously in this movement” and the movement responds by not taking us seriously or even blaming us for the drop in rates of women, that is a problem.

So yeah, skepticism isn’t a “safe space for women.” I want to help make it safer.

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  1. 2
    In Medias Res: how to find the plot if you’re just tuning in | Lousy Canuck

    […] While this harassment may not be any WORSE than background society, that means it is NOT a “safe space” in the sense of being […]

  2. 3
    Harassment policies campaign – timeline of major events | Lousy Canuck

    […] Safe Space: WilloNyx has a great discussion up explaining the difference between “safe space” and […]

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    Safe | Lousy Canuck

    […] WilloNyx attempted to explain the difference in a post at her blog: See, the general population is not what I call a “safe space for women.” What do I mean by that? At work, if I am sexually harassed by a coworker, I don’t feel confident that it will be dealt with when I report it. I have watched sexual harassment being reported. It wasn’t taken seriously. Another example: If I am raped, If I am sexually assaulted, I am fairly confident that reporting it will result in slut shaming and victim blaming. I am fairly confident that my entire past sexual history will be cause for my rapist or assaulter to go unpunished, that it will be assumed I was asking for it. […]

  4. 5
    A kitteh and a link dump « Jadehawk's Blog

    […] Not a safe space — a good 101-level explanation of what the term “safe space” even means. […]

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