Some time ago I heard the concept of “safe space” for the first time. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “a place (as on a college campus) intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.”
Urban Dictionary has a less subtle definition: “A place where cowards with cultural authoritarian and pro-censorship leanings go to in order to evade criticism and calling out of whatever absurd ideas they may express, as well as ideas that are even slightly opposed to the safe space dweller’s ideas. These are labelled as whatever kind of bigotry would make the safe space dweller look like a victim the most.”
Sometimes I would like to live in a safe space and protect my delicate skin from the words, attitudes and criticisms that I don’t like and that I consider offensive. However, I completely disagree with the existence of those spaces. Spaces where debate is suppressed, and where we make sure to live in our happy bubble, without exposing ourselves to anything that bothers us. Because that way, culture stagnates and society doesn’t advance.
The concept of “safe space” is closely linked to “trigger words”, or words that detonate a negative reaction in us. How I wish I had more emotional maturity when I am exposed to words or arguments that detonate an absolute rejection in me. I’m working on that, because there are issues that are very important to me, and often I find it hard to express myself rationally and convincingly when I talk about them.
Feminazi and all its derivatives, along with all the conversations associated with the idea that feminism is a negative and undesirable social movement… trigger me. I find it difficult to keep myself calm to express my point of view: that feminism is still completely relevant. It’s harder even when rejection and criticism comes from a woman.
Today, from my safe place, which only includes me and my computer (as long as the computer doesn’t have internet) I will try to make a small attempt of assertive communication about what feminism is for me. By the way, assertiveness is a social skill that allows the person to communicate their point of view from a balance between an aggressive style and a calm style of communication.
Dear God… Not feminism!
This is a very common conversation, which leaves me extremely baffled:
- Do you think that society treats men and women the same way?
- I don’t.
- Do you think that women are often discriminated against and live a more difficult reality than men?
- Do you think that’s wrong?
- Do you think we should take action to fix it?
- Of course.
- What do you think about abortion?
- Oh no, never, that’s murder!
- The morning-after pill?
- Quotas in the workplace?
- They are unfair and delegitimize women who get a position based on their own merit.
- Scholarships, gyms, loans, exclusive programs for women?
- No no no, is it not equality what they want? There can not be favoritism for women!
There are political and social issues in which inaction and indifference are a position. There are issues that don’t grant us the luxury of neutrality. Feminism is one of them. And when I say feminism, I mean the conviction that we must move towards a just, safe, respectful and egalitarian society for all.
If we are comfortable sitting on the fence, we have taken a position. By empathically answering the initial questions of the previous conversation, we accomplish nothing. Without action there will be no evolution.
The point is that we have to face the world in which we live. And not only our own experience, but the reality in which women live globally. We can’t travel in time to live in the future that we would like to have. This is the real world, and just because our own experience has not included discrimination it does not mean that discrimination against women is no longer a problem.
Feminism has given us birth control, the right to divorce, the right to vote, to use our voice, to denounce abuse, to work, to study. As Western women we enjoy these feminist accomplishments, which might make us forget just how imbalanced and discriminatory society still is.
I recently had dinner with a friend, she ranted against feminism for a good while. I get where she was coming from, I agree we should rebuff people who misuse feminism to polarize humankind.
Yet as women, we should reclaim and embrace the word feminism and change its connotation so it reflects what feminism really is. Feminism is about equal rights, equal access to opportunities, justice, respect and safety. Our first reaction simply cannot be to launch into a speech about how much we dislike feminism or feminists, and how many women have gone too far. That delegitimizes a movement that is extremely relevant and completely necessary, a movement that benefits us all. We need to learn more about what feminism stands for and own that. Not turn our backs on it just because we have the privileged possibility to do so.
One by one
Polls show that most young women reject the term feminist, a situation that appears to correlate more strongly with fear of being stigmatized than it does with women’s equality. “According to Scharf, it appears that people — and especially lower-income groups — support the idea of feminism but not the word itself. Since the 1920s, she notes, feminists have been denounced by society as unfeminine, sexually undesirable, and deviant (…) Despite the discouraging lack of support for feminism itself, Scharf concludes, the fact that the majority of people now appear to support women’s equality — at least in principle — should give feminists reasons for optimism.”
I don’t have the luxury of a safe space. I will try to breathe and lovingly express my view and my passion, every time I find a feminist who rejects the term feminism. Abuse victims, strong mothers, capable professionals… women and men that sadly end up buying society’s crap that feminism is a misguided movement that has gone sour. I will try to win them over, one by one.
Because what we need is more feminists, from both genders, who truly understand what feminism stands for and why it’s so necessary. We need a unifying narrative, that stems from love and humanism, and not from anger and frustration.
Let’s get our stories straight. Let’s never divide, so we can conquer.