John, you’ve really hit the nail on the head here, in terms of the fundamental question: “Does it help?” I honestly have to say: “I don’t know. Maybe?” It might, it might not. I think it’s worth trying. Is it the end solution? No. In the end I think we would all love for everyone to feel safe everywhere and for everyone to have the same tools at their disposal should they choose to use them. Including the tools of listening and empathizing and adjusting to others without compromising your own safety or sanity. Is that possible? Probably not, but it can definitely be better.
I agree that the big bad world is out there and people need to learn to deal with it, but frankly, I deal with the big bad world all day every day. If I want an hour off to learn something I’m a little scared of, or to talk to someone who knows how I feel, or just somewhere to go where I know I don’t have to fight to be seen or heard or believed, why is that so bad? Why do people feel the need to come crashing in to tell me the big bad world is out there? Take this article for example, it’s being highlighted and shared, it’s clearly resonating with some, and yet the comments are mostly people coming to tell me that I’m crazy. And while those comments are the minority of the interactions with the piece, they take up most of my mental energy. These comments are the equivalent of people bursting into my space to tell me that I’m wrong and I need to toughen up.
I know for me, personally, sometimes it’s nice to have a space. I’m pretty good at figuring things out on my own, in my own time, but some things are bigger than that and require a bit of community — that’s why we’re all on the internet, looking for people who think or speak the way we do, so we can bumble around and exchange these ideas and justify our interpretations. And sometimes, it’s nice to go to a space where I know I won’t be challenged, I know I won’t be mocked, I know I’m with people in the same boat, a place where someone can tell me “You’re not crazy, I get it.”
I agree that labeling safe spaces as safe spaces does make them more of a target to those who want to disrupt those spaces. Which is why I always ask for feedback on how to better communicate that title or label these events.
But I also think that impulse we’re seeing to disrupt those spaces is indicative of a desire for the space to challenge or discuss the need for them. I understand the impulse to just not have any of it, because it would be easier for some people if we could just not talk about it. But unless we can get everyone on the same page, all we’re doing is pretending there is no problem and not allowing people a voice when they disagree. I understand that there are many people on the outside of many different intersections that feel unheard and I think that’s a massive issue that needs to be addressed. That’s why I talk about brave spaces and safe spaces. The two serve very different purposes, and I think both are essential to the conversation. You and I are co-creating a brave space at the moment. It’s probably a little uncomfortable for both of us, but we’re discussing things, in a way that we both (hopefully) find useful.
I’d also like to let you know that I read some of your pieces because I really want to understand where you’re coming from. I’m not blind to the damages that have been done to potential allies when met with hostility from certain members of a ‘movement’ (we’ll say feminism, in this case, but I think most movements have over-enthused and alienated people on occasion). And I want to explicitly say that I’m not indifferent to the pain and discomfort of men (in the case of feminism) as things shift and often it seems as if they’re being left out of the discussion. That’s another reason for the brave space, so that the people on the outside have a place to learn and discuss without placing the burden of debate and defense on those who aren’t ready to have that conversation, who are just trying to find a space to exist in peace.
All I’m trying to do is provide some insight to the processes that leave us feeling like we’re speaking different languages. I’m trying to say “Hey, you may not have thought of this, but here’s what I’m going through when you do x.” I think that feedback is especially important in situations where the person has stated their intention outright yet their actions have the opposite effect.
I’d like to illustrate this with a ridiculous example: If your partner licked all the dishes and put them away, saying they were just trying to clean them, you would probably try to redirect them. Whether or not they feel that licking dishes makes them clean isn’t the point, the point is that it’s not working for at least half the people who are going to use those dishes. However, the fact that they are trying to help shouldn’t go unnoticed. Telling them it’s not working as if they had maliciously licked all the dishes to spite you isn’t the solution either. This goes both ways, with the partners interchangeable in terms of which demographics we use for the metaphor. I think people are often quick to think that certain behaviors are intentionally malicious, because we see things through the lens of how it affects us. What I’m hoping to communicate is that I know these conversations aren’t comfortable, but having them is the important thing. No one should have to accept dish-licking as the new norm, or secretly sneak down to the kitchen to re-wash the dishes every night. The solution, however, requires an awkward conversation.