I’ve been thinking about the concept of Safe Spaces lately.
Two things have spurred this. First, a little bit after Mandolin posted her (excellent) ‘Mandolin Replies to Seelhoff’ thread, we were chatting via IM, and she expressed dismay, wondering whether there could ever be an environment that could serve as a safe space for both radfems and transfolk. Second, Bean’s post here, in that same thread, in which she says (among other things):
I do not believe that this thread, or indeed any thread on this blog, is a safe place for me to participate, nor do I believe that there would or even could ever be any sort of productive discussion here.
After reading this, I started poking around the Intarwebs, looking for a well-done definition of what safe space is and how to build it. I haven’t yet found something useful.
The idealist in me says that it must be possible to create a space that feels safe for disparate groups of people. On the other hand, if part of the creation of a safe space is that the people within that space need to be able to speak what they feel to be true about their oppression, will that, of necessity, mean that the space is unsafe for those they feel are their oppressors?
I think that this is part of what’s going on with the whole trans/radfem debate. Many transfolk (rightly, I think) do not feel that any space where their declared (sex or) gender is up for debate can be considered a safe space. Many radfems (also, not unreasonably) do not feel that any space where they’re lambasted for engaging in radical feminist analysis can be considered a safe space.
I’m not interested so much in continuing the trans/radfem debate . . . god(dess) knows we’ve hammered that shit out ad infinitum. My concern is much more with how we go about creating a safe space for maximum inclusion, and to what degree that’s a desirable goal.
By way of another, less apocalyptically controversial example, it may be impossible to create a space that is safe both for homosexual folks and members of the religious right. And maybe that’s okay, because I don’t care whether members of the religious right generally feel safe joining a discussion. But although I may disagree with them until the sky falls, I very much do care that radical feminists feel safe.
So I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know if there is one. What constitutes ‘safe space’ anyhow?