What is Safe Space?

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?

Thoughts?

This entry posted in Whatever. Bookmark the permalink. 

55 Responses to What is Safe Space?

  1. 1
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    Great question!

    In my blog discussion of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, more radfems posted as “anonymous” than felt comfortable signing their names, and they eventually dropped out of the thread entirely. I felt pretty bad about that, as if they didn’t feel safe. :( Or did they just not want to participate? How can we tell which it is?

    I like arguing with the religious right, actually, but I don’t try to freak them out with dirty words (that THEY will consdier dirty words), insults to God, etc. I notice when they try to argue nicely, lefties deliberately try to stir them up, then they ARE all stirred up, and no dialog can happen.

    It depends on whether actual dialog is the goal, or pissing people off.

    Great topic, Myca!

  2. 2
    kactus says:

    In my blog discussion of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, more radfems posted as “anonymous” than felt comfortable signing their names, and they eventually dropped out of the thread entirely. I felt pretty bad about that, as if they didn’t feel safe. :( Or did they just not want to participate? How can we tell which it is?

    Daisy, it’s very possible too that they got distracted by the recent load of crap that got dumped on them and other feminists by the /b/rats, and that might explain why they didn’t continue the discussion. Too bad, though, because that was really interesting.

    I think for a safe space the ability to respectfully disagree is key, and that’s something that’s sorely lacking whenever humans try to dialog, IRL or online. I think we’re a bunch of cantankerous, opinionated jerks, a lot of the time. We’re so busy trying to put out imaginary fires that might consume us and our almighty belief systems that we don’t even have the time or psychic energy to actually listen to each other.

    So maybe it’s a matter of deciding that you’re going to shut down your defenses, even if only for the space of a couple of paragraphs, and try to understand–or at least respect– somebody whose beliefs oppose yours.

    So yeah, without respect and without genuine listening, instead of mentally preparing your retort, safe spaces will probably continue to be almost nonexistent.

  3. 3
    RonF says:

    Well, first, let me say that I recognize the right of any blog admin to run their blog as they see fit. We are all here on sufferance, and if the blog admin decides that banning me or anyone else suits their needs/desires/whims, that’s just something I and everyone else have to live with. For example, on Free Republic, anyone who comes on and starts espousing a radical left viewpoint is going to get banned. C’est la vie.

    But what I’d like to ask is, what constitutes “safe”? What is “unsafe”? Why is the word “safe” being used here? I’ll posit that there are some complete whacknuts on the ‘net (as in the rest of the world, nothing special there) that I wouldn’t want to see show up on my doorstep. But absent such an extreme example, the use of the word “safe” would mean that there are conditions on a blog where people would be in danger unless a “safe space” is created. What kind of danger do people expect to encounter?

  4. 4
    Rev Sean says:

    I always react badly to the idea of “safe space.” Too often it’s invoked only as a reason to take one’s ball and go home. “This isn’t a safe space for me…” I have to admit that I often take that as a cop-out. Why not just say, “I don’t want to participate in this discussion any longer.” ??

    The truth is, I don’t believe in safe space. Any space where real discussion is happening among people with deep beliefs and strong opinions is, by nature, risky. It’s often a risk worth taking, but we need to acknowledge the risk and make real, empowered choices about how much we’re willing to risk. And if the line is crossed, we can leave in an empowered way, naming the importance of our own integrity and self-care as the reason rather than blaming others for not creating “safe space” for us.

    All that said, I do believe in basic civility and courtesy. I also believe there are things we can do to create spaces that are “Safe Enough” spaces for people to take the risks of real conversation. That’s why I believe in comment moderation and basic rules for commenters on blogs. After all, we don’t have to let things degenerate into a free-for-all just because perfectly safe space is not possible.

  5. 5
    Amber says:

    I think all you really need for a discussion to be safe is for the majority of participants to abadon any need to be right. That and some modicum of decency when addressing one another – you know, a willingness to forgo sarcasm, abandon petty insults, to give each other a broader reading, and in some cases, the benefit of the doubt.

    But I think on issues like gender, where you have such varying understandings – the importance of which hit most of us on a really visceral level – it’s tough to not get angry and frustrated with those who disagree. When I read admonishments of womyn-only spaces, for example, I feel incredibly invalidated. Even when those criticisms are offered in a fair & thoughtful manner, I get pissed. I see profound political value in separatism, womyn-only spaces, lesbian feminism, and of course radical feminism. When those things are attacked, I feel attacked. That angers me.

    I can imagine that transwomen feel much of the same anger and invalidation when they read admonishments of transgender politics, SRS, Camp Trans, etc. on radfems blogs.

    And the thing is, both sides of the womyn-only-space debate have put forth reasoned, thoughtful arguments as to why – for instance – MichFest should be for WBW and, conversely, why it should be for all women. But a lot of good that accomplished, because both sides still engage in knock-down drag-outs over the issue. Sometimes I think people just like to fight. And no amount of safe space will change that.

    But anyhow, as for creating safe spaces, I suppose you’ve got to balance that visceral, gut-level adherence to one’s personal politics with a concerted effort to really listen to one another and converse without attacking. I suppose you could moderate along those lines, if you were so inclined?

  6. 6
    Alison Hymes says:

    I know any blog where words like psychotic are used loosely as a synonym for badness is not a safe place for me.

  7. 7
    Myca says:

    Hm. Fair point, Alison. Changed.

  8. 8
    SamChevre says:

    I’ve been part of one space (physical) that was truly a safe space. It was a coffee shop (any other 17.5ers, I’m Sam with the mustache), in a fairly conservative town, run by a young lesbian couple.

    It was a safe space; that meant it was never quite comfortable, for almost anyone. You could go there and hear weird racial rants; bizarre political opinions; and on and on and on. But it was a safe place, for two main reasons.

    First, be polite to the person you are talking to was a firm rule, and firmly enforced. Second, it was fairly impartially enforced; even though one proprietor had little use or time for Christianity, she still reqired that conversations with “out” Christians be civil.

    Any space that randomly edits people’s comments to make them look bad, or deletes them when they are on-topic and civil, will not and cannot be a safe space.

  9. 9
    Pxtl says:

    “It is discrimination,” said Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred. “You are excluding men from the lounge. Are we going to have male-only lounges as we used to have? No. What we want are equal rights. Not more rights, not less rights, but equal rights.”

    To me, any space that discourages open debate ends up with destructively incestuous ideology. Same with the Freepers, with Kos, with Pandagon, etc.

  10. 10
    r@d@r says:

    as a childhood abuse survivor and also a sufferer of mental illness, i understand completely the concept of “safe space”. for many of us, as difficult as it is for “mainstream” people to accept, words can and do hurt. for some of us, words can hurt so bad that we might not leave our house for days afterwards. now people who don’t understand that may ridicule us or tell us to “toughen up” and say “that’s life in the big city” or whatever, but the fact remains that part of our journey out from under oppression is to define environments that accommodate us. for christians, their safe space may be their church. for atheists, maybe it’s the library or the laboratory, i don’t know. for those of us with addictions maybe it’s a 12 step meeting. in any event, creating safe space on the internet is problematic, but not impossible. the trouble is that in “RL” it’s somewhat easier to keep out unfriendly or antagonistic people than it is on the semi-permeable internet. but even support groups have experience with harmful people showing up uninvited, and having to confront that experience. it’s painful but i don’t think it’s bad – sooner or later we must stand up and say “this is who we are, we’re here, get used to it”, hate or no hate. it’s just hard when we can’t always control the terms on which this happens. discourse is vulnerability. i tend to believe that one has a choice: you can armor yourself, or you can be a human being, but you can’t really have it both ways. that said – i personally have a policy of trying really hard to focus more on listening than talking, coming from my place of considerable privilege. one hopes that being respectful earns one respect, although it’s often not the case.

  11. 11
    Ampersand says:

    “Safe space” means, I think, a space where people can have discussions without feeling that they’re going to wind up crying in the shower or unable to deal with human contact for a few days afterward. A place where you won’t feel like your basic humanity is being implicitly or explicitly denied.

    There is no such thing as safe space for everybody. The steps made to make a space safe for thee make it unsafe for me. I think all that’s possible is to make it a safe space for some, and hope the right people find the space.

  12. 12
    Kate L. says:

    I think respectful discourse is in order – absolutely. I also think people need to get a thicker skin sometimes (and the same can be said for me – absolutely). Unless you want a place where everyone nods in agreement or only has minor comments/criticisms to make, you have to be willing to have ideas/ideologies that you hold near and dear to your heart criticized. That is how new ideas and thoughts develop.

    There’s no question that for people to feel safe, in, say, a rape thread, then posters shouldn’t be able to get away with saying things that deliberately bait survivors or question whether they were really raped or not, etc. I doubt there are many here who would disagree with that.

    I guess for me personally, in order for me to be willing to spend my time writing my thoughts out, here are my requirements:
    1) I need to be interested in the topic at hand.
    2) If I state a personal experience then I expect that experience not to be questioned. I.E. if I say that I’m a person with a hidden disability who has experienced ableism in some specific way, I expect not to be told that my experience is WRONG or somehow not true.
    3) I DO NOT expect to have all of my ideologies and ideas validated. I expect and welcome people to engage those and criticize, disagree, and whatnot – as long as it’s done respectfully. I.E. I think a lot of feminist focus on abortion rights and the rhetoric surrounding that discussion can be ablist. This is an opinion, it’s based on my understanding and belief in the power of language and rhetoric… etc. It’s fine for people to disagree with that belief and question the degree of power that I “give” to language in that instance. This is discussing an idea, belief or ideology. If I say, “when I was told that I needed to have an abortion so as to abort a potentially disabled fetus I felt like that person was being ablist toward me…” or something to that effect, then I am stating my experience of a particular situation and I expect not to be told I’m imagining it all in my little head…
    4) I need to feel as though my posting has some sort of purpose – otherwise I won’t waste my time. People don’t nececssarily have to agree with me… but I need to feel as though someone is at the very least listening and possibly processing what I have to contribute at the same time that I try to process and listen to what others have to contribute. Once I feel like no one is listening or hearing me, OR if I feel like I’m not listening or hearing others, then I stop contributing. What’s the point?

    So, while I think we all need to maybe get a thicker skin and be open to disagreement of ideas… I also think there needs to be active listening going on in order to have a productive discussion.

  13. 13
    Thomas says:

    Amp is right: there is no way to make a space where two groups of people with unalterably opposing worldviews both feel that their basic assumptions are affirmed. To create safe space is to pick a side.

  14. 14
    risa bear says:

    I’m inclined to think there are no completely safe spaces, as safety cannot be guaranteed. Uncontrolled variables can be introduced into any group setting, regardless of preventive rule-making or barrier-raising. To breathe is to risk.

    I was at our local PRIDE recently, feeling safe pretty much all day, having a lovely conversation with someone staffing a nearby booth, when someone esle walked up and interrupted, ignoring me completely, and said to the person with whom I’d been speaking, “Oh, your shirt says you went to the Michigan festival; how was it for you?” … and off they went on that. I hadn’t seen the shirt.

    I think the irruption was not intentional, just the day-to-day rudeness of youth that I sometimes encounter as a 58-year old woman — not quite young enough to count as anything in some people’s eyes, and not old enough for crone status here, where revered white-haired lesbians seem to live to a very great age.

    But I did kind of go into shock. What neither of them, very likely, noticed was that I had just gone from personhood to thinghood in an eyeblink — being MTF — and suddenly felt unsafe. Even though I’ve never felt any hankering to hang out either at the Festival or at Camp Trans.

    When I read the comments after ‘Mandolin Replies to Seelhoff’ last week was the other time, recently, that I kind of went into shock. The thread was, I felt, mostly not a safe place for radfems (I thought Bean had a point), which made me sad; but the things that were being quoted, perhaps out of context, that had been said elsewhere about transpeople were very — it was physical; tightness in the belly and around the heart, blurred vision, stumbling around the house.

    I couldn’t sleep. Tried to go to work the next day and was useless. Developed a swollen glands and then an incipient ear infection and spent two days fighting off that and two more fighting off depression till I was able to come up for air.

    It does hurt to be regarded as a thing. It can hurt anyone a lot.

    And I was feeling resentful of a certain radfem leader/blogger, until I read, just after coming out of my depression, the stunningly horrific attacks being made against her site, evidently by people from the far right, like those who stood outside the PRIDE boundary holding up signs that said we would all be shortly going to hell, and what a good thing that was.

    As I read of these attacks, I strongly felt a renewed sense of solidarity with her. I can only hope that someday she can see me as worthy of the same.

  15. 15
    Mandolin says:

    Given that the parameters of this discussion are around finding safe space for progressives (since the post specifically indicates that the author’s not really fussed if homophobics feel safe or not), I’d like to suggest that the author consider locking the comment thread to feminists or anti-racists or in another way.

  16. 16
    Magniloquence says:

    One of the problems I’ve noticed that people encounter with the “safe space” conception is the question “safe from what?” My ex-boyfriend always felt incredibly hurt by the idea of women-only safe spaces, because he felt that the idea of such a space meant that he, as a man, was a danger.

    That always got on my nerves, because it focuses the question in the wrong direction. It’s not about men, it’s about women. Whether the issue is race or religion or ideology or whatever, it’s not about who’s excluded, it’s about who’s included.

    For me, the concept of a safe space is not “safe from,” but “safe to.” A safe space designed for me is a place where it is safe to be me. Without question or intrusion. And yes, without constant challenge. The possibility of debate should be there, sure… but there’s enough space for that outside. If your daily existence is a struggle along some dimension, then yes, it’s a damn good thing to have a space – physical or otherwise – where that isn’t the case. You might have the toughest skin in the world, but it’s still nice not to have to use it all the time.

    Then again, I also have a lot of trouble with the ‘grow a thicker skin’ construction. As with the “safe from” construction, it’s framing the issue backward.

    Say you’re in a supermarket, wandering along and minding your own business, when someone wheels the cart over your foot. You’re wearing steel-toed boots, so you’re not actually hurt… but they still ran their cart over your foot. They should still apologize because they did something wrong. It’s not a matter of whether or not you were hurt (or that you’re too sensitive, or whatever), it’s a matter of what actually happened to you.

    Now yes, of course, the amount of harm and intent of the aggressor do matter; an accident is not the same as a malicious attack, and getting your foot broken is a lot worse than having to brush out the suede of your shoe a little bit. These all affect the tone of the interaction and everything that happens (do they apologize and you say it’s no big deal, then you both wander off, or do you wail and crumple while they try to find someone to call you an ambulance? do they get angry? do you?) … but at the core of it, they still did something that needs to be addressed.

    I realize it’s slightly off-topic, but that particular thing always bugged me. “Grow a thicker skin” is just victim-blaming, even if one might legitimately criticize the strength of reaction in proportion to the amount of offense.

  17. 17
    RonF says:

    I’m still not clear as to what is meant by the use of the word “safe”. It seems to be being used as a synonym for “comfortable”, “convivial”, “non-confrontational” or “affirming”. So I decided to look it up. “Safe” is given by Merriam-Webster Online as “1. free from harm or risk : unhurt 2. a: secure from threat of danger, harm, or loss.”

    So, then, in order for a given discussion area on the Internet to be “unsafe”, it seems that there would have to be some kind of harm or risk to someone who might be participating. What kind of harm or risk is there in confrontation with ideas that you don’t agree with?

    Now, I quite understand and agree with Magniloquence’s viewpoint that he or she would like a place where he or she can discuss ideas with only those who agree (to at least a substantial extent). That’s fine. I agree with him or her on that point. I particpate in a forum where we talk about how to do a better job of running the B.S.A.’s programs in our community; the last thing we would want is someone getting on and running on about how horrible the B.S.A.’s membership standards are and that the B.S.A. should change or be destroyed. And the moderators regulate to that extent. But that makes it a comfortable, convenient, non-confrontational, and productive place to talk. It never occurs to me to call it a “safe” place to talk about Scouting (which is a rather large part of my life).

    To couch this kind of thing as an issue of “safety”, as though there was some kind of risk or harm associated with encountering people who disagree with you seems to be a claim for victimhood to me, and rather overblown rhetorically.

    The example of the supermarket encounter is kind of like that. Say your foot gets run over accidentally, but you have steel-toed shoes on. It was inconvenient, and the lack of an apology was graceless and unkind. But there was no actual risk or danger. You were never “unsafe”.

  18. 18
    Magniloquence says:

    I used the supermarket example because it was non-threatening. I’ve used it with stabbing and kevlar vests, too.

    (Oh, and I’m female. That should spare you a few keystrokes.)

    I think one of the other things that’s hard for people (particularly people with a fair amount of privilege and/or ‘thick skin’) is, as you point out, the concept of safety. I think that it can be hard for some people to understand just how damaging it can feel to run up against near constant hostility. It’s not about physical danger (not most of the time anyway; though I’d argue for certain groups in certain contexts, it definitely becomes about physical danger as well).

    In the contexts I particularly look for safe spaces, it feels like…

    …okay, I’m a mild arachnophobe. I wake up screaming in the middle of the night from vague dreams about spiders crawling on me. When I’m conscious, I don’t mind them too much unless they drop down on me unexpectedly. I like large spiders (tarantulas etc.) if I know they’re someone’s pet or research project, and I’ll hold them if they’re not venomous. If I see one in my space/on my stuff, I’ll ask someone to evict it (preferably without killing it).

    So. I can deal with spiders. Mostly.

    But sometimes, one will catch me by surprise, or I’ll be having a bad day, and suddenly nothing is all right. I’m screaming, hyperventilating, shaking… everywhere I look there’s a flash of motion or something scuttling just out of sight. And I’ll generally go into a well-lit room (like the bathroom, or somewhere else where the walls are lightly colored and there’s noplace for things to hide), just so I can feel like… even if a spider got in, at least it couldn’t surprise me. I can let down my guard and just be.

    It doesn’t mean I want all the spiders dead. It doesn’t mean I won’t be able to deal with them when I’ve calmed down. And I’m definitely not really in danger. (Particularly because even the most venomous spiders have ridiculously low actual mortality rates. [source])

    But for my mental safety, I needed somewhere to go. (Although I’m hoping to use this as an analogy, these details are all, embarrassingly, true.)

    To me, that’s what safe spaces are for. They’re not protecting people from danger in the sense that you’ve constructed it – most of the time, a word or an argument isn’t going to endanger anyone. And most people who use safe spaces are also engaging in conversations elsewhere, along the same dimensions.

    Safe spaces are … just brightly lit rooms. Places where you don’t have to be on guard all the time. Where your frayed nerves have time to recouperate so that you can go out and face the rest of the world the way you usually do. They don’t mean that the people inside don’t have thick skins, or that they aren’t willing to engage in conversation… they just mean that while they are there, they need some time to not be challenged or insulted or threatened. Someplace to just be.

  19. 19
    Magniloquence says:

    Adding to that, I think there’s also the temporal element that gets overlooked. As I said, most people don’t seek to occupy safe spaces all the time. (Though many people probably wish that the world was, overall, less threatening.)

    When a person says “this isn’t a safe space for me,” I read it as “right now, I am not in a mental/emotional place to deal with the level of threat I percieve here. [ed: rephrased to “right now, the threat I percieve in this space is higher than my personal threshold, and may harm me,” in order to properly center the origin of the problem] While some places may never calm down enough or change ideologically enough for the person to deal with, other places may over time become more tolerable – either because the person has calmed down/healed enough to engage, or because the place is no longer as toxic. And much of the time, it’s both/and, rather than either/or.

    Again, just the way I read it. Others may have completely different experiences.

  20. 20
    nexyjo says:

    i’ve been involved in many discussions on safe space, a large number of them concerning the michfest policy (and i don’t want to shift the focus of this thread to that trainwreck, but am only using that as an example here). as a transwoman, i’m very much invested in creating safe space for myself, and feel sensitive to the safe space of others. i’m somewhat different than many trans people i think, in that i support woman-born-woman space that excludes me, because of my personal understanding of safe space. and while i understand that some transwomen feel that wbw space is safe for them, it is not always safe for me. i’ve been in women’s safe space on many occasions, and did not always feel safe there. so i understand why some women may not feel safe with my inclusion. i’d imagine, for some of the same reasons i don’t always find it safe.

    to me, safe space is an environment in which i feel comfortable expressing my feelings on certain issues that may be sexist, racist, phobic (trans, homo, or otherwise), otherwise not pc, or feelings specific to being a transwomen living in a trans-intolerant society, in an effort to understand these feelings, and to face and (hopefully) overcome them, without the threat of condemnation from the other members of said space. a place where i can express my ignorance and immaturity without fear of insults and humiliation. a place that is inhabited by others who have lived experiences of being trans, or jewish, or white (depending on the type of space), who might understand my feelings, and therefore can help me understand them.

    and of course, the reverse is true – a space in which i can understand others, and help them work through their issues, based on a common lived experience, without condemning them.

    to me, the very idea of this kind of space is necessarily exclusive of some people, and therefore might appear to be any variety of “ist”, which, i imagine, is why many safe spaces are often attacked. the very nature of safe space is exclusionary and discriminary.

    i was sitting with 3 other women at work a few months ago, and they don’t know i’m trans, and the conversation shifted toward the other 3 women’s experience with their hysterectomies. i felt very uncomfortable, as if i was intruding. so while this was their safe space, i felt it was not mine. i had no understanding of their experiences, and felt i couldn’t ask any questions or express any feelings on the subject. i remained quiet while i squirmed in my seat.

    of course, some safe spaces can be used for evil things. perhaps another reason why they are often attacked. i’ve been in what i’d consider “white man’s safe space”, in which homophobic, sexist, and racist feelings were expressed, not to overcome or come to terms with, but instead to support and agree with. those spaces were not safe for me either.

    i too have trouble with the “thicker skin” growing thing. safe space, to me, is space in which i can shed my skin, and in fact bare my insides, without the fear of being hurt. or, to endure pain for personal growth.

    we live in a society in which many of us deal with several intersections of the many facets of our identities (a word i use somewhat loosely, but can’t come up with a better one right now). and while no safe space is guaranteed safe; after all, we’re all only human and can make mistakes and be ignorant at times, i do think it can be created and maintained for many.

    another example, as pointed out by risa bear, is lgbt space. i’ve felt safe at the ’07 phoenix pride event, and at local lgbt hangouts, but would never think to attend any lesbian specific spaces. i’m het identitifed (which intersects with my trans label, and can cause other issues of safety), so i would be intruding there. but in the context of the lgbt community, i can achieve a certain level of safety. i can achieve a higher level of safety in trans-only space, and even higher safety in transsexual-only space. yet, because of the intersections of identity, i can be hurt through other avenues, as i am also jewish, as an example.

    thomas writes “To create safe space is to pick a side.”, which is true perhaps, but in many cases there are more than two sides, as shown above. i’d say to create safe space is to chose to withhold judgement regarding areas in which one is not familiar, and to express support, understanding, and help with areas in which one is.

  21. 21
    Diana Boston says:

    Just the other day I was writing a post on my bb that said ‘the reason why we don’t get many people who are negative and come here to flame is because they register, enter, and see that this is NOT happening here so it takes the wind right out of their sails.’ I’ve realized that I’ve created a safe space for people. However, there are always the odd person who saunters in and tests the boundaries. In the year I’ve been running this internet hangout, I’ve only had to ban 3 people. That’s pretty good I think. But not so fast. . .

    Speaking as a proud radfem lesbo girlie I just encountered another event on my own blog where my personal story (inspired by Biting Beaver’s courage to tell her’s) was attacked by men telling me I had mental problems and so on and so forth. So I got that feeling inside that told me: ‘maybe this is NOT safe to do?’ I want to tell this story because it’s mine to tell and I want to claim it as mine and heal by this writing process but I’m getting attacked by men. I just felt a huge bowling ball stuck between my upper chest and my stomach. Then the obvious question was: ‘WTH am I gonna do?’

    I think in order to have safe space you have to get that pen out and draw those lines in the sand. I agree that it’s not a process of exclusion, especially when we’re dealing with women’s only spaces because of the simple plain fact that we’re not allowed to take up that space without the price that patriarchy demands. I think a lot of women bloggers feel me on this.

    BTW, Magniloquence, I completely understand what you said about your boyfriend not understanding this idea. Basically, imho, some men speak from a position of privilege and so they assume that anything without them is an affront to them.

    I also don’t believe in the ‘get a thicker skin.’ No way girls! I want to expose my soft underbelly WITH you. I want a place of love where nobody has to worry about getting attacked and I think the rules you need to make and the lines you sometimes need to draw are definitely worth the sharing and deep intimacy that can come from making a SAFE SPACE.

    Excellent Topic!!! Brava!

  22. 22
    ataralas says:

    [I]t may be impossible to create a space that is safe both for homosexual folks and members of the religious right.

    It’s not. I’ve been there. I’ve gone to meetings with people who firmly believed that queer folk are doomed to hell. I’ve gone and felt that a productive discussion was had. I’ve gone with deep reservations and come out uplifted.

    It depends on the queer folk and it depends on the religious folk. It requires lots of “I” statements, and to mean the “I”. Everyone involved in the conversation must be open enough to accept everyone else’s personal experiences as valid, but not necessarily universal.

    It’s a bit like psychotherapy that way: the benefit is wholly reliant on the chemistry between the therapist and the client and upon both parties’ intent to engage in a productive conversation.

    In that sense, I think it’s very difficult to create space like that on blogs that meet those requirements. It’s much easier to speak from one’s own experience and be civil when one is face to face, flesh and blood with someone. I think the closest we get is to enforce polite language and an absence of personal attacks. From there, it’s really all dependant on how willing participants are to undertake the risk of conversation.

    I also think that it ought to be possible for any participant in a risky conversation to say “I no longer feel able to emotionally participate in this conversation” and be able to leave without repercussion or attack.

    Which leads me to a final thought. I think there are (at least) two kinds of safe space. One is the “bright room” that Magniloquence talks about. Another is the kind I’ve been talking about. The first allows for letting down one’s guard in a way that is different from letting down one’s guard in the second. I think we tend to call both “safe space”, but maybe we should have different names? “centering space” and “neutral space” perhaps?

  23. 23
    Kate L. says:

    I just want to clarify something I said. I was thinking about safe spaces pretty much strictly in the internet, blog space/comment sense. Since most of what Myca referred to was the opposition in recent comment threads here and people not feeling “safe”.

    So, my whole post was mostly about safe comment spaces… and my particular observation has been that sometimes what people mean about a safe comment space is that they want to be free from disagreement about ideology, and I think in that case people need to “grow a thicker skin.” And I include myself in that example. I have a visceral reaction to certain posts/ideas… but I also recognize that if someone is challenging my ideas (in a respectful and appropriate way) then I probably AM the one who needs to take a step back. If they are challenging or invalidating my EXPERIENCES that’s a different story. But I see value in having ideologies challenged – it allows me to gain perspective, which might strengthen my position/thoughts or cause me to rethink them – either way it’s a good thing.

    Wasn’t sure if that was clear earlier and wanted to make it so.

  24. 24
    Sailorman says:

    Amp’s right on target here. You can’t selectively protect a group (however you choose to define that group) without being more aggressive to someone else, relatively speaking. [shrug] not that this is really a deal killer, just a limitation to work round.

    Similarly, full openness is anathema to protection. I have seen some safe spaces that are in the “preach to the choir” category and they work exceedingly well. Support groups are probably the easiest examples. But if you want to protect from a viewpoint or population then it’s damn hard to interact with people who possess that viewpoint or are members of that population.

    The only real way to do so and maintain an equivalently safe environment is to find people who are willing to discuss in a one-way-limited fashion (one side is expected to maintain limits on their actions for the benefit of the ‘protected’ group; the reverse is not true.) But those people are hard to find.

    In terms of ‘retain some semblance of safety while interacting with your opponents’, the most successful safe spaces I have seen are ones with generally applicable rules designed to enhance safety in general, (good moderation, no insults, no personal attacks, etc.) that are fairly universally applied. But within the safe-limited space, each member is personally responsible for leaving or protecting themselves if they feel it’s near their limits.

    It’s a bit like a good therapy group.

  25. 25
    SamChevre says:

    It seems like there are two kinds of safe space in view.

    One might I’ll call viewpoint-safe space. This is the kind of space where you can assume that everyone agrees with you, is familiar with the sort of experiences you’ve had, etc.

    The other I’ll call discussion-safe space. This is the kind of space where you can assume that everyone does not agree with you, some people will be unfamiliar with your experiences, but everyone is civil, temperate, and will not attack you as a person (even when venting about a class of which you are part.)

    I was describing discussion-safe spaces in my #8. I find online viewpoint-safe spaces to be uninteresting/maddening.

  26. 26
    Myca says:

    I also think that it’s worth differentiating between viewpoint-safe space and identity-safe space.

    That is, I think there’s a significant distinction to be made between criticizing someone for being black, female, trans, a victim of rape, or disabled and criticizing someone for being Republican, Democrat, racist, communist, capitalist, etc.

    Although the latter, to my mind, deserves some basic protection, it’s mostly of a ‘keep the discussion on topic and do not insult each other’ type, while I tend to think that the former requires a little more stringent protection, “This discussion will not include intimations that there’s something morally wrong with being gay or that transfolk are not really their stated gender. Period.” Although half of this is just sort of the initial instinctive response for me, I then to think that part of it is that your viewpoint is one that you have chosen to adopt, and thus ought to be open to discussion, while your identity is who you are.

    —Myca

  27. 27
    Robert says:

    I then to think that part of it is that your viewpoint is one that you have chosen to adopt, and thus ought to be open to discussion, while your identity is who you are.

    Not intending to derail, but – how is this different from essentialism?

  28. 28
    Myca says:

    Not intending to derail, but – how is this different from essentialism?

    Because saying, “I’m black,” isn’t essentialism, it’s an inborn identity, that, differing racial identification aside, isn’t really something that can change. You may call yourself X, Y, or Z, but you will always be the racial mix you’re born with, whatever you call it.

    Saying, “you’re born black, and therefore you suck at math,” is essentialism. It ascribes essential characteristics to a given racial identifiation.

    Saying, “you subscribe to a racist ideology, and here are the top 15 reasons it’s wrong,” is not essentialist either. You could choose to renounce your allegiance to racial supremacist ideology at any point and work at anti-racism.

    —Myca

  29. 29
    Sailorman says:

    Myca,

    The problem isn’t criticizing someone for being black, female, etc. “Your skin is too dark” or “you don’t have a penis, you fool!” are ridiculous comments.

    The problem is, as Robert notes, related to essentialism.

    There are things that some people feel are “natural” consequences of being a certain gender/race/etc., or a “natural” consequence of some other practice like racism/sexism/etc. As a result, those folks extend the protections BEYOND the simple race/sex/identity, into wider areas.

    Others feel that those characteristics (whatever they are) are mutable choices.

    So you get into the debate of what does or does not “follow naturally” from something, which is the same thing as essentialism.

    I’m reminded of a very old thread here….

    Some folks feel that sexual preference is not a choice, but that choosing to act on your preference through public attestations is a choice.

    those people feel entitled to attack or comment on such attestations, and don’t thing they’re attacking “gays” or “straights.”

    Some folks feel that being gay is not a choice; that public attestations of gender preference are also not a choice because they “follow naturally” from one’s preference; but that public displays of nudity or sexuality in a gay pride parade are a choice. Those people have their own comment rules.

    And some people feel that commenting negatively on actions at a gay pride parade is essentially equivalent to attacking gay people, because (in theory) those types of actions follow naturally from one’s gender preference, whatever that is. Or (more complex) that those types of actions follow naturally from being in a minority gender preference in the U.S. Same result either way.

    .

    Basically, EVERY group is trying desperately to secure the strongest position they can, by widening the scope of areas that are “untouchable” to include as many of their preferences as possible. Simultaneously, we’re all trying to narrow our opponents’ claims of “follows naturally” as much as possible, so we can feel OK about attacking them.

  30. 30
    Robert says:

    Tangentially, race would seem to be the only inborn identity in your list of inborn identities. The others are all things that can change, whether through volition, circumstance or good/bad luck. Returning to the main spur of the derail, though:

    Here’s where essentialism comes into it (from what I see): If it’s OK to criticize a communist or capitalist for choosing to adopt that viewpoint, why isn’t it OK to criticize a bisexual man for choosing to engage in sex with men (or women)?

    I impute to you an answer to that question: “because bisexuality is who that person is” – that is, their sexual choice or behavior is part of their identity. Which seems like the purest form of essentialism – “you’re born gay, and therefore you have sex with people of your own gender” – ascribing essential characteristics to a given sexual identity.

    In other words, if you subscribe to anti-essentialism, it seems to me very difficult to justify a policy that says you can’t criticize people for their choices on the grounds that those things aren’t really choices. If you think they aren’t choices, then you’re not anti-essentialist.

    Or am I missing something?

  31. 31
    Mandolin says:

    I think this thread is a fairly good example of the dynamic that we hear prevents a lot of posters from commenting on the blog (which has to do with how safe people feel in the environment). Here, someone who doesn’t appear to have a stake in safe space — Robert — is involving himself in the definition of it.

  32. 32
    Myca says:

    I think that there’s a significant difference between saying “gay people have romantic relationships with members of their own gender” and saying “black people are less smart, because they’re black,” and I think that not recognizing that difference is willfully blind. At best.

    I think that further discussion of essentialism is a sidetrack, though, and one I’d like to avoid, so let’s end it now.

    In terms of creating safe space, I know that for me I feel a significant difference when I am criticized for who I am (my sexual identity, say), and when I am criticized for the opinions I hold.

    —Myca

    EDIT: Also, as a nod to Sailorman and Robert, it may be that in creation of discussion spaces, there is some value in laying out specifically some topics that are simply not up for discussion or criticism . . . that way we avoid the issue of differing assumptions, by making it explicit.

  33. 33
    Sailorman says:

    In all fairness, mandolin, it’s not as if Myca asked for comments only from people who felt they needed a safe Alas-centered blogging space. And [shrug] it’s not as if Robert–or almost anyone–DOESN’T need, or have a stake in, safe space. It’s just that his safe space is probably quite different from yours.

    Your comment is also a great example of how to create (or not) a safe space.

    If you don’t like what Robert is saying, or me, or anyone else (male or female, scared or confident) and you want a thread that doesn’t contain any of those comments, that’s one kind of safe space.

    If you like the substance of the comments but not the fact that they came from Robert (male and presumably relatively confident); if this comment of mine would seem OK from someone else but not from me… that’s a different kind of safe space.

    Still, given that this is a nonrestricted thread (started by a male, BTW) and Robert posts on Alas all the time, it seems a bit harsh to go after him for responding.

  34. 34
    Robert says:

    In terms of creating safe space, I know that for me I feel a significant difference when I am criticized for who I am (my sexual identity, say), and the opinions I hold.

    Fair enough. This seems like one of the areas where peoples’ emotional response is more relevant than analytical truths; if you don’t feel safe, you aren’t, kind of thing. I respect that.

    Mandolin, you may, pace Myca, decide that you don’t care about my safe-space needs. But to say that I have no need for safe spaces is dehumanizing. I am human, and I am vulnerable to hurt just as you are. Your statement hurt me.

  35. 35
    Mandolin says:

    “Still, given that this is a nonrestricted thread (started by a male, BTW) and Robert posts on Alas all the time, it seems a bit harsh to go after him for responding”

    What does it having been started by a male have to do with anything?

    Robert’s and your comments are derisive toward the concept of safe space. I’m pointing that out. Robert could have chosen to respond in a respectful way; he did not. He is, instead, attacking the root of the concept. Reacting to what he says is not “going after him for responding” and I’ll thank you to stop that kind of insinuation. You’ve done it on several occasions, and that’s enough.

  36. 36
    Myca says:

    In addition not ending the discussion of essentialism right now, we’re also ending the discussion of who’s good and bad, and who’s derailing or not right now.

    I want this thread to be open to a wide spectrum of people, because I am interested in differing opinions on what constitutes safe space, and whether or not creation of safe space is a desirable thing or not.

    Last, I did not get the sense that Mandolin’s comment had anything to do with whether or not anyone was male.

    Seriously, let’s stop. No more attacks, no more defenses.

    —Myca

  37. 37
    Robert says:

    Creating safe space is definitely a desirable thing, within a context of diversity and variety. IE, I think the world would suck if it were all safe space – without challenge and conflict, there is no progress or development of new knowledge. But the world would also suck if everything were a free-for-all. My ideal is to have billions of different spaces with many subtle and gross variations and many different sets of rules, so that people can find their own balance of challenge and comfort in freedom.

    The great thing about the Internet is that it has taken what was always everyone’s theoretical right to create their own spaces and made it a practical (if limited and flawed) reality.

  38. 38
    nexyjo says:

    i’d disagree that safe space lacks challenge and conflict, at least for me. in fact, i’d argue quite the opposite. the difference lies in the way that challenge and conflict is expressed. in safe space, conflict is explored without insult, assumptions, or stereotypes; a space where conflict is examined without judgment.

  39. 39
    Bonnie says:

    [Mandolin, would you mind emailing me?]

  40. 40
    Ampersand says:

    Earlier this thread, I wrote “There is no such thing as safe space for everybody. The steps made to make a space safe for thee make it unsafe for me. I think all that’s possible is to make it a safe space for some, and hope the right people find the space.”

    I’d like to clarify that I wasn’t referring only to identity, or to ideology, although both of those are often relevant to what makes a space safe or unsafe for some people.

    Another matter is tone. When I was growing up, my father had significant anger management issues, and would suddenly erupt in over-the-top fits of rage and contempt that were far beyond what I was emotionally equipped to understand or handle. I think as a result of that, my tolerance for anger and contempt is very low.

    This has been a constant problem for me as a moderator who often blogs about racism and sexism; my need for a “safe space” where people are civil, and anger is relatively muted, often creates an unsafe space for others who find it racist and sexist to be expected to repress their justified outrage (or express it only in “constructive” ways).

    I don’t think I’m wrong to want safe space. I don’t think they’re wrong to want safe space. But I don’t think we can always share the same safe space, either.

    I pretty much agree with Robert that the only viable solution is to try and encourage the creation of many kinds of safe spaces.

  41. 41
    Mandolin says:

    I think it’s inappropriate to conflate the need for the safe space of a white, heterosexual, monogamous, religious conservative, homophobic, mildly racist individual with the needs for safe space for someone who is recovering from abuse, sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia, and so on.

    Safe space only exists under the title “safe space” when it is being made safe for the oppressed. The rest of the time, in the rest of the world, that space exists for people who are on top of the paradigm.

    I don’t need to create special safe space for myself as a white person, because I already have it. There’s no need for our understanding of power dynamics to go out of the window here.

    Bonnie,

    Email sent! Let me know if there’s a problem in receiving it.

  42. 42
    Myca says:

    i’d disagree that safe space lacks challenge and conflict, at least for me. in fact, i’d argue quite the opposite. the difference lies in the way that challenge and conflict is expressed. in safe space, conflict is explored without insult, assumptions, or stereotypes; a space where conflict is examined without judgment.

    I completely agree.

    I also think that safe space serves two different and complimentary functions in this context

    1) It’s a tool of inclusion. That is, there are plenty of people who cannot realistically participate without some sort of guidelines in place protecting them from certain sorts of attack, and often these people are those whose voices aren’t heard in the dominant discourse, making their inclusion doubly important.

    2) An ideologically-constricted Safe Space often serves as a method of focusing the discussion on a particular topic. Frex: If your goal is to discuss various competing methods of Universal Health Care, it is not unreasonable to exclude from the discussion those who oppose UHC. That’s not an echo chamber, that’s just proactively avoiding unnecessary derails.

    —Myca

  43. 43
    Robert says:

    I think it’s inappropriate to conflate the need for the safe space of a white, heterosexual, monogamous, religious conservative, homophobic, mildly racist individual with the needs for safe space for someone who is recovering from abuse, sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia, and so on.

    Because no white, heterosexual, monogamous, religiously conservative, homophobic, mildly racist individuals ever are in recovery from abuse or sexual assault.

    I am a sexual abuse survivor. I don’t wear it on my sleeve, but it’s there nonetheless. And I find it appalling in the extreme that my experience and pain can be devalued to zero because of your (partially wrong) list of completely irrelevant behavioral factors. The next time I wake up from a panic dream where he’s trying to get my pants down, I’ll take comfort in the religious conservatism that means it didn’t happen.

    Maybe you should start looking at human beings instead of at lists of labels. Your exquisite sensitivity to power dynamics is lovely; maybe you could extend it to people.

    (Sorry for the disobedience to your edict, Myca. Ban me if you feel you need to. I won’t have my experience zeroed out because someone thinks that their side owns pain.)

  44. 44
    Robert says:

    i’d disagree that safe space lacks challenge and conflict, at least for me.

    That was bad phrasing on my part. I agree with you that there is challenge and conflict in a safe space. What I meant was that there are sometimes specific ideas or challenges that simply won’t arise within a safe space. It’s not that there won’t be any growth or development in the safe space, just that certain types of development might be foreclosed or limited.

    Frex (I am stealing that neologism), say that I decide to host a “safe space” for a libertarian discussion of, I don’t know, child care issues. I want it to be people who already agree that the government has no place in child care; all we’re going to talk about is how the private sector can and should do things. So I ask Amp, noted advocate for publicly-funded childcare, to bow out of the discussion and he agrees. But Amp is the only one in the potential discussion pool who knows about a big government program in [country X] that indicated [important facts Y and Z]. We won’t have access to facts Y and Z, because we don’t want to hear Amp’s point of view. That doesn’t mean our discussion won’t be fruitful; maybe Amp’s interjection of Y and Z would in fact have been highly destructive. Or maybe it would have been the catalyst for us achieving a huge breakthrough; no way to tell. We won’t find out, because Amp won’t be there to have his say.

    There are many, many, many times and places when that tradeoff is well worth making – when the possibility for discussion opened up by excluding Amp’s POV is judged more important than the avenues foreclosed by his absence. That’s cool – it’s diversity in action. Some discussions should have Amp and some shouldn’t.

    That’s all I meant to say.

  45. 45
    Magniloquence says:

    I think that in a lot of this discussion people tend to want to make safe spaces bigger than they really are. A safe space for me as a woman is centered around that womanhood. Although it can be extended to other issues, and many safe spaces do cover a mix of identity and ideological issues, the dimensions of the space are generally pretty narrowly bounded.

    So a conversation or a room or a group that might be safe for me on one dimension (gender) might not be on another (race), and so on and so forth. And the power relations that make up our world can make negotiating these boundaries kind of difficult, as the above exchange illustrates.

    To me, it seemed like Mandolin’s grouping of “white, heterosexual, monogamous, religious conservative, homophobic, [and] mildly racist” in contrast to “recovering from abuse, sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia, and so on” was, while not necessarily completely impersonal, certainly more along the lines of saying “the (safe space) needs of people in privileged groups are radically different than those of people in marginalized or victimized groups.”

    A person may be privileged in many ways and victimized in another, as you point out Robert. Having privilege along some dimensions does not mean that you will never need a place of refuge… but it is also true that more privilege tends to mean less need of the space, and that lessened need tends to make people hostile or indifferent to the needs others might have of it.

    In that respect, it interests me that your reaction seems to perfectly well illustrate identity safe space needs; there’s an issue for you which you don’t like having challenged, and which hurts when you’re pushed on it. You can deal with it and have a regular conversation, but it seems to me that you would rather that people did not make assumptions about your experience and that your experiences, when voiced, were respected.

    Although I certainly agree that identity issues and ideological issues are not the same and don’t need to be treated the same, I have a hard time understanding why some people* don’t extend the same sensibilities to ideological issues. Again, it’s not that people aren’t also having other conversations and participating in spaces that aren’t safe (where they may be having the challenging breakthroughs of the sort mentioned above); nobody lives in a safe space (not forever, anyway, though some people do go out of their way to make as much of their life like that as possible). And sometimes, you just don’t want to deal with everything else. Or you can’t deal with it. Or you don’t want to be derailed. That doesn’t make your conversations any less valuable; they’re just different.**

    * That’s not a pointed some people, it’s just a sort of hand-waving ‘I’ve heard this argument at times’ thing.

    ** Ideological separation can also foster higher levels of discourse, even when everyone is civil. You can’t have a good quantum physics course when half the class is still struggling with regular physics, or with people who are stuck on the “when am I ever going to need this?” question. Yes, of course, challenge and change are good, and people who are not in the group can have valuable ‘outside the box’ contributions… but most of the time, complexity and nuance require shared bases, and you drag the whole conversation down if you’re still playing the defense and 101 game.

  46. 46
    Diana Boston says:

    One of the strategies used in critical thinking and brainstorming is the ability to put an idea on the table, supposedly breaking it from any personal ties to it. That way people who are involved can constructively critique the idea itself, not the person.

    The problem begins with what constitutes an idea and what constitutes an identity or a experiential piece of information.

    I think people who want to create safe space need to place very clear parameters about what is open to CONSTRUCTIVE critique and what is not.

    Tone is important, as is context. However, it isn’t always as clear as we’d like them to be. The internet lacks the ability (except for visual conference) for humans to receive crucial signals (body language, tone of voice etc) that would usually clarify the tone in a face to face encounter.

    I also agree with Nexyjo regarding safe space having the ability to have a level of challenge. I don’t think safe space needs conflict though.

    I would like to offer better descriptions of safe space. Safe space can involve constructive dialogue instead of challenge and conflict and it’s what I strive for as a SysOP and blogger.

  47. 47
    risa bear says:

    Myca’s comment in #42 (thank you) was very helpful to me. I look for safe spaces where my identity is not in and of itself taken as a form of attack, so that issues of mutual interest may be pursued constructively. This seems to work well in most spaces in which I find myself, both in blogspace and in local activism. ataralas, in #22, mentions the use of “I” statements as a kind of antidote to ad hominem attacks when goals are divergent. I have found it so. Provided ground rules can be elicidated and respected (which often requires a very astute moderator — I’m not one of those), it’s amazing the people you can put in a room together and have them learn from one another.

  48. 48
    Bonnie says:

    Mandolin – Thanks. Check your inbox.

    - Bonnie

  49. 49
    Alison Hymes says:

    I just want to thank everyone for such an illuminating discussion of safe space. It has come up as an issue in another venue (not a public blog but an internet community I care a lot about) and instead of being discussed, it was just acted on out of anger by a few, leaving a lot of collateral damage because this community has been in existence for a decade. I wish we had had this kind of discussion or that I thought we could have it now, but this has helped me a lot in understanding what happened, especially Ampersand’s comment on how personal background can affect safety needs as to tone.

  50. 50
    piny says:

    Because no white, heterosexual, monogamous, religiously conservative, homophobic, mildly racist individuals ever are in recovery from abuse or sexual assault.

    I am a sexual abuse survivor. I don’t wear it on my sleeve, but it’s there nonetheless. And I find it appalling in the extreme that my experience and pain can be devalued to zero because of your (partially wrong) list of completely irrelevant behavioral factors. The next time I wake up from a panic dream where he’s trying to get my pants down, I’ll take comfort in the religious conservatism that means it didn’t happen.

    She didn’t say that people with the former qualities never–or even seldom–also have the latter. She said that people don’t need safe space in order to celebrate those former qualities. I don’t know where you got your interpretation, given that she said in that comment that she herself doesn’t feel the need for safe space to protect her whiteness.

  51. 51
    Ampersand says:

    Safe space only exists under the title “safe space” when it is being made safe for the oppressed. The rest of the time, in the rest of the world, that space exists for people who are on top of the paradigm.

    I don’t need to create special safe space for myself as a white person, because I already have it. There’s no need for our understanding of power dynamics to go out of the window here.

    I disagree that “safe space” is a concept, and term, that can only be rightly applied to oppressed classes of people; and I also disagree that recognizing that people can feel a need for safe spaces along axises that have nothing to do with oppression requires tossing our understanding of power dynamics out the window. (Although I realize maybe that’s not what you meant, and I’m misunderstanding your argument).

    I think “safe space” is a concept that could conceivably apply to any human who feels vulnerable, but that how we respond to someone’s desire for safe space rightly depends on contextual factors, including (but not limited to) our understanding of oppression and power.

    In my comment #40, I referred to my own need for “safe space,” but I don’t think I’m qualified to use the term as you define it, because my need for safe space is rooted in my individual history and quirks, rather than in the oppression of a class that I belong to. But I think most readers probably understood what I intended by the term in comment #40, and I’m not certain what alternate term I could use that would communicate the same idea as well.

  52. 52
    Pxtl says:

    The problem is that for many, a “safe space” is a place where it is safe to say hateful, nasty things about other people without them being able to disagree with you.

  53. 53
    Sailorman says:

    There are some forms of space that will trasncend privilege boundaries.

    For example, I know a lot of people who rely primarily on emotional arguments. They might like a space where they can discuss things with other emotional-argument people; where there are no people pointing out the logical flaws in their arguments, or picking at their phrasing, while ignoring the emotion of what they are saying.

    And I know a lot of people who reply primarily on logical arguments. THEY might like a space where they can argue logically without worrying about someone feeling personally insulted by a general remark, or calling them evil, or otherwise responding illogically to their arguments.

    Those two type of people each feel attacked by the other (I’m using “feeling attacked” as a synonym for “feeling unsafe”). But membership in those groups isn’t linked to any particular status, race, sex, or class.

  54. 54
    nobody.really says:

    Safe space only exists under the title “safe space” when it is being made safe for the oppressed. The rest of the time, in the rest of the world, that space exists for people who are on top of the paradigm.

    I don’t need to create special safe space for myself as a white person, because I already have it.

    I don’t think I’m qualified to use the term as you define it, because my need for safe space is rooted in my individual history and quirks, rather than in the oppression of a class that I belong to.

    I’ve been thinking about Safe Space for a while today. I’m a white male yadda yadda. I’m so white and so male and so yadda yadda that I even have a spare bedroom. And now I even have a more-or-less permanent house guest. Which is great in many respects. And a big intrusion in others.

    He doesn’t really impede my ability to do anything. But he makes me self-conscious. It’s kinda like when I first had a kid, and could re-experience everything through her eyes. Only now, the thing I’m re-experiencing through his eyes is me. Just yesterday I wanted to complain to my wife about how I don’t have time to do this or that, after having spent hours reading blogs. But my guest was in the room and knows I’ve been goofing off, so now how do I get to bitch about my day? And the point isn’t that I’m deprived of the opportunity to make bogus justifications to my wife; I’m deprived of the opportunity to make bogus justifications to myself. And I really miss it.

    A safe place is where I am safe from having to confront things that hurt – things like, well, me.

  55. Pingback: Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Feminism is not your expectation.