Hibben: We Need More Women-Only Spaces


Photo by John Arano on Unsplash

By Aya Hibben, Opinion Writer


I detest going to the gym because of all the precautions I take to feel safe. Typically, I cover up in loose sweatshirts, forsaking my comfort to draw fewer ogles from sweaty men. I take my hair down after working out because it’s harder to grab than a ponytail. To leave, I briskly walk to my car, looking behind me, before immediately locking and starting my car. I never exercise outside alone and only use the gym in the middle of the day. Women like me must use these common rape-prevention techniques to feel some semblance of safety.

However, I recently walked into Victory Lady Fitness, a women-only gym, and my experience differed greatly. In an early morning cardio class, the women around me warmly welcomed and encouraged me and everyone else. I could wear gym clothes that didn’t restrict my movement. I felt that I actually accomplished something rather than constantly watching my surroundings.

Women-only spaces have grown in popularity over the last decade. Places like women-only offices, gyms and community spaces tackle the issue of sexual harassment and violence by helping women feel safe, confident and respected. Conversely, women feel uncomfortable and cannot rise in male-dominated spaces — and most often, feel unsafe wherever they are. Women-only spaces are necessary for facilitating women’s strengths and voices, without fearing judgment or violence.

Everyday Trauma

The term gender-based violence (GBV) describes physical and psychological violence experienced by people of any gender. Women are disproportionately affected by GBV.

In the U.S., nearly one in five women have been raped in their lifetime, and 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment. Almost nine in every 10 women in cities across the world feel unsafe in public spaces. They also are twice as likely as men to experience PTSD, and take three years longer to be diagnosed than men on average.

Gender-based violence causes much of these traumas and also has long-term consequences. Generational trauma can be passed down to women in a family through health and even genes. Women today still carry the physical and emotional burdens of their descendants, which speaks volumes about the impacts of GBV. Women-only spaces can potentially be safe spaces to prevent this. Within them, women can try releasing this pressure and go about their normal lives worry-free.

Facing Male-Dominated Spaces

We see the societal effects of GBV when women are intimidated or disrespected in places where they work. Women are less likely to speak up in male-dominated spaces and think about leaving their jobs more often. Research shows that when women are surrounded by other women, they not only reach higher authority in the workplace but also earn more income.

A close circle of women allows other women to freely express their thoughts and opinions, and actually feel validated. Women-centered spaces also provide access to education and connections that traditional spaces rarely offer to women. At Victory Lady Fitness, trainers educate members on weight training instead of cardio to reverse toxic diet culture ideas about exercise.

Some have debated if women-only spaces are inherently sexist to men. When the Boy Scouts opened applications up to girls, some turned their heads to the Girl Scouts and asked for the same. However, I want to remind these critics that male-only spaces have always existed, and always for discrimination. Gentlemen clubs, office spaces and even war rooms were and are socially accepted places that women were not allowed to enter.

Instead, women-only spaces aim to help a marginalized group of people feel safe, while male-only spaces raise up an already powerful group. The systemic difference between how society treats women and men explains why these two spaces are quite different. People who object to women-only spaces are arguably only opposed to male domination being threatened.

The Importance of Women-Only Spaces

As a woman and sexual violence survivor, I always think about my safety. Throughout my life, I’ve been told to know how to turn down romantic approaches or not argue in class in fear of retaliation from men. Men have gotten angry at me for ignoring their catcalls, and I’ve even had their partners threaten me.

On campus and at work, I’ve been questioned or belittled because of my gender. It’s draining to never feel safe and to always be blamed for these men’s actions. But in a women-only space, I felt safe enough to focus on my task.

Utah struggles with violence against women, and students on our campus have said they don’t feel safe. Perhaps more women-only spaces would facilitate growth and support for women who cannot look past their fears in co-ed spaces.

While I’m not suggesting that women start a colony separated from men, I do think women deserve to feel at ease in any space. It’s exhausting being in spaces where men constantly question what sexual harassment is, or taking the same online course about consent because many college-age men still don’t understand it.

We can’t continue normalizing “rape prevention” techniques that prevent women from being comfortable. We shouldn’t continue enduring all the fear, victim-blaming and stress. Instead, we need some spaces where we can relax and take a breather.


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