By Isabel Ringrose
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Capitalism leaves no safe spaces for women

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Issue 2776
Protests at the Womens March in 2018
Protests at the Women’s March in 2018 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Will safe spaces protect women? It’s an argument that has arisen once again after the murder of Sarah Everard by Met police officer Wayne Couzens.

Female wings in hospitals or changing rooms, wanting a female doctor, or a group to discuss specific issues relating to women in a trade union can be important.

Domestic abuse refuges for women are an essential ­service for those without anywhere else to go.

And, it’s right to defend the self‑organisation of oppressed people, whether in spaces for women, black or LGBT+ people to debate and organise among themselves.

This is particularly ­important when these spaces come under attack from the right who want to tear apart self-organisation.

Women’s officers at universities and women’s hour at swimming pools have all come under attack in the past.

But there is a distinction between spaces designed to protect women, and others that give opportunities during struggle for women to discuss specific issues.

Both should be fought for, but socialists must also say their expansion isn’t the way to overcome sexism and ­violence against women.

“Inherent” male violence is used sometimes to justify the need for women-only spaces.

The notion of “biological determinism” is that ­women’s oppression is rooted in ­biology, and violence is ­inherent to men.

Sex, gender and women’s liberation
Sex, gender and women’s liberation
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It’s true that men commit acts of violence against, harass and abuse women.

Men don’t need to infiltrate women-only spaces to do this. Some 80 percent of assaults on women are in public areas.

But women’s oppression results from and is structured into the capitalist society we live under, not a biological feature of men.

Women are paid less, their bodies commodified, and they’re harassed and abused daily. Sexism provides ­justification for this structural oppression. It ensures women stick within their set gender roles—such as being seen as nurturing and subservient.

Since the debate ­resurfaced, gender critical feminists are yet again using women-only spaces to attack trans women based on the false rooting of women’s oppression in biology.

Transphobes make the argument that as “male bodied” people, trans women pose a threat to cis women—women whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.


And, they say, being socialised as “men” means trans women can’t relate to problems or experiences that other women suffer.

Guardian newspaper ­columnist Catherine Bennett recently wrote, “As Alessandra Asteriti and Rebecca Bull argued in Modern Law Review, ‘Opening spaces to those who self-declare their sex and whose are perceived as males’ will ‘embolden male opportunists to enter single-sex spaces, reducing their risk-mitigation role.’”

But trans women aren’t men dressing as women to perpetrate violence.

Firstly, trans women are not men dressed up, nor are they men trying to be women.

Secondly, there is a total lack of evidence that women are attacked by trans women or men in women’s clothes who want to abuse women.

In fact last year four out of five trans people were victims of a hate crime. Trans people face brutal oppression, both in the forms of transphobia and sexism.

Too often arguments about women-only spaces focus on the exclusion of trans women.

Attacking other oppressed people is not only misguided but causes further division.

The arguments against trans people that are used by the right now are taken up by some on the left, only plays into the sexism and ­oppression rife in society.

Socialists must defend ­people’s right to gender identity and argue for class unity with men against sexism, ensuring women are at the forefront of the fight.

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