I don’t doubt that you’ve all encountered what I think of as ‘Cultured Spaces.’ These are spaces that are set aside exclusively for the use of one particular group to the exclusion of all others. You often find them at universities – rooms for women, for queer and transgendered people, for members of particular religions. Often they are not rooms that serve any particular function beyond privacy (although rooms for religious groups often blur this distinction).
I’ve often found myself in two minds about this. I hate that these things are exclusionary, but then, I’m also aware that, as a wise friend of mine once put it: “maybe someone needs a space I’m not in. ” What to do, what to do…
There are good reasons for having these spaces – they really do provide a sense of safety and freedom, a release from the pressures of both overt and covert discrimination. There’s no doubt in my mind that Cultured Spaces are a social good.
Which is not to say that these spaces are always the trouble-free oases that they are intended to be. At best, it can be said that they are free of outside troubles. That just leaves the troubles people carry with them – most of these places attract a regular group of users, and there’s no way to get more than a handful of human beings in any group without social politics becoming a factor. And this leaves aside the problem that these groups may themselves discriminate against subgroups – there are ‘Queer’ spaces where bisexuals and/or transexuals are not welcome, for example.
There are critics of the entire idea, of course. For all that these spaces are intended as a place for minority groups of various sorts to escape from the pervasive privilege of white male heterosexuality, it’s hard to argue that exclusionary behaviour of any sort privileges one group over another. Or that these spaces run the risk of further stigmatizing the very groups they’re intended to help.
On the other hand, the criticism that Cultured Spaces are merely “Political Correctness run wild” is a load of bollocks.
I know, because what I’m about to propose is going to run a long, long way past merely “wild.”
The dispute over the need for Cultured Spaces basically runs afoul of a difference in interpretation of what a neutral space would be.
To those in favour of Cultured Spaces, it is an indisputable fact that society outside the spaces is no more neutral than society within.
To those against them, it is likewise indisputable that society is too neutral.
I have a solution.
Every group – well, every group that asks – gets its own Cultured Spaces. And as soon as one group asks, the opposite group or groups must also have one. If there’s a space for women, there must be one for men. If there’s a room for gays, there must be one for straights (and the bi’s, of course, can have the room between those two, fitted with a door to each of the others rigged so that only one door can be open at once). And it doesn’t matter how small your group is – if lesbian left-handed midget eskimo albinoes want a space just for them, they get one.
For that matter, every faith gets its own chapel. Even the atheists and agnostics get chapels.
But the price for these rooms is that everyone – EVERYONE – must assume that anywhere outside the Cultured Spaces is neutral. That outside these zones of exclusion, everyone is deemed included.
Naturally, this neutrality would need to be supported by a raft of new hate crime legislation, enforced by a hellaciously efficient thought police. There’s just no other way to make it work.
I mean, what’s the alternative, trusting people?