In honor of our WOMEN IN CHARGE show, as well as our ongoing commitment to empowering women in the arts, we bring you a quick history of women-only spaces, courtesy of Brittany Craig, a Chicago-based activist and educator.
Women-only spaces began when American Second Wave feminism began to claim public space as a means of resistance to patriarchal culture. Women-only spaces created a women’s culture that attacked the patriarchal demand that women’s lives center around men. This invasion of public space by women brought about activism, social change, and a stronger identification for women as women. Many women-only spaces were based on needs, such as domestic violence shelters and feminist credit unions. Others, however, were culturally-based women-only spaces that provided outlets for women to explore their identities, learn about feminism, display their art, experience women’s music, or meet other women.
The end of the 1971 International Women’s Day Parade near Harvard University was marked by the occupation of a graduate building by 150 women. The building had been scheduled for destruction, but the women inside issued a statement demanding that the building be updated for use as a women’s center instead. Men were not permitted inside, but other women were invited inside the newly christened Liberated Women’s Center. The Center taught karate and silk screening and provided a communally run childcare system. They danced, sang, and painted murals. When eventually a bargain was made between Harvard and the women, women left the building singing and quickly formed another protest, energized by their victory.
Historically, like the Liberated Women’s Center, women’s spaces have granted to women previously denied independence and rights to public space. Culturally-based women only spaces such as feminist bookstores and women’s art galleries encourage women to express themselves without help from men or the limitations and demands of patriarchy. In women-only and women-focused spaces, women can bring their art out of storage and into the front window.
Kristen Hogan, “Women’s Studies in Feminist Bookstores: ‘All the Women’s Studies Women Would Come In’,” Signs 33 (2008).
Carol Seajay, “Books: 20 Years of Feminist Bookstores,” Ms 3, no. 1, July 1992.
Daphne Spain, “Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces in 1970s Boston,” Frontiers 32 (2011).
Here are some resources for women in the arts: