On this night we will discuss the idea of Safe Space. What are its conceptual ideals and its practical existence? And what are the tensions between the ideology and the lived reality? These are some of the questions we wish to explore together.
The concept of Safe Space originated in the LGBTQ communities, where it signified a space where LGBTQ- people could come together and be safe from discrimination, marginalization and (physical) harm. It now extends to all kinds of groups who are marginalized in society on the basis of sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, religious affiliation, age, or physical or mental ability. Safe Spaces should be hospitable environment, in which they can come together, feel at ease, and exchange experiences that other people can’t relate to. Safe spaces, in short, should be exactly that: Spaces were people feel safe, where they can be themselves, where they can be with people like themselves.
This idea, however, is not without conflict. Criticasters argue that Safe Spaces actually contribute to more separation, more division, more hierarchies. Moreover, as commitments to safe space, and related concepts such as the use of trigger warnings and pronouns, are exported to other sites and situations (for instance, higher education) critical voices argue that these formalized sensitivities towards the presupposed minority experience effectively leads to censorships. Only thoughts and opinions that take account trigger warnings, pronouns and the like are allowed to be voiced, opponents say.
In this discussion, we want to explore these criticisms: to learn how to productively and appropriately engage with them and how to not simply withdraw from conversation in “less safe spaces”, and thus take them as an invitation to ponder on the means through which we translate commitments to inclusivity and equality into practice.
Acknowledging and exploring the tensions that might come up from this is particularly relevant for the Feminist Club if we consider the different goals the club and its online platform aspire to: creating a safe space for marginalized people, fostering open debate about feminist issues, and mobilizing people in, and advancing the fight against, among others, sexism and racism. Taking into account the latter two ideals, we will discuss whether, and if so how, norms to make spaces safe may risk turning them instead into orthodox and closed spaces.