From the archives: A Room of Our Own

28 Aug

This article was featured in Farrago in 2010.

Tuesday, August 17 2010 – by Esther Bohmer and Miriam Hamel-Green

In Australia, right now, one in every three women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime. In Australia, right now, one in every three women suffers mental health problems. In Australia, right now, one in every three women has at least one STI. Will one autonomous (women-only) space in Parkville fix all this? We don’t think so. But it is one step—and for many women, the first step—in addressing these issues for themselves.

The Wom*n’s Room exists, as the various—admittedly poorly maintained (2011 edit: now awesomely maintained!) —websites state; as both a safer space for women and somewhere to organise against that which makes us unsafe. The notion that in the last thirty years the University has managed to undo all patriarchal constructions is absurd. Yes, women occupy spaces such as lecture theatres, south lawn, bars and offices. But this does not happen free of misogynistic behaviour and danger. Men dominate discussion in tutes, women are verbally harassed around campus, and men are systemically privileged over women in academia, for example the topic “lesbians” is deemed too specific for a thesis, whereas we’re free to write 10,000 about one old, dead, white guy. And then there are the statistics mentioned above, which it is naive and dangerously unwise to presume aren’t manifested within our University Bubble. Women who recognise these facts and then choose to take action—such as those who participate in all the Wom*n’s Room has to offer—are not thus vulnerable cowards and victims; they are empowered individuals attempting to navigate society as best they can.

If you took the opportunity to attend the ant-racism discussion session held last semester as part of WOW (Week of Women) then you will have been fortunate enough to listen and learn from the experiences of others. More specifically, from women in our community who experience the very real and very constant intersection of racism and misogyny. White women don’t do enough to organise time and mental space to sit down, shut-up and listen. This is one of the functions of the Wom*n’s Room—it is not only the single existing space in most women’s lives that actively recognises the shit you go through just for being a woman; it is also one of the only spaces that exists to help us organise against said shit. Certainly, Claire Taity and others disagree about how best to organise and change things—some draw cunts, some write poetry, some protest, some argue for the abolition of autonomous spaces. Whatever your stance, that is what WAC (Women’s Action Collective, every Monday 1-2pm in the Wom*n’s Room) is for; we organise as a collective about what to do next, and how to go about it. There is no other place on campus—or wider society—where this is both safe and encouraged for women.

To suggest that dedicating a [rather tiny] space for women to skillshare, network, nap, discuss issues facing them, organise against those issues and access resources is somehow disempowering strikes us as a little odd. For someone to read the existence of the Queer Space as an indication that all queer people on campus lack confidence is insulting, and distracts from the purposes and functions of that space. So, too, does this rather self-centred and inaccurate reading of the Wom*n’s Room.

Something that is blatantly obvious from last edition’s article about the Wom*n’s Room is that the author has had no involvement in the department this year. If she had, she would know that there are in fact no vaginas depicted on the walls of the room, and there haven’t been all year. And she would know that, as a form of activism and self-love, this is something we plan to address in the upcoming Cunt Week. Furthermore, she would know that condoms are available not only through us, but through the Queer, Activities and Welfare Departments, because sexual health is vital and should never been seen as just “the woman’s job.” She would know that we do not use the word “sanitary” when we refer to the things we use to manage our menstrual blood—there is nothing unsanitary about the fact we bleed every month. And she would know that the choice to wear a bra is free in our community, and irrelevant to our credibility. Finally, she would know that—while perhaps not her personal experience—this campus is physically unsafe today as it was when the Wom*n’s Room was first won. As such, it must be just a little ‘tucked away’. How pertinent that we would discuss this issue now, with Prosh week upon us …

So, for Claire Taity and (if there are any) others like her, we wish you three things. First, continued success as a woman free from the threat or actualisation of physical violence. Second, that you take-up the opportunity to learn of the experiences of others, whether that is through your Student Union or otherwise. Third, that you take advantage of the events, social opportunities, political representation and political engagement that your Student Union provides. After all, you are amongst the world’s best positioned to affect change in your society.

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More responses:

http://union.unimelb.edu.au/farrago/re-room-for-debate-3

http://union.unimelb.edu.au/farrago/re-room-for-debate2

http://union.unimelb.edu.au/farrago/re-room-for-debate-4

http://union.unimelb.edu.au/farrago/re-room-for-debate-5

http://union.unimelb.edu.au/farrago/re-room-for-debate

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