If you have ever experienced the intoxicating feelings of sudden and unexpected childhood autonomy which accompany the owning of a treehouse or fort, chances are you were also the unwitting perpetrator of some good old, casual sexism. I, too, was once a proponent of “No Boys Allowed” notices scrawled in puffy paint; a fervent believer in the ever-present dangers of the dreaded cootie. Fear not however, no one is about to slap you or I with a Title IX violation for our nascent bigotry —children, while magnificent creatures in theory, have a tendency to be exclusionary and awful; if you don’t believe me, ask me to tell you the story of how I was socially exiled from a group of girls for daring to own the same Diva Starz doll as their tyrannical, eight-year-old overlord.
We allow the creation of such separate spaces in the realm of children, where less harm is done, but in the adult world, gender neutrality is the wave of the future—”girls only” and “guys only” denominations are disappearing faster than our prejudiced human minds can create them. So why, amidst this cultural push for inclusion and acceptance, especially predominant amongst today’s youth, has the idea of the girls-only clubhouse come back into vogue?
The Sisterhood is described by its creators as a “revolutionary clubhouse,” which plans to welcome “all people who identify as women.” Billed by organizers as an “intersectional, queer, trans and disability-inclusive space,” the venue is indeed as oxymoronic in nature as it sounds—inclusive of everyone but the other fifty percent of the population that just so happens to be male.
Needless to say, the decision to alienate men from The Sisterhood has raised a few questions, as well as a cloud of controversy. Many festival-goers have labeled the creation of an inherently discriminatory space as reverse sexism. This main argument is an expected one, relying on the petulant yet effective question, “How would you like it?” So, would women be raising a stink if the festival had announced a dudes-only venue, reversing the script on the female cabal the Sisterhood intends to be? The answer, of course, is yes. A club restricted to a single gender, orientation, or identifier is inevitably, and by definition, going to ruffle someone’s feathers. In this particular case, if the situation were reversed and The Sisterhood were actually The Misterhood, I will grudgingly admit that, as a self-proclaimed feminist, I would anticipate a vocal female outcry against yet another indicator of the patriarchy inherent in our society. The only defense I can offer against those men whose cries of indignation have been dismissed by prospective members of The Sisterhood, who would be equally, if not more, enraged if the situation were reversed, are the wise, self-mocking words of Elizabeth Lemon: “Women are allowed to get angrier than men about double standards.”
However much its inception appears to have created a small injustice, The Sisterhood claims to have been established by women, and for women, as a safe space which can, hopefully, combat some of the inherent sexism females (and those who identify as such) habitually experience at festivals and concerts:
“The producers of The Sisterhood believe that women-only spaces are necessary in a world that is still run by and designed to benefit mainly men. Oppression against women continues in various manifestations around the world today, in different cultural contexts…Sisterhood seeks to provide a secret space for women to connect, network, share their stories, have fun and learn the best way to support each other in our global struggle to end oppression against women and all marginalized people, while showcasing the best and boldest female talent in the UK and beyond.”
Cat calls and lingering once-overs are one thing, a depressing daily reality perhaps, but one most women are equipped to deal with. The abundance of adrenaline and access to inhibition-erasing substances, combined with a lack of effective police supervision, often makes festivals a far more dangerous space for women than most people realize. I once had a man follow me into a restroom at an outdoor festival and try to lock the door—thankfully he was pretty drunk and my friend had seen everything, so I was able to leave without incident. Another guy in the mosh pit once took the beanie I was wearing off my head, sniffed it, and then tried to run his hands through my hair. Friends of mine report similar experiences and I’ve seen enough girls being grabbed, harassed, and whistled at as a bystander at festivals to know that if I were offered entry to a female-specific clubhouse, I would find the absence of men, in this instance, fairly enticing.
But realistically, does the blanket exclusion of all males guarantee a harassment-free den of acceptance, the promise of festival Nirvana? Unless the Mothers of The Sisterhood decide to ban alcohol and other fun, festival edibles and find a way to effectively screen ladies for bigotry, then almost assuredly, the answer is no. The Sisterhood’s goal to eliminate the casual harassment most women have experienced at festivals in their lifetimes and foster constructive female relationships may not be effectively realized by the construction of a women’s-only space. However, I can allow that it is a step in a well-intentioned direction.