We realize that there is a certain amount of tension that arises whenever one group of people is excluded from an experience based on factors they cannot control. Male bodied people cannot help that they were born male. We recognize that there is a perception of injustice that is felt when all members of a given population are made to account for the actions of other members of that group, despite whether they personally believe they have behaved in an abusive or oppressive way.
We understand that a great deal of male bodied people are not abusers, are not intentionally disrespectful, and in fact are perfectly conscientious and supportive allies to women and people of all bodies and gender presentation. We recognize the work that so many male bodied people have done and are doing to work with women in abolishing oppressive gender norms, establishing models for accountability, and breaking cycles of oppression in their lives and the community at large. All the people we know who have done everything in their power to contribute to safe and equitable communities deserve a huge deal of credit and are of extreme value to people of all gender’s everywhere and the struggle of the oppressed.
The reason we need a safe space is not to say that all male bodied people are oppressors and all women their victims. It is not to demonize any group or assert some misplaced resentment through “reverse discrimination.” A safe space recognizes the very real fact that there are inherent gender politics at work between men, who are almost exclusively afforded a position of societal privilege, and women, who routinely suffer the fallout from the assertion of that privilege. Despite anyone’s best intentions, every woman in the world spends every day of her life on guard against a constant barrage of male objectification, judgement, co-option, aggression, oppression, harassment and subjugation.
There is no street a woman can walk down without hearing men objectify her. They ask us where we’re going, what our name is, where’s our boyfriend at, why don’t we stop and talk for just a minute, don’t our bodies look hot in the clothes we’re wearing, what’s our phone number, whistling, howling, honking their car horns (seriously) or simply, without words, they will overtly gesticulate the motion of looking us up and down, poring their eyes over every part of our body and literally grunting, as if daring us to stop them.
There is no clothing we can wear without being judged. She’s a slut, or a dyke or a tomboy, or she’s fat or she wants the attention.
There is not a single woman in the world who has not heard the words “let me do that for you” when she tried to lift, move, fix, or learn a new skill.
There is not a single woman who has not experienced the unwelcome touch of a man who stole that touch without consent because what’s she gonna do? Fight back? And anyway, she probably likes the attention, right? Just yesterday an acquaintance of a friend, a man I had never met before, came up to me, and rubbed his hand across my back repeatedly while speaking to my friend. I couldn’t pull away because we were sitting in chairs and he was behind us. I was literally trapped, feeling his unwelcome hand on my body, waiting for it to end. Could I have said something? Absolutely. Could I have physically removed his hand from my back? Yes. But let’s consider the possible outcome of that scenario. I tell him that I don’t want him to touch me. He probably feels embarrassed and makes a joke (at my expense) about how he didn’t mean any harm. He belittles me into feeling ashamed because he knows it is him who should be ashamed, but men are not socialized to accept that feeling of guilt the way that women are. Somehow, in all this, I am the one who is made to defend my actions against him. Defend my audacity at reclaiming my body and setting a perfectly normal boundary. Women are not taught to have, let alone enforce our own boundaries. So I said nothing. Just like women everywhere say nothing when it happens to them. Why rape goes woefully underreported, and men are never asked to account for their participation in an exploitative and damaging system of oppression.
There is not a single woman (or human) who doesn’t receive the message that men want sex all the time and women don’t. We receive the message that women who want sex are sluts (or they are fetishized and demonized at the same time), and those who won’t put out, women who have and enforce their own boundaries, are prudes. We are taught that just by engaging in our own sexuality, in our own bodies, means that we consent to sexual behavior from anyone who wants it from us. That simply by desiring and seeking out physical intimacy, we are no longer allowed our own discretion about who or when we seek it from, or under what circumstances. She wouldn’t have worn those clothes if she didn’t want it. She wouldn’t have flirted with me if she didn’t want me to pursue her. She wouldn’t have let me kiss her if she didn’t want me to fuck her. She wouldn’t have let me buy her dinner if she wasn’t going to put out. We are taught that sex is currency that we can cash in for food, shelter, companionship, security, promotion, access, and acceptance. Every woman who has ever lived has had, at one time or another, been forced to ask herself if she was receiving a gift, a favor, a kindness, a job, or a basic right, because the man she was engaging with had sexual feelings toward her. We are not our brains, our personalities, our accomplishments, our hard work. We are our bodies and they are worth more than anything else we can offer to a man.
Regardless of the messages given to us by the individual men in our personal lives, the overwhelming message we receive every day of our lives is that we are weak, inadequate, less intelligent, sexual objects.
My intention by disclosing all this information (that any woman will attest to experiencing on some level) is again, not to demonize those of any gender, but to simply offer a glimpse into the every day slog that every single woman in the world confronts on a personal level and hopefully impart some small measure of the emotional and psychological toll it takes on a person who is constantly being treated as though her body is not her own. As though she exists, dresses, and behaves for the amusement and sexual pleasure of the men around her. Shit’s exhausting.
This is not to say that men don’t confront fucked up gender expectations and pressure on a daily basis and we fully hope for and support all efforts by men to find their own safe spaces where they can confront and process their emotions and their experience as people, just like women, who are capable of being both perpetrators and victims of objectification and gender stereotyping.
However, it is absolutely essential to recognize that in our human culture, across the world and throughout history, the dominant cultural norm has held that to be male bodied is to exist in a position of privilege, just as it is to be of a certain skin color, socioeconomic status, national identity, sexual preference or physical ability. Whether any man believes he has lived his life in the most consciously equitable way possible, the fact remains that to be born male is to receive privilege, and to be born female is to spend an entire life struggling beneath the weight of that inequity.
So now that we’ve established some of the factors at work in the gender binary, we can talk about why women who are attempting to learn a new, historically masculanized skill, would require a comfortable and supportive atmosphere to do so. Regardless of what century it is, mechanics of any sort are still male-dominated trades and industries. When a woman attempts to break into a male-dominated arena, we are almost always ridiculed, belittled, tokenized, fetishized or shut out. One of the problems with privilege is that it is often covert. It is difficult to prove and is fed by so many elusive cultural streams that often times, a woman who knows she is feeling judged or mistreated will second guess herself, or adopt the oppressive practice of victim blaming. She will take responsibility for the actions of others, and she will forgive the men who belittle her because “they don’t know any better” and they “don’t mean any harm.”
Each of us involved in Fender Bender have had the experience of working on a bike only to have a man come over, physically remove the tools from our hands, and attempt to show us how to do something we were perfectly capable of doing in the first place. We have all had men watch us work on a bike and attempt to “lend a hand” by telling us what to do. When we refuse their help we are treated as silly, trifling little girls who are taking themselves way too seriously, and what’s wrong with accepting a little help, anyway? What’s wrong is that we don’t need your help and we didn’t ask for it, and the assumption that you are more capable of performing this skill than we are despite any evidence to the contrary is exactly why most women often don’t even bother breaking into these male-dominated fields in the first place. Because we deal with that shit every day of our fucking lives already, and sometimes it’s just too much work to engage in one more activity where we feel oppressed.
So we don’t. We let men fix our cars and our bikes. We don’t learn about how they work. We don’t buy our own tool sets to have around the house. We accept the message that it’s ok for women to leave that up to the men, not because that’s how we feel, but because to do the opposite, to break the gender barrier, is a lot of hard work on top of the already difficult task of simply learning the new skill.
The basic fact of the matter is that privilege is access, and men receive unadulterated access to every level of society without question, where women have to work twice as hard to get half as much. Men are welcome and accepted everywhere. Women are not. So to provide a space where just women and gender-nonconforming people are welcome is not to provide women with an opportunity at the expense of men, it is to provide women an opportunity that men already receive.
To have a safe space, where we are not confronted with the constant reminder that we should be embarrassed, ashamed, or insecure for wanting to learn a new skill, or not already knowing how to do it, is of vital importance to the advancement of women in communities, and to our own mental health.
And yes, there are plenty of men out there who don’t know how to work on bikes. Men who believe that we should offer programs based on relative skill level as opposed to gender identity, because isn’t a man who doesn’t know how to fix a bike equal in disadvantage to a woman who doesn’t know? The answer is no. Because any man can go to any regular workshop for bike mechanics and be embraced, because, as we’ve already established, men are “supposed” to want to learn about mechanics and it is perfectly normal for them to be there. Women are not afforded the luxury of that acceptance.
So. It is with this heaping amount of baggage in tow that we humbly ask everyone to please understand and accept why we feel it’s necessary to provide this experience for women, trans, queer, and gender non-conforming people only. We hope this has answered some questions about our perspective, our goals, and our mission as people who are merely doing what little they can to help shift an injustice that has done so much to divide, destroy, and threaten the health of our lives, our bodies, our communities, and our futures.