Why Women Only?

A couple of us in the Gendered Subjects group are organising a series of screenings at Newcastle’s volunteer-run cinema, The Star and Shadow. The screening series is entitled ‘Lesbians on Screen: How far Have We Come?’ (see previous post on our blog here http://wp.me/p2eKCh-6r ). We decided to make the screenings as well the discussions and focus groups open to women only and have had the first of, no doubt, several queries as to ‘Why Women Only?’.  Here’s the email I have written in response:   

To answer your question, it might be useful to know the history of the project.  The screening series comes out of a workshop Jacky and I hosted at the North-East Feminist Gathering (www.nefeministgathering.com) in October 2012, which was a very successful DIY gathering in Newcastle organised by local women and was a women-only space.  One of the participants in our workshop suggested it would be great if there were a screening series of films focussed on representations of lesbians and an opportunity to discuss them.  It’s taken us a while to get some funding but this is a follow-on from the work we did in the workshop. 

Both of the North East Feminist Gatherings to date as well as our own workshop were incredibly positive spaces in which women felt able to voice experiences and opinions that research has often shown get stifled in the presence of men and that also shows how women speak and behave differently in mixed groups (Deborah Cameron’s book Man-Made Language is excellent on this).  More specifically my colleague Ruth Lewis, along with Elizabeth Sharp of Texas Tech University, undertook research on the North East Feminist Gathering itself.  You can see what women said about the importance of women-only space at the NEFG in a snapshot of their research in the Feminist Times: http://www.feministtimes.com/whats-so-safe-about-feminist-women-only-space/  The value that these women themselves have placed on such spaces has led us to keep these events women only in the spirit of the original workshop.    

Given that the topic is ‘lesbians on screen’, and potentially sensitive, we were keen that women feel as ‘safe’ as possible (to use the terms women used in the article above) whilst viewing and discussing the films afterwards in the post-film conversations.  In particular, lesbians very rarely get to ‘own’ the discourses/conversations that operate around representations of our own sexual identities.  We anticipate that the screenings will attract a good number of women who identify as lesbian (as well as other identifications), and that this ‘safety’ aspect of being in women-only space will appeal.    Rather than being divisive, a women-only space in this context can provide a positively partisan arena in which under-represented voices can be heard.  Our research from the focus groups will explore some of these issues in much more detail.