Women’s Only Spaces Are A Joy… But Are They An End Solution?
We all want to recreate the magic of the girl’s bathroom on a night out. You want to have a chat with your friends and have a dance without worrying about anything else.
Sometimes we want to go on a night out without having to deal with some dodgy flirting or awkwardly shuffling away from chancers on the dancefloor. Enter The Girl’s Room, Ireland’s first women-only club night. Meg Bergin set up the pop-up event after the numerous accounts of violent attacks against women in 2020 and the continued harassment against women in recent years. According to figures released by An Garda Siochana, there were 106 recorded incidents of spiking in 2022. This compares with 62 reported incidents in 2021.
“There were a lot of issues with spiking and harassment on nights out and the club scene in Dublin,” says Meg, who wanted a safe space for her and her friends. She quickly realised that there was no nighttime event that was only for women and marginalised genders. The Girl’s Room launched in June 2022 with ‘intimate and unique clubbing experiences centred around empowerment and expression.’
The name comes from the sense of community and safety that you feel when you walk into women’s bathrooms on a night out. “I wanted to create a space as an outlet for women and non-binary people to express themselves freely, have fun and counter the feelings of anxiety and fear we’ve all experienced.” After hosting eight events, Meg has seen the benefits of the club night and feels like it is invaluable to the nightlife scene in Ireland.
“I’ve seen people wear exactly what they want to wear and dancing exactly how they want to dance, feeling more free and comfortable to take up space. Lots of people have told me that they feel more present and more relaxed which is obviously great. That’s a huge priority for me. The people who come to these events embody that ethos of being non-judgemental and respectful. Everybody collectively cares about each other. If someone gets too drunk people get them water. If someone is feeling down people flock around to hype them up. It’s very unique, it’s not something I’ve ever seen before.
“I think spaces for women and non-binary people are needed in Ireland. There is just so much power in uniting and connecting people. Feeling like you belong can be really impactful on your mental health and can be really healing as well. In society, we are pitted against each other as women so it’s really powerful to see these spaces where that is all stripped away.”
It’s not just club nights that are catering towards women. There’s also been a recent rise in women-only gyms. Comfort is key when you head to work out. An American study found that 50% of people were intimidated by the gym or ‘gymtimidated’. One survey found that 58% of women feel that people will judge them if they don’t know how to use gym equipment.
And a poll conducted by Runners World in 2017 found that 40 per cent of women have experienced harassment while going for a run. So it makes sense that women want to work out in a space where the likelihood of these things happening is much lower.
Emma joined her first gym last year after moving to an area which had a space that catered to women only. “I didn’t feel comfortable in a mixed gym setting which held me back ever wanting to train,” she explains after joining the Do You By Chloe Tully gym in Belfast.
“Now that I do go it is a safe space filled with women empowering women, zero judgement and nothing but good vibes. Everyone wants everyone to do well and all shapes and sizes are welcome.”
It’s not just physical places where women and marginalised genders are searching for a safe space. If you’ve been a woman on the internet you’ll know that it can be, well, tough out there. Olivia DeRamus wanted to do something about it. She created Communia, which she describes as a ‘social self-care app revolutionising how women and marginalised genders connect with others, and ourselves’. “I became a survivor of sexual assault during my first year of university. During that time, I was extremely isolated, and I realised I couldn’t go on platforms like Instagram and say, ‘This just happened to me and I need advice,’” she explains.
“That made me realise that there needed to be a platform available to us, for all the messy life moments we inevitably face. Whether it’s a fun moment like getting ready for a first date or something tougher like my own experience. Mainstream social media platforms just don’t serve that need. We’ve all seen the trolling and harassment that can happen when you do put yourself out there.”
Creating the community and seeing it blossom has shown Olivia how free people can be when they feel comfortable and most importantly safe. “When you know you’re in a safe environment, you’re able to be your true, unedited self. Humans are inherently social creatures, so we need connection to thrive,” she says. And while she is very proud of the platform she created, she knows that there is still a mountain to climb. “There is a very long road ahead before mainstream social media and even real-life settings like universities are safe spaces for us. We need options to turn to that build us up when we are uncomfortable or even harmed in those environments. I will celebrate when Communia’s work isn’t so urgent anymore.”
Although Meg loves her women-only nightclub, she is aware that it isn’t the answer.
“People say that it’s a much-needed space, but as the founder, I know it’s not the solution. We shouldn’t have to be isolated. It is a much-needed outlet and it clearly does benefit people.”
Dola Twomey from Safe Gigs Ireland, an organisation working to make gigs and nightlife safer for everyone, echoes the sentiment that all spaces should be safe spaces for women.
“The idea behind Safe Gigs is that everybody should have a good night out and everybody should feel safe. Right now, there is a whole range of behaviours that shouldn’t be tolerated. In women-only spaces, they haven’t just said ‘this place is only for women’ and let it rip. They have come up with and have policies of acceptable behaviour.
“If you go to these venues that have gone to the trouble of coming up with these policies you know you’re going to be safe. You know you’re having a good time. That’s why the need is there.” She adds: “We have been pushing for the people who run clubs, gigs, festivals to have a duty of care for the people who attend. They don’t just take their money but they actually mind them. Harassment can go on in these places, spiking can go on, anything can go on. But we want to stop that.”
In fact, she explains that new licensing laws are currently being brought into effect to make nightlife safer for everyone.
“Everyone who wants to renew their license will have to sign up to a charter on how people will be minded and they’re going to have to adhere to it. It’s brilliant. Right now, venues have to have a fire cert. Everyone in the venue knows what to do if a fire breaks out and this is the equivalant. If someone is sexually harassed or you have homophobic slurs happening, the venue will have to plan how they will deal with that. That’s very radical. But it will hopefully make places safer for everyone.”
While women’s only spaces are certainly a step in the right direction, we’ll need to work harder to make sure that all spaces are safe spaces in the future.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of STELLAR Magazine.
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