The case for women only spaces

It’s not a popular position to hold these days, but there’s a case to be made for preserving some spaces for women. An argument comes from women’s chess:

Women make more mistakes when playing against men in chess tournaments. Men play equally well against male and female opponents, but they persist longer before losing to women. [Full paper]

In the rush to make everything gender neutral, it’s worth remembering that the benefits and costs to gender neutrality are asymmetrical.

For example, simply removing the labels on toilets and proclaiming them to be gender neutral often means that men will use the women’s toilets but not the opposite. Many women don’t feel comfortable walking into a room full of urinals, which is clearly a men’s toilet and used as such. This exacerbates an existing problem in most buildings: not enough women’s toilets.

Making truly gender neutral and equitable toilets in an existing building isn’t easy. If you’re starting from scratch, it’s much easier: build each stall with enough privacy for anyone to feel comfortable, and place all the urinals in a separate room that only has urinals.

No design is ever going to account for every edge case, hence it makes sense to inculcate values such as tolerance, empathy, and civility in order to handle edge cases with grace and humanity.

Wandering back to where I started, women’s chess as a space only for women has a definite role in society as do many other gendered spaces. We should be a bit more skeptical of attempts to remove these spaces altogether.