I don’t know many Haligonian women who don’t have a story. A story where they define how this city, supposedly so friendly, can turn on them. I know I have a few. Sometimes I ferociously list them off when people talk about how gender violence is a thing of the past. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. This is where I talk about what telling those stories leads to—more sharing, more stories and the need to create as safe spaces as we can for women.
Women need a break—a reprieve—from Halifax and its bullshit sometimes, and they can find it in each other. I grew into a woman in Halifax. I came here four years ago when I was a kid fresh out of undergrad. I had a lot of hope for this community. Instead, the city started to pick away at me. The micro-aggressions were just that—so subversive that I couldn’t understand why I felt less worthy or uninvolved in a place that I desperately wanted to be a part of. That is, until I realized that I could rely on other women to be there for me.
It started in a very ad hoc way as I began to understand that other women had these issues too. Then I came to the revelation that women are quietly working to carve out their own space. They’re fighting a losing battle to gain some ground that others don’t see. Conversations in the bathroom, the photocopy room, the kitchen and the playground are sacred to women. Sometimes it’s frivolous—sometimes it’s lifesaving. Both are empowering and important.
Safe spaces for women (or, as someone rightly corrected me recently, “as safe as they can be spaces”) are integral to the health of Halifax. It’s at bricks-and-mortar places like South House, university women’s centres or Adsum House. It’s at Rebel Girl Rock Camp. It’s at the GIRLS conference at the Mount. It’s at Ladies Beer League. It’s on your basketball team. It’s at the #PROLOVE rally. It’s the relief you feel when Hollaback! tweets asking if you’re OK when that guy yelled about how he’d “tear you in two if he got a hold of that ass” at 6pm on Spring Garden Road. It’s in “girl gangs,” with “besties,” and on the WIT902 message board.
These spaces make their members, communities and the city a better place for everyone. This is compromised when others make light of them, or worse—make fun of them.
So, if you’re a man and you’re reading this, you might be wondering what you can do. Move over! Make room! Space is a zero-sum game and women need to be there. Make room for women at your board meetings. Make room for women in your conversations at work. Close your stupid legs on the stupid bus and stop taking up one-and-a-half seats while women squirm with their legs crossed to make up for it. Because when it comes down to it, that space is for half of us, and you’re taking it away.
And when we want our own space? Leave us alone. Don’t “let us” have it. It’s not yours to give. Women are entitled to feel good and safe speaking about the very times when they don’t feel good or safe here in Halifax.
Sarah’s a community builder who’s got a history of sticking her nose in things like advocacy for people who need it, feminism and her phone. One time her debating coach called her “bitchy” in front of the whole team and there was no looking back.