No, it's not sexist to ban men from women-only spaces — here's why
Remember last spring when a movie theater chain was advertising women-only showings of Wonder Woman and some people lost their minds in outrage? Now a comedian is being sued by a men’s right group for hosting her own women-only show in Los Angeles, and he might actually have a case citing anti-discrimination laws. But is banning men from women-only spaces sexist or is it just a way for women to have any safe space in this world? It’s something we should all think about.
A few men got their boxer briefs all bunched up when the Alamo Drafthouse advertised a handful of women-only Wonder Woman showings in Austin and New York last year. They weren’t banning men from seeing it altogether. There were tons of other showings they could attend, but the movie theater chain blocked out a few nights for women to come together and watch the girl power flick together. For example, at one Brooklyn theater, there were 70 showings of the movie in one week, and one of them was for women only.
In New York City, one man filed a complaint with the New York Human Rights Commission. In Austin, another man did the same. Ultimately, the Alamo Drafthouse admitted that it violated both cities’ anti-discrimination laws and apologized for running the promotion. And now, comedian Iliza Shlesinger might have to do the same. But really, she shouldn’t have to.
A guy named George St. George and his buddy bought $30 tickets to her Los Angeles show advertised as “No Boys Allowed” online. According to a suit eventually made public by Variety, he and his friend were told at will call that they could enter, but would have to sit in the back row. When they left to kill time before the start of the show and returned, they were denied admission altogether and given a refund. His suit likens being told to sit in the back to the Montgomery bus boycotts from the Civil Rights era.
According to California law, St. George might have a case. He’s saying that the comedian, the talent agency, and the venue violated a state law that bans any discrimination based on “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status.” There’s also a California Supreme Court case, Koire v. Metro Car Wash, in which men tried to get a discount aimed at women at a car wash. In that case, the court ruled that places of businesses couldn’t ban any protected class unless there was “strong public policy” to do so, like now admitting a toddler into an adult video store. So there is precedent for this lawsuit against Shlesinger.
The frustrating thing about this is that St. George attempted to get into the show, from as as far as we can tell, because he wanted to be turned away, provoking controversy where there didn’t have to be any. It’s hard to imagine a misogynist like this finding a woman funny anyway. And then he wanted to hire Alfred Rava, which he did, a lawyer who is an avid “men’s rights lawyer” and has brought almost 200 similar cases to court, including one where a baseball team gave swag away to women only on Mother’s Day. This guy is part of the National Coalition For Men’s Rights, which also takes offense at women’s only self-defense classes and blames women for campus assault. So…this is what we’re dealing with here.
The upset on social media about the Wonder Woman showings was highly dominated by men’s rights groups, which allege that women getting equal rights has led to their oppression. But really, this claim is utter nonsense and a pretty next-level form of misogyny.
Jason Posobiec, a well-known “alt-right” troll, was the guy who complained to the Human Rights Commission in New York. He’s the kind of guy who believes that men need safe spaces too, as if the entire world wasn’t already made up of them.
In Texas, an anonymous man filed a complaint against the Alamo Drafthouse with Stephen Clark, a lawyer who handles LGBTQ employment discrimination cases. He told MyStatesman, “I’m a specialist in anti-discrimination law, so I was fairly certain that this was not lawful. If they were trying to do a gay-only Brokeback Mountain, I would feel the same way.”
It’s true that allowing businesses to not sell tickets to someone based on race or gender or religion is a slippery legal slope. And just telling men that they should “calm down” about a group of women gathering for a comedy show is not enough. Men have been telling women that same thing for generations when they banned them from social clubs and other man-only zones. They should technically be allowed to buy tickets.
But men should think long and hard about taking up front row seats, chiming into a conversation, on top of examining exactly why they would want to be in a woman’s safe space or party in the first place. Much like a white woman shouldn’t be upset when women of color at work form their own group to talk about issues, or LGBTQ students form a club at school, or people of any religion have their own weekly prayer groups and meetings.
Most of the time these groups exist because there is not, overall, a safe place for these conversations to happen in the real world. People in these groups generally have a lot to talk about when it comes to the discrimination and micro-aggressions they face on the regular from every part of their lives. Men, especially straight, white men, don’t have these problems on anywhere near the same scale. They just don’t. They have all the rights, all the power, and are never interrupted, belittled, or dismissed. In fact, just asking most men to listen is misinterpreted as telling them to “shut up,” as the men’s rights groups seem to believe. That’s how unaccustomed they are to being quieted.
In India, women’s only subway cars exist because men so frequently assault women while riding in mixed-gender cars. Given the amount of violence perpetrated by men toward women, maybe barring men from entering a movie theater or comedy show is like not allowing a kid to enter a porn video store. To so many women, men are actually dangerous. We’re not making this up. Men can turn having fun into a scary experience, like being groped on a club’s dance floor. Is it so hard to understand that women want spaces that offer respite from that possibility?
Maybe these dudes should stop trying to infiltrate women’s safe spaces to prove that feminists are *so mean* and should form their own groups to figure out why we need these safe spaces to begin with. (Then again, we already know what happens when a bunch of butthurt men get together.) Considering the very real fear and discomfort that women experience every day in mixed company, maybe men should stop whining that they’re not invited to the party. Their “problems” are not problems. Or hey, they can come in, fine, but they have to at least try to respect what’s going on in the room. If they can’t do that, they’ll just have to be escorted out. That’s not against the law.