The Myth Of Safe Spaces
If you’re wondering why so-called safe spaces don’t seem to work for you, you probably need to read this.
And if you’re confused about why anyone would posit that “safe spaces” are a myth OR what safe spaces are, you’re welcome.
By the time you get to the end of this post, you’ll know what safe spaces are (supposed to be), why they don’t (always) work and what you can do instead.
According to Google, safe spaces refer to places “intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations”. Although the term originated in LGBT culture, it has since expanded to include any place where a marginalised minority (e.g. gender, ethnic, religious) can come together to communicate regarding their shared experiences.
Safe spaces aren’t just physical; they can also be online, but they are essentially supposed to be any place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm.
And therein lies the problem. There seems to be the assumption that every member of a marginalised group wants the exact same thing in the exact same way.
Yet, human beings are primal and tribal by nature. The thing that some people fear the most is being an outsider. And what makes groups run as they do is order, even if it is imposed.
So, anyone who rocks the boat in any way, will be harassed, gaslighted and it’s only a matter of time before they are jettisoned.
That’s why in religious organisations, for instance, the person who complains or draws attention to any impropriety, is made out to be problematic or hysterical – even when they’re telling the truth.
There is ALWAYS a group of people who will go to any lengths to shut up a person who is labouring under the delusion that they’re in a safe space.
Because the reality is the way that some supposedly safe spaces are made out to look, is more important than the welfare of the people who are supposed to feel safe in such places.
Whether the safe spaces are called family, church or other group names, even when there is a show of solving the issue – it’s just that: a show. So, the real problem is never addressed, the voice of a dissenter with a valid concern is squelched (as they are bullied or blackmailed to give more of their power away, in the name of “peace”) and perpetrators are free to carry on.
That’s why a victim of a rape that was perpetrated by a relative can be told that it’s shameful to wash dirty linen in public.
Or why campus security + a Dean of Studies can tell a young woman from a poor background who’s on a scholarship, that a) nobody will believe her if she accuses the school jock of sexual assault, b) it’ll embarrass her and c) she’ll have to drop out of school as she might lose her scholarship.
It’s the same reason that your so-called pastor or their wife can abuse you, but instead of redress, you’ll get physical and virtual visits from a group of deacons who say it’s in the best interests of the body of Christ for you to forgive and forget.
“Safe spaces” whose existence can only be guaranteed when your personal safety is sacrificed, are not safe for you.
They’re safe for perpetrators and their enablers, though.
So, what do you do?
What do you when you realise that the safe space you chose, isn’t safe for you?
1) Trust that you are NOT crazy. Or overreacting.
Abusers and their enablers derive and flex a lot of power from making you feel like you’re wrong for feeling some type of way or speaking up about something wrong that they’re actually benefiting from.
As individuals, when something happens in safe spaces that we are uncomfortable with, there can be that tendency to think, “Well, if it was so bad, So-and-so would have spoken up already. So, I must be wrong or crazy or imagining it or just overreacting.”
Truth is, you don’t know what the person you’re looking up to, instead of yourself, is really dealing with or a part of.
The fact that someone claims to be Xtian or from your religion or race, has a posse around them and says all the right things in public, doesn’t mean they do right by those in safe spaces they’re involved in.
2) Learn to recognise people, things and situations for what they are – not what your ego or emotion would prefer – and treat them accordingly.
A snake is a snake and will eventually do what a snake does, even if you try for any reason to convince yourself that it’s just a piece of twine.
An individual who only feels good when they demean you is not a husband/wife, but a destroyer.
A religious organisation that forbids you to think and feels entitled to rob you of dignity is not a church, but a cult.
A person you share DNA connection with that’s trying to kill you is not your family.
Even when an individual or system wasn’t malevolent from the start, but something goes so wrong to the point where it hurts you and you’re expected to sit there and take it, you do need to see it for what it is.
Your gratitude at being rescued from one bad situation cannot be your excuse for tolerating another bad situation.
3) Take your power back and make your exit plan.
Sometimes, you get into a bad situation because you gave your power (that you may not even have realised you have) away.
But the only way to get out of such a bad situation is take your power back. Else you and your needs will be sacrificed to keep the so-called safe space, going.
Safe spaces that need you to sacrifice your well-being for their continuity are almost always a sham. They rely on their ability to brainwash you into believing that you deserve less than what should be the bare minimum you’re entitled to, so they can maintain the status quo.
Nobody will give you power that you’re not willing to take; especially if your docility serves them fine and keeps them safe.
4) Decide what is important to you and as soon as you can, exit any “safe spaces” that do not serve you.
As sad as it may be for you to discover, sometimes by virtue of your personal and bitter experience, you will lose fellowship and ‘respect’ of certain people when you don’t sacrifice yourself. But why do their words, ‘respect’ or presence mean more to you than your own validation which should really come from inside you?
“So when your life does change, when you are courageous, and fearless, and speak out, don’t expect everybody to stand up and cheer for you. Because they don’t.”Ellen Pompeo
People protect what’s important to them and if their behaviour shows that you’re less important to them than the status quo, why aren’t you protecting yourself?
If “safe spaces” where you are supposed to get help and protection are intent on exposing you to unsafe situations, what are you still doing in their midst?
I help young women in Law and Media develop strong voices, solid careers and stable personal lives. Apply here for help.
Do you now know why what you thought was a safe space didn’t work for you and what you need to do now? Let me know in the comments section below.