'Man-Free' Music Festivals Are Great, But Women-Only Spaces Won't Stop Rape Culture

07/07/2017 15:55 | Updated 07 July 2017

Like many Glastonbury goers, I spent the early hours of Monday morning in Shangri'La refusing to accept that the festival was over.

But in an unlikely turn of events, I ended up surrounded by women, dancing to a line-up of all-female pop and R'n'B artists, and *ahem* topless. All of this was, of course, deliberate: my friends and I had beelined for a club called 'Sisterhood', the festival's first women-only space which opened in 2016. The venture was partly out of curiosity and partly because we wanted to dance to JLo, obvs.

In short, it was one of the most memorable moments of this year's festival. It was hella fun and truly liberating: both in the obvious sense because we had our tits out, but also knowing you were out of the male gaze seemed to make us all far less self-conscious about ourselves. I'd let my hair down all weekend, but it seems that a final part of me was set free at Sisterhood.

Women-only spaces can be a great way for us to come together, have fun and celebrate each other... but when a 'man-free' festival was announced earlier this week in a bid to combat rape culture, in my mind the spaces suddenly morphed into somewhere claustrophobic - a prison rather than a space to be free.

It was announced after a staggering four rapes and 23 sexual assaults were reported to police at this year's Bravalla, Sweden's largest music festival. It was similar story at the festival in 2016 and as a result the festival has been cancelled next year.

The man-free festival was conceived by Swedish comedian Emma Knyckare, who tweeted: "What do you think about putting together a really cool festival where only non-men are welcome," adding that the festival would run until "all men have learned how to behave themselves".

bravalla

The reaction to the concept has been mixed with some welcoming the change, while others believe it is sexist to exclude men from spaces.

While undoubtedly well-intentioned, I'd argue that creating a separate festival space for women won't 'teach men anything', in fact it could perpetuate the problem.

Having women-only spaces will certainly make many women feel more safe - particularly survivors of sexual assault who find being in large crowds or festival environments triggering and avoid them altogether. I don't know a single woman who hasn't been groped at a nightclub or festival and while having a space with no men will *almost* guarantee this won't happen, segregation doesn't deal with the root of the problem.

In fact, it makes this a women's issue rather than everyone's. In the same way that we should not victim-blame women or tell them to change their behaviour (be it alcohol consumption, outfits or travelling alone), why should women have to go to another place to avoid being sexually assaulted?

The issue here has and will always be the perpetrators and the society they exist within. If we want to stop sexual violence happening, we must first tackle the patriarchal society and systems that render women unsafe, not usher them elsewhere.

Alice Holland, one of the producers at Sisterhood, told HuffPost UK she doesn't think women-only spaces are effective in dealing with sexual assault.

"The assholes are always out there, but what we we can offer is a break, strength, community. For women to believe and support each other is very important, but dealing with sexual assault effectively relies on revision of the justice system, the police force, societal attitudes, capitalist marketing messages that women's bodies are objects, and for men generally to wind their neck in and stop crashing about like they own the place.

"It's not a question of, 'we'll come out when you can behave', it's actually more like, 'so, we really don't need you guys all that much so play nice, up your game or forget it. It's FUN in here and nobody is going to grope me unless I ask them to explicitly'."

After about two hours of dancing topless at Sisterhood on Monday night, my friends and I decided to leave. It hadn't stopped being fun and we didn't really want to put our bras back on, but there was something missing: men... or more specifically, our male friends.

I've been going to the festival for years now in a mixed group that is about 70% male. To spend time in this women-only space meant time away from most of my friends, to go to a women-only festival would have the same impact.

I know the "not all men" argument is controversial for many, but there is a fine line between protecting all women and excluding or brandishing all men.

There's no denying the majority of perpetrators are male and the majority of victims are non-male, importantly this includes not just cis women, but trans and gender fluid individuals too.

But to treat all men as potential perpetrators also naively ignores the fact that there are sexual predators who are non-male (even if they are in the minority).

To effectively deal with the issue of sexual assault and rape we need to deal with the crime and the criminals. That means better policing and security, teaching consent and creating a society that respects women, not objectifies them.

What women really need is guaranteed safety in all spaces, not a room of our own.

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