Because it is in women-only space that a woman’s voice can be heard on her own terms. In women-only space she is free of the ‘male gaze’, free of the spectre of patriarchal judgement, that in mixed space- aka the ‘real world’- threatens to denounce, silence, talk over, appropriate, or ridicule her voice.
Women have made many important gains into previously ‘man-only’ space, most notably governmental politics, but because these gains have been made in a world where male privilege still remains, where male values continue to dominate and hold the most credibility, women’s voices are still mainly deemed subordinate. Where men’s voices and values dominate, a woman’s voice is often only given credence if she appropriates the male voice and values, if she tows the patriarchal line.
So while this continues to be the case, women-only space remains relevant because women need space free of male influence and control in order to forge our own politics on our own terms. Otherwise those dominant male voices and values will worm their way in, leaving us where we started.
Sorry for the lazy posting, I’m currently in grant application hell, but I will add that those women who think that there is no issue of male voices drowning out women’s, or of male presence affecting what women say and whether they even say it at all, might want to consider that not all women are as confident or comfortable in mixed space as they are. Try attending a mixed leftie group and come back and tell me where the loudest voices (and often those least likely to listen to others) come from…
After reading Laurie’s speech I feel I should also point out that my highlighting the issue of dominant male voices does not mean that I think all men are innately domineering and purposely seek to drown out or ignore female voices. Far from it. They are socialised into that role just as women are, as general rule, socialised into a more passive one. But in order to deal with the underlying gender issues here, we need to name the problems they cause and the way they manifest themselves, and that’s all I or anyone else who supports women-only space for the reasons outlined above is doing.