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The logic is simple enough:

1. Most sexual violence is instigated by men.
2. Eliminate men from an area, and that area will have substantially less sexual violence.

This is invoked to justify women’s-only spaces, and given the evidence it’s a solid argument. But alongside it is a similar-yet-very-different argument.

1a. All sexual violence is instigated by men.
2a. Eliminate men from an area, and that area will have no sexual violence.

Now this one is clearly wrong and contrary to the evidence, therefore bigoted, yet on the surface both arguments appear very similar. One way to tell them apart is to look at the corner case: how does a women’s-only space deal with sexual assault? If they have no plans, then at minimum the organizers are following the bigot’s version.

MichFest has been a women-only Woodstock for forty years. Some women who attend do so because they view it as a safe place from sexual assault. As one report puts it,

The notion of [MichFest] as ‘safe space’ is frequently raised in relation to lesbian/women’s cultures and women’s experiences of Michigan. In virtually every interview and discussion the concept of safety comes up, whether the participants are talking about the meanings of symbols or individual experience. Many women define their experience at Michigan as feeling ‘safe’. The concept seems fairly straightforward and is explicitly emphasized as part of the festival’s character.

So if they were following the first argument, you’d expect some method of handling sexual assault allegations. If they were following the second, a sexual assault would be considered an impossibility. The reality?

An example of resistance to discussing the particulars of safety developed at one of the group discussions of festival herstory at the series of workshops which we conducted as part of the research project. A woman remembered an incident in which a rape occurred at the festival. Woman to woman violence was not a topic in which anyone else wished to engage and, after a few seconds of silence, a new topic was introduced. The issue of how the incident was dealt with did not elicit comment. Apparently, the perpetrator was asked to leave the Land and escorted off. No charges were laid and no report was filed with local authorities in Crystal County. […]

Nor, as someone else added, was this a one-off incident.

When I attended in 2011, I made it a point to talk with many people about the trans exclusion. The topic of sexual assault often came up. Sometimes trans women’s attendance was likened to a “rape” of the festival. Sometimes trans women’s existence was called a “rape” of women’s bodies. […]

All of this was predicated on the idea that a woman only space is automatically a space free from sexual violence. Four times during my visit, women who had experienced or knew about sexual violence by cis women perpetrators at MichFest would often volunteer that information in these conversations.

MichFest, and a fair number of attendees, side with the second argument. This is underlined by their treatment of a trans* woman who dared to enter their “safe” space.

.. around the same time MichFest quietly escorted an actual rapist who had actually raped a MichFest womyn off the land, a trans kid was publicly escorted off the land after being mobbed, constructed and castigated as a metaphorical “rapist” and then publicly threatened with a knife[.] Over 100 MichFesters gathered to confront a 16 year old trans kid and when a MichFest rape victim disclosed her story, nobody cared to acknowledge it.

This is not feminism, based in sound science and argument, but bigotry pretending to be feminism. It doesn’t care at all for creating a space that’s physically safe, it’s far more interested in creating a space that’s safe for bigotry.

The construction of Michigan as safe space is one in which women are heavily invested. The need for the construct outweighs the need to take the steps required to make it a reality.

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