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What Is It About “Female Only” Spaces That Make Us Feel Empowered?

Christine Burke  |  April 27, 2020

A recent study shows that 78% of women feel some form of “gymtimidation” when they go to a co-ed gym. What types of “female only” spaces are on the rise?

From the day I met my now husband, I knew I was in over my head when it came to his love of cars. An avid collector of antique cars, the man understands carburetors, drive shafts, suspension systems and everything in between. When he uses phrases like, “multiport fuel injected engines,” my eyes glaze over, and I’m pretty sure he wonders how it came to pass that he married a woman who forgets to check her gas gauge.

Thankfully, there’s no need for me to see an auto mechanic for regular car maintenance. However, on the few occasions I’ve had to take my car to a local dealership for more extended service, I’ve often had to deal with men who are condescending, sexist, and downright rude. Every time I return home from such an errand, I lament the same sentiment to my husband: Why aren’t there auto shops owned and operated by women, for women? I’m not proud of it, but I’ve taken to having my husband come with me when I have to drop my car off because I feel like I’m taken more seriously. 

But issues like these aren’t just found at the local auto-body shop. Golfsupport recently conducted a survey asking 1,438 women from different parts of the world about their experience going to the gym, and they found some of their common fears were being harrassed, worrying about their looks, and fear of judgment. But perhaps the most staggering statistic of all was that 1 in 3 women in this study said they actively seek out all-female gyms. 

Recently, I posed a question to the women in our private HerMoney Facebook group: “Why does it seem we all prefer “female only” spaces?” I asked the women of the group to discuss not only the reasons behind why we feel more comfortable around women, but also why an all-female space can make us want to open up. 

Not surprisingly, we received a wide range of answers, covering everything from “gym-timidation” to what it’s like to be one of a handful of females in male-dominated fields. 

Samantha Fiske says she gravitated to female only groups from an early age. “When I was younger, I definitely preferred female only spaces like summer camp and clubs because it gave me security to feel like I could try new things and fail without being judged,” she commented. “Also, it allowed me to really lean in to female friendships without the distraction of boys.”

When it came to discussing women-only spaces, it wasn’t long before the “M word” came up: mansplaining. Many of the women who commented said they are pretty tired of having concepts with which they are familiar explained in a condescending way. For them, it’s not an issue of being undereducated on a topic, whether its car parts or astrophysics. “It doesn’t even matter if I have more education and experience than they do (I have an MBA and managed to retire a little early, thank you very much). In these cases women-only spaces, we have a safe place to speak freely without being dominated,” said Kerry Watson.

Katie Merten elaborated on Watson’s comment. “My specific example is a study group I’m involved in. When it’s just women, we all get a voice, when it’s mixed, and a woman asks a question, it is likely a male will answer it like the female knows nothing about the subject,” she stated.

Julie Wood mentioned that she wishes that Uber and Lyft had an option in the app where you could pick a female driver. When several women chimed in with agreement, Julie expanded further by saying, “In India, a country with many potential harassment issues for women alone, there are new taxi companies with women-only drivers created to combat these issues.” 

Proving that women love to help empower other women, Patricia YP quickly commented with a link to Women Auto Know, a company dedicated to helping women navigate the often intimidating auto industry. Their mission statement says it all: “Through education, community feedback, and peer to peer support, Women Auto Know, partnering with local auto shops across the nation, provides women everywhere with the confidence they need to save time, money and increase their automobiles’ performance.”

Group member Sarah ONeill had us feeling green with envy when she described her local dealership, “I actually love that my dealership has women in the service department (not an all-women space, but female employees) who can speak to me about any repairs/services without feeling like I’m being talked down to or being scammed into something I don’t need because I don’t know all the technical aspects of an engine or component of my car. I appreciate they recognize I’m capable of understanding, but just that it’s not something I’ve been educated on or exposed to before.”

Members Rosie Hoa and Kathryn Brown took the car issue one step further, saying they’d love to see all female car dealerships, too. Hoa said, “I always have to bring my husband whenever we’re shopping for cars even though he’s terrible at negotiations. It’s just the appearance that a male may help.” Hoa and Brown bonded over their shared annoyance that having a man present during a car sale lends more credibility to a woman. Of her upcoming car purchase, Brown said, “I am afraid to go alone since I know I will not be treated the same as if I brought my boyfriend, father or brother. This is one that really gets to me!”

While we are pretty partial to our amazing all-female HerMoney community, group member Courtney Boetcher Zoltowski said it best, “When women seek women-only spaces, I think it’s because of a combination of the reasons above, and different for each of us. But ultimately for me, the biggest reason is probably because I have some sort of end goal I’d like to accomplish sooner than later, and I just don’t want to spend time or energy explaining my needs to someone who won’t actually listen or being mansplained to by someone who didn’t actually listen.”

We agree wholeheartedly, Courtney! 

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