The sign at “Pink Beach,” which says, among other things, “No Men.” Isn’t that a weird picture of a man? He appears to have boobs, for one thing.
I’ve been reading the news reports about the opening of a theoretically woman-only beach in Italy on the Adriatic Sea, and have found the coverage and responses to the news far more interesting than the news itself.
As women, we know how to find “woman-only” beaches for ourselves. This, in general, is a matter of knowing when to show up (very early in the morning or on weekdays or in the off-season), what to avoid (beaches where men hang out, doh), who to ask (local women), where to look (recreation guides which cater to women).
But “Pink Beach” isn’t really a beach at all. It’s a spa, offering manicures, pedicures, healthy food, haircuts, and fitness classes, with children and men prohibited. It’s sort of like one of those spas seen increasingly in tanning joints, except here the tanning takes place not in a “tanning bed” but on the beach.
Since when does anyone denominate a women’s spa or beauty salon or tanning place or health resort or club as “woman-only”? By definition, most of these places are, in general, woman only, sometimes women and gay men only. Women don’t bring children (or men!) to spas because there is nothing for them to do there, because there are toxic chemicals and sharp instruments around, because there is no one to watch them, they will be bored, they will aggravate the other women, and because in general, women go to spas to relax in the presence of other women.
“Pink Beach” is in no way “woman-only.” In fact, it is less woman-only than the ordinary spas women patronize. For one thing, “Pink Beach” is the brainchild and creation of a capitalist, very sexist, traditional man, who will rake in whatever dough is to be raked in. Organizations and businesses owned by men cannot actually be said to be “woman-only.” Beyond that, Pink Beach is, in its operation, specifically not woman-only, because the guy has defended such anti-woman practices as hiring a single male lifeguard on the theory that women aren’t capable of saving the lives of women, because we are too weak, feeble, our boobs are too big and get in the way, or whatever. He has also hired male hairdressers.
What this really is is a sexist, capitalist male entrepreneur cashing in on the idea of woman-only space as a gimmick to sell a rather ordinary-sounding, though nicely located, spa to women. It is this that interests me because of the way it, and similar ventures, mark a certain shift. No sexist man would create or market woman-only spaces unless he saw a lucrative market for such spaces. We are at a time in history when women are increasingly seeking out these spaces and when increasingly women can pay for them.
Women’s responses to this announcement are discouraging. It’s disheartening to watch feminists — especially the kind of feminists who regularly defend femininity — lambasting the guy for offering manicures, pedicures, fitness classes, hairdos and a salad bar. How does that work anyhow? When feminists rightly challenge all of the above, and defenses of the above, as sexist and oppressive to women, we can count on it that a certain number of our feminist sisters will mount the soapbox to vigorously and vehemently defend these practices and to roundly condemn us for even mentioning such a thing, yet when a man promotes and sells the same oppressive practices, the very same women seem to have no problem discerning that he is a sexist.
Then there are the women who seem to live for the opportunity to utter some version of, “I don’t want woman only spaces!” One writer’s rejection of the idea was based on her own premise that every woman “constantly” compares herself with other women, making woman-only beaches inherently unsafe and unpleasant. Leaving aside, for a moment, that this is a woman who is projecting, and that many, many women really don’t compare themselves with other women, how is it that women silently comparing themselves with other women would make a beach less safe or pleasant than women walking amongst men, a certain (large) number of whom have or will rape women, sexually assault and harrass women, incest women, molest women, and most of whom are on the beach for the express purpose of objectifying and evaluating women on a scale of less-to-most fuckable, and who do not generally keep their evaluations at all private. At Feministing, one commenter says her husband is yucking it up over the story, har-de-har-har because this is a guy who has created himself a harem. I can only wonder why it doesn’t occur to this woman that this beach is no more a harem than any beach is a harem to any man who goes to the beach to objectify women, including her own husband, who wouldn’t have leveled the accusation in the first place unless it was the first thing that popped into his own harem-fantasizing mind?
Then there are the commenters who defend Italian men as so evolved, woman-only venues are irrelevant or unnecessary, then the women arguing about how evolved or not evolved Italian and European men really are, how handsome or not handsome Italian men are, predictably turning a thread about something theoretically “woman-only” into, again, some more still, a thread which is all about the menz, nothing new there.
In the mainstream coverage there is all of the wink-wink, nudge-nudging about finding ways to ogle from afar, there are endless photos of traditionally beautiful women sunbathing in bikinis, there is a focus on Lara Croft’s presence at the opening of the beach, despite the fact that it is clearly not woman-owned or woman-only. Some articles make it very clear that this is — gasp, perish the thought — not a lesbian beach, no, no. This is where “women can be themselves.” Because, you know, lesbians aren’t women, and women being themselves aren’t lesbians.
Everybody misses what seems most important to me: that woman-only spaces are something women want, so much so that capitalist men are cashing in on that phenomenon. Male-identified women can talk all day long and all night long about all the reasons they do not really enjoy woman-only spaces; the fact is, most women do. My sense is that an increasing number of women do. Being able to live our own lives, by our own lights, without depending on men, without needing men, without caring what men think about us, is heady, intoxicating stuff. A little taste creates an appetite. Men know this, which is why they have historically until today resisted women’s efforts to create our own institutions, organizations, and spaces, which is why they violate our spaces, oppose them, and work very hard to eliminate them, which is why they have worked very hard to keep women from freely associating with women. More and more women finding that they can live satisfying, happy lives apart from men is not a scenario most men can appreciate. They can be expected to be very creative in their efforts to insert themselves into spaces in which they are not welcome and not wanted.
I personally would not seek out a space like “Pink Beach”. I know exactly where to go to find woman-only spaces, most women do, although that’s something that most of us keep to ourselves, for obvious reasons. At the same time, I admit I am enjoying the confirmation of what I have known in my gut for some time– that the time of women’s full humanity, experienced not only as a hope or dream but recognized by each woman as real and true, is coming. This is what I see in events like this.