Safe space is a term for an area or forum where either a marginalised group are not supposed to face standard mainstream stereotypes and marginalisation, or in which a shared political or social viewpoint is required to participate in the space. For example, a feminist safe space would not allow free expression of anti-feminist viewpoints, and would typically also prevent concern trolling and continual Feminism 101 discussions in favour of feminist discussion among feminists. Safe spaces may require trigger warnings and restrict content that might hurt people who have strong reactions to depictions of abuse or harm or mental illness triggers.
Physical safe spaces exist in some geek communities; for instance, WisCon had a safe space for people of colour in 2009, and women-centric events such as the LinuxChix miniconf effectively act as safe spaces, although not overtly advertised as such. Women-only classes and workshops are also safe spaces. Physical safe spaces are often reserved only for members of the oppressed group.
Problems with safe space
- Safe spaces often have intersectionality problems, for example trans women often report that they find considerable transphobia in spaces which are supposedly safe for women and feminists.
- Maintaining a safe space through education and moderation can make the space very challenging and confronting for the owners of the space. Women in particular often find that this work is expected of them and that no effort will be made to make the space safe for them while they maintain it as safe for others.
- Safe space sometimes excludes people with dependents or carers, for example a strict women-only space might exclude carers for boys and men who can't leave them, or a woman with a full-time carer who isn't a woman.
- What about the men?
Existence of safe spaces for one group does not preclude existence of safe spaces for other groups. Just as well as other genders, men can be victims of abuse, silencing, and suffocating expectations.
- Segregation is bad
While this argument is occasionally seen used by one genuinely well-meaning, it is also a favourite of concern trolls, due to the somewhat more complicated concept (i.e. more credible to claim lack of understanding, more extorted education to wring out) and readily available comparison to American history of racism and the knee-jerk reactions that accompany it.
This argument is very basically the same as saying that the male privilege of being present/participating anywhere is more important than the right of multiple women to choose their company as they like. Comparing private choice to a culture-wide system--and especially the choice of the oppressed against the oppressor--is an intellectually and ethically dry well.
"By virtue of not, at least intentionally, participating in oppressive and/or hurtful and/or harassing behaviour, I demand the privilege of being more important than the other persons. The fact that I belong to the privileged group that systematically oppresses and outright harms those persons should be irrelevant to my whim.".
- Safe spaces in education
A common argument against safe spaces is that students can't learn if their beliefs aren't challenged. This reflects confusion between the concept of psychological safety and an imaginary environment in which no one discusses ideas. A teacher who can't teach without compromising students' psychological safety is as bad as a teacher who can't teach without compromising students' physical safety (e.g. a lab instructor who doesn't make sure students are wearing safety glasses).
- The feminist blog Shakesville has had repeated problems in which founder Melissa McEwan did not feel safe in her own blog while repeatedly trying harder and harder to make it a safe space for others: "All In" Means ALL of Us (a statement of support by Melissa's co-bloggers after she had to take hiatus from the blog)
- What You Can Do to Support Women’s Rights, Part III: Men in the Women’s Movement has a section on "Respect women’s-only space" with discussion about the rationale.
- Why I Won’t Be Walking in the Anti-Rape March
- The Wikipedia article on psychological safety cites a number of academic studies on the value of psychological safety in work environments.