Thursday, April 23, 2015

A "Safe Space"

I’ve been seeing many demands for a “Safe Space” coming from various people recently. A “Safe Space” seems to be a place where one doesn’t have to hear things that might be a reminder of a traumatic event or a place where no one expresses ideas that the safe space proponents don’t agree with. “Safe Spaces” are places where no one is allowed to hear or see what some may find traumatic or objectionable. People with wrong ideas must be prevented from speaking. Movies, music, and other artistic expressions that some find offensive must be banned. Hobbies and games must be completely inoffensive. Only language deemed appropriate may be used. Attire should be criticized if it is deemed offensive. If this is what makes a space safe, then I grew up in an extremely safe space.

My parents were religious fundamentalists. We weren’t allowed to go to the movies, listen to “teenage” music, play cards, dance, wear immodest clothing, drink alcohol, use foul language, or question the “word of God”. All of these rules were for our benefit. If we followed the rules, then my parents could best insure that we would not be led astray. People who are led astray by going to movies, listening to “teenage” music, dancing, drinking, playing cards, wearing short skirts, cursing, and questioning the Lord become thieves, perverts, rapists, and murderers. So, to be certain that we obeyed the rules, punishment for disobedience was severe - both physically and psychologically.

It is amazing how “safe” I was in the “space” my parents created by the strict enforcement of their rules, even though I attended a public school and was involved in many extracurricular activities, such as sports, the marching band, and Future Teachers of America. I was that weird kid without friends. The one who wasn’t allowed to square dance in gym class. The one who wasn’t allowed to go to the cinema to see “Romeo and Juliet” as a school outing for English class in 9th grade. The one who was dressed in skirts below the knees in the age of mini skirts. The one who didn’t know any swear words, or that some words have double entendres having to do with sex like “screw”, “boner”, “come”, etc. I was never invited to parties, asked out on a date, or even included in conversations about things other than academic or sports-related topics.

The net result of the “Safe Space” that my parents provided was that when I left home I was ill-prepared for life. I had no social skills. I knew almost nothing about sex except that it was something only married people did. I had never even been on any form of public transportation, other than a school bus. I don’t suppose this would have mattered, if my mother had gotten her wish that I go to a good Christian missionary college and meet a good Christian boy who would marry me so I could be a devoted missionary’s wife.

I was a dutiful daughter, but I knew that there were questions I had for which I wanted answers. Questions about all kinds of things which I had never been allowed to ask my parents. Questions I couldn’t ask anyone because of my isolation from social interactions at school. Questions I was afraid to ask because people would discover I was a bad person who questioned God’s existence, who wanted to know why people laughed when I used words like “come” or “screw”, and who wanted to decide for myself what were “good” and “bad” things to do. I wanted to leave my parents' “Safe Space” and find a truly safe space where I could ask questions and make my own decisions. A safe space where there weren’t the same rules and expectations my parents had.

I didn’t go to the Christian missionary college my mother wanted. Instead, I went to a state university where I could spread my wings and learn about the world. The only reason my mother agreed to this was that I told her I would be pursuing foreign language studies - languages I would need to be a good missionary. I fully admit I was lying to my mother about wanting to be a missionary, but when the truth is “evil”, people either lie or say nothing.

I’m sure many will say that what my parents did wasn’t providing a “safe space,” but instead, engaging in religious tyranny. But I would argue that any demand for a “safe space", where we decide what should and should not be discussed, and where we demand “trigger warnings” because we know what it is that others need protection from, is the same kind of thinking that allowed my parents to create their “safe space” and demand that I obey their rules to protect me from bad things which happen in unsafe spaces.

I see people who are demanding “Safe Spaces” engaging in the same type of psychological warfare my parents did. Anyone who does not uphold the “safe space” rules is demonized by those demanding a “safe space” - they are bad people who must be silenced because their ideas promote oppression, and even worse, criminal activities such as rape. The demanders of safe spaces decide what movies and other artistic endeavors we should not be allowed to see or hear, what words we cannot use, what games we shouldn’t be allowed to play, and what ideas cannot be discussed. Are these demands for “safe spaces” any different from what my parents demanded of me? And is the demonization of those who won’t give in to these demands any different than my parents' accusations of being “evil” if I disobeyed their rules?

I struggled to survive in my parents' “safe space”. Having survived that struggle, I have no desire to have others create different, but equally unsafe, “safe spaces” for me. I don’t want to live in fear that I will be demonized and ostracized because I use words, or enjoy activities, or express ideas that safe spacers disapprove of. Wanting the liberty to make my own choices does not make me an evil person who supports evil things.

Most especially, as a skeptic, I want to preserve my right to say “I don’t know” without having “I don’t know” be deemed an evil which supports rapists, rape culture, misogyny, racism, sexism, ableism, etc, etc…

Perhaps I should demand that people stop demanding “Safe Spaces” because this triggers memories of the trauma I experienced in my parents’ “safe space”. If it is important to create safe spaces where people don’t have to hear things which might upset them, then I should be able to insist that people stop upsetting me by making demands for “safe spaces”. If those who demand a “Safe Space’ think my demand for what would be a “safe space” for me is ridiculous, then perhaps they should consider the possibility that their demand for a safe space might be equally ridiculous.

1 comment:

  1. I followed your link from Smilodon's Retreat.
    Excellent article. It seems that many people are trying to avoid dealing with reality by demanding safe spaces. I suspect that those people are mostly religious since religion is the most popular way to avoid dealing with reality.

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