by Sara Blanco
Illustrator & Contributing Writer
Wednesday, March the 13th, was a day like any other. There was an open mic in Pangaea, similar to many others. The posters advertising it had decorated Leuven for weeks and the international bar was waiting for it, but this open mic was special... it was for women.
Last year, the KU Leuven Feminist Society decided to organize the Women’s Open Mic event in which women are able to raise their voices - and only women. This premise alone was controversial since it raised questions, such as: why can’t men participate? Don’t women care about what they have to say? Is this a new form of sexist discrimination?
The first thing that I want to clarify is that men are very welcome to attend this event. They can actually participate... as listeners. This can sound contradictory since listening isn’t often regarded as participating. However, it is possible to participate in an event without being the main focus of attention. This idea sound shocking but that is part of what the Feminist Society wanted to show that day.
The next question is why can’t men go on stage? Why can they only participate as listeners? The answer is not that women hate men or that we feel superior and therefore we are not interested in what they have to say. We have already listened. We listen to men everyday of our lives. Their opinions interest us, but this was not a time for men to talk. In a patriarchal society ruled by male leaders, male bosses, and male intellectuals, women need spaces for themselves. And we need to create them ourselves. The concept of a ‘safe space’ has been widely criticised in recent years (we have thin skin, we are creating a ghost threat, etc.), but it is as simple as it follows. Women —and I am talking about my own experience, but I know I am not alone in it— are used to occupying spaces that are dominated by men. Spaces dominated by men means male classmates who systematically (and probably unconsciously) interrupt you, universities in which having a female professor is an oddity, companies in which every power position is occupied by a man, and countries which have never had a female president. We are very used to being listeners, we listen to what men have to say every day, and in this context having the chance to listen to women is important. It is not about not listening to men, but it’s about having the chance to listen to women as well. It is important to not forget that women are also valid, that they can be leaders, presidents and write influential books. And that is something that we to be reminded of, since for historical reasons, it is not the rule. I have never been asked to read something by a female author in school. Never. There are not female classics (because they are not studied). We cannot change the past, but what we can do is make sure that the same mistakes do not happen again and in order to do so safe spaces are necessary. It is necessary that women have the chance to listen to other women. It is necessary that we listen to each other, that we share our experiences and that we realize that we are not alone in these feelings. We are not crazy, but we live a society that labels us this way.
The Women’s Open Mic is an opportunity for women to present poetry, sing, perform, and speak. And it feels good. Before the open mic I found myself doubting whether to go or not, since I had no one to go with. I was afraid of feeling alone. But I didn’t feel alone for a single moment. The Women’s Open Mic was a day for thinking, for meeting new people, for listening to female poets, and for thanking the men who were curious enough to listen. It was a day to learn. Learning from women, who also have something to say. Until society finally reaches a state of full equality, we need safe spaces to raise women’s voices.