On not reinventing the pencil every time you want to send a message…

I’m currently reading Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press Feminist Series), by Audre Lorde. There are a number of good quotes in the collection, but this one struck me in particular last night:

As a Black woman, I find it necessary to withdraw into all-Black groups at times for exactly the same reasons — differences in stages of development and differences in levels of interaction. Frequently, when speaking with men and white women, I am reminded of how difficult and time-consuming it is to have to reinvent the pencil every time you want to send a message.

I run a group for women who work in technology. The group isn’t a women-only space, but we ask that men come as the guest of a woman attendee. This ensures that the gender balance is always in favor of the women. We get occasional flak for this rule and I find it difficult to explain while women’s spaces are important.

I think the idea of not wanting to reinvent the pencil everytime you want to send a message applies as equally to women’s spaces as it does to those of other opressed groups.

So, now I have a more useful metaphor when someone asks me why we but restrictions on the gender attendance of our group.