Complaint Over Dowse Museum’s Women-Only Exhibit |

There has been a small storm brewing amongst privileged white males in New Zealand who feel that their human rights are being violated because an artist has requested that her work only be viewed by women.  Paul Young began the kerfuffle which you can read about here:

Complaint Over Dowse Museum’s Women-Only Exhibit |

It is hard not to read this as someone being butthurt at being excluded from a space. The complainant is someone with immense privilege, they have probably not had to face exclusion like this before. It must be galling. Those of us who are not so lucky know that we do what we can to create safe spaces for ourselves where those with more privilege than us, for whom most of the world is a safe space may not enter.  This gives us the freedom that is often lacking to be exactly who we are, even if it is just for a little while.  That is the reason why, for example,  women only, and queer only spaces exist in the first place. It is not because we want to exclude people, but because we need places to be free from those with unchecked privilege.

Some commenters claim that showing the exhibition is being permissive towards the cruel and oppressive forces that islam exerts against women.

If we really cared about the rights of Islamic women, rather than just using them as a political football when it is expedient, we would listen to them, and respect their choices.  Respecting someones rights means respecting their autonomy and treating them as they wish to be treated.  Going against the express wishes of the artist and the women who consented to be in her video is not helping islamic women, it is saying that their voices don’t matter and their decisions are not to be respected.

This really isn’t about men being able to view the exhibit, at it’s core this issue is about people setting boundaries about what they feel is appropriate behaviour in New Zealand. Apparently many people feel that islamic women setting boundaries for safe space for themselves, in accordance with their wishes and their religion is inappropriate in New Zealand.  In New Zealand we value diversity but only if it is palatable, and fits in with “New Zealand values” whatever that might mean.  People seem to be more willing for the Dowse gallery to give up the exhibition than actually respect the artists wishes.

You can’t dress intolerance as a respect for human rights. The bigotry shines through no matter what. I have not seen  Sophia A-Marias work yet, but through a simple request she has been able to reveal the seething intolerance and bigotry in our society. What a marvelous feat for an artist.

I suppose this story will simply add kindling to the fire for those who belief that white males are now the most discriminated against people in the world. It often saddens me that people are unable to see their own privilege. People would say that if the situation was reversed and women were being excluded there would be an outcry. The thing is, women have been excluded from spaces and still are every day. That is one of the reasons why having our own spaces is important.  The same cannot be said for white men. Context is important.

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