The room was full of women dressed as witches, belting out a Beyoncé song at 2am. As the music hit crescendo at our Halloween party, an unsuspecting man suddenly walked in. Everyone stopped and stared at the intruder. “I think he was absolutely terrified,” Jane, who had organized the party at her house, told me.
Clearly, someone had failed to explain her strict door policy: no men allowed.
While women-only spaces continue to be a contentious issue in feminism, Jane is among a growing number of women happily hosting no-men parties. For her, it’s simply a space where women feel good about themselves and make each other feel good—or as The Onion once brilliantly put it, a space where women spend a “raucous night validating the living shit out of each other.”
Whether it’s conferences that talk about breaking through the glass ceiling, or providing a refuge from violent relationships, women-only spaces tend to focus on the struggles that women can go through. Replicating that space for a party is quite rare. There’s a sense of freedom that’s quite difficult to explain, Jane said. “It’s such a liberating experience, you just access this level of fun and joy with your friends.”
From dressing up as witches, to dousing yourself in glitter whilst dancing to Whitney Houston, these “no men” parties are unashamedly joyful. Women aren’t only told to not bring their male partners or friends, they’re actively encouraged to bring along their closest female friends.
“It’s not just about being around women, but women who have actively decided they want to be in a women-only space,” explains Ellen, a close friend I met at university.
What makes these women-only spaces different from a girls night out? It’s working hard to make all women feel safe, it’s fighting against the hypocrisy of celebrating women, yet rejecting queer women, especially trans women, who are made to feel predatory for being attracted to other women. It’s a powerful shared acknowledgement and support of what it’s like to be a woman in today’s society, whilst still embracing the fact our experiences as women are different.
Without men around, it’s women who completely dominate the conversation—wearing whatever they want—with hilarious, moving, and downright bizarre anecdotes. Another friend, Yasmin, told me how “jarring it is to look around at a party and see only women. It shouldn’t be.”
Tomorrow (Feb. 13) is “Galentine’s Day”—a holiday first coined by Leslie Knope in the sitcom Parks and Recreation. It’s a day where the women to come together to celebrate their friendships.
The idea has rapidly grown in popularity in the last six years—even major retailers have gotten in on the celebrations—to sell us something. (Feel free to buy your friend a Valextra Slim Portfolio in White for a cool $2,030).
Vanessa, a writer who recently graduated, has been holding women-only parties for a while now. Her social gathering lead up to her annual celebration of Galentine’s Day. Last year, dozens of women read poems and short love notes to each other.
Vanessa told me that these parties are a space to just enjoy hanging out with other women in a non-competitive environment. “I’ve become evangelical about it,” she admitted. Vanessa emphasizes that these spaces aren’t just about excluding men, but making a conscious decision to make all women feel included and loved. Her parties have become so popular that she’s now planning a Galentine’s club night.
It’s at these parties and social spaces that we can peel away at the destructive notion that you have to tear other women down to build yourself up. Where I’d once feel competitive and at times jealous of the rich, meaningful lives the women around me lead, now I can celebrate them. Their hard-won victories are mine, too. Their burdens and failures are shared across the group.
The friendships I have with the women in my life aren’t an addition or a bonus to the committed relationship I have with my male partner. These parties aren’t what you do in lieu of hanging out with men. It’s a space to get a fraction of what women who love and support give to each other: “support, salvation, transformation, life.”
These parties radically challenge sexist stereotypes that when women gather to socialize, it’s a “bitchfest.” At the heart of these stereotypes is a deep misunderstanding of the powerful and profound relationships women can have. “When you can access those feelings of security and appreciation from a group of women, anything is possible,” Jane added.
Don’t let anyone try to ridicule or dismiss that.