9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN23 Sexuality

Women's spaces in Canadian universities: Gender, sexualities and spatial contestations.

"Women's centres" and Women's Studies programs have played an important and prominent role in Canadian universities since the mid-1970s when the women's liberation movement challenged the hegemonic masculinities inherent in university spaces, curricula and faculty. From a geographical perspective, university spaces, from classrooms to hallways and from departmental lounges to cafeterias, are constituted through normalizing gendered and sexualized (as well as classed, aged and racialized) discourses that discipline the normative expectations, behaviours and practices of individuals utilizing those spaces. Women's centres and Women's Studies programs serve an important purpose in challenging normative and hegemonic discourses. Nevertheless, these spaces are also highly contested and experience challenges arising from the presence and role of men, contests over the classed and racialized nature of such spaces and the visibility of non-heterosexualities including self-identifying lesbian and bi-sexual women. In this paper, we explore contemporary tensions arising from the increasing visibility of queer and trans analytics and practices in "women's centres" and Women's Studies spaces. We highlight some of these emerging issues and speculate about the difficulties and possibilities in play including the move to rename such spaces ("Diversity" centres, "Positive spaces", Gender Studies); protests against the loss of "women only" spaces and the debates over the presence of "masculine" bodies (men, butch women, transmen and transwomen). Given the current economic and political climate, such debates often lend credence to claims that such places are "obsolete." We conclude with a consideration of whether such spaces remain necessary and in what ways.