Stereotypes about women and how they interact may lead some people to believe women cannot be friends with one another. But the community at the Womyn’s Centre in the Bulman Students’ Centre at the University of Winnipeg tells a very different story.
The Womyn’s Centre is a place where women get together to talk. Information is provided on issues like safe sex and sexual harassment. There is a library full of feminist books and magazines. Notice of activist events around campus and in Winnipeg are written on a board for everyone to see. Fundraisers, sleepovers, potlucks, pad-making and breast casting events are organized.
“It’s a women and trans only safe space,” said Allison Reimer, coordinator of the centre. “Its basic function is to be a community space for feminist gathering.”
The purpose of the centre and the way it functions changes as members’ needs and feminism itself changes because the centre is there to serve the feminist community.
So, what happens when that many women are brought together?
Lexi van Dyck, a U of W student involved with the Womyn’s Centre, said that there are stereotypes that women are catty, prone to drama and in competition with one another, making it difficult for women to be friends with other women.
“When I was younger, like in junior high maybe, having a conversation with my mom about how the girls I was hanging out with were incredibly clique-y. Her advice was to hang out with boys because they’re less dramatic,” said van Dyck.
Her personal experience being friends with women varies. Sometimes it has been negative, such as in junior high, and other times the relationships have been more positive.
“I think that it’s a challenge to avoid acting out some of those stereotypes that we hear all the time about how women are supposed to act, how women act within their relationships. I think unless you’re consciously challenging those it’s pretty easy to just play them out a little bit,” said van Dyck.
Her relationships with women who are feminist have been positive, supportive and understanding. Many of these friendships formed at the Womyn’s Centre when she got involved with it in September 2012.
“It was really cool how friendships started to form at the beginning of the year despite the fact that it was a really big group of people with not a whole ton in common except that we were all in this space.”
Van Dyck said the space is very different from the rest of the university and she can bring topics from class that stuck with her to the centre to share and discuss with others.
“It’s a place where you can get some affirmation, sort of recognition, of your emotional response to it. Which is pretty fabulous and unfortunately uncommon in lots of other spaces. So that’s had a really positive impact as my experience as a student here.”
Dani Chalus and Michelle Kern came to the U of W as friends and decided to get involved with the Womyn’s Centre.
Chalus wanted to learn more about feminism and surround herself with more positive women. She has found the centre’s environment supportive, accepting and comforting.
“A place you could come to get away from the stress of being in university,” said Chalus.
Kern, going through a rough breakup, was not in a good place when she started at the U of W. Her friends were telling her to just get over it and move on. She found a very different, and more helpful, reaction from women at the centre.
“It was a place I could be upset and not be judged for it,” said Kern. She felt supported by the women, even though most of them didn’t know her.
Chalus and Kern sat on the couch in the centre, sharing honeydew and bunny shaped crackers after eating bread, whipped cream and jam made by Reimer.
“Alison is the best and feeds us all the time,” said Kern. Prior to becoming involved with the centre she used to feel guilty eating and often dieted. “You know what, I’m gonna eat this brownie and be happy about it!” laughed Kern. “I’m so much happier.”
“It’s important people know it’s not clique-ish here,” said Chalus. “It’s super inviting. It’s so, so nice here.”
Kern adds that the centre is open to women who don’t identify as feminists as well.
“Just come chill with cool people.”