A Room of One’s Own: Sacred Women’s Space by Amy Levin

I normally don’t get too personal in my blog posts. I figure if I’m going to take up space on the blog I might as well offer up something other than me, my voice, my body, and instead some good old fashioned commentary on those categories of feminism and religion “out there.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about sacred space over the past year (occupy wall street, Durkheim, the public sphere, Park51) and only recently have I begun to really think about personal sacred space. This week, I haven’t been able to avoid it. My long-time boyfriend and I recently broke up not-so-amicably. In the past few days he has contacted all of my friends and relatives in order to say “goodbye.” I began receiving a swarm of confused questions from close friends, who informed me of the texts, messages, and phone calls they were receiving. While I won’t dwell on the details, as you can imagine, these acts have intruded on my mental and physical space to the point where space in my immediate world has been temporarily possessed by someone else. As dated as first wave feminism is, Virginia Woolf’s salient message in A Room of One’s Own is exactly what I need. I realize that though my affective, physical, emotional, and mental spaces are conjoined and cajoled by my cultural and material surroundings, it’s vital that I feel that, in some way, these spaces are mine. This is what agency is for me. And I would call it sacred.

It has been a long-standing feminist critique that women shy away from taking up space, from the classroom to the subway to the dance studio. In my three years of modern and postmodern dance at Grinnell College, I learned for the first time that my 4’9’’ petite stature could take up and move space in a way that felt empowering, not imposing. I also learned that my voice could take up space in the classroom in a way that was generative for discussion – my embodied speech could be a positive addition, not a consuming intrusion. Thinking back to Grace Kao’s post on Undermining Our Own Authority, I recognize that I, like many others, have had to practice feeling and sounding confident when expressing my ideas in a public setting.

The FAR blog is one such public setting where women can cultivate spaces of agency, of strength, of communitas. In communitas the social aspect of the personal voice attracts and binds to a kind of sacred quality, an enchanted meaning. I owe much of this inspiration to Gina Messina-Dysert’s recent post on Women Blogging Thealogy. Gina gives an empowering explanation of Carol Christ’s feminist thealogy, one that is embodied, communal, and “begins with personal experience.”

As I struggle with maintaining my own sacred personal space, I notice that this ethos affects not only my social life and health, but my academic positioning. As someone who studies religion historically and ethnographically, the question of space between oneself and one’s object of study is crucial. I’m reminded of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, among others, who warns against “speaking for” others in academia, as well as the basic premise of religious pluralism which aims to give equal space to all religious voices. Though I’m often moved toward repugnance or doubt when it comes to universals, it seems that a sacred personal space, a breaking that marks off but doesn’t divide, a differentiating that embraces communality, can uplift, restore, and sustain that which animates us.

A graduate student in religious studies at New York University with an interdisciplinary focus on American religion, gender and queer theory, secularization, spirituality, and consumption, Amy is a regular contributor to The Revealer, a practicing feminist, and can be followed on Twitter @levinam.

Categories: Feminism, Feminist Theology

Tags: , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. Amy, thanks so much for this post. First, sending lots of good energy your way for peace in a time of struggle.

    I love Virginia Wolf’s piece on “A Room of Her Own.” Although we have changed the conversations in feminist dialogue, each wave continues to inspire us and offer elements to support our current work. This is such an important point. Thank you for sharing!


  2. I’m so sorry to hear of your recent intrusion into your personal sacred space. I really enjoyed reading this reflection and particularly liked your point about dance being an empowering art form in freeing you to move and “own” your body. Funny, there was a time when I loved going salsa dancing (in grad school) and here and there I’d show up for free group lessons at the clubs, but I always felt ambivalent about the strict gender role assignments. I mean, it worked well for things like coordination (e.g., if everyone knows that men do certain moves and women others, then you don’t have to negotiate that as each song ends and the next begins; on the otherhand, why must men always lead and can’t there be another way to coordinate?)

    In any event, I thought you might be interested in feminist philosopher Linda Alcoff’s take on speaking for others: http://www.alcoff.com/content/speaothers.html. Enjoy!


    • Thank you, Grace. Yes, dance is one of the few and sacred embodied forms of empowerment in my life, and at the same time it can be coerced by patriarchal and hierarchical models. Being so small, I never saw myself as a dancer, or having a dancer body, which was exactly why it was so refreshingly animating when I found out I was decent! Also, thank you for the link, I was thinking of Linda Alcoff when I wrote this! I love her writing.


    • I agree with Grace. Alcoff’s article opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on “speaking for others.” I highly recommend reading it :)

      Thank you for sharing your struggle here Amy!


  3. Very moving, Amala. Thanks for the link.


  4. I have always taken space very seriously. Ever since about 1985, my partner and I have had separate home offices or studies. I look to spaces free of males as much as possible, because I want woman only, rapist free space. I am very demanding to get good spaces in restaurants,because I will routinely be taken to the garbage table by waitstaff that will put me at what my partner and I call “the lesbian” table. And no, it’s not the window view of the ocean, it is the table next to the kitchen or the small table right by the entrance.

    So I negotiate very aggressively for good space, and if push comes to shove I will say quite loudly “don’t seat me at the crummy woman’s table— I want the big table over to the side” or when I’m really aggressive I say quite loudly “don’t give me the crummy table you put all the lesbians at!”

    On buses I’ll sit down hard, causing men to have to move over. I shoved a man who every day would sit at my work desk as a diss. I just came in one morning and shoved him hard off the chair.
    He never did it again.

    Space for lesbians is sacred and in big cities the male to trans invasion is appropriating lesbian space. It’s horrifying.

    Women’s space still needs to be constructed, women’s buildings need to be owned by women for the use of women, and woman only space in “Women’s Studies Departments” needs to be respected. NOT gender studies but
    WOMEN’S studies because the word WOMAN is central, and those who co-opt it or change it are stealing my time and my space.


  5. Turtle Woman,
    I am very disturbed by your essentialist tone in your comment: You state: “I look to spaces free of males as much as possible, because I want woman only, rapist free space.” Are you stating that all men are rapists?

    Secondly, further down you state: “Space for lesbians is sacred and in big cities the male to trans invasion is appropriating lesbian space. It’s horrifying.” Are you trying to state that men who are transgendered are horrifying because they are “raping” the sacred female space that is womynhood? (Notice my use of the term womyn and not woman)

    I would like and personally employ you to explore WHAT you say, especially when it essentializes identities in a stringent and exhaustive manner.


  6. Thank you for your post on this important issue.

    As one who has been around long enough to truly understand the risks of minimizing or even dismissing the stories, theorizing, scholarship, courage and relentless determination of our feminist fore mothers, I really need to gently challenge this language: “As dated as first wave feminism is,” which seems to be deployed as a distancing tactic.

    Imperfect, sometimes misguided, racist, expedient? Yes of course they were, but when was the last time any of us were imprisoned for exercising our first amendment right to free speech and peaceful assembly and then force-fed through tubes down the throat when our only voice was a hunger strike?

    Liberation movements are long, protracted, messy, bound by internalized isms and temporal locations, learning as we go, incremental, processes. When we dismiss or even fail to honor the backs of the women we stand on we are often required to reinvent that old wheel.

    “Dated,” in my truly humble opinion. is a fine description for kitchen counter tops, but language is power and it seems we might be able to find something more precise for a topic so close to the bone.


    • Ann,

      Thank you for this “gentle challenge.” An important one indeed. I’m guilty! “Liberation movements are long, protracted, messy, bound by internalized isms and temporal locations, learning as we go, incremental, processes. When we dismiss or even fail to honor the backs of the women we stand on we are often required to reinvent that old wheel.” This is so poignantly written, and gets to the heart of the problem when we dismiss that energy that built the various “waves” we subscribe to. I take your comment seriously and will be much more careful in using language that have potentially pejorative meanings.


  7. I am a yoga teacher and Therapeutic Yoga Practitioner as well. In Therapeutic Yoga we are providing either support of space foe healing and guiding people through their emotional/spiritual/physical body to reconnect and clear unwanted blockage. I have been teaching a gentle yoga class for about three months now called Sacred Space. At the time, I had never heard the term as a concept and of course thought it was an original idea. I have since then noticed this phrase in many areas and it feels uniting and empowering that there is obviously a collective consciousness evolving around the sacred and inner as well as outer space being held as valuable, even essential to our well being. Thanks so much for sharing that circle of sacred space with me. Much love in all you do.


  8. Reblogged this on The Bluntress and commented:
    Personal sacred space, a room of my own…exactly what I need



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