Survival of the Sanctuary: Digging through the Women’s Room Archive

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Words || Erin Christie

Walking past the swanky, new and improved glass-fronted E7B, you might notice the giant hole in the centre of campus. To you newbies out there (welcome!), this used to where everything was hip and happening at Macquarie. Among what is now rubble, you could find $5 nachos, a big homey student bar, and a cute-as-hell cafe called Marxine’s that was established in the 70s with a kicker cappuccino; all of which have been moved, removed, or destroyed in the new efforts to reconstruct.

Also lost to campus is the old Women’s Room – which was once the favourite place of many at the North Ryde Campus. This is-slash-was an exclusive safe space for women-identifying individuals, existing in the back corner of the third floor in C10A. This hallowed room was home to laughter, tears, venting, conversations of silliness and solidarity. For me, it has been a place to cry, a place to sleep, a place to discuss and a place to learn. And apparently, it has been such a place for many others over the last twenty years.

You’ll find many things if you dig through the archives of the Women’s Room. The first notable find was a red flyer from the 90s, promoting the space with the words ‘A ROOM OF OUR OWN’ printed across the top. Its location is advertised as Level 2 Union Building – back in the day we had both a Student Union and a Union Building.

The author of the flyer has written ‘What’s in it for you?’ and answered herself – the space is a place for free information on topics such as women’s health, housing, domestic and sexual violence and women’s legal status. It was also described as a place to use for ‘activities like jam sessions, painting, writing.’ The creation of the space was clearly an amazing achievement for the Women’s Collective of the time. However, they weren’t without the troubles that still permeate the existence of Macquarie’s Women’s Space and Collective.

Up until the dissolution of the Student Union, it seems that every year the space was given a new journal. Women would write to each other about everything, such as  exams, work, politics and parenthood. On the 25th of September, 1992, an anonymous character wrote ‘Long live sisterhood!’

On the 4th of August that same year, ‘Emma’ wrote: This is a beautiful place where we can come … and not have to fear being criticised and judged … but rather, are safe in the knowledge that laid bare at your most vulnerable point you will be comforted, nurtured, protected and healed.

Although the fear of misogyny that permeates the entries is still relatable, it is also nice that the sentiment of the room is still what it was 25 years ago. However, with the destruction of campus beginning at the end of last year, the fate of the women’s room is a source of concern for many.

The new Women’s Room can be found in MAZE, the new ‘student group space’ that has been opened one level above MUSE. Administration had the Macquarie University Women’s Collective moving their books and furniture into the glass-walled room before they had decided to frost it, meaning anyone could see into the space. This compromised the safety of anyone inside using the space for its safety – whether that be women who had removed headscarves, or women seeking to avoid their sexual harassment perpetrator on campus. The doors of the space are also currently broken, and do not lock, meaning anyone can enter (although Campus Engagement says as the space is used by some ‘at risk’ students, it cannot be locked in case staff need to enter). The new space is more likely to be invaded due to its central and visible location.

This proved to be an issue in October last year, with a group of men attempting to enter the space by sardonically claiming they identified as women. Fortunately, the then-current Vice President and Secretary of the Women’s Collective were inside the space and able to deter the situation.

The newly elected President of the Women’s Collective, Erin Bliss, has expressed her concerns for the space, especially in response to this occurrence. “There were women in there who had removed headscarves, there were women in there sleeping. Also, security is rarely seen on level three, meaning there is potential for lack of safety and potential for members to be harassed or approached by those not welcome in the space.”

The safety of the space will hopefully improve over the semester through consultations with the Women’s Collective Executive Team, who plan to control the space and keep it safe. However, it seems very unlikely the space will reach the sense of sanctuary that used to exist before it was bulldozed in the name of redevelopment.

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