Imagine, if you will, the most oppressive, retrograde fictional male executive you can possibly cook up. Perhaps he looks like Don Draper, but with terrible clothes and an impressive gut. Maybe he’s Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” If you’re a more winsome, youthful sort, your favorite imaginary oppressor might be the brawny, clueless Gaston from “Beauty in the Beast.”
Whatever form your chosen theoretical corporate bad guy may take, get ready for some shocking news: Odds are, he wouldn’t get the heaps of glowing coverage recently dished out to a hip circle of New York feminists and their new women-only “work and social space.”
“No Boys Allowed: The New Rule of Co-Working Spaces,” declared the title of a BloombergBusinessweek profile on January 4. Here’s the lead: “It’s 11 a.m. on a recent Friday, and 29-year-old Audrey Gelman—public-relations powerhouse, former Hillary Clinton press aide, longtime friend of Lena Dunham’s—is sitting on a pink couch at the Wing, the co-working space and social club she co-founded this October in New York.”
I’ll break in with a rather amazing side note: Being a “friend of Lena Dunham” is apparently still a thing in 2017. But let’s move on. “A man walks through the elevator doors,” the article continues, “and Gelman throws him a friendly wave. ‘That’s our AV guy,’ she says. ‘He’s basically the only man that comes through here.’” INSERT OVER-THE-TOP RECORD SCRATCH HERE.
Wait. Are you kidding? Why couldn’t The Wing find a female AV guy? I thought this was a man-free safe space! As a matter of fact, can’t you just imagine our fictional Don Draper/Alec Baldwin/Gaston male chauvinist mash-up chortling merrily at this development? “A women-only social club and workspace? Well, of course we have to give them a male AV guy! We can’t expect a lady to figure out all of those wires and buttons!”
I kid, I kid. Sort of. The concept for The Wing, as New York magazine reports, actually started out as sort of a glamorized pit stop for busy career women—a place to shower, change, and regroup between city events. But then, in the hunt for investors, a mix of marketing and modern-day feminism stepped in, and…well. Read on, and gird your loins.
Actually, We Love Gender Stereotypes
“Taking up space can be a profound act in a society where men have the power and the prestige,” The Wing’s website says, apparently unaware it is already becoming slightly insufferable. “At The Wing, all the rules are written by women.” One of those rules, in case you’re wondering, is that there are no books written by men, at least not in the club’s library. (You’ll be heartened to learn that Maureen Dowd’s masterpiece “Are Men Necessary?” pluckily makes an appearance.)
Amenities also include on-demand blowouts (those are for hair, you sickos), visiting lectures from Planned Parenthood representatives, lots of pastels, and a “swag” shop. Two sold-out items in said swag shop include a keychain that says “Girls Doing Whatever The F*&! They Want in 2017” and a Planned Parenthood button that says “Don’t F*&! With Us, Don’t F*&! Without Us.” I’ve read that last line three times and I don’t think it really means what the button wants it to mean, but whatever.
Look, I’m not trying to be a killjoy. I’d love a workspace with on-demand hairdressers! Now that I think about it, I’d also love one with a wine-tasting machine. To be fair, it’s been a while since I’ve worked in an office, and back in the day, my office was one of the boring ones that had occasional donuts, a half-working microwave, and welcomed all of humanity.
Groups like The Wing are supposedly rebelling against nightmarish co-ed co-working spaces, many of which are “fratty venues that advertise kegs and ping pong.” Personally, I think kegs and ping pong make a great combination. They’re not a combination that gets a lot of work done, but hey, apparently that’s secondary in finding a freelance “workspace” these days.
In its ambitions, The Wing is not alone. “No Boys Allowed” workspaces are popping up all over the nation, earning cheers from feminists and lots of eager press. Look, it’s still a free country, at least theoretically, and I have no problem with single-sex social clubs. But when you start to tie “career empowerment” with walling yourself off from the opposite sex, things start to get kind of kooky. After all, if you’re going to succeed in the real world, odds are you’re going to have to learn how to work with the other half of the human race.
We’re Not Sexist At All Ever
There’s another problem afoot: If men tried to build their own version of The Wing, using the same rhetoric and over-the-top gender identification—a vast departure from older, stodgier, all-male or all-female New York clubs, by the way—approximately five million female heads, fresh from their on-demand blowouts, would promptly explode. Remember when feminists targeted Harvard’s all-male clubs and all the media blow-ups over the country’s few remaining, mostly sports-related, private male clubs?
Yet here’s New York magazine, describing The Wing’s launch party: “At the end of the evening, after several members had changed into white monogrammed pajamas for the sleepover portion of the proceedings, one woman wondered aloud why exactly the party had felt so easy and fun.” The answer, ending in a decidedly un-empowered question mark: “I think it was because there were no men here?” Later in the piece, Gelman explains to the reporter what made a recent birthday party so great: “It was the absence of men.”
I now formally invite you to imagine these things said by men about women, out loud, to the national press. I’ll wait while you take cover.
In the meantime, never fear: Any criticism of enterprises like The Wing will likely be chalked up to our good old friend that starts with the letter P. “Lord knows, patriarchal capitalist society does not want women to band together at all,” Meredith Graves, an MTV News correspondent, said of her involvement with the group. “That would be detrimental to the whole system.”
Meanwhile, if “the promise of The Wing pans out,” writes Dayna Evans at New York, “getting to the top doesn’t necessarily involve encountering men on the way up.” Ah. That sounds fairly dubious, but okay. In the meantime, there’s an upside: That blowout certainly does look great.