Rooms of Our Own

It was already dark when we pulled into the parking lot of a local strip mall one night last week, and most of the businesses that lease space had already closed for the day. The gaming shop which had prompted our visit was next door to a Chinese buffet, the patrons of which were using all the parking spots for directly in front of both establishments. Iain, who just planned to run in quickly to see if they had a specific game, parked the car down the row, in front of the only other place with its lights still on, casting a golden glow into the dark lot.

It was a karate studio, the primary business of which was teaching beginners' classes to kids during after-school hours. In the evenings, it rented its space to other groups. This night, it was a zumba class.

"Look how much fun they're having," Iain said, with a sweet grin, just before he hopped out of the car.

Through the glass storefront, I saw a room full of women—black women, white women, and Latinas, women of all ages and shapes and sizes. Some of them wore scarves tied around their hips; some of them had long hair loosely tied up into buns; some of them moved like dancers, and others of them were stiff, but they were not self-conscious. They were smiling and laughing, and I could see some of them singing along to the lyrics of the unheard song to which they moved.

They were all having fun, in this room full of women, in this room devoid of men, where they felt safe and unjudged, moving their imperfect bodies in ways that made them feel strong, maybe, or sexy, or just plain old good. Look at how much fun they're having.

I was peering into a room of their own, into one room in a secret world of women that most men don't know, and not known to too many women who fear the woman-centered spaces plethoric narratives convey disincentives to us to avoid. The secret world of affirmative, safe, noncompetitive womanhood in which the makers of pop culture don't venture, save for the occasional tourist, even though rooms like this one are like oxygen in many women's lives, the only place we can really breathe.

I looked. I looked at how much fun they were having. And I wanted to be in there with them, shaking my hips, and suddenly tears were spilling down my cheeks, tears of joy and sisterhood and need, and tears of lamentation and regret for all the reasons I don't need to tell any woman who's reading this space these days.

And then Iain was coming back, so I wiped them away, because how can I communicate to him what it means to be half the world and still somehow how be in it? How can I even begin to describe what it means to be a woman, but not a person, not really, except among other women?

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