LOVE LETTERS TO TANZANIA: Is it ok when women discriminate?

Friday August 10 2018



Travel advertisements intruded on my email account recently. Do I want “turquoise beaches”? Yes! An “island paradise”? Sure! Pay a fortune for an exclusive retreat? Certainly not. Companies spying on us to push “suitable” online adverts clearly know what we dream of on rainy winter days. However, with all this snooping through private emails and secretly monitoring google searches, marketers should have known I would oppose “SuperShe” holidays.

The new “SuperShe” resort is located on a privately owned Finnish island from which men are banned. Yes, banned. Harsh, but true. Rejecting men is their key marketing strategy. Discrimination disguised as a unique, desirable product feature. “SuperShes” simply snub half the planet’s population. Scandinavian summers are short and winters fierce, thus all-female retreats run only from June to September. The island’s owner, a German entrepreneur, moved to the United States to develop business opportunities and obviously chase big money by targeting wealthy women keen to nurture their wellbeing in a “safe space”. Safety is important, but how can presumably educated women insinuate that the mere presence of men may compromise their safety?

If prosperous men disregard women and accuse them of impeding male wellbeing, do we not condemn such broad gender-based exclusion? How do moneyed women get away with blatant discrimination, labelling a whole gender a potential threat? Does such rhetoric not vilify all men? Surely, everyone knows women who make them feel unsafe, and men who make them feel safe. Any man who is neither disrespectful nor abusive towards women has a right to be offended by such prejudgement.

To be fair, the cost of the “wellness” created by “female togetherness” with private Michelin-starred chefs also excludes the vast majority of women. The “SuperShe” owner aims to connect women from diverse backgrounds “to inspire each other”, but obviously does not consider humble, financially less privileged women capable of inspiring the affluent. It makes a mockery of all efforts to promote diversity for the sake of equality when a booking enquiry for a holiday resembles a job interview. The owner admits that applicants are cherry-picked to ensure their personalities match those of other elite guests. Questionnaires and skype interviews ascertain that candidates are good enough for the exclusive mob.

The exploitation of our growing appreciation of “diversity” for financial gain is not the only paradox. Employing beauticians while claiming that barring men removes the pressure to wear lipstick also suggests a certain hypocrisy – especially if the founder wears lipstick for her photo ads. Magazines like Vogue or Cosmopolitan are expected to embrace new fads for upper class women and provide reports which resemble free advertising, but where is the voice of the common man or under-privileged woman in the media?

As many women are still unsafe due to actual abuse by men, other women and even female employers, exploiting their plight as a marketing device is shameful, not “super”. Women who celebrate their privilege in luxury cabins on private islands should ponder the real disempowerment of the least privileged. They can exclude disempowered sisters from private retreats, but not from their conscience. If privileged “Super” women relax and bond via exclusion, how about workshops teaching them to connect with common folk, men and women who truly represent all walks of life, to understand real, damaging disempowerment?

Empowerment is needed by victims of the sex-slave trade, both male and female. Empowerment is the hope of gold and diamond miners to escape the hazardous conditions of back-breaking work. The most basic level of well-being is an elusive luxury for them. The female super-elite’s “male-free paradise” looks like role reversal, perpetuating gender-based exclusion rather than learning from history and rejecting inequality.