WHEN I told friends I’d been asked to leave a workshop at a feminist event last weekend, they looked alarmed.

“Oh god, what’s Craven done now?” I could see them thinking. “She’s even managed to upset the feminists!” So I was quick to clarify that I wasn’t the only one – in fact, every woman in the room had been asked to leave a session titled “Responses to Patriarchy”.

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I was taken aback, certainly, when it was pointed out that the printed sign on the door had “no cis women” scrawled on it in felt-tip pen. But we all duly left, with no audible words of complaint (thanks, female socialisation), after the facilitator made it clear he wasn’t messing about. He advised that if any of us wanted an explanation of the policy, we could come and find him later.

With an hour to spare, I went to get some lunch and have a ponder. Once I’d done so, I did indeed go and find him for a chat, and after that I pondered some more. And between the reasons I’d come up with and the others he provided, I found I had quite a detailed list explaining why a session about responding to patriarchy, aimed at men, might work best – indeed might only work – if it was a woman-free zone.

The first and perhaps most obvious reason is that men are very likely to be inhibited from talking openly about their feelings and experiences in a setting that includes an audience of card-carrying, weekend-workshop-attending feminists. Indeed, they might not be particularly comfortable talking about their feelings to any strangers – or to anyone at all – since according to the gender stereotypes that underpin patriarchy, talking about emotions is something women do. For all I know, the men in that workshop may have sat in awkward silence for an hour, despite our departure.

Earlier this month the chief of the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association issued a plea for the movement to remain single-sex. Reiterating its origins as a male health initiative, he said: “As soon as women get involved, the whole dynamic changes in the shed and the men’s behaviour changes … so absolutely no women in men’s sheds – that is the stand.”

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I can understand why this might have raised hackles. Traditionally, all-male spaces have not been positive sanctuaries aimed at reducing isolation and fostering better mental health. More often they’ve been toxic environments that make sexist men worse and exclude anyone who dares object to demeaning “banter” or behaviour. Exactly those sort of environments are likely to be discussed at workshops aiming to challenge the status quo, which leads to another reason for excluding women: a sincere desire not to cause offence or upset. Us women might think we’ve heard it all before, but that doesn’t mean we actually have.

I recall sitting in the audience of Gary McNair’s theatre show Locker Room Talk at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, listening to verbatim conversations involving men of all ages and backgrounds (read aloud, in an ingenious twist, by women). Every so often there was an audible collective intake of breath at a particularly unpleasant turn of phrase, but there was only one moment that truly shocked me: a middle-aged man talking in the most coldly contemptuous, degrading, dehumanising way about his wife. My response wasn’t righteous outrage, or disgust, or loathing of the man who had originally spoken those words. I just felt a little piece of my heart break. Thinking back to it now – recalling not the precise words, but that awful sentiment – is enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Another reason for male-only spaces relates to both effective problem-solving and a need for men to take responsibility for themselves and each other. The facilitator who’d turfed us out told me that in his experience, real change happens when men listen to each other and come up with their own solutions (ie, rather than when they hear lectures from judgmental women). Some might not like to hear this, but there it is. And of course, it should not be the responsibility of women to devise appropriate “responses to patriarchy” for men – they’ve got quite enough on their plates devising responses for women.

He was frank about the challenges of the work he was doing. It’s not enough for men to simply air their concerns, and indeed doing so could even be counter-productive. After all, if a man with negative attitudes towards women finds out that his apparently right-on peers, colleagues or teammates share them, there’s no guarantee they will all put their heads together and try to change – at worst they might feel validated, or conclude their worldview is natural and unchangeable.

Sure, I’m curious about what goes on behind the doors that are closed to me because I’m a woman, but I understand the importance of single-sex spaces – all the more so, I’m not ashamed to say, because a man took the time to explain why they matter to him. I’ve also heard wonderful things about men’s sheds, but while I personally love a carpentry project, it’s never occurred to me to ask my male pal “Can I come too?” Men are entitled to their spaces, just as women are entitled to theirs. Responding to patriarchy often means kicking open doors that were previously closed to women. But other times it means respecting boundaries and staying away.