A boundary in feminist spaces is a technique for creating a safer space. It is, simply, a request for a particular social interaction to not be entered into, or to end, together with an expectation of compliance with the request.
Examples of boundaries:
- "Stop touching me."
- "This conversation is over."
- "Let's talk about something else now."
- "I do not want to discuss feminism with you."
- "Please don't talk to me for a week."
- "Don't ever speak to me again."
It is generally expected that the person to whom the boundary was communicated complies as quickly and completely as possible with the request. If they are themselves hurt by the nature of the boundary (eg a request to cease communicating with someone they consider a friend), they should deal with their hurt by means other than asking the person who communicated the boundary to console or counsel them.
Respecting boundaries is important ally work for men, who are generally accustomed to having their emotional needs centered when interacting with women, and to being immediately soothed if a woman has hurt them emotionally.
Co-opting the term "boundaries"
The model may not perfectly fit all situations: in particular, when boundaries are changed regularly regarding how a less empowered person is permitted to interact with an empowered person it may be better described as "micromanaging" or even "abuse" (even if the term "boundaries" is co-opted to describe it), but in activist spaces it is a good model for prioritising people's safety over the need for particular conversations or relationships to take place right then. In social and intimate relationships it allows people to enjoy one another's company safely.
Pushing boundaries is a term for not behaving in accordance with boundaries. It may be overt or subtle (for example, an initial compliance followed by, after some time, occasional non-compliance escalating to regular or pointed non-compliance).
A pattern of boundary-pushing is considered to be, if not abuse or harassment in and of itself, a sign that the person doing so is escalating towards abusive or harassing behaviour.
Women are frequently places in a double bind regarding boundaries, where clear non-apologetic communication of boundaries gets angry feedback ("bitch", "frigid"), but conciliatory communication of boundaries gets ignored ("confusing", "mixed signals", "leading me on").