Volume 38: Feminisms
In architecture, feminist discourse has long hovered on the margins of a male-dominated discipline that has often seemed unwilling to interrogate the assumptions underlying its universalist ideas (the ungendered user, the human-scale space, the context-free structure). But architecture has stakes in feminist discourse from the organization of a house to the design of a city. Early feminism was born in strictly ordered spaces that coded and confined ideas of the feminine. It began, in part, with ideas for a domestic revolution and by critiquing the structures of private life. Early American feminists including Melusina Fay Peirce, Mary Livermore, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman challenged patriarchal ideas of "women's work" and a "woman’s place" through housewives' cooperatives, kitchenless houses, and day-care centres. Modernism offered its own reconfiguration of femininity, including domestic spaces in its rational aesthetics. But a modernist home doesn’t necessarily reorganize labour: even when women have access to professional life, domestic labour is often shifted to other disadvantaged workers (mostly women or minorities) who take on tasks perceived as burdensome, undesirable and essentially feminine. What would it look like for a domestic revolution to confront the forces of globalization and neoliberalism?
Beyond the confines of the domestic, feminist spatialities are also about the body, politic, and the body, public. They are about definitions and expressions of femaleness and femininity as states of being. What does it mean to be feminine, and does it mean something different in public than it does in private? How does public space enable or guard against visibility and vulnerability? The Women’s March brought together, in some cities, hundreds of thousands of people, proposing a gendered occupation of public space as an umbrella term for diverse interests. How do gendered urban spaces address conditions of exposure, belonging, and presence and who gets to influence what the priorities of public space are? Whether in private or in public, to see women as subjects or women as stakeholders changes the orientation of design discussions to include gendered differences of political and embodied experiences.
Feminism, like the city, is not a monolith, it is constructed of a plurality of experiences and agendas. From post to radical, at the contested intersections of race, class and an ever widening conception of the possibilities of gendered experience. Feminism multiplies as it collides with unique contexts and differing political and societal constructs. How can we use the spatial tools of architecture and urbanism to understand the complex origins and trajectories of feminisms that are theoretical, political, and aesthetic?
Built environments spatialize historical and contemporary definitions of female and feminine, gendering space according to use, access, and control. How can we bridge the gap in feminist and architectural discourse? Can the intimate, the personal, the private and domestic disrupt conventional economies? How does gender influence the way we approach design? What are the histories of all our varied feminisms? What spaces do they inhabit? And what do feminist architectures mean for the future of our built environments? How might feminist design tools offer radical and experimental approaches to creating more sustainable and resilient mental, social and environmental ecologies?
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