GENDER AND SPACE -AN ASSIGNMENT ON ARCHITECTURE AND CRITICAL THEORY
BY MANJULA INIAN II YEAR M.ARCH (P.T)INTRODUCTION: This essay is neither rational nor empirical, but is more phenomenal,in the sense; it is my experience and view on „gender & space‟. As thesaying goes, „men are from Mars and women are from Venus‟ and they livetogether in the earth. Unfortunately many spaces on the earth are still„Mars‟ spaces leaving little space of „Venus‟ people. Before we get into theissue of providing segregated spaces for women, merits and demerits, letus see the history and traditions; whether we really need to segregatespaces for gender; social, economical and political women spaces andcurrent social issues.HISTORY & TRADITION: Traditional architectural forms throughout the world frequentlydemonstrate clearly differentiated spaces for the sexes, reflecting anacknowledgement of, and response to what are perceived as womens andmens differing roles, needs and natures in society. The spatialarrangements of the Warlpiri aboriginal people in Australia - Jilimi- forsingle women, jangkayi – for single men, yupukarra- for family, are one ofsuch examples. Some of Indian tribes still practice these kind ofsegregating spaces for gender tradition even now. A traditional South Indian house clearly identifies women and menspaces with two courtyards exclusively earmarked for each of them.Separate ladies rooms were built to cope up with women‟s biologicalneeds.WOMEN SPACES- PHYSICAL: There is a growing worldwide trend for women-only spaces on trains,beaches and in hotels. There are exclusive trains for women in Bombay.Women taxi drivers of Bombay, women auto drivers of Chennai tend tooffer exclusive service to women. These spaces/services certainly offer theliberty of being women by themselves. How many of us haven‟t enjoyed the
travel in ladies cabin of sub-urban trains of Chennai- the mobile fancy itemvendors, mobile vegetable and snack vendors, etc. I feel women, especiallythe regular commuters of these trains; have a world of their own, enjoyingthe exclusiveness to the fullest level. We would commonly see ladiesmaking flower strands, engaging themselves with some kind of handwork. For some women, exclusive women areas can be a way to expandmovement in public spaces, rather than limit it. A women-only taxi servicein Bombay, for example, has been touted as giving women more traveloptions, while, around the globe, women-only gyms provide a welcomespace for religious women who wouldn‟t otherwise be able to workout.(Why only pink is used to represent women spaces?) A very good example of the advantage of segregated women spacesis the exclusively ladies cabin in Delhi Metro. A city which had been quiteunfriendly to women all these days, has changed drastically with theconnectivity of places by Delhi Metro which facilitates women commuters amuch safe travel and especially the front all-women cabin offers a muchcomfortable space. But sometimes, even in the event of clear demarcation of „womenspaces‟, there is always an encroachment into these spaces – likeaccidently(curiously?!) a man getting into a ladies special bus or ladiescabin in train, an usage of ladies toilets by men in public spaces in veinhours of office time( as they are more cleaner). On the other hand we do find unisex spaces, like parlours, gyms etc,which are supposed to be the signs of „modern society‟ where both gendersshare common spaces.WOMEN SPACES - MERITS AND DEMERITS: On the outset, although these women spaces offer privacy, securityand the idea of a safe space is compelling, which is often about “protecting”women, the idea of segregation raises questions of just how equal thesexes are if women‟s safety relies on us being separated. According to anarticle in The Hindu by Jessie Valenti, „After all, shouldn‟t we be targetingthe gropers and harassers? The onus should be on men to stop harassingwomen, not on women to escape them.’ Betsy Eudey, director of gender studies at California State University,says that while some single-gender environments could be beneficial, shefinds that “segregated spaces only enhance division by gender and prevent
the necessary actions needed to make public spaces safe and welcomingto all.” Not all feminists are so sceptical though. American writer KathaPollitt says she doesn‟t think that the rise of women-only spaces will excusesociety from confronting harassment and violence. Instead, she believesthey simply offer a small respite for women in a male-dominated world. Not all women-only spaces are mired in paternalism. Girls‟ schools,for example, are touted as places where pupils have the confidence tospeak more openly than they would in a mixed class. Women-onlynetworking events are gaining popularity in cities from New York to London.The difference between these spaces and designated “no harassment”zones, however, is that all-girl schools and networking are positivelysupporting women and their endeavours rather than hiding women behindclosed (or sliding) doors.WOMEN SPACES – SOCIAL,ECONOMICAL AND POLITICAL: Apart from public spaces, there is a growing tendency of women tohave more personal space than what they had earlier and there seems tobe no compromise in obtaining the same. Having taken for granted for somany centuries, contemporary women insist on their own personal spaceand no more shared spaces like in-laws houses, etc. Society is undertransition. The trend of nuclear families is quite common where thehusband and wife are equal partners of the space- what I mean by space isjust not physical, it includes economical and social spaces and the womanhas equal say on everything and any kind of disturbance to this set upleads to the disturbance in the family set up. Furthermore, „living together‟ -a much convenient arrangement of individual spaces in couples provides anon compromising spatial structure to both genders. (I am not going intothe merits and demerits) There is a growing tendency of single women inthe society, which is a serious concern for the so-called tradition up-keepers of the society as this is the direct indication of women insisting onthe non-compromise of their personal spaces. And there is still not much welcoming social space of female child inthe society with the rampant female foeticide and infanticide and decreasein sex ratio which might lead to greater social disaster. The spaces provided for women in media especially in movies and inother visual media are highly misinterpreted version of what men thinkabout women and what men want out of women. It is never the actual
portray of woman with her sensualities. Women lyrists and women directorsmake much better representation of women than their counterparts. An attempt to carve a justifiable administrative and governing spacefor women in Indian parliament is going on for years together and yet totake off. It is proven that women bestowed with proper social and politicalspace, aid to the up-lift of the society-example: women Sarpanchs orvillage heads of many Indian villages. Equations are changing in the society. Today single women are nottreated as bad as the earlier times. Renting a house by single women usedto a social taboo earlier, today it is not so difficult. Society has startedaccepting women with their personal space unhindered by men, althoughthere are some sporadic incidents of violence by the affected men againstthese single women. Society is waking up with issues of handling men whoare not used to this kind of unpampered blunt situation where women withtheir own choice, can handle their life without much hassle.CONCLUSION: As the tug of war goes on, in scooping out spaces for each gender inthe society, an ideal society would be nothing, but giving right andadequate space and appropriate identity for its entire people irrespective ofthe gender without any discrimination, and a well balanced platform foreveryone to have an even play.
References: 1.http://www.gendersite.org/ 2. ‘The Hindu’ article by Jessica Valenti 3. Cartoon on Women’s Bill by Surendra-THE HINDU