Today we talked about women in relation to the layout of cities and public spaces in general. The discussion began as a question of how being in the city is different for women compared to men, and we took several approaches to explaining what we saw as differences and why. Along the way, we got into issues, such as morality and its implications, which involved a discussion of different “types” of women, so to speak. What do we define as good behavior or bad behavior in general, and how does it carry over into public space? What are the gender differences in relation to these social constructs or “rules”? These were the kinds of questions we shifted to when we got into examples such as prostitution.
We have a tendency to view people who are publicly practicing things we consider morally wrong or socially unacceptable as getting what they deserve when bad experiences come their way. For example, we argued that women—more specifically, prostitutes—are “asking for it” when they walk around in extremely revealing clothing and suddenly find themselves a rape victim. For a long time, I held a similar mentality, especially toward prostitutes, but I’ve come to see things in a different light as I’ve heard so many stories about prostitutes and their often unfortunate backgrounds; and, this is where there comes a distinction between public space and private space.
Though I do not in any way condone prostitution or any similar lifestyle, it’s important to remember that prostitutes are in fact people and fit into society just as everyone else does. However, it’s interesting that our understandings tend to rely on purely what we see—the public view of things. What we don’t always know is what goes on in people’s personal lives—the private realm. We’re so quick to see a low-cut top and short skirt and label the person without caring what happens to that them when, in reality, the person may be trying to escape something that society itself has wrought upon her—an unsafe or unstable environment. It would be interesting to see how many women are involved in disgusting, degrading lifestyles because of fear for physical, emotional, and even financial safety.
Part of this problem goes right back to the original question: Is being in a city different for women compared to men? The answer is yes. Cities are not specifically designed for women, or for any particular group of people for that matter. As a result, everyone cannot get what they need, so there are those who fall between the cracks, including many of the proverbial “immoral,” such as prostitutes.
In Watson’s essay, “City A/Genders,” she describes the contemporary feminist approach to women and space. In reference to Elizabeth Grosz’s work, she states, “In this there is no ideal environment for the body of perfect city in terms of the potential it offers for well-being. The question then becomes how to distinguish conducive and unconducive environments—physical and socio-cultural—and how these produce different bodies” (240).
Watson indicates that this involves a power struggle, saying that “…any so-called solution will itself later represent a node of power and be contested” (241). She gets down to the core of what needs to be done when she suggests drawing attention to the big picture of urban life. She says, “It means taking account of identities and how these are formed in urban spaces and in the interstices of the city. It implies rethinking public and private space and recognizing that these too are shifting and not fixed” (241).
In other words, we will never create a perfect city simply because we can’t solve everyone’s problems. However, we can at least look at urban life as a whole and attempt to make things better along the way by acknowledging the constant cultural changes which affect private and public life. As a result of considering the many types of people—men, women, children, elderly, disabled, homeless, etc.—and constantly striving to improve conditions for all these people simultaneously, perhaps a city’s crime rates would decrease, women would feel safer and more secure, the destitute could more easily escape the streets, and people would generally have greater moral values and expectations. Who knows?
Watson, Sophie. “City A/Genders.” The Blackwell City Reader. Ed. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 240-241. Print.