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The city as a space of gender dispute.

A small approximation to the urban issues that arise under the Patriarchy from
the point of view of gender geography and urbanism.
By Diego Zubiaurre*

With the uprising of Gender Geography/ies, the city begins to be viewed as a
space of gender dispute, where the patriarchal system marks the territory with
clear winners and losers - where space is structured according to interests that
poorly regard women and LGBT identities.
Key words:
City - Gender Geography - Patriarchy - Capitalism - Urban Space - Gender

* Advanced student of the Bachelors degree in Geography at the Universidad

Nacional de La Plata. Member and feminist activist in organisations such as the
Ctedra Libre Virginia Bolten (about feminisms of Latin America), and Colectivo
de Varones Antipatriarcales (Antipatriarchals Men Collective), in La Plata,

This paper attempts, in an introductory and brief manner, to account the ways in
which the city, as a social space, is a place of dispute (or where, since a few
decades ago, it is intended to create dispute) where patriarchy sets the rules.
This system, completely interwoven with capitalism, has caused the space to be
fragmented, differentiated according to values and patterns inherent to itself defined by two superior laws:

the superiority of man over woman and all lgbt identities

the superiority of the bigger and older man over the lesser and
younger man (this category, with an age assumption, could be viewed
from other angles)

These two dominant systems (patriarchy and capitalism) have made space to
be considered as abstract, neutral and normal, when in reality, the urban space
and its growth work through very concrete experiences: those of the
professional, heterosexual, middle-aged, male gender with already solved
reproductive tasks. The growth of this space values, then, the productive over
the reproductive, based on the false dichotomy that associates the productive to
the public space, male-dominated, and the reproductive to the private space,

The Urban Space as a space of dispute

The productive/reproductive dychotomy is an unreal and patriarchal
representation, given that women have always participated in the productive
sphere, be it as part of the formal or informal economy - and that reproductive
tasks are extended to the public space when it comes to picking up kids from
their activities, grocery shopping, etc. This shows that the lines are, and always
have been, blurry and ever at the expense of women.
This takes us to a primary idea: that space can be read through gender. But in
order to get to that, we should explain and understand what that is, how the
concept has made an impression on Geography, and which are the
contributions that it has made - or is trying to make.
Gender refers to all the differences between men and women that have been
socially constructed, and is not the same as sex, which is of biological (not
social) nature. Gender relations, such as the division of labor - be it in the family
or in and out of the workspace - are social relations that imply important spatial
variations. Gender relations, strictly speaking, refer to the power relations that
exist between men and women, and between men and women with different
sexual dissents. In most spatial, cultural and temporal settings there is a relation
of subordination between women and men.
However, the precise conditions and the intensity of this subordination
experience great regional differences.
Gender is conceived as a social construct in which the notions of femininity and
masculinity are acquired and passed on along the generations, involving also
the relations of power imposed by institutions. It is a constitutive element of
social relations, based upon the perceived differences between the sexes.
Gender is the essence of power hierarchies. In fact, this concept refers to all the
differences between men and women that have been socially and culturally
constructed - and that condition relations of subordination and dominance.
A big part of human behaviour is not the result of individual preferences, but
instead is governed by institutional rules and conventions that have powerful
material impact over the everyday lives of people - and, at the same time, an
economic system that regulates alongside the aforementioned - the capitalist, in
this case - and that legalizes all these preferences with the sole purpose of
profit maximization. Institutions have been defined as the game rules of a
society: the capitalist one. These rules may or not be written, be implicit or
explicit, coded in laws, ordained by politics, consecrated by religion, maintained
by traditions or rooted in the ways of thinking of families, communities and
societies. They play a very important part in shaping human behaviour, in terms
of what is allowed and what is off limits. From the point of interest of this paper,
influence the gender division of labor into production/reproduction in
different parts of the world

produce different regional patterns in the role men and women play in the
labor force and the economic activity
These issues we have been addressing have led to the creation of a model of a
city that is characterized by the non-satisfaction of peoples needs, especially of
a particular part of society - a model of a city envisioned from the abstraction of
plans and designs and never from the actual experiences of the people that
actually use the urban space.
The lack of gender perspective in the planification and urban design determines
that the quality of life of women, men and dissident identities in the city will not
be alike, given that the distribution of opportunities to develop daily activities is
From geographic theory, ever since the late sixties and early seventies, there
has been a turn in the theories and investigations concerning the entity of the
individual and his territorial claim, in contrast to the analytic and objectivist
geographies from mid XXth century. This was due to the fact that those latter
studies did not express the social reality of the time, and a change of direction
was needed to deal with certain subjects that escaped the main geographies
back then. The feminist movements, with their revolutionary ideas, arrive to the
academic world in the seventies, and human and social sciences start to absorb
all of their innovative content. At the same time, there is a blossoming of
counterculture favorable to the manifestations of marginalized and oppressed
groups of society (the black communities, women, lgbt groups, etc), especially
those of in the urban spaces.
As we look into the presence of the currents of thought that influenced gender
studies within geography, we are compelled to mention feminism, which is
considered a theoretical conception, a practice of interpretation and, mostly, a
political movement. It is a movement that surpasses the academy, because the
dialog with discourses and social revendications has been, and still is, very
productive - which does not mean that the longed for gender equality has been
In this paper, we will try to present in a introductory way the main contributions
that since the seventies feminism has made to gender geography, adding an
especially interesting angle when questioning not only the role of women in the
public space but also capitalism as a creator of gender inequalities. Feminist
Geography sets a much more precise ideological position than Gender
Geography: it is not a geography merely interested in highlighting womens
activities and their spatial implications, but instead explicitly considers societys
gender structure and, at the same time, makes a commitment to, in the short
term, alleviate the consequential inequalities and, in the long term, fully
eradicate them through social change. It seems clear that the implications of
gender studies in geography are at least as important as those that come from
the analysis of social or economical factors that make up society and space.
Every feminist current agrees that gender inequalities constitute a highly

differentiated power and social prestige situation for men and women that
explain the inferior position of the latter.
Gender Geography and space
The academic world is sometimes sensitive to the transformations that come
along with each era (or at least it should be). Many works in different disciplines
start to give visibility to women - the half of humanity that had thus far been
ignored in most studies. This way, the occidental, patriarchal culture begins to
be questioned. In fact, feminism, regardless of theoretical or ideological
currents, presents itself as a political project committed to social change and
oriented towards the achievement of human equality. In this regard, gender
inequalities based upon difference expose and prove how social relations are
biased by the unequal relations between men and women that contribute to the
subordination of the latter in society. Among all these academic microcosms we
encounter that in geography, while still briefly and developed by few but great
theorists, there subject has been elaborated.
Gender geography finds its origins in radical geographies and feminist
movements from the seveties, but its recent developments have been oriented
towards the definition of its ontological limits, epistemological frames and
different methods (Delgado Mahecha, 2003: p. 133). This turn is explained in so
far as the gender differences and specificities are made more and more evident
in their visions, experiences and social, spatial and environmental practices.
Mere discourse is consolidated when it grows more evident that the
metadiscourses of traditional modernitys epistemologies do not take into
account gender, race, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, colonnial domain, etc.
This geography is, in itself, diverse. All currents agree, however, that all
modernist geographies, from the positivist ones to the marxist ones, take on an
occidentalist view of the world, are of male perspective, ignore the female
other and often define femininity as an absence of masculinity. The urban
space, or the city, is a faithful reflection of this - it is functionalist and
segregated. It is crucial that we break these moulds, that the spheres and the
times of daily lives of people are delimited by their needs, and not by the
amount of processes that become space.
Gender geography is influenced by marxist as well as postmodernist and
poststructuralist currents, and it intends to conduct a deconstruction of the
geographies that, traditionally male-biased, have ignored this perspective. Their
main point is that space can never be neutral from a gender perspective - and
these social differences must be incorporated to spatial and territorial analysis,
since they allow the understanding of the keys to the organization of a society
that differentiates womens access to public space and that uses space as a
means of social and political control.
Power relations are manifested in the urban space, conditioning peoples
access, use and interpretation of the city according to the intrinsic

characteristics of each agent. This has led to the creation of a model of a city
that does not satisfy peoples needs - a model of a city envisioned from the
abstraction of plans and never from the actual experiences of those who are
meant to use the space.
This way, space is configured as an instrument of differentiation, domination
and control that nourishes male dominance. Social inequalities between men
and women are spatialized, and the spatialization of women constitutes a
means of domination. Therefore, the struggle for justice in gender relations
cannot avoid the political struggle for space and alternative spatializations that
include, among others, the spheres of the home, the workplace, recreation and
community life. To illustrate this issue, we need to go no further than to mention
that womens fight to conquer workspaces outside the home entails a
substantial change in traditional spatialization, that confines female work to the
interior of the domestic space. Proving that space is not a neutral entity in the
organization and reproduction of the social life means also making visible its
political potentialities.
The roles played by women at home, in the workplace and in every sphere of
the social life are spatially organized and controlled by man, and constitute an
instrument of dominance and differentiation. The social practices conducted by
women are different and generate spatialities typical of their gender.
For these reasons, gender geography declares the urgency of exploring social
practices of production and reproduction of space, taking into account the
gender differences and the power relations that from them derive. The feminine
should be defined in positive terms as the different other, and not as the
incomplete other that lacks masculinity. Doreen Massey points out that such a
task requires alternative visions of space based upon the following propositions
(Massey, 1994: 264-269):
1. Space is not static and time is not a-spatial. In fact, spatiality and
temporality are different, but none of them can be conceptualized as the
denial of the other one. We must insist on the need to think that all things
happen in space-time.
2. Space must be conceptualized as the product of interrelations, as the
simultaneous coexistence of interrogations and interactions in all scales,
from the most local to the most global levels. It urges to recognize that
spatiality is socially constructed, just as much as society is spatially
constituted. Space is not static because the social relations that create it
are dynamic. As a consequence of its social creation, space is full of
power and symbolism, and it is a complex network of dominance,
subordination, solidarity and cooperation relations.
3. Spatiality is both an element of order as it is of chaos. Space contains
and expresses the order imposed by the socially planned, but also the
disarray produced by the juxtaposition of contradictory spatialities, the
spatial positioning of the others or the counter-spatialities of the

subordinate. In this sense, space is political and open to political

struggle. It is not fixated or dead, and even less so, neutral.
4. The roles played by women at home, in the workplace and in every
sphere of the social life are spatially organized and controlled by man,
and constitute an instrument of dominance and differentiation. The social
practices conducted by women are different and generate spatialities
typical of their gender.
5. Female emancipation includes the conquest of space, the spatial
empowerment and the breakdown of oppressive spatialities like those
generated in patriarchal relations.
With these theoretical instruments, among others, this feminist geography
explores in different scenarios of the social life the complex relations between
space, place and gender. It looks for the political struggle possibilities and
opportunities to destroy unfair spatialities, such as those created by capitalism
and machismo, and to build new spatialities that may allow the reconnaissance
and expression of difference.
In the current status of the matter, investigations pursue the visibilization of
women, without explaining their social, political or cultural behaviour. However,
some recent works have begun to rebuild historically the notions of gender and
to explain the behaviour of women in society - especially in the urban ones.
Capitalist structures are kept intact, although with a new aspect in its late phase
- the so-called postmodern culture and its expressions in art, fashion, daily
behaviour or the ber-valoration of the body and the individual are nothing more
than a product of the cultural logic of capitalism. The fragmentation,
decentralization, the exaltation of individualism, compulsive consumerism, the
presentist schizofrenia and the feeling of lack of both past and future of the
current generations, the despise of history and mercantilization of the historical,
are all expressions of the mutations of capitalism.
Vital practices of men and women in a capitalist society, in order for life
sustainment to be guaranteed and under the rulings of the sexual division of
labour, are considered to be weaved through a mold of relations between
mental or social positions that creates relations of necessity between them and
is only viable as long as those positions are taken by different individuals,
female or male. In this sense, as opposed to a functionalist and segregated city,
a city can be imagined with mixed uses, a city that may improve the living
conditions of people with different everyday realities, since it would allow the
development of multiple daily activities in less time and in a smaller range, apart
from improving the accessibility to the different urban usages.
This does not come near, by any means, to shattering millennial mandates, but
it is a new approach to the city - a city accessible to everyone and not only to
the middle-aged, professional, heterosexual, married and excused from the
reproductive tasks male.

This is how we understand patriarchy: it is sustained by a double dimension. On

the one hand, the socio-economic dimension that guarantees the sustainment
of life in a material way. On the other hand, the mental-emotional dimension that
is constituted par excellence in the mechanism of the orientation of desire, as a
response to structural demands.

The physical environment is not only the scenario of inequality, but it also
performs as the reproductor of values and principles (after centuries of
interweaving with systems that have an influence over space) that promote
economic,ethnic and gender inequalities, as we have explained. That is why
everyones intervention in territory should lead to not only better ways of
experiencing the city, but also to space no longer reinforcing the inequalities.
As a conclusion we may state that the studies about the individual and their
incorporation to the geographic disciplines in the seventies indicate an
epistemological turn and glaringly reflect the current time, given that the old
structuralist, analytical and quantitative visions remain obsolete in face of a
more sensibilized and critical to social matters world.
In this sense, and regarding the subject contemplated in this paper, the fact that
we are attending the creation and blossoming of gender groups or commissions
in professional and academic associations, the constitution and consolidation of
investigation groups concerning geography and gender, the incorporation of
gender and geography subjects in the curricula, is a faithful reflection that this
approach is on the right track, even if we still have a long way to go. Perhaps
the most important thing is that after centuries of ostracism behind the ruling
patriarchy, we can see (and how well do they look) large numbers of people
regardless of them being men or women fighting for what for such a long time
was considered natural or typical of women. Female emancipation involves the
conquest of space, spatial empowerment and, as far as work is concerned, the
shattering of spatialities such as those generated in patriarchal relations complex relations between space, place and gender that aim to destroy the
unfair spatialities created by capitalism and machismo, one of his many sons
(Delgado Mahecha, 2003: 134).
The fact that two people of the same sex can be married, enjoy the same (and
never before acquired) rights as anyone, the unveiling of domestic violence (be
it verbal, mental or physical), the fact that we can debate over abortion, among
other issues, indicate that the whistle has been blown and that, while there are
still many roads to be pursued, these voices are making themselves be heard.
As a form of synthesis, we may state that gender is an active perspective within
geography that gets involved in the theoretical, epistemological and
methodological debates of our science, contributing to its development.
That when decisions are made regarding a place and a population group, the
meaningful different scales in the territory be simultaneously taken into account,
interconnected between themselves and with an intersectional gender
approach. That the dissimilarities of people be considered not only according to
their sex but also regarding age, origin, sexual orientation, among other
variables. To value proximity as a quality of the cities and to integrate the reality
of having a feminine, trans or dissident sexuated body and being a user of the
full rights of the public space, and not to tend to fragmentation or guettoization.

The challenge for gender geography lies in the fact that, in the beginnings of the
21st century, we find ourselves facing the recovery of the relation between
nature and society, but in this case locating social class, gender, culture and
social relations inside the concept of society, regarding nature and space as key
elements and not as part of a secondary order.
The challenge becomes concrete, the use of space and time does not have the
same dimension for men as it does for women, and we find ourselves before a
masculinized perspective of both variables that, in the light of the current times,
must be revised.

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