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Women and Public Spaces

(41 Posts)

It occurred to me when in an airport the other day how most public spaces are set up in such a way as to be cold and clinical and reflect a very 'masculine' type attitude.
The encouragement of girls towards all things pink and fluffy will add another layer to our innate socialisation so when us/they grow up (even if only on a subconcious level) will feel wrong footed and unwelcome in most institutional/public spaces.
I was wandering if anyone else had noticed or thought about this?

Foggles Sun 06-Jan-13 17:58:40

I have never felt wrong footed in a public space. I like cold, clean lines and hate pink and fluffy.

I think you misunderstood me, I don't do pink and fluffy but I look at my dd and her friends, and despite anything I may say on the subject, they all like unicorns and my little pony and pink.
That socialisation, on a sub-conscious level, is surely going to make public spaces somewhere that speaks in such a way as to make them feel unwelcome?

Foggles Sun 06-Jan-13 18:12:35

I am clearly missing the point but, to me, saying your dd will feel wrong footed in public spaces because she likes pink & fluffy now is like me saying my sons will feel wrong footed because the public spaces do not look like Gotham City.

But modern architecture has a lot more similarities to Gotham City than it has to princess prissy pinks pony palace, non?

alexpolismum Sun 06-Jan-13 18:24:06

I don't know about public spaces in general, but I do think towns and cities as a whole are set up to suit able-bodied men. Think about the proximity of schools to residential areas, provision for the disabled, provision for childcare within walking distance, how easy it is or isn't to get about with young children...

alexpolismum Sun 06-Jan-13 18:27:29

where I live there is also an issue of street lighting in residential areas and a total lack of pavements

IThinkOfHappyWhenIThinkOfYou Sun 06-Jan-13 18:28:56

I think public spaces are 'adult' rather than 'masculine'

TunipTheVegedude Sun 06-Jan-13 18:31:10

I think that's a really interesting thought Maggie.

Traditionally a lot of private space has been coded as female and public space as male - it's not a new association by any means. In the past things like Classical motifs in architecture will have marked space as male. The majority of the Victorian home must have felt like a very female space, with all the soft surfaces and textiles. Perhaps we can extend your idea to think about how the home is also less feminine than it used to be, with the vogue for minimalism - (which DOES not mean that all men like minimalism and no women do, before anyone accuses me of saying that, but there are certain colours and styles that are traditionally associated with men and others associated with women.) There are some very 'male' kitchens about these days, all stainless steel and clean lines.

Leithlurker Sun 06-Jan-13 18:32:07

Not just able bodied men, able bodied women, men, and children. Societies need for accessibility was about a stereotype of people using two legs and being of a similer height to each other. This is not gendered.

In terms of schools and primary schools in particular, perhaps in more modernised cities large gaps have appeared, but those like mine and many others have at least 2 schools in close proximity to each high level of housing area. With school closures and amalgamations some communities have had choice limited and on a rare occasion removed altogether.

Foggles Sun 06-Jan-13 18:38:23

Traditional public houses (pubs) have a lot of soft furnishings; carpets, heavy curtains; upholstered seats.

I always thought that public spaces used clean lines because they are easier to keep clean (pink fluff would be a nightmare!) and the colours are usually quite neutral to avoid any "trends" so they don't date as quickly and need redecorating so often.

KRITIQ Sun 06-Jan-13 19:00:09

But surely characteristics seen as "feminine" and "masculine" in themselves have changed over time, and are to a certain degree subjective. The pink princess culture wasn't relentlessly marketed when I was a child in the 60's and 70's. Some styles of dress and design from the past might come across as "masculine" or "feminine" to us with our 21st century eyes, but that wasn't the case at the time.

To be fair, I think the design of alot of public places can be alienating to human beings full stop. Planners, architects and designers can get so caught up in being "cutting edge," that they forget completely about the functions that need to be carried out in spaces, and what human beings need to make that happen!

However, I agree with Alexpolismum's point about the "industry standard" for design being a non disabled adult male. A classic example is the height at which things are installed - from kitchen cupboards to ATMs, from hand dryers in toilets to information boards. Transport is another massive issue. In our town, there used to be 3 GP surgeries. People tended to register with the one closest to them, or at least easiest to reach (not easy with a river running through the town and only 2 bridges across!) This year, they moved all 3 into a swish purpose built health centre. However, the nearest bus stop is a 10 minute walk, and some folks on the other side of what is a relatively small town have to take THREE different buses to reach the centre. It's ridiculous.

wonkylegs Sun 06-Jan-13 19:10:11

Actually most public spaces like airports and train stations have been designed to balance the needs of maintenance (horrendous wear and tear) and efficiency. It's about getting people through safely, efficiently and in truly huge numbers.
It's not really a gender thing more a product of function.

wonkylegs Sun 06-Jan-13 19:17:08

Please don't lay the blame completely at the feet of planners & architects - it's often not about being cutting edge. Good characteristics are often cut out in the design process as part of the 'value engineering' of large projects. Accountants & clients( corporate) often cannot see the 'value' so the little things that often can make a place work and interact with human nature so they are cut because they 'cost' too much. It's soul destroying when that happens as you know it'll be you who is blame rather than those behind the scenes controlling the budget.

inde Sun 06-Jan-13 19:18:18

A classic example is the height at which things are installed - from kitchen cupboards to ATMs, from hand dryers in toilets to information boards. A classic example is the height at which things are installed - from kitchen cupboards to ATMs, from hand dryers in toilets to information boards.

Could just be the men who install them rather than "industry standard". I'm just under average height for a man and I can tell you there is nothing so disheartening as walking into a public toilet and finding the urinals have been installed by a 6ft male with no imagination.

Leithlurker Sun 06-Jan-13 19:25:53

Up till the mid to late 80's town planning and architecture were male dominated, so I will grant that the design in terms of access will have been carried out by a male point of view. However in looking at the intended use of the space plus the brief from the commissioning agency, it would be based on the assumption that Women, and Men, and Children would all have conformed to a standard height and shape. So doorways, stairs, lifts, atm as Kritique said would all be fine for those people.

The fact that more women are now in both of those professions seems to have made little difference to the accessibility for a wide range of people not just disabled people in the design of public spaces. In fact some of the designs incorporated in to public spaces especially catering for women, clothes shops, changing rooms, leisure and work places are still as innacessable as before. Having a disability in terms of access and the ability to navigate round a public space or use as intended a public space is not gendered. A women with a guide dog will have the same generic needs as a man etc.

Leithlurker Sun 06-Jan-13 19:28:16

I agree with wonkylegs some of the problem is able bodied people just not "seeing" the issue so it makes it easier to cut those items that may make a space more open to a large number of people easier to cut as the build goes along.

KRITIQ Sun 06-Jan-13 19:52:39

I agree with wonky's point that it's not just the designers to blame for not-fit-for-purpose spaces and premises. Apologies if I seemed to suggest this. I agree that corners often get cut, particularly when there are pressures on budget. And, of course you can get commissioners who think they know best, overriding advice from the people they pay to tell them how to get it right!

Changes in the law, particularly related to disability access standards, have meant that those who don't see a problem (because they don't have the experience of living with a disability) are forced to do things in a different way to comply. That doesn't meant hey don't still try and cut back, or take the advice of those who recommend doing the very least.

Also, there can be competing priorities and tensions. It's not easy to square needing public spaces to be well lit to improve the sense of personal safety and reduce the risk of tripping, falling, etc., with the need to reduce the carbon footprint and cut energy costs.

Leithlurker - I don't think the height of installation can be put down to tall men doing the job. It's my understanding that carpenters, electricians, etc., aren't generally given carteblanche to put things wherever they fancy. They put things in accordance with the design specification.

Yes, there are more women in architecture, town planning and the building trades, but they are still a small minority within what remain white, male, non-disabled dominated industries. Even when they are there, they rarely occupy many of the senior, most influential positions. As is often the case with male-dominated fields, the handful of women can come under considerable pressure to conform to the established "culture" to avoid being harassed and marginalised even further.

Finally, I would actually suggest that "having a disability in terms of access," isn't automatically gender neutral. For example, a disabled woman might be pregnant and find it challenging to stand for long periods, need more frequent access to toileting facilities, etc., than a man with the same type of disability. A disabled woman is more at risk of sexual harassment or a sexual assault than a disabled man. Yes, some things will be the same, but I don't think it's ever safe to assume that "all things are equal," as a rule.

FestiviaBlueberry Sun 06-Jan-13 19:58:07

"Up till the mid to late 80's town planning and architecture were male dominated"

Does that mean they're not now? What percentage of town planners and architects are women? 50%? Really?

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 06-Jan-13 20:03:16

I agree - there was a MNer who worked on this sort of thing a while ago. She was saying the same about standard heights/town planning. And I think inde is right, it's often not great for men who aren't average height, either.

My dad is 5'4, and works in a very male-dominated industry, so that for a long time he only had one female colleague. He and she used to bond over the fact that conference room tables were always the wrong height for them!

I also think it's interesting that space for luggage on trains is overhead runners/two-shelf compartments. Both of those require a fair amount of upper-body strength (as well as height) to get stuff up there.

My favourite example is old buildings - if you look at some very old buildings that used to be men-only spaces, look at see where the ladies' loos are. Increasingly this is changing, but lots of buildings used to have a much smaller number of women's loos than they actually need, because some of the plumbing dates back to when they needed one or two loos for (female) cleaners and lots for men.

Very few old buildings have more women's loos than men's, even though women take longer in the loo.

PlaySchool Sun 06-Jan-13 20:12:19

I'm a female town planner. I'd say about 30% are female. However, I do believe things have improved substantially over the last 20 years in respect of disabled access. See Part M of the building regs or check the Council's planning policies for evidence.

I don't have a problem with the top end of it I.e the public spaces and their design ( though I understand there are accessibility issues but IMO it's better than it used to be).
My problem is at the child end, the brainwashing at a young age to like all things pink.

Leithlurker Sun 06-Jan-13 21:17:27

Kritique stop making this a gendered issue it just is not. Many, people with a huge range of impairments will need the toilet more, or will get tired very quickly and very easily by standing in a Que., absolutely nothing to do with their gender. The point about being pregnant with a disability is however a good case in point as the numbers of severely disabled women who are allowed firstly to become sexual, then to carry on as normal whilst they are carrying their child is still so low that planners and designers have not yet been confronted with the numbers large enough to make an impression on planning and specific provision.

However that is an aside as it is a specific and personal issue, you state that laws provide for better compliance, it might but it also never happens as so many loopholes exist. The biggest one being that if it is a refurbishment then no compulsion is on the those commisioning the work to include access. Thats why many pubs, shops, offices, churches, listed buildings, are still not accessible

Playschool, thank you for the current stats, perhaps the shock of that figure and the fact that public spaces are still designed with predominately abled bodied, women, children, and men in mind will focus the minds of some. However as you quoted part M, you will be aware that they are a standardised set of rules that seek to do that almost impossible thing of being one size fits all. What is often the case is that part M may be used but done so in such a way as to make the implementation of them pointless. All very well having a disabled toilet, but not down some dank corridor, with a door hung the wrong way round so it does not open fully. Those are the joys of disability as experienced equally by impaired women and men.

PlaySchool Sun 06-Jan-13 21:21:19

I like to think that most kids will grow out of pink fluffiness. When I was a child I was told to stop playing with the mechano in infant school as the boys didn't like a girl playing with it!!! Thankfully, that attitude didn't prevent me from going into a career in the built environment.

Yes, many public modern spaces are quite clean and crisp but I don't personally see that as being masculine.

However, I hate a lack of pavements (dangerous to both sexes), dark unlit urban spaces which I try to avoid, and big kerbs that you can't get a pram up.

PlaySchool Sun 06-Jan-13 21:26:46

Of, course, as usual,there are few women in very senior positions in the planning and architecture business.

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