My Fair Lady- Gender Equality, and Gender Roles

Balancing Act.

Balancing Act.

There’s just no escaping gender talk!

 

I told myself I had my plate full with the many aspects of transnational planning without taking on gender issues in planning. But I’ve been colliding into it constantly since the last 3 weeks, so it figures that by now I have more than two cents to contribute.

 

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to planning with gender differences in mind. I don’t intend to descend into any of that, but I have some examples that I will reference at the end. This article is more of a precursor into the importance of gender differences in planning, and that most of the planning issues that relate to gender will involve shuttling between the broad concepts of gender equality and gender roles.

 

Gender Equality as the status quo?

I’m not a feminist. Never was.

Even though I come from India, a country with deeply entrenched partriarchism in many of its sub-cultures, and where anti-patriarchical sentiments have be flaring since over a year now, when one of the local village government bodies announced a link between the consumption of fast food…and rape incidents in the state of Haryana in India. Needless to say, nearly all of the country still hosts mock fests in honour of such ridiculous allegations (can’t even call it “rationale”). The point is, that despite such glaring examples that are a minority but do exist in India, and despite the fear around women’s security, I’m still not a feminist. That’s because I was brought up in a manner where both sentiments towards and expectations from me mirrored those for my brothers as well. I wasn’t brought up in a home where I was sidelined for being a female, nor the other end of the spectrum wherein I was put on a pedestal for being a female. I always find the latter amusing. To me it comes across as a mark of frailty in the woman.

My personal opinion aside, I think Joss Whedon put it across best in his 2006 acceptance address for the Equality Now award. Apparently, he would get asked repeatedly about his writing “strong female characters”, and in the video he walks you through the evolution of his response to the repeated questioning. The video is worth watching, but the gist is this: equality is the status quo. Anything other than that is what should be open to question. And I guess that’s why I was never a feminist. I assume equality to be the status quo, so feminism is resorted to when there is a situation of imbalance.

That to me is gender equality. But it would be naive to think that the assumption of equality removes the need to talk about gender differences, and how that shapes requirements when planning cities.

 

Gender Roles

If you’ve read- or studied a bit- about animal or human behaviour, or genetics, chances are you’ll come across the points I mention. In all species, male and female roles are evolutionarily defined.  For instance, in a lot of talk about monogamy in homo sapiens, people give reference to the greater genetic investment that women have in an offspring compared to men, making it evolutionarily more important for women to ensure the child reaching fertility, and thus being more involved in the child’s upbringing. Although, there are also a lot of cultural manifestations of the women’s involvement in child rearing.

Point is, male and female roles are evolutionarily defined, and there are obvious differences between the sexes that go beyond child bearing and rearing. Bottom line then, is that cities have to incorporate these differences in gender roles while giving due respect to gender equality. Planners have obviously found it difficult to navigate between being labeled inconsiderate of women’s needs and being labeled condescending in their assumptions and delivery of those needs. Like much else, the solution likely lies in being aware of both, and the fine line between them.

 

More references:

Foran, Claire. (2013, September 16). How to Design a City for Women. TheAtlanticCities.com. 
Wekerle, Gerda R. (1999). Gender Planning as Insurgent Citizenship: Stories from Toronto. Plurimondi, 1(2): 105-126.

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