Gendered Mobilities
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Gendered Mobilities

Tim Cresswell, Tanu Priya Uteng, Tanu Priya Uteng

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eBook - ePub

Gendered Mobilities

Tim Cresswell, Tanu Priya Uteng, Tanu Priya Uteng

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Being socially and geographically mobile is generally seen as one of the central aspects of women's wellbeing. Alongside health, education and political participation, mobility is indispensable in order for women to reach goals such as agency and freedom. Building on new philosophical underpinnings of 'mobility', whereby society is seen to be framed by the convergence of various mobilities, this volume focuses on the intersection of mobility, social justice and gender. The authors reflect on five highly interdependent mobilities that form and reform social life: *

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Chapter 1
Gendered Mobilities: Towards an Holistic Understanding

Tim Cresswell and Tanu Priya Uteng


Mobilities1 have truly become the hallmark of modern times. But how this hallmark is experienced and represented is far from stable. On the one hand it is positively coded as progress, freedom or modernity itself; on the other hand it brings to mind issues of restricted movement, vigilance and control. Through these dimensions of freedom and control, the understanding of ‘mobilities’ has offered a cohesive way of viewing the highly globalised/mobilised world we inhabit today. As Lash and Urry (1994, 252) put it, ‘modern society is a society on the move’. Similar ideas have been professed in disciplines ranging from philosophy, physics and astronomy to film, photography, architecture and urban planning. However, on our overtly optimistic journey towards progress, we have finally come to terms with the reality of our limits. We have no choice but to pay heed to the threats of climate change and its direct linkage with various aspects of mobility. Consumption, and its connections to mobility, needs to be revisited. Given such contradictory outlooks on the theme, mobility has become a most elusive theoretical, social, technical and political construct. In order to deal with it in a systematic way, it is necessary to revisit the implications of mobility in a holistic manner.
Understanding the ways in which mobilities and gender intersect is undoubtedly complex given that both concepts are infused with meaning, power and contested understandings. The concept of gender does not operate in a ‘binary’ form. It is never given but constructed through performative reiteration. The resultant interpretations of gender are also historically, geographically, culturally and politically different, enabling a certain slippage between the different realms in terms of how genders are ‘read’. This point is central to an analysis of how mobilities enables/disables/modifies gendered practices. We can use mobility both as an archive and present indictor of discourses, practices, identities, questions, conflicts and contestations to understand its gendered nuances.
The principle aim of this book is to bring the insights of the current ‘mobility turn’ in the social sciences to bear on these connections between mobilities and gender. Thinking of mobility holistically, we suggest, allows us to see gender on the move from a different and illuminating angle. It brings research and writing formally held apart into conversation through the connecting strand of mobility, which is but one way of theorising the connections between gender and spatiality.
There are many ways in which gender is spatially produced. Perhaps the most commented on is the binary of public and private which has been mapped on to masculine and feminine, man and woman, in clearly delineated ways and been brought into question by any number of feminist theorists. Here gender is defined, at least in part, spatially – through a geographical image. Another key spatial coding for gender, and the one that lies at the heart of this book, is the dialectics of fixity and flow – of place and mobility. By mobility we mean not only geographical movement but also the potential for undertaking movements (motility) as it is lived and experienced – movement and motility plus meaning plus power. Understanding mobility thus means understanding observable physical movement, the meanings that such movements are encoded with, the experience of practicing these movements and the potential for undertaking these movements. Each of these aspects of mobility – movement, meaning, practice and potential – has histories and geographies of gendered difference. Each of these is in some way constructed in a gendered way and each, in turn, contributes to the production, reproduction and contestation of gender itself. How people move (where, how fast, how often etc.) is demonstrably gendered and continues to reproduce gendered power hierarchies. The meanings given to mobility through narrative, discourse and representation have also been clearly differentiated by gender. Similarly, narratives of mobility and immobility play a central role in the constitution of gender as a social and cultural construct. Finally, mobilities are experienced and practiced differently. Acquiring mobility is often analogous to a struggle for acquiring new subjectivity. This reality is in a continuous state of flux, leading to the changing of contours in the relationships between gender, mobilities and shifting subjectivity. Consider just a few of the arenas in which gender and mobilities intersect.
To begin with, we might think of the mechanics of human (and animal) reproduction. Emily Martin considers the language of scientific textbooks describing the human reproductive process. In particular she notes how the mobility of sperm has been described with awe while the relatively stationary egg has been equated with passivity. ‘It is remarkable how “femininely” the egg behaves and how “masculinely” the sperm. The egg is seen as large and passive. It does not move or journey, but passively “is transported,” “is swept,” or even “drifts” along the fallopian tube’ (Martin, 1991, 489). This contrasts with the language used to describe the sperm, which are described as fast, mobile, active and streamlined. Only recently has medical science indicated that the relatively stationary egg might be an active partner in the reproductive process (Martin, 1991). Here, as so often, masculinity is coded as mobile and active while femininity is coded as relatively stationary and passive.
Next consider bodily movements. Iris Marion Young, on noting how male and female students used their bodies while engaged in throwing a ball, or walking with books, concluded that they moved in such a way that they focused in on themselves rather than being focused in an outward way on the world (Young, 1990). Boys, when throwing a ball, would use their whole body to launch the ball towards its target while girls would generally use just the arm. The rest of the body would remain stationary. This inhibited mobility, she argued, meant that girls and women were unable to be the phenomenological ‘body-subject’ of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Merleau-Ponty, 1962) but remained a ‘body-object’. Or, consider Bourdieu’s observations of the different ways in which men and women walked in a Kabyle village in Algeria.
The man of honour walks at a steady, determined pace. His walk, that of a man who knows where he is going and knows he will get there on time, whatever the obstacles, expresses strength and resolution, as opposed to the hesitant gait (...) announcing indecision, halfhearted promises (...) the fear of commitments and inability to fulfil them. It is a measured pace, contrasting as much with the haste of the man who ‘walks with great strides’, like a ‘dancer’, as with the sluggishness of the man who ‘trails along’. (Bourdieu, 1990, 70)
Here, as with Young, it is not just a suggestion of women as static and men as mobile that is striking, but the different ways in which mobility is embodied and enacted. Feminine mobilities are different from masculine ones. What’s more, this difference acts to reaffirm and reproduce the power relations that produced these differences in the first place.
Similarly, research on gendered travel behaviour patterns have established their spatial variations. Feminist geographers and others have long insisted that analysis of daily travel patterns between home and work cannot be gender blind and that there are very significant differences between the longer distance and more direct daily travel patterns of men in the modern west and the more complicated but shorter distance travel patterns of women who not only go to work but often have to drop children off with schools and childcare as well as dealing with shopping, medical visits and a long list of other, typically feminised, routine events (Law, 1999; Hanson and Pratt, 1995). Studies establish that gender-differentiated roles related to familial maintenance activities place a greater burden on women relative to men in fulfilling these roles resulting in significant differences in trip purpose, trip distance, transport mode and other aspects of travel behaviour (which includes different times, to different locations over different distances) (Erickson, 1977; Andrews, 1978; Hanson and Hanson, 1981; Howe and O’Connor, 1982; Fagnani, 1983; Fox, 1983; Pas, 1984).
More women than men use public transport, yet this relationship is never explored beyond the domain of transport planning. It has never received attention as an artifact or augmentation as an infrastructure anywhere comparable to that of the car as an object of desire and roads (and other related infrastructure) as a means of catering to freedom. The relationship between men and cars is well known (in the UK there is even a free digital channel called ‘Men and Motors’!). Virginia Scharff, in her book Taking the Wheel, explored the history of women as drivers, noting the long-standing association between masculinity and driving and the difficulties women faced when taking to the road (Scharff, 1991). Indeed, the early history of the automobile in the United States was marked by attempts to provide alternative and slower means of automobility for women. Foremost amongst these was the electric car. One automotive columnist, C.H. Claudy, believed that the electric car was perfect for women, offering them a safe vehicle with a limited radius, which was perfect for social and domestic tasks.
What a delight it is to have a machine which she can run herself with no loss of dignity, for making calls, for shopping, for a pleasurable ride, for the paying back of some small social debt. (Quoted in Scharff, 1991, 41)
Compare this polite and slow feminised automobility to the predominantly masculine representations and practices of driving at the time where ‘Cars served as private space. Only in private cars could proper middle-class men swear at complete strangers. Men smoked as they pleased in cars. They rapidly became spaces for sexual conquest. Driving, even in traffic, could be made competitive and aggressive, a false bravado’ (McShane, 1994).
One of the most significant forms of mobility in the modern world is tourism. The roots of modern western world tourism in the renaissance ‘Grand Tour’ are well known. This tour was a thoroughly masculine endeavour and elements of that masculinity remain in tourist mobilities that are often conceived of as frontier-like activities of exploration and conquest. The feminist scholar, Cynthia Enloe, has commented on the masculinity of tourism (even when conducted by women). She has also underlined the central role of women in an industry where 75% of workers are underpaid and female and which has long been associated with sex and prostitution.
It is not simply that ideas about pleasure, travel, escape, bed-making and sexuality have affected women in rich and poor countries. The very structure of international tourism needs patriarchy to survive. (Enloe, 1989, 41)
Enloe also notes the long history of women travelers in the pre-tourist age. Privileged travelers like Mary Kingsley who set off from England to Africa in 1892 and traveled throughout the continent, for much of the time without a male escort. Many male explorers felt that their world was being trespassed but Kingsley became extremely popular on the lecture circuit between her travels. While she was breaking gendered codes of mobility she was simultaneously reproducing imperialist codes of mobility as she recounted her travels in the ‘dark continent’ (Blunt, 1994). Gender and mobility are inextricably linked with other formations of power including class, ethnicity and imperialism.
Consider research. Feminist geographic studies of migration reveal that women’s migration decisions and experiences are distinct from men’s in that women weigh both reproductive and productive labour demands (Silvey, 2000; Radcliffe, 1991; Chant, 1992; Lawson, 1995). A review of immigration literature reveals that scholars who do not place women’s subsistence work at the centre of their analysis construct home/host dualistic arguments that oversimplify women’s experiences from transnational mobilities. Kibria (1990) further notes that although some scholars do acknowledge that the migration experience does not seriously challenge patriarchal domination, much of their argument is still framed around the idea that host societies provide greater freedom for women than their home countries. The market/family dichotomy seems to be implicit in the home/host binary framework when scholars argue that, because it provides more paid work opportunities, the host society offers women more freedom than the home country (Lamphere, 1986). Both dichotomies do not fully consider the complexity of women’s experiences and cultural differences. Morokvasic (1993) demonstrates the disadvantaged position that immigrant and minority women occupy in the European labour markets. ‘While migrants, both male and female, often experience a decline in their occupational status, with migration to Europe, women’s position is generally worse than men’s. This reflects the restructuring of female-dominated employment sectors, involved as unpaid workers in family businesses, limited employment opportunities due to their legal status as ‘dependants’, and employers’ perceptions of their skills’ (Willis and Yeoh, 2000, xiv). Such analysis leave us with questions relating to women’s capacity for empowerment as amplified or jeopardised in an era of rapidly intensifying global interdependencies and transnational mobility. We are yet to see a clear exposition of how gender and mobilities intersect to create shifting subjectivity from the perspectives of spatial mobility.
It is also important to bear in mind, however, that these general observations have been constantly contested. Women have always been on the move. Mary Kingsley’s explorations in Africa, however complicated by class and imperialism, remind us that women have constantly upset gendered expectations about who moves, how they move and where they move. This is perhaps summed up by a bumper sticker that Cynthia Enloe noticed stuck to the backs of cars around the United States which read: ‘Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.’
Even this very brief wander through different scales and forms of mobility reveals how gender both constitutes mobility and is constituted by mobility in a myriad of ways. This happens both through the opposition of relative flow and relative fixity, where masculinity is coded as mobile and femininity as static, and through the construction of different kinds of mobility that exist in relation to one another (the tourist and the domestic servant for instance). It should be clear from the different realms of research outlined above that many people, in different disciplines, have something to say about the relationship between gender and mobility. What is less clear, however, is if connections have been made across different instances and scales of movement to consider mobilities more generally. The recent mobility turn, or new mobilities paradigm (Sheller and Urry, 2006), in the social sciences and humanities provides a framework to correct this oversight. While transport studies, or history, or migration theory, for instance, all have something to say about things and people on the move, they have tended to fix on particular kinds of mobility without considering mobilities itself in the wider context. One purpose of this book is to bring these approaches into conversation.
This book builds on a need for an exposition of how theories, social norms, technologies and policies come together to carve out differentiated mobilities. This book, by no means, covers all the diverse perspectives needed to generate a coherent picture of gendered mobilities. However it is an ambition to bring the insights of the mobility turn to bear on the question of the processes of gender production in the mobile world in four distinct ways. The first way it does this is to consider different mobilities in different contexts alongside each other. This allows us to see the interactions of gender and mobility at different scales. The second way is to consider different aspects of mobility. Mobility involves the physical movements, which are observable and representable in maps and models. These are the kinds of mobilities traditionally considered by transport planners and migration modelers. Mobility also involves the meanings associated with movement – the narratives and discourses that make movement make sense culturally. These are the aspects of mobility usually considered by philosophers, literary theorists or academics in cultural studies. And mobility involves practice – the embodied and experienced aspects of moving explored in, for instance, performance studies. The third way is through a combination of styles of research that include theoretical, largely empirical and more applied and policy orientated contributions. There is much to be gained from bringing these approaches into dialogue.
The final way is through the diversity of contributors to this book. They come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and consider the interactions of gender and mobilities at many scales, from the body to the globe. They also represent a geographical diversity of scholarship, much of it from beyond the Anglo-American world. There is, perhaps, a tendency to see mobility as a high-tech achievement, a tendency that reflects the production of knowledge in the western, and particularly Anglo-American, context. Looking into mobilities in a wider context is a useful corrective to this.

Dialogical reflections

The book is divided into three parts. The first part delves into theoretical constructs evolving from gendered patterns of mobilities. The chapters presented in this part cover a wide range of issues and highlight the complexity of mobility. Ranging from motherhood and risk mobilities on the one hand to misguided spatial models on the other, this part provides a theoretical palate of diverging points of view. David Kronlid’s insights on the relationship between mobility and ‘moral agency’ from a feminist philosophical standpoint in Chapter 2 compel us to question the unexamined facets of the Capability Approach propounded by the Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen. David Kronlid argues that we should regard social/spatial/existential mobility as a distinct capability, which will have important consequences for research concerning justice and gender in a number of research areas. Sheela Subramanian f...

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