Feminist Spaces
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Feminist Spaces

Gender and Geography in a Global Context

Ann Oberhauser, Jennifer Fluri, Risa Whitson, Sharlene Mollett

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eBook - ePub

Feminist Spaces

Gender and Geography in a Global Context

Ann Oberhauser, Jennifer Fluri, Risa Whitson, Sharlene Mollett

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Über dieses Buch

Feminist Spaces introduces students and academic researchers to major themes and empirical studies in feminist geography. It examines new areas of feminist research including: embodiment, sexuality, masculinity, intersectional analysis, and environment and development. In addition to considering gender as a primary subject, this book provides a comprehensive overview of feminist geography by highlighting contemporary research conducted from a feminist framework which goes beyond the theme of gender to include issues such as social justice, activism, (dis)ability, and critical pedagogy.

Through case studies, this book challenges the construction of dichotomies that tend to oversimplify categories such as developed and developing, urban and rural, and the Global North and South, without accounting for the fluid and intersecting aspects of gender, space, and place. The chapters weave theoretical and empirical material together to meet the needs of students new to feminism, as well as those with a feminist background but new to geography, through attention to basic geographical concepts in the opening chapter. The text encourages readers to think of feminist geography as addressing not only gender, but a set of methodological and theoretical perspectives applied to a range of topics and issues. A number of interactive exercises, activities, and 'boxes' or case studies, illustrate concepts and supplement the text. These prompts encourage students to explore and analyze their own positionality, as well as motivate them to change and impact their surroundings.

Feminist Spaces emphasizes activism and critical engagement with diverse communities to recognize this tradition in the field of feminism, as well as within the discipline of geography. Combining theory and practice as a central theme, this text will serve graduate level students as an introduction to the field of feminist geography, and will be of interest to students in related fields such as environmental studies, development, and women's and gender studies.

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Chapter 1
Engaging Feminist Spaces

Introduction and overview
Ann M. Oberhauser, Jennifer L. Fluri, Risa Whitson, and Sharlene Mollett


On January 24, 2011, during a safety forum at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School located in Toronto, Canada, Toronto Police Constable, Michael Sanguinetti, advised students on how to prevent sexual assault. The constable instructed that ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts’ (Millar 2011). This comment and the mounting public reactions sparked a protest called SlutWalk that quickly moved from Toronto throughout North America and around the globe. SlutWalk protests became infamous because protestors wore clothes that resembled the stereotypical image of ‘sluts’ as a strategy to challenge prevailing presumptions among law enforcement officers and the broader public: that women are raped because of how they dress (Figure 1.1). The goal of the protests was to illustrate the assertion that dressing a certain way invites rape. These protests also sought to shift the conversation away from victim blaming and toward the acts and actions of perpetrators.
Figure 1.1 SlutWalk Toronto, 2012. Reproduced courtesy of Loretta Lime.
Figure 1.1 SlutWalk Toronto, 2012. Reproduced courtesy of Loretta Lime.
Feminist geographers have participated in this transnational movement through their scholarship. For instance, Jason Lim and Alexandra Fanghanel (2013) highlight another group within one SlutWalk protest who wore hoodies and hijabs. This group sought to challenge sexist along with racist, classist, and Islamophobic assumptions about dress, such as associating hoodies with criminal activity, and hijabs with religious extremism. Since veiling has become a contested form of dress in many non-Muslim majority nations in the Global North, these SlutWalk activists wore hijabs to highlight existing prejudices about veiling among Muslim women. These women further reinforced the point of the protest: that the way in which a woman dresses is not an indication of her culpability in her own assault. Such activists show solidarity against victim blaming more generally, while also countering stereotypes that justify other forms of corporeal violence based on how someone is dressed.
While SlutWalk energized some feminist circles, for others the movement garnered concern. A group of African American feminists and activists called for the need for historical reflection and offered this insight in an open letter to the movement:
We are deeply concerned. As Black women and girls we find no space in SlutWalk, no space for participation and to unequivocally denounce rape and sexual assault as we have experienced it. We are perplexed by the use of the term ‘slut’ and by any implication that this word … should be re-appropriated … The way in which we are perceived and what happens to us before, during and after sexual assault crosses the boundaries of our mode of dress. Much of this is tied to our particular history. In the United States, where slavery-constructed Black female sexualities, Jim Crow kidnappings, rape and lynchings, gender misrepresentations, and more recently, where the Black female immigrant struggle combine, ‘slut’ has different associations for Black women … As Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves ‘slut’ without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is.
(‘An Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk,’ September 23, 2011, from Black Women’s Blueprint (BWB), cited in Brison 2011)
SlutWalk and its critics offer an instructive example to feminist geographic debates about how feminists relate to difference. The concept of difference is important because feminist or women’s movements are often based on the idea that all women are the same and can bond over shared experiences such as pay equity, motherhood, and domestic violence, for example. However, our gendered experiences are not just shaped by our roles as women and men, but rather other factors of social difference play a role, such as our race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexuality, immigration status, age, and language, to name a few. This book seeks to contribute to a growing commitment among feminist geographers to attend to ways in which various forms of social difference shape our understanding of gender.

Intersectionality and feminist geography

This book’s approach to feminist geography addresses numerous and contested power relations that shape social dynamics in space, the role of ‘difference’ and intersecting social identities, and how praxis and activism help to define this area of geography. Our examples and discussions underscore how feminist approaches to, and analyses of, gender and other social identities are embedded in geographic processes. Likewise, gender relations are constitutive of material and physical spaces, as well as symbolic and discursive spaces. In other words, where we go, how we get there, and our presence in certain places are influenced by, and have an impact on, social identity. Spatial dimensions of social identity such as gender, class, sexuality, and race are rooted in unequal and historically constructed power relations that privilege some people and marginalize others.
This book also emphasizes difference as a defining approach in feminist geography. Diverse social identities and histories raise important issues about how gender, class, race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, and other axes of power are formative aspects of who we are and what we believe and value. Furthermore, certain social identities grant people privileged positions as they engage in work, education, or political activities. Feminist theory and practice have examined themes surrounding difference as a means of including voices that have been traditionally excluded from mainstream feminist analyses. Some prominent examples are based on critiques of US-based feminism as representing the perspectives of white Western women only, leaving women from the Global South, as well as US-based immigrant and minority women and their priorities, outside feminist debates and programs. Therefore, this book addresses different feminisms. We use the plural ‘feminisms’ to highlight the diversity of feminist theories, ideas, activisms, and thoughts as they occur in various places and sociocultural, economic, and political contexts. Recognizing difference and attending to the power of differences is a theme of feminist geographic theorizing and research that we explore in this book.
We explore the theme of difference in this book through the use of the concept of intersectionality. Intersectionality emerged as a challenge from US-based Black feminists who critiqued the narrow attention paid to gender and patriarchy without recognition of the messy, interwoven, and mutually constituted ways in which race, gender, sexuality, and class congeal through power and oppression. Attention to the differences of race, class, and sexuality as a way to understand gender power fundamentally decenters and disrupts a singular notion of women and feminism and requires a rethinking of how we study gender. This concept and its theorization is commonly credited to critical race theorist Kimberle Crenshaw, who has asked feminists to understand social difference as interdependent and interlocking since the 1980s. As she writes, ‘I used the concept of intersectionality to denote the various ways in which race and gender interact to shape the multiple dimensions of Black women’s employment experiences’ (1991, 1244). While formally introduced by Crenshaw, this project of shifting our understanding of gender—away from single-axis analysis to a category shaped by multiple forms of power bound up in intersectionality—was supported by other feminist scholars. For instance, Patricia Hill Collins (2000) introduced the term ‘matrix of domination’ as a move to disrupt additive models of oppression grounded in the binary thinking that emanated from Eurocentric masculinist thought (225).
The collective of Black feminist thinkers at the time, including bell hooks and Audrey Lorde, as well as radical women of color Cherie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa among others, promoted intersectional thought as a way to make the discrimination against women of color and African American women visible, and to show how such discrimination is wedded to the ongoing prevalence of white supremacy. The emergence of this concept in the context of racial segregation (legal and defacto) and the institutionalized racial violence in the US and around the globe makes intersectionality deeply spatial (McKittrick 2006; Mollett and Faria forthcoming; Shabazz 2012). The growing use of the term not only contributes to feminist geographic thought and the understanding of privilege and oppression in the US, but also around the globe (see Chapter 7). Increasingly, intersectionality is used to understand broad social processes within feminist geography from social reproduction to urbanization, migration, land struggles, and environmental activism, to name a few. While a push for difference is now firmly established in feminist geography, the lines of inquiry are importantly still highlighted separately, as each builds on interwoven and separate struggles. Such entanglements leave fertile ground for feminist geographers to shape understandings of social power and avenues for social change.
The focus of this book is feminist geography as a means of contextualizing diverse social identities and activism within space and place. The term ‘feminist’ and the need to recognize the existence of multiple feminisms imply an inclusive and multi-layered approach that allows a critical understanding of power relations and social identities. As highlighted by Lise Nelson and Joni Seager (2005), feminism is defined by ‘explicitly political commitments’ against multiple oppressions and the need to assert ‘the importance and salience of foregrounding women as a subject of study and “gendering” as a social and spatial process’ (6–7). The discussions included in this book also emphasize the breadth of theoretical approaches in this field, which have multiplied in recent decades to include queer studies, critical race theory, and political ecology. Finally, this book builds on feminist geography’s contributions to the combination of theory and practice, or praxis, and the field’s overall resistance to unequal power dynamics. These contributions are found in the academic and activist realms of feminist geography as suggested in each of the chapters.
This introductory chapter invites readers to engage with themes and approaches to feminist geography in a variety of ways. We offer a look at some of feminist geography’s influences and the kinds of scholarship we as a subfield take on. Attending to the diversity of feminisms, this book is written by four authors with disparate approaches, research experiences, and voices. In general, the topics presented are not exhaustive and instead speak to our particular research and teaching interests. The book also includes both brief and extended examples, and we offer practical exercises that ground the discussions aimed at undergraduates in their third and fourth years of study, as well as early graduate students in geography, women’s and gender studies, feminist studies, and related fields. This approach builds on the contributions of feminist geography by encouraging readers to actively engage with the material and concepts presented here in their daily lives.

Geography/feminism/gender: concepts and context

While feminist geographic engagement with intersectionality grows strong, this has not always been the case. In this book, we trace how our intersectional understandings of gender build upon the scholarly work of women and feminist geographers who have paved the way for our contemporary insights and research in human geography.
Geography provides an important lens through which to examine the meanings of space and place, as well as the socio-spatial processes that shape our lives. The discipline of geography addresses human–environment relations and the role of economic, political, and cultural forces in shaping these relations. Many aspects of feminist geography are both informed by and embedded in these geographic concepts as a means of critically analyzing social inequality and power relations. Geography plays a key role in how gendered power relations impact our lives and the places where we work and live. These connections are evident in studies that look at workplace dynamics, urban social movements, household divisions of labor, and the use of natural resources.

Feminist perspectives on space and place

Attention to history, culture, and politics is crucial to feminist understandings of space and place. Historically, geographers have approached place as a bounded area with unique characteristics to which people attach certain identities and subjective meanings. Space has commonly been defined as an absolute, objective concept concerned with geometric properties and coordinates. Similarly, geographers generally conceive of space as an abstract dimension, much like time, through which we move and travel, and onto which patterns can be mapped. Place, however, is more frequently connected to the local and particular. Feminist geographers have challenged these conventional understandings of place and space in two primary ways. First, feminist geographers have argued that places are not harmonious, objective constructs with meanings and boundaries that are fixed and static. Rather, feminist geographers understand places as dynamic, socially constructed configurations with fluid and porous boundaries, which are perceived and experienced differently by different groups of people. Similarly, feminist geographers conceptualize space not as an abstract, natural, and neutral category, but as an open concept that is always in process, a product itself of interrelations and interaction, and as a sphere of multiplicity and heterogeneity (Massey 2005).
Doreen Massey, Gillian Rose, Susan Hanson, Linda McDowell, Audrey Kobayashi, Linda Peake, Laura Pulido, Mona Domosh, and Cindi Katz are among the pathbreaking feminist geographers who highlight how place and space are shaped and created by social identities that are, in turn, linked to different axes of power. For example, gay men experience urban neighborhoods differently than heterosexual men based on their sexuality and the predominance of normative heterosexual spaces of the city (Oswin 2008). In these situations, the dominant social norms found in some urban spaces exclude those who do not identify as heterosexual or perform normative heterosexual relations. In contrast, certain urban spaces are both ascribed and represented as gay spaces, such as the Castro District in San Francisco, Soho in London, and Church and Wellesley in Toronto. These neighborhoods provide a space for commercial activities, celebrations, and residential areas for the LGBTQ community (Figure 1.2).
Figure 1.2 The Castro District in San Francisco, California. The rainbow flags hung on light poles and buildings provide a visual way of marking the Castro as a gay space. Reproduced courtesy of bjaglin.
Figure 1.2 The Castro District in San Francisco, California. The rainbow flags hung on light poles and buildings provide a visual way of marking the Castro as a gay space. Reproduced courtesy of bjaglin.
Household and domestic spaces are a regular site of research for feminist geographers, as they question the seemingly harmonious and binary gendered relations within these spaces. Again, gender and other social identities are examined in households through a historical lens. During the early 1900s, certain tasks and spaces in the household were often ‘assigned’ to women and/or men such as cooking in the kitchen, repairing machinery in the garage, or working outside on the lawn. Patriarchal norms or conventions associated with the home labeled domestic spaces as feminized. As a result, gendered social relations contributed to the construction of the home as a ‘woman’s place.’ As a consequence, domestic and household spaces have been interpreted by some feminists as restrictive and oppressive, precisely because they reproduce patriarchal norms and social relations. As discussed further in Chapter 3, feminist geographers’ research on the home broadens conventional understanding of gender and space by examining the complexity of the home as a site of multiple experiences and expressions; from being a site of safety and security, family and comfort, to being one of immobility, oppression, and even violence.
Examining gender within geographic analyses has also included an understanding of and interrogation of place. Places are defined as areas with particular meaning for those who inhabit or use them. Corporate offices and commercial businesses, for instance, are places where people engage in work-related activities and social interactions. In many cases, power relations and hierarchies exist within these work environments among employees, employers, and managers. As discussed in Chapter 5, these relations are often reflected in and impacted by pay scales, promotional processes, and hiring practices. McDowell (2013) has conducted extensive research ...