Space’s gender performance

What is the relation between gender and space? Do spaces have any gender? How do spaces perform their gender?

Gender and space alike are a provisional result of an – invariably temporal – process of attribution and arrangement that both forms and reproduces structures (Löw, 2006: 119). When we open our eyes to hierarchic orderings and social structurings in a world with heterosexual and male-dominated structure, we can observe the way gender structures are ordered in space and also look into how these structures form spaces. Space and gender must be grasped as ‘an effective, reciprocally constructing and constructed structure’ (Ruhne, 2003: 139). So it gets clearer that gender’s hierarchic structure affects spatial orders and this spatial order empowers the male-dominated structure itself. Furthermore since spaces, cities and buildings have bodies which are the subject of change in order to answer those mentioned structures, they should not be considered genderless.

In the past, feminists regularly made a distinction between bodily sex (the corporeal facts of our existence) and gender (the social conventions that determine the differences between masculinity and femininity). According to traditional feminists, sex is a biological category; gender is a historical category. But Judith Butler (who talks about gender as an act of sorts, a performance, one that is imposed upon us by normative heterosexuality) takes her formulations even further by questioning the very distinction between gender and sex (Butler,1990). She questions that distinction by arguing that our “gender acts” affect us in such material, corporeal ways that even our perception of corporeal sexual differences are affected by social conventions. For Butler, sex is not “a bodily given on which the construct of gender is artificially imposed, but a cultural norm which governs the materialization of bodies” (Butler, 1993: 3). So if we want to apply Butler’s opinion to architecture, maybe we can say not only the architecture which is based on sexist norms provides unequal share of spaces and functions for different sexes, but this sexist performance in society also change our perception of architecture and building’s body in a process whereby regulatory norms materialize ‘sexism’ and achieve this materialization through a forcible reiteration of those norms.

Butler thus offers what she herself calls “a more radical use of the doctrine of constitution that takes the social agent as an object rather than the subject of constitutive acts” (Butler, 1988: 270); then could architecture be one of those acts which is open to change and contestation in future? For example many feminist architects claim about public/private space dualism and its connection to male/female roles because the actions of the body require certain kinds of spatial arrangements to be possible at all (Jormakka, 2001: 49) and this arrangement exists even inside of a private space (like a house). Another example of using architecture to establish consciousness of gender can be found among !Kung San in the Kalahari desert (a nomad society). They use sticks to symbolize an axis which shows the men’s and women’s side of fire (Kuhlmann, 2001: 63). As the architecture is able to increase social differences, it is able to make them almost invisible.

“Because there is neither an ‘essence’ that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires; because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender creates the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all” (Butler, 1988: 273).

Butler, Judith (1988) ‘ Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, Vol. 40, No. 4. Butler, Judith (1990) ‘Gender Trouble’, United States: Routledge
Butler, Judith (1993) ‘Bodies That Matter’, United States: Routledge
Jormakka, Kari (2001) ‘The Flesh in Stone’, DATUTOP( The gender of space), No. 21.
Kuhlmann, Dörte (2001) ‘The Flesh in Stone’, DATUTOP( The gender of space), No. 21.
Löw, Martina (2006) ‘The Social Construction of Space and Gender’,European Journal of Women’s Studies, Vol.13, No.2.
Ruhne, Renate (2003) Raum Macht Geschlecht, Opladen: Leske & Budrich