How can we rethink urban spaces from a feminist perspective?
This intervention aims to trace possible trajectories for a general rethinking regarding the traditional approaches on reading and planning the city starting from a feminist perspective. In particular, I would propose the idea that the walking practice has political implications and could lead to dynamic social transformations (Careri, 2017, passim).
Like several urban researchers, planners and geographers have been arguing for some time now: we historically live in cities designed by men and for men. The author Sara Ahmed, with the clarity that distinguishes her, states: "white men by citing other white men constitute a relational citational. White men are like a well-trodden path; the further we go in that direction, the more we go in that direction (Ahmed, 2014). And it is undeniable that urban studies and planning have been going in that direction for a long time now. Like in many other fields of knowledge, women with their bodies and experiences have been excluded, marginalised and silenced when even not addressed as the source of the urban problems themselves.
What would make a place liveable, accessible, safe and dynamic is the capacity to welcome and support the diversity of experiences and to satisfy plural needs. Instead, cities still present numerous barriers – physical, social, economic and symbolic. On the one hand they produce and contribute to perpetrating the dominant hetero-patriarchal social structures, but on the other hand they generate oppression and exclusion. Many of these barriers are invisible to men, because they rarely fall within their field of experience, so they are unlikely to inform and affect decision-making processes related to the city: theoretical approaches, policies and urban design.
Indeed, Leslie Kern points out, “my urban experiences are determined by my gender identity. My being a woman determines the way I move around the city, the way I live my life day after day and the choices available to me” (Kern, 2019, p. 19). Therefore, according with feminist geography, the proposal is to start afresh from our bodies, as geographies of proximity, from their experiences, from their embodied knowledges, in order to re-signify the urban space emancipating it from the dominant patriarchal design and promoting more equal, inclusive and sustainable urbanization processes (Darke, 1996; Bondi, 1992).
Considering the multiple complexities of the subject in question, it is also essential to assume an intersectional perspective to unmask the innumerable power tensions in the field and to consider other salient indicators of the social differences promoted by the systems of privilege and oppression, including sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and ableism (Crenshaw, 1991; Hill Collins, 2000; Hooks, 2000).
In this theoretical frame, I consider walking being a critical tool capable of re-signifying ecologies through the double valence of the affection mechanism: the capacity to affect and to be affected that implies an openness to the world being constantly in encounter. This is the dimension of experience in-the-making at which politics is emergent (Massumi, 2015).
Anna Marocco (FCSH Universidade Nova de Lisboa)
Gender Studies PhD student at NOVA FCSH, dancer and choreographer. She graduated in Political Science at the University of Bologna with a thesis in Urban Anthropology developed in Senegal (2007) and achieved a Contemporary Dance Diploma at Forum Dança (2012). Her works have been presented in several performing arts festivals.