Saturday, November 19, 2011
In a recent post on the Atlantic Cities blog, Roberta Gratz suggests ("argues" would probably be too strong) that the planning community has long been a boys' club that eschewed the contributions of women, principally citing the way in which planners and planning thinkers dismissed Jane Jacobs as a mere "housewife." Gratz also notes Jacobs' belief that women tend to approach planning from a different perspective than men do, a perspective that is sorely needed in planning circles. And what perspective is that, you ask? (Warning: Gender stereotyping ahead) Men like to bulldoze things and replace them with big shiny objects like stadiums and skyscrapers, while women focus on cultivating the home, family, and community.
I am not going to opine here on the merits or demerits of gender essentializing (but feel free to have at it in the comments!) I do wonder, however, whether it is fair to criticize people for pigeonholing Jacobs as a "housewife" when she herself plainly drew upon the virtues of housewifery in claiming that women had a unique perspective on planning. It may be that Jacobs was cleverly attempting to appropriate a frequent criticism used against her and turn it to her advantage. But her remarks may also have had some unintended consequences. Intriguingly, Jacobs's rhetoric echoes one side of the early twentieth century debate over women's suffrage. While radical suffragists saw the movement as a challenge to the patriarchial social culture that placed men and women in "separate spheres" (home/women vs. work/men), a more pragmatic wing of the suffrage movement argued that, in fact, women's suffrage was consistent with the separate spheres ideology because government itself was nothing more than "enlarged housekeeping" for which women were peculiarly suited. It was only once this latter wing became prominent that women's suffrage really gained any traction.
Of note for the land use prof here, the idea of government as a form of "enlarged housekeeping," reinforced by the suffrage movement, contributed to the adoption of Euclidean single-use zoning in which home was rigidly separated from work (thus entrenching women's role as housewives), as well as the NIMBY ideology that local government's primary function is the protection of the single-family home against invasion. (Oh, I almost forgot, I have written about this issue before, where I argued that women's suffrage, the emancipation of organized labor, and the empowerment of the suburb through the zoning power were all related movements).
So, by embracing the idea of fixed gender roles, Jacobs may have unwittingly abetted an ideology that facilitated suburban sprawl, gender inequality, and NIMBYism. In fact, she has been accused of being the progenitor of the NIMBY movement.
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