Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-made World

Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-made World

by Leslie Kern

Book Review

Feminist City is about “feminist geography,” a field that studies the failure of city planners to anticipate the needs of women. Because women do the vast majority of unpaid work (ie child care, elder care, and homemaking) they use the city much more intensively than men. Except on weekends, the latter use city spaces mainly on the way to work.

Historically the first women in public spaces were prostitutes (20% in the early 18th century). As distinctions of rank diminished with new fashions, the desire not to be misconstrued as a “public woman” put great pressure on middle class women to stay at home.

It didn’t help that working class women who came to the city to work in factories and domestic service were condemned  (according to Engels) for destroying families. Nor that author Charles Dickens proposed to compel “fallen women” to be sent to colonies with a surplus of men.

According to Kern, the male gender of the vast majority of city planners creates major difficulties for women in paid work, who must also transport children to school, daycare, and after school activities and children and elders to medical appointments. Since only a minority have cars, they must rely on public transportation, which is very poorly designed to accommodate them. Beyond Tube and subway stations inaccessible to women with strollers, most buses and trains accommodate strollers poorly, if at all. Public transport is also far more expensive for women – due to the high number of trips they take and the additional fares they pay for children they can’t leave at home.

Other ways women are disadvantaged in accessing city spaces include

  • Inadequate public toilets, a major problem for women managing pregnancy or periods, infants, or toddlers undergoing toilet training.
  • Inadequate safety planning for single women fearing potential male violence and microaggression in using public transport at night or in poorly light and/or low traffic areas.
  • Inadequate planning for girls’ recreational areas to complement the skate parks,

The most interesting section of the book addresses the threat women pose in a patriarchal system when they opt out of marriage and heterosexual monogamy, seek out female friendships in preference to romantic relationships, exist in public spaces on their own (without an accompanying male) or express themselves as individuals (politically, artistically, journalistically, or on social media).

The default expectation is that a woman alone is presumed to be available to men or craving a relationship. Kern blames this expectation for the persistence of the urban tendency to “punish” solitary women with catcalling, whistling, unwanted touching or, most intrusive of all, being approached by male strangers and told to smile.

With the advent of the Internet, socially prominent women face far worse, with ubiquitous social media threats to injure, rape and kill them. In a few cases, these threats are carried out, as with British MP Jo Cox in 2016

 

London: The Deadly Effects of Air Pollution in Low Income Children

Living, Breathing, London

Directed by Ross Field (2019)

Film Review

With the mainstream media totally focused in carbon emissions, it’s easy to lose sight of the deadly effects of particulate pollution, ie dirty air. This mini-documentary summarizes some alarming research about its devastating health effects, especially in children.

Most of the pollution described consists of tiny carbon particles released in car exhaust. Once these enter the lungs, they are absorbed into the blood stream and cross into the brain.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2014 one out of eight people died as a direct result of air pollution. Most were children. Studies also show that high levels of air pollution also cause depression, child conduct disorder, dementia, low birth weight, abnormal fetal development, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

In the UK, which has been in breach of EU clean air rules for two years, up to 36,000 die annually from air pollution. Families in low income neighborhoods, which are always closest to freeways and busy thoroughfares, always show the highest level of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and other air pollutants.

On a commercial note, the UK’s growing air pollution problem translates into fantastic business opportunities, creating a lucrative market for innovative safety masks, crib filters and jars of fresh air.

The filmmakers feel a better solution is to lobby the UK government to phase out fossil fuel cars by 2025 (instead of 2040) and to reduce public transport fares (instead of increasing them like the present government).

Although Britain’s electric vehicle fleet is growing fast, it still represents only 1-2% of the country’s total automobile market.

 

Is Private Car Ownership Doomed?

auto graveyardphoto credit: Doha News

According to the business press, auto manufacturers are investing big time in car sharing companies. The reason? Declining new car ownership among young people. Americans under forty (most of whom work for minimum wage) simply can’t afford the luxury of a new car at $32,000 a pop. According to Zero Hedge, half of 25-year-olds still live with their parents, and  one third of US households struggle to pay food, rent and transportation every month (ie they have to choose between the three).

Despite all the hype put out by the Obama administration, the economy isn’t recovering. The global economy is shrinking, and more importantly the total number of jobs is shrinking (as Wall Street continues to transfer our jobs to third world countries or replace us with computers or robots). A significant decline in wage and salary levels has accompanied the loss of jobs – with most workers extremely grateful to have any work at all.

Thanks to this dire economic scenario, an entire generation is opting not to buy cars but to rely on public transportation, active transport (ie cycling, walking etc) or car sharing. Auto manufacturers, seeing the writing on the wall, are all joining forces with car sharing companies. Last month, the New York Times reported on the partnership Toyota is forming with Uber, with Volkswagen is investing $300 million in the European car sharing company Gett and General Motors $500 million in an Uber competitor called Lyft. Meanwhile BMW, Mercedes Benz, Daimler and Audi are starting their own car sharing companies.

According to TechCrunch, BMW, which already operates a European car sharing program in ten cities, has just started a program in Seattle called ReachNow. It enables enable Seattle residents to access 400 cars that they can pick up and drop off wherever they like. Daimler has a similar service called Car2Go that’s available in New York, Austin, Minneapolis, Vancouver and Portland, Oregon. Earlier this year, Audi has launched a car-sharing service in San Francisco and Miami called Audi at Home.

The fact that financial analysts (and auto makers) are anticipating the end of private car ownership is one of the more ominous reminders that the middle class is vanishing. As wages and employment levels continue to decline, private cars are going the way of airplanes – only the 1% can afford them. The other 99% of us are expected to share.