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Feminist City: What Does Equality Mean in Cities?

Feminist City

After the publication of her book Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World (2020), Leslie Kern gave an interview to Sophie Gonick, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU. During the interview, Kern compared the urban development of most cities to a shaky 3-D puzzle. "[If] you start to pull some of the pieces out –whether it is child care, people working in nursing homes, or the schooling system– [jobs done mostly by women] then the whole thing" comes crumbling down.

Kern also reflects on some of the questions in her book:

1. What does equality means for cities?

2. How do social systems (including urbanism and spatial planning), which have been taking men's needs as the norm, lead to marginalization and oppression due to gender, ethnicity, class, ability, and sexuality?

For example, Kern describes the struggle in city planning to recognize women's paid and unpaid work. On average, "women rely on public transportation more than men but are less served by it and tend to spend more on multiple trips," according to a book review by Francesca Cocchiara.

Another example is the possibility of walking alone in the street. "Although the higher risk of violence comes from domestic and work environments," women tend to be afraid of being alone in public spaces at night or walking alone in the street, having to negotiate and apply "strategies of self-surveillance constantly."

In the Urban Transcripts journal, Cocchiara states:

"According to the author, the possibility to 'simply be' in the public space tells us who has their right to the city guaranteed, and who is instead considered 'out of place.'"

People considered "out of place" not only include women but also other communities that tend to be marginalized in cities, as sexism intersects with other forms of discrimination, according to Kern.

"...for instance, increasing police control to improve women's safety would probably fail in making a black woman or a homeless person feel safe."

Kern also invites listeners to explore community self-organization through social movements, alliances between communities, activism, and collective action.

"Feminist City initiates questions about what equality means for cities, using a gender perspective to open a wider, intersectional discourse."

Listen to Feminist City in audiobook format for free here.

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