Saturday, December 24, 2011

Yeah, right...

Speaking of women's workplace experiences packaged up for puffy entertainment... I've been struck lately by the wallowing in pre-feminism workplace gender roles that seems to be at the heart of both Mad Men and Pan Am.

By setting these shows in the early 1960s, we can slap women on the ass, stuff their perfect bodies into girdles, call them girl, have them make coffee, clean up after us, and manuever them into a lunchtime tryst all under the guise of "look how far we've come." But the nostalgia of this... the way in which the shows revel in it: "Can you believe how bad it used to be?" wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

A Visit to TVland

A few months back I watched Bosom Buddies. I see some television producers at ABC have also been revisiting the vault and will be offering up a new version soon. I'm not much of a TV watcher, but this promo pic and the trailer on the website are low-hanging fruit. Hey, kids, let's make a joke out of the challenges women face in the workforce... sounds awesome. I can hardly wait...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gender Gaps in the "Revolution"

I came across this letter to Slog today and wanted to share/remember it. The statistics she cite, about the "serve passenger" trips that women are far more likely to make than men has long troubled me when we talk about all sorts of movements that are embraced in progressive circles: bicycling, community gardening, permaculture, greening, and locavore-ism. I continue to believe that we have to talk more about where people go -- how, where, why, and with whom they travel -- and what they do within their households. If we don't, pleas to eat more fresh, local produce or ride your bike become unfunded mandates, the burden of which falls disporportionately to women -- the people who, in most multi-person households, still do the bulk of the shopping, food preparation, housework, and childcare.

So, here's the most relevant part of the letter:

"In the United States, about 23% of all cyclists are women (which is based on Census data about commutes). In fact, the number of women who commute by bicycle has decreased from from 33% of all bike trips in 2001 to 24% in 2009 (this is from the American Community Survey, which is conducted by the Census Bureau). For comparison, 55% of all bicycle trips in the Netherlands is by women, and 49% in Germany.

The above data about the US is especially striking if you consider that bike trips are up significantly during the same period of time (2001 to 2009), which indicates that many more men are taking to the streets by bike but women are not.

There's something different about the United States. And it's infrastructure. Studies across all sorts of disciplines show that women are more risk-averse, and indeed, concerns about riding in traffic are overwhelmingly the reason women cite for not riding their bikes. Women also have different travel patterns: they perform the vast majority (77%) of all "serve passenger" trips (hauling people, usually children, around), engage in more "trip chaining," and run more errands, like grocery shopping. They also drive fewer miles to their commutes (this is all based on the 2009 National Household Transportation Survey).

And where have we invested in segregated bicycle lanes? Along recreational corridors, that don't lead to schools, daycare centers, grocery stores, or major employment centers. In other words, the safest bicycle facilities have been installed where few women really want or need to go."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

So... do you remember the sitcom Bosom Buddies? It was a buddy comedy from 1980s starring (a shockingly young) Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari. Desperate to find a cheap place to live, the two men turn to drag in order to secure a room in a women's only NYC residence, the fictional Susan B. Anthony. As I ponder the part of my book dealing with such institutions, I think I need to re-watch the two seasons of this show to get a sense of the 1980 image of such women's-only residences.... I bet there are also some tasty helpings of heteronormativity slathered all over these episodes... What else will I find?

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Present day 'girl watchers' can get this badge. Or a tshirt. Or a tote bag....

The language touting this badge is particularly tasty:

As an FBI agent (Female Body Inspector), it is your duty to serve the public by ensuring that every part of the female body is in perfect working order.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Connection of Space to Values

Holly Near endorsing the idea of The Women's Building in SF:
“If we are building a culture that is respectful of our lives, then we need a respectful place in which to build it. Sometimes when we borrow other people’s space, we also have to borrow their restrictions.”[i]

[i] Holly Near quoted in “What are leading women in the community saying about the Women’s Building?” Women’s Building of the Bay Area [no date but prob 1978]

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


In wandering around the internet this morning, I find that the anti-street harassment movement is flourishing. There is new press coverage, a new book, new orgs... (several of which appear in my links to the right). It puts in me in the somewhat odd position of feeling like the history I'm working on is relevant. It also reinforces the current trajectory of the book, namely that what unites everything from campaigns for public restrooms to the Hollaback movement is a quest for privacy in public in the belief that privacy holds the key to (feeling) both safe and autonomous.

Look, there is even an accessible PSA that articulates a few of the issues raised in my work!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Give Her a Kiss First Man"

(Before: Dovre Hall, Sons of Norway meeting hall)

I'm working on a piece about social change organizations that buy/build their own spaces. I want to look closely at the decision to take on (through building or buying and refurbishing) a building. What led the org to that decision? What did they try before making this commitment? How did they choose a location? What did they envision for the relationship of the organization and its new neighbors? Because I'm playing with some new ideas, I decided to play with the model for this part of the study and I'm comparing the San Diego YWCA (which built in the 1920s) to the San Francisco Women's Centers (which bought and refurbished a building in the Mission district in the late 1970s). It is kind of odd to compare different orgs, in different cities, in different time periods, but I'm hoping that leads me to think more deeply about the issues involved. Both orgs were committed to social change (though the SFWC were more upfront about this) but both also felt that there was a need to offer women a bevy of services now. I think that combination of social change and social service is important. What else will I find? Both are quite successful and not only manage to pay off their buildings, but keep them running for decades, adapting the physical space to meet the evolving mission of the organizations.

(After: The Women's Building)

The one piece that gives me pause in all this is that the SFWC people were incredibly self- reflective. The papers of The Women's Building are full of analyses of what a building would mean for the organization, what challenges they expected to face, how they might meet those, how they should work with their new neighbors alleviate any animosity that might come from them repurposing a building that reflected the older immigrant heritage of the area, etc. etc. Really? I feel sort of guilty. They did much of my work for me, it seems. I guess my job is to weigh in on what they got right but it feels odd to skip the first step that I usually face, which is just figuring what happened. It feels a bit like I am jumping straight into the deep on this one, hence the Monty Python reference in my title. Ah well, off I go to "stimulate the clitoris"...