Gender and the Reality of Cities: embodied identities,social relations and performativities
Gender is an integral, ubiquitous and taken-for-granted aspect of urban life. It is an influential dimension of urban identities, an axis of urban inequalities, and it animates the everyday practices that characterise and constitute cities and city life. Perhaps because it is so familiar and taken-for-granted, gender is also a complex and slippery idea that carries a range of inter-related meanings. Numerous commentators (including, for example, Haraway 1991; Moi 1999; Widerberg 1999) have pointed to problems of translation, even between closely related European languages. In addition, usage within particular languages is far from singular, stable or coherent. In this essay, I do not attempt to engage with issues of translation between languages, focusing solely on anglophone urban studies, but I do wish to acknowledge that, however influential they may be, the meanings of gender in anglophone contexts are also idiosyncratic1. Setting these considerations to one side, I explore some of the different ways in which the idea of gender is used in anglophone urban studies to help explore and understand the simple fact that cities are peopled by women, men, girls and boys, drawing especially, but not exclusively, on British feminist urban geography. More specifically, I consider three kinds of gender analyses of urban life, which approach gender through embodied identities, social relations, and performativity respectively. As a dimension of embodied identities, gender focuses on how everyday urban experiences relate to, and are influenced by, the anatomical categories “male” and “female”. While gender is embodied by human individuals, it does not reside entirely within human bodies but is produced at the intersections between human bodies and the milieux that surround them. As a facet of those surrounding milieux, it constitutes a social relation or organising principle of urban life. For gender to be felt as integral to embodiment and as a social relation that precedes gendered embodiment requires human beings to be recruited into gender categories. In so doing, gendered persons activate meanings or scripts of gender, hence the idea of gender as performatively cited in everyday lives. The different approaches to gender on which I focus are not mutually exclusive, but there are important variations in emphasis between them. Cities are vital arenas in the embodiment, contestation, mobilisation, subversion and transformation of all these aspects of gender. In the sections that follow, I explore how each approach to gender informs understandings of urban life and sheds light on the specificity of cities. In conclusion I point to emotion as an important theme for all three approaches to analysing the gendered reality of cities.