Place: Women and Public Places

In the chapter on place and the different interpretations of place, there are a few moments where the author, Lynn Staeheli, begins to talk about women and their access to public spaces. The author first noted women in this chapter when talking about place as a cultural or social location. There she notes that as women began to be “out of place” and rebel against cultural norms to venture into public spaces that those in charge had to make public spaces accommodating to both men and women. This in turn changed views on women from general society’s standpoint. Later in the chapter, Staeheli discusses women in politics as the construction of place. Here she recounts how certain places that are supposed to be “public” deny access to women. The absence of toilets in New Zealand cities at the turn of the 19th century was a major reason in why women were excluded from public places. The construction of public restrooms for women requires a reconstruction of society’s ideas about the public place. In politics deploying place, women are again the topic as the subject of protests. Protests in the UK where women camped out on the streets for months away from families, outdoors, and not inside where they were believe to “belong” was something that people were not used to seeing. Trespassing onto military bases and hanging tampons from fences did not protest nuclear weapons in particular, but also became a way to draw attention to the fact that women were in public and protesting. It happened again in Buenos Aires as women stormed a plaza, as mothers, to protest disappearing familiar and the brutal regime. They attempted to change a moral landscape of power and brutality to something based on place and nurturing.

Personally, while learning about spaces and places in India and Nepal, with supplemental reading, I have realized the amount of problems that come from society’s views on who occupies public place, the lack of design in public places for a diversity of users, and how these ideas translate into what happens as a result. While on a crowded rail car in New Delhi, a close woman friend of mine and I were attempting to claim some amount of space in this car. We had made it to our stop, when the doors flung open and everyone jolted into action. Someone stepped on her sandal, so I braved the crowd and retrieved it for her. In that small amount of time, someone in the crowd fully groped her groin. Why? Was this person unfamiliar with a western-dressed women with tighter-fitting clothing? Does this person disrespect women? Does this person not know how to interact with attractive women that are in public spaces? I cannot be sure, but there exists a view that Indian women in public spaces are “looking” to be viewed from a sexual light. It’s a view that is slowly being changed and eradicated, but causes a lot of current and historical problems. On a different note, women in many parts of southeast Asia still do not have adequate restroom facilities. While men easily find a wall to urinate on, women may be forced to hike up their skirts and sarees (ethnic women garb), find a secluded place, and then finally relieve themselves. Rarely you find a woman brave enough to do it more publicly, but the fact that waste is expelled in public at all is unsanitary and unsavory to begin with. Even more interesting and disgusting is how people find space to defecate without a toilet, but I leave it at that.

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