Gender and Urban Space

1The majority of the world’s population today live in urban habitats. In fact, cities have grown ever so rapidly into metropolises and even megalopolises that it seems difficult to keep track of their complex developments. Urban Studies as an interdisciplinary field of research has proliferated immensely in recent years and has reached out, from its grounding in the social sciences, to encompass such disciplines as history and literary studies, for instance. This on-going turn to space has brought forth an abundance of explorations into the construction and perpetual re-construction of urban space/s through urban dwellers’ practices of habitation. It is gendered experiences, perceptions and performances of and in urban space/s that play a decisive role in these processes. The four contributions of this issue aim to shed new light upon the intersections of gender and urban space/s by highlighting the intricate interdependences between constructions of gender and constructions of urban space/s.

2Natalie Collie's article “Walking in the City: Urban Space, Stories, and Gender” provides a feminist reading of Michel de Certeau’s influential theory of urban space, urban movement and storytelling. Juxtaposing The Practice of Everyday Life with Elizabeth Grosz’s work on gender and the urban, she shows the great merits of gendering theories of urban space/s and urban practices within these space/s. Indeed, her article establishes a valuable foundation for the subsequent contributions.

3Judit Minczinger explores the growing visibility of women in the fin-de-siècle metropolis through a reading of George du Maurier’s novel Trilby. While the novel was a best-selling success at the time, it has since disappeared from the literary canon. However, as Minczinger argues in her article “A Mass-Produced Muse: Gender and Late-Victorian Urban Developments in George Du Maurier’s Trilby”, it gives striking insights not only into the intersections between gender and commodification, but also into their significance for the production of urban space/s. As the novel’s heroine becomes a stage performer, her female body is turned into a commodity for a world-wide audience. At the same time, the public spectacle of her performance disrupts the supposed equilibrium of the city.

4This cue is taken up, from a very different vantage point, in Ami Crinnion’s contribution “The Slutwalks: Reappropriation through Demonstration”. Sparked by an incident of sexual harassment, the Slutwalks emerged in the summer of 2011 as a global phenomenon: women of all walks of life taking to the streets in “provocative” dress to protest against derogatory perceptions of women in urban space/s. This reappropriation of a derogatory term entails the female and male participants’ reappropriation of urban space/s through the practice of public protest. Crinnion conducts interviews with female participants in the Slutwalks of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and Vienna, Austria, to outline their individual motivations and goals, as well as their collective effort at challenging hegemonic norms and structures of the urban environment.

5Finally, human geographers Johanna Stephanie Leder and Chandramukhee, in their joint contribution “Dowry practices and gendered space in urban Patna/India”, illustrate how the social practice of dowry in India simultaneously reflects and produces gender discrimination against young women. They argue that dowry as a social practice creates a transactional space that is pertinent to the urban context of their study. In fact, this transactional space has a striking impact upon the urban space/s within which it emerges. Hence, this contribution takes the discussions of gendered urban space and of gendering urban space to a different cultural context. It thereby adds a new, critical perspective to this issue, while it also draws attention to the shared challenges of theorising gender and urban spaces across cultures.

6The issue is rounded off with a review by Shu-Ju Ada Cheng of Rhacel Salazar Parrenas 2011 book Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. In her book, Parrenas challenges the label of Filipina hostesses as trafficking victims coerced into prostitution and makes an important critique of anti-trafficking policies and campaigns, which frame these women as victims in need of rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration. Instead, Parrenas calls for a more nuanced approach of addressing the lived experiences of these women and giving them the room to define their own subjectitivies.