Thinking Back in Time
Thinking Back in Time

Thinking Back in Time

by Anuya Barde & Tushita Mehta

Gender is not merely an assortment of biological characteristics that affect and differentiate between masculinity and femininity but also refers to the behaviours, expectations, and prearranged gender responsibilities by society. Culture shapes gender roles, personality, and identity through beliefs, norms, and values. Right from birth, we are trained to interact and acquit according to the presuppositions of our gender. Thus, gender becomes a structural aspect or a concept of society, rather than being an inherent feature.

Female adolescents are encouraged to be nurturing, compassionate and on the other hand, males are socialized towards independence, toughness and are trained to conceal their emotions and sentiments. Society’s attitude towards sharing work within and outside the household has changed over the years, but since balancing work and family is not easy, gender roles come into the picture. Power differences lead to confirming gender roles and women are often expected to sacrifice or change more because of societal expectations of them prioritizing their family. Most cultures link a greater value with masculinity, hence resulting in a not-so-privileged atmosphere for men not living up to the idea of masculinity and women. The ideology that each individual must be either male or female is called gender binary.

Binarism acts as a social boundary, discouraging people from mixing gender roles or identifying with another form of gender expression altogether. It also results in a bias towards individuals who do not fit into the gender binary. Prejudice or preference towards one gender can be conscious or subconscious, and influence their behaviour and decision making. This culture has been followed by us for centuries. It’s not only seen in households but is also noticeable in the professional lives of people. In today’s world, there is a similar set of stereotypical patterns of these cultures that are seen. We consider jobs “masculine” or “feminine” in essence. Women often have to push to achieve the same things that men get with ease or even the most primary things such as support from kin. Young women often leave their profession due in part lengthy hours, slow career progression and low pay.

Buildings accommodate social, political, economic, religious and cultural purposes as a result of societal needs. Their physical factors are influenced by the ideas, values, beliefs of society, which form its culture and the social and economic relations of the people living in it. Changes in society are reflected in its built environment. The built form, due to its spatial usage enacts the struggle over power between genders, through social order, hierarchical progression, polarities, and other factors.

We recognize the decades-long debate about gender equality, and it’s not a secret that times have improved considerably in the past few years. Despite this progression in most fields, women still have to fight for the recognition and credit they fairly deserve.

Architecture is not spared of the stereotypes as women architects have long been overshadowed and under-credited for their contributions by their male partners and employers. Sophia Hayden Bennett, Marion Mahony Griffin, Eileen Gray, and Lilly Reich are just a few examples of such architects. Sophia Hayden Bennett, who won the first prize for the Woman’s Building in Chicago, suffered through mental issues while it’s construction due to the micromanagement and hassles of the construction committee. Marion Mahony Griffin, Frank Loyd Wright’s first employee, was never credited for her influence on the development of Wright’s Prairie style and watercolour rendering.

Lilly Reich was one of the key personalities in modernity, during Mies Van der Rohe’s time. Mies Van der Rohe was a famous architect known for founding the Bauhaus school along with Walter Gropius and have designed numerous structures like the Barcelona Pavilion, Farnsworth House, and the Seagram Building. His most memorable works, particularly in furniture design, would not have been achievable without Lilly Reich as Mies seldom sought for anybody’s opinion, but was constantly keen to learn hers. In 1929, she became the artistic director responsible for the German contribution to the Barcelona World Exposition. This is where the famous Barcelona chair made its original appearance. However, Lilly Reich is hardly mentioned in textbooks nor given appropriate credit for her contributions. On January 5, 1932, shortly after Mies appointed Lilly Reich as the director of the Bauhaus school she was offered to teach at the Bauhaus in Dessau, leading the carpentry workshops, metallurgy, and mural painting, which later developed into one, the Interior Design Workshop. Reich was one of the few female tutors of this school.

Mies van der Rohe designed the Seagram Building, which marked the change of western gendered labour firms in America, including design, art, and architecture. Ann Marie Adams and Peta Tancred suggest that “the sexual division of space into interior/female and exterior/male” is upheld by the notion that “interior design…(is)the ‘feminine’ side of architecture”, ` not to mention the ongoing presumption of “women’s supposedly innate understanding of things domestic”. (Rashid)

During the early Bauhaus, weaving did not have its disciplinary definitions, unlike painting and architecture. The Bauhaus masters perceived it as a form of labour and regarded it as ‘women’s work’ and not remotely masculine. The workshop was mainly female-orientated, due to their intention of segregating the majority female population from the rest of the school. Shockingly, Georg Muche, the weaving workshop master of the form, had vowed to never pick up a piece of yarn. How does one frame a medium, such a weaving as “women’s work” or “feminine”?

This indicates that spaces are not responsible for marginalizing women but the assigned gender role. The interpretation of weaving was a lesser, “feminine” form of craftsmanship manufacturing than of “masculine” materials such as metal and/or wood. Any association with the “sensuality of ornament” or femininity was taken as a peril in architecture. Modernists have defended the motto “ornament is a crime”, only because of its association with femininity. (Mark, 2015) The underrepresentation of women in spatial structures creates a possibility for subordination and exploitation. This spatial marginalization of women sustains the question of patriarchal power in society.

Spatial differentiation was seen in the traditional Havelis of India. The portion of the Havelis, where women would spend most of their time were associated with muliebrity, while those belonging merely for workforces began being associated with maleness. Since men were mostly the ones bringing income into the household, they were considered superior and so were the associated spaces. Therefore, it is assumed that interiors have feminine features, and exteriors to have masculine characters and are seen as two distinguishable characteristics in architectural planning that has been followed.

The spaces required by men and women differ due to the divergence in experiences of the genders. Society needs to be aware of this need of different spaces and should make sure they are convenient to use by the respective genders. The above places and spaces symbolized an up-to-date architectural environment – mirroring radical adjustments in the general public alongside the dazzling truth of women’s exploitation and disenfranchisement. Rather than differentiating spaces as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’, characterizing them in terms of their function and based on their users brings us a step closer to decreasing the bias in society. Bias is faced by all genders and has always prevailed in society, which is why it appears in terms of conscious or subconscious spatial distinction in architecture.

The issue in society isn’t the lack of contribution or participation by different genders, but the lack of acknowledgment of their work. Recognition should be given to an individual’s work regardless of gender, sexuality, or preferences of a person. To get rid of this from society, we need to challenge the gender norms followed and replace them with inspiring stories of every gender. Avoiding terms like “feminine” and “masculine” can make a greater change in the subconscious. Established traditions cannot be altered, but revised mindsets can unwind the bias gradually.

Change is not inevitable – it happens only when each one of us does what we can. -Tina Tchen

Mark, L. (2015). Results of the AJ Women in Architecture survey revealed. Architect’s Journal. Rashid, M. (n.d.). Bauhaus: Architecture and Gender.

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