Skyscrapers are Toxic Masculinity! By Mrs Vera West
This one took me by surprise, but once my shock died down, I tried to think of it from a Leftist point of view, mixed with mind-numbing feminism, and it kind of made illogical sense. After all, anything elongated can be taken to be a detested phallic symbol, like trees, and even skyscrapers:
“Glass ceilings and phallic towers. Mean streets and dark alleys. Road names and statues of men. From the physical to the metaphorical, the city is filled with reminders of masculine power. And yet we rarely talk of the urban landscape as an active participant in gender inequality. A building, no matter how phallic, isn’t actually misogynist, is it? Surely a skyscraper isn’t responsible for sexual harassment, the wage gap, or even the glass ceiling, whether it has a literal one up top or not? That said, our built environments can still reflect patterns of gender-based discrimination. To imagine the city and its structures as neutral places where complicated human social relations are staged is to ignore the simple fact that people built these places. As the feminist geographer Jane Darke has said: “Our cities are patriarchy written in stone, brick, glass and concrete.” In other words, cities reflect the norms of the societies that build them. And sexism is a deep-rooted norm. As far back as 1977, an American poet and professor of architecture named Dolores Hayden wrote an article with the explosive headline “Skyscraper seduction, skyscraper rape”. Hayden tore into the male power fantasies embodied in this celebrated urban form. The office tower, she wrote, is one more addition “to the procession of phallic monuments in history – including poles, obelisks, spires, columns and watchtowers”, where architects un-ironically use the language of “base, shaft and tip” while drawing upward-thrusting buildings ejaculating light into the night sky.
If the sexism of the city began and ended with architectural symbolism, I would’ve happily written a grad school essay about this then turned my attention to more pressing matters. But society’s historical and ongoing ideas about the proper gender roles for men and women (organised along a narrow binary) are built right into our cities – and they still matter. They matter to me as a mother. They matter to me as a busy professor who often finds herself in strange cities, wondering if it’s OK to pop into the neighbourhood pub alone. Ask any woman who’s tried to bring a pram on to a bus, breastfeed in a park, or go for a jog at night. She intuitively understands the message the city sends her: this place is not for you. The vast majority of violence, including fatal violence, against women and girls worldwide is perpetrated in the home, and lockdowns have exacerbated its every cause. These include stress, financial pressure, isolation, and a lack of interventions from family, friends and colleagues. Women are frightened to access shelter services and have little safe space or time to reach out for help. Not only is it almost impossible to move during the pandemic, loss of employment for many also means they can’t afford to leave anyway. These problems weren’t created by coronavirus. The pandemic is merely exposing the fact that cities have been content to ignore domestic violence, not seeing it as an urban problem deeply connected to such issues as housing, employment, transportation, childcare, and of course the wage gap. Ultimately, tackling domestic violence may mean unsettling the heterosexual nuclear family in ways that would be deeply disruptive to the status quo – namely, disruptive to the long-standing reliance on the single-family home as a place of unpaid care work, a disruption cities can ill afford given their reluctance to fund childcare, subsidise housing and prevent violence. The good news is that women haven’t been twiddling our thumbs waiting for city planners or politicians to solve these problems. In fact, women have been coming up with their own designs for cities and homes for well over a century. In 1889, Jane Addams founded Hull House in Chicago, a social settlement for young, unmarried women and immigrants who needed a safe home and a sense of community.
Her legacy echoes through the activism of other women who just won’t wait: the Focus E15 mums, who occupied their hostel in 2013 when faced with sudden evictions by Newham council in London; the Moms 4 Housing group who squatted in a vacant mansion to protest against rampant gentrification in the Bay area of San Francisco; and we shouldn’t forget that Black Lives Matter – perhaps the most transformative movement of our time – was founded by black women. City planners, architects and politicians can make a difference, if the will is there. In the Aspern district of Vienna, all of the streets and public spaces are named after women. In Tokyo, trains have carriages set aside at particular times for women, disabled people, children and carers. In Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, female street vendors have seen their safety and economic prospects improve with the building of secure, permanent mini-markets that include space for breastfeeding. In Stockholm, snowploughing schedules prioritise residential streets, school zones, public transport and bike lanes. These interventions say to women: “Your contribution matters. Your safety matters. Your mobility matters.”
The current situation offers an unprecedented opportunity for even bigger changes. One possibility comes via the anti-racism protests sweeping the globe: defund the police. Transfer that money to affordable housing, childcare and public transport, all of which would dramatically improve women’s lives in ways that increased policing never has. A second move: all those people suddenly deemed “essential workers” should be paid as if our lives depend on them, because they do. Third: reinvest in the public realm by creating accessible, barrier-free spaces and transport systems that would allow everyone full access to the benefits of city living. My fourth and by no means final suggestion: seek out, listen to and employ diverse groups of city-dwellers in all areas of urban design, planning, policy-making, politics and architecture. The pandemic has shown us that society can be radically re-organised if necessary. Let’s carry that lesson into creating the non-sexist city.”
Talk about “sex in the city,” the modern girls training manual! And, the answer is clear; for cities with buildings must be sexist, for patriarchy, as stated above, is built into the modern city, so it is time to pull this oppression down, down, and more down, and cancel all buildings! Hey, it is fun once you get into the swing of things, cancelling here, there and everywhere. But, apart from this discussion, looking more generally, outside of modernity, back in the frontier, few if any feminists would survive unless they went to shelter at the warm camp fire of some toxic masculine alpha male, to eat, and as tribal people would often do, some left over meat, thrown over the alpha’s shoulder. That is the world that the cancel culture will ultimately produce, if the West dies from toxic Leftist overload.