I have been meaning to write about my dissertation for a while now. I spent a large and rather enjoyable part of the last year researching into the debates, histories and experiences of the female architect. I undertook first hand research to understand the current perception of awareness of many themes regarding women in architecture through the methods of focus groups and structured interviews with both men and women. The research project aspired to ask, not the heated question of why women are disappearing from the architectural profession, but what factors within the profession need to be highlighted to tune in with the recognized feminist concerns? Through focusing on the perceptions of individuals within the broad time range of the profession, the thesis hoped to provide a starting point in which to examine where women stand in the pulse of the architectural world today.
From the book: Feminist Practices: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Women in Architecture, [Lori A Brown]
A extract from the Introduction:
The progression of women in the architectural world has been a relatively slow ordeal, as the ideals and basis of the architectural career are deeply embedded in historical traits that are difficult to evolve. The story of women in architecture in the UK starts in the late 19th century, along the trajectory of the campaigns regarding women’s rights. Architecture has historically always been a man’s world, and in the last century women have been running to keep up with the patriarchal hierarchy of the profession. Over the last few decades, the same anxieties regarding women have been reiterated with no overriding shifts in attitudes. This can be seen as a reflection of the society that we live in; the concern of the unhealthy lifestyle, competitive environment, sexism, the suppression of femininity in the workplace and most importantly the question of why do so many women leave the architectural world?
In the last 20 years, literature such as ‘Desiring Practices’ (McCorquodale, Ruedi, Wigglesworth 1996) and ‘Gender, Space, Architecture’, (Borden, Penner, Rendell, 2000) have gathered and reprinted influential essays from the 70s, 80s, 90s concerning the role of gender in architecture and most importantly taking the position of looking at the profession through a feminist framework. ”It is surprising that after two decades of feminist movement in this country, so little energy and enthusiasm has been translated into hard research about the role of women in architectural practice. More work is needed if the matters discussed here are to be truly debated within the entire profession ”. It is interesting to consider that, though recently, the Architect’s Journal (10/01/14) has helped to highlight the important issues that women face in the job as well as lead studies into the reasons as to why women leave, the role that feminism plays has not been a primary focus. It is important to apply the feminist principals within the agendas of the architectural profession as Professor Sarah Wigglesworth argues that, ‘Feminism offers a philosophical method of making sense of the world by pointing out where gender biases operate, and posits a world based on equality’. This is beneficial as we can use it as a device to analyze and understand the world around us.
It is interesting to reflect on whether the profession has been asking the right questions in order to facilitate change. We now need to deliberate on what the profession needs to do to start considering women’s life experiences as the norm, rather than as a ‘problem’? By cross-examining the masculine norms of the profession, and by also understanding that many of the issues are in fact not exclusively women’s problems, we are able to surely state that the perceptions of the female architect are a fundamental concern which involves the debate of both genders. This is supported by the ideals of the feminist standpoint theory brought through by the second wave of feminism. Sarah Harding (1993) argues that, ‘starting off research from women’s lives will generate less partial and distorted accounts, not only of women’s lives but also of men’s lives and of the whole social order’. We also need to consider breaking the cyclical debates of why do women leave architecture, and start considering the possibilities of forming alternative questions such as why do men stay? This attitude of thinking would be beneficial to both genders and positions feminism as a potential force of change.