Landscape for the second sex


What is a woman? What does the word “woman” mean besides a definition of one specific type of physical body structure? I asked myself these questions after reading a few articles on the relationship between gender and landscape design. Being a woman myself, how do I perceive landscape more from a female perspective? And when I used the word “female”, had I already have presumptions for what femininity is?

Besides comparing how men and women react different to different landscapes, I am also interested in how certain landscape types have shaped the character of women. The landscape people (mostly males historically) have made, as a social product, has helped to shape the preferable female qualities. The ancient emperors in China usually possess gardens with houses around them, where their women live, as part of their property. These “privileged” women were expected to do certain chores in that environment, and the gardens served the expectations well. Some landscapes that were built by men, were used to limit the activities of women. So we cannot simply talk about female preferences, but also talk about how the relationship has been between the built landscape and women. Being a woman myself, I don’t find myself preferring corner spaces, and I usually just sit by myself in the public space. Seeing myself as a social product, the landscape that has shaped my personality is the city, a more complex environment that is relatively hard to limit my behaviors and impose gender roles. My family used to live in an apartment building and my mother always has a job, so I didn’t have much of the opportunity to observe my mom performing  her gender role in the city landscape (like watering flowers in the front yard).

So we have noticed the differences of how women and men use public spaces differently, what should we do now? Should we base our designs on the different performances in the public of each gender? Again if our behavior is a product of the society including the long oppression on women, are we reinforcing the inequality by repeating the same structure? As we are getting closer to the real gender equality, the social structure and female behavior are constantly changing. There seems to be no solutions to these questions.  

However, if we take a look at the native Indians’ landscape at the reservations, basically made up of squash gardens and corn farms, made by women, is a product of the Matriarchy society. Who has the power to make the landscape, seems to become a deciding factor for the dominating gender. Here we might get a hint of how we can make the landscape to support gender equality, that is, to recruit enough females in the realm of public space planning and design. There are no people that understand the need of women better than women themselves. I am not talking about to have exactly the same amount of female landscape architects as males. But at least these factors need to be taken into serious consideration during the recruitment of this profession.