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Posts Tagged ‘feminism

“There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muck-rake”*…

 

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Harriet Martineau c1834, by Richard Evans. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

 

Harriet Martineau was a social reformer, novelist, and children’s author, the author of over over 50 books.  (Early in her career, she was outselling Dickens.)  An abolitionist, she was also a feminist and sociologist– before those terms had been invented.  And she was one of the first women journalists, who published nearly 2,000 articles and columns in the leading newspapers and magazines of her day.  Throughout a career devoted to “understanding how society works,” she strove to give the unheard– women, the poor– a voice… even as, for most of her life, Harriet was herself deaf.

Martineau had broken the mould by making complex ideas accessible to a wider readership via entertaining stories that connected grand theories with personal circumstances. While her delight in creating characters and human narratives gradually waned in favour of more direct campaigning for her favourite causes, she never lost her preference for example over theory, or (until her health gave out in 1855) for visiting places in person, so that she could see things for herself. What makes her career so remarkable was the number of times she made a fresh start on a new topic by mastering it for herself, from whatever information she could find to hand, and constantly updating her expertise so that her interventions might offer some practical support. Inevitably, some of these fields dated faster than others, but after a century of critical neglect, Martineau is now being widely reclaimed as a forthright thinker with a distinctive voice…

A campaigning journalist and an early feminist, Harriet Martineau humanized economic theory through Dickensian storytelling: “Mistress of All Trades.”

* Theodore Roosevelt

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As we celebrate curiosity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1970, on the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which had effectively given women the right to vote, that 50,000 women in New York City (and thousands more around the country and the world) marched down 5th Avenue to Bryant Park in protest of the lack of progress in securing equal rights for women.  Organized by Betty Friedan and sponsored by NOW, it was known as the Women’s Strike for Equality.

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Written by LW

August 26, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Housework won’t kill you, but then again, why take the chance?”*…

 

Modern Kitchen

 

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897–2000) was the first Austrian woman ever to qualify as an architect. Following World War I, she was tasked with the design of standard kitchens for a new housing project by city planner and architect Ernst May. The Great War left rubble and a desperate housing shortage in its wake, but it also opened the way for new ideas and new designs.There was a pervasive sense among Europe’s leading designers, from Le Corbusier in France to Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus in Germany, that the need to rebuild in the 1920s, though rooted in tragedy, offered a society fresh start, and a chance to leave behind the class distinctions that were baked into 18th- and 19th-century architecture while they were at it.

Very much in this mold, Ernst May was a utopian thinker, and his International Style design for the Frankfurt project, known as New Frankfurt, featured egalitarian amenities for the community like schools, playgrounds, and theaters, along with access to fresh air, light, and green space.For her part, though she was a career woman herself, Schütte-Lihotzky believed that housework was a profession and deserved to be treated seriously as such. This counted as feminism in the 1920s, and although we might find it essentializing or insulting today, making housework easier was considered a form of emancipation for women.

This belief echoes that of American domestic scientist Christine Frederick, who conducted a series of experiments and studies to determine the optimal layout of appliances, work surfaces, and storage in a domestic kitchen. Frederick had studied the methods of mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor, who innovated the modern practice of scientific management. Taylor’s time and motion studies helped designers devise the optimal position of equipment and people in factories, by breaking down tasks into their component parts. That Frederick thought to emulate Taylor’s system speaks to a fascinating shift in how domestic work was understood in the early 20th century.

Schütte-Lihotzky conceived of the Frankfurt Kitchen as a separate room in each apartment, which was a design choice that had previously applied only to the cavernous kitchens that served great houses. She used a sliding door to separate it from the main living space. She read Frederick and Taylor’s works translated into German, and even conducted her own time and motion studies.And presaging the work of American designers Norman Bel Geddes and Raymond Loewy, who drew inspiration from trains and cars in designing their streamlined kitchen appliances in the 1930s, Schütte-Lihotzky found a model of culinary efficiency in the kitchens of railway dining cars designed by the Mitropa catering company. Though tiny, the cars served scores of diners using an extremely small galley space—a term we still used to describe apartment kitchens today.

The Frankfurt Kitchen featured an electric stove, a window over the sink, and lots of ingenious built-in storage including custom aluminum bins with a spout at one end. These bins could be used to store rice, sugar, or flour, then pulled out and used to pour the ingredients into a mixing bowl. The kitchen lacked a refrigerator, but in almost every other way, it was thoroughly modern. There was no clunky cast-iron stove, and no mismatched pieces of wooden furniture that had been drafted into kitchen duty. Even its small size was in part a nod to Taylor’s and Frederick’s principles: The lack of floor space meant fewer steps. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky introduced design ideals that still hold sway over our living spaces…

How that happened– despite Nazi resistance– and what it meant at: “The Frankfurt Kitchen Changed How We Cook—and Live.”

* Phyllis Diller

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As we dwell on the design of dwellings, we might send amusing birthday greetings to Allan Burns; he was born on this date in 1935.  A television screenwriter and producer, he cut his teeth working with Jay Ward on animated series like Rocky and Bullwinkle, then created or co-created a  number of hit live series, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and its spin-offs Lou Grant and Rhoda).  Along the way, he created the character Cap’n Crunch for Quaker Oats.

Allan+Burns+2016+Summer+TCA+Tour+32nd+Annual+UaB3KPmcX5yl source

We might also spare a thought for Charles Dawson “Daws” Butler; he died on this date in 1988.  A voice actor who worked mostly for Hanna-Barbera, he originated the voices of many familiar characters, including Loopy De Loop, Wally Gator, Yogi Bear, Hokey Wolf, Elroy Jetson, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, Spike the Bulldog, and Huckleberry Hound.   He also served as the original voice of Cap’n Crunch.

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CapnCrunch source

 

Written by LW

May 18, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Too often the concept of nature has been used to explain social inequalities or exploitative relations as inborn, and hence, beyond the scope of social change”*…

 

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Martha Brookes Hutcheson (center) and colleagues at Merchiston Farm, c. 1917

The landscape architect and theorist Martha Brookes Hutcheson (née Brown, 1871–1959) lived in an age when most American women were actively discouraged from entering a profession. Women might consider landscape gardening as a “novel occupation … a congenial, soothing, out-of-doors pursuit to which a woman of taste, who loves flowers, cannot do better than turn her hand.” But any who seriously considered becoming landscape architects were informed that women were too “impatient” to learn the necessary drawing and surveying, the horticultural and business skills, and that the resulting “physical fatigue” would lead to breakdowns. Male colleagues and clients, they were warned, doubted “whether they conceive largely enough to undertake public works like the laying out of great parks or the plotting of plans for new cities.” Female landscape architects were limited to “the ample field of designing beautiful settings for beautiful homes.”

Martha Hutcheson, however, loved the great gardens of Europe and the farm in Vermont where she had summered as a girl, and she saw the potential for landscape design to serve a social agenda in the Progressive Era — to improve lives and conserve natural resources. One of the first women trained at university level in the emerging profession of landscape architecture, she was a founding member of the Woman’s Land Army during World War I, and her experience with a group of WLA “farmerettes” at her home, Merchiston Farm, in Gladstone, New Jersey, convinced her of the impact landscape architects could have by increasing agricultural productivity, improving soils and plant communities, and fostering women’s practical skills and economic autonomy. In her evolving designs for Merchiston Farm, and in her public lectures, writings, and advocacy through the Garden Club of America, Hutcheson argued for the contributions of landscape architects to national education, and explored tensions internal to the design theory of the age — including those between her own progressive agenda and the strictures of her elite social class. In the realm of landscape architecture, she became a leader in “a gallant little group of women who have forged for themselves National reputations.”

Hutcheson’s early writings and garden commissions considered good design as a matter of organization, massing, and proportion, while her later work stressed contextualism within natural systems. In this later and more daring work, she prioritized the use of native plants as a means to support healthy habitats, shift aesthetic preferences, and minimize costs; her practice hybridized sustainable water management and soil science with the normative, Europeanizing geometries of the “country place” garden, and implemented the emerging discipline of ecology on a practical level. Merchiston Farm, Hutcheson’s home for nearly 50 years, served as a workshop for these endeavors. She continually made and remade her property, using the woods, fields, pastures, and gardens to build theory through action.

Reading the evolving design of Merchiston Farm thus allows us to understand Hutcheson’s work as an extended social, political, and ecological project…

For nearly half a century, the pioneering landscape architect Martha Brookes Hutcheson used her own farm to empower women and to build an ecological design theory through action: “Dreaming True.”

Maria Mies, who also observed: “In a contradictory and exploitative relationship, the privileges of the exploiters can never become the privileges of all. If the wealth of the metropoles is based on the exploitation of colonies, then the colonies cannot achieve wealth unless they also have colonies. If the emancipation of men is based on the subordination of women, then women cannot achieve ‘equal rights’ with men, which would necessarily include the right to exploit others. Hence, a feminist strategy for liberation cannot but aim at the total abolition of all these relationships of retrogressive progress. This mean it must aim at an end of all exploitation of women by men, of nature by man, of colonies by colonizers, of one class by another. As long as exploitation of one of these remains the precondition for the advance (development, evolution, progress, humanization, etc.) of one section of people, feminists cannot speak of liberation…”

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As we look to the land, we might recall that it was on this date in 1897 that the first issue of La Fronde (The Sling) was published in Paris.  A pioneering feminist newspaper, it was founded by Marguerite Durand, a well known actress and journalist (for La Presse and Le Figaro, e.g.), who used her high-profile to attract many notable Parisian women to contribute articles to her daily, the first of its kind in France to be run and written entirely by women.

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Marguerite Durand, by Jules Cayron

source

 

“Women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid”*…

 

Last Thanksgiving, I overheard my uncles talk about how women are better off cooking, taking care of the kitchen, and fulfilling “their womanly duties.” Although I know that not all men like my uncles think that way I was surprised to learn that some still do, so I went on to imagine a parallel universe, where roles are inverted and men are given a taste of their own sexist poison…

From Eli Rezkallah, a series of fictional images, recreated from real ads in the Mad Men era, that question modern day sexism: “In a parallel universe.

* George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops?

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As we check our privilege, we might send path-setting birthday greetings to Kate Chopin; she was born on this date in 1850.  A writer of both short stories and novels, she was highly-regarded in her time and in the decades following her death (in 1904).  Probably best remembered today for her novel The Awakening, she is considered an important forerunner of American 20th-century feminist authors.

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Written by LW

February 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I try to conjure, to raise my own spirits, from wherever they are. I need to remember what they look like.”*…

 

In Margaret Atwood’s The ­Handmaid’s Tale, a Christian sect call the Sons of Jacob creates a male-dominated theocratic state

Margaret Atwood’s evergreen dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is about to become a television drama. Published in 1985, it couldn’t feel more fresh or more timely, dealing as it does with reproductive rights, with the sudden accession to power of a theocracy in the United States, with the demonisation of imagined, pantomime villain “Islamic fanatics”. But then, feminist science fiction does tend to feel fresh – its authors have a habit of looking beyond their particular historical moment, analysing the root causes, suggesting how they might be, if not solved, then at least changed.

Where does the story of feminist science fiction begin? There are so many possible starting points: Margaret Cavendish’s 1666 book The Blazing World, about an empress of a utopian kingdom; one could point convincingly to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as an exploration of how men could “give birth” and what might happen if they did; one could recall the 1905 story “Sultana’s Dream” by Begum Rokeya, about a gender-reversed India in which it’s the men who are kept in purdah.

And perhaps one of the starting points was here: on 29 August 1911, a 50-year-old man, a member of the Yahi group of the Native American Yana people, walked out of the forest near Oroville, California, and was captured by the local sheriff. He was known at the time and popularised in the press as “the last wild Indian”.

He called himself “Ishi” – a word in the Yahi language that means simply “man”. He was the very last of his people, and had been living in the wilderness alone, travelling to places he remembered from the time when his tribe had flourished, in the hope of finding some remnant of those he’d grown up with. When he realised they were truly all gone, when a series of forest fires meant he was close to starvation, he allowed himself to be found and taken in…

And the link with feminist science fiction? Theodora and Alfred Kroeber’s daughter was Ursula Le Guin, the science fiction author. Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness was published in 1969, at the start of the revolutionary women’s movement, and was one of the earliest pieces of feminist SF. It is about a man from Earth who travels to the planet Gethen, where the people have no fixed gender. He is by turns fascinated, appalled and deeply, sickeningly lonely. Everyone’s “normality” is someone else’s wilderness…

From Mary Shelley to Margaret Atwood, feminist science fiction writers have imagined other ways of living that prompt us to ask, could we do things differently?  More of their history at “Dystopian dreams: how feminist science fiction predicted the future.”

* Margaret Atwood, The Handmaiden’s Tale

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As we listen and learn, we might send hauntingly-beautiful birthday greetings to Eleanora Fagan; she was born on this date in 1915.  Better known by her stage name, Billie Holiday (and her nickname, Lady Day), she was a jazz musician and singer-songwriter– a legendary performer who enjoyed both huge popular success and great acclaim from her fellow artists.

 

Written by LW

April 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The cities and mansions that people dream of are those in which they finally live”*…

 

 

 

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In 1939, the American Institute of Planners released the documentary The City.  It was an all-star endeavor: directed by the photographers and filmmakers Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke, from an outline by the renowned documentarian Pare Lorentz, with commentary by urban theorist Lewis Mumford and a score by the extraordinary Aaron Copland.

The film begins with a look back, a nostalgic celebration of the bucolic: “Working and living, we found a balance. The town was us, and we were part of it. We never let our cities grow too big for us to manage. We never pushed the open land too far away.”  Then it screeches into the Industrial Age, documenting the crowded, dirty, slum-lined streets of the then-modern metropolis… building to the challenge, “Who built this place? Who put us here? And how do we get out again? We are asking.”

The balance of the film, redolent with a powerful Positivist optimism, looks to science– and the “science” of planning– for answers.

What’s fascinating, as Sarah Goodyear observes in Atlantic Cities, is that the blissful visions of 1939 are not far removed from our own:

…the idealized suburb/cities presented in the film are all walkable and bikeable. Autos are part of the urban disaster that is to be left behind by progress. We see from the air the familiar cul-de-sacs of today’s America but there are no six-lane arterial roads, no massive shopping centers with enormous parking lots. Kids ride around on bicycles along paths that look very much like what you see in the Netherlands of today, and in a few American cities such as Boulder, Colorado, or Davis, California.

The film was made at a historical moment when artists and thinkers like the ones who worked on it believed that rational, humanistic approaches to planning could triumph over entropy, corruption, and simple thoughtlessness. It seems like an impossibly idealistic view to have held, especially on the eve of World War II. Watching The City, it’s easy to feel a longing for that idealism, not to mention the level of craftsmanship that went into the film itself. Even the “fast food” presented with humorous disdain in the movie looks positively artisanal compared to the fare at McDonald’s.

The City is now more than 70 years old, and yet the dilemmas it presents are if anything more acute than they were in 1939. The urban areas of India and China, in particular, are facing exactly the same issues of industrial pollution and slum proliferation that plagued the American cities of the early 20th century. Will they be able to avoid even a fraction of the mistakes America made as it idealistically moved forward into the perfect, planned future? Here’s how The City wraps up:

Order has come, order and life together….We can reproduce the pattern and better it a thousand times. It’s here, the new city, ready to serve a better age. For you and your children, the choice is yours.

The full film:

* Lewis Mumford (who also advised, “Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.”)

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As we reach for our copies of Jane Jacobs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1803 that Charles Fourier published his utopian Universal Harmony.  A social philosopher considered something of a radical in his own time, Fourier pioneered a number of notions now more mainstream (e.g., he was a supporter of women’s rights and is said to have coined the term “feminism’; he championed a “minimum wage”).  Fourier’s urban vision was one that reflected his belief that concern and cooperation were the secrets of social success; he believed that poverty (not inequality) was the principal cause of disorder in society.   He proposed cooperative communities built around phalanstère, units of 1500-1600 people living and working together for mutual benefit.  Fourier’s ideas influenced French politics (e.g., the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune) and writers from Dostoevsky (The Possessed) to Walter Benjamin (Passagenwerk); and they inspired a number of utopian communities in the U.S.

https://i2.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8207/8236708044_cf5c3864c2_o.jpg source

 

Written by LW

December 3, 2012 at 1:01 am

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