This photo, a statue of Raleigh, NC namesake Sir Walter Raleigh, was draped with a rainbow boa during protests over the infamous North Carolinian HB2. Photo was taken by Wikipedian “Indy beetle.”

In Suzanne Tick’s essay “His & Hers: Designing for a Post-Gender Society,” she argues that the more multifarious gender perspectives allowed by an increasing number of women in the workforce also correlates with an increased move towards gender neutral design and perhaps even a full acceptance of the theory of gender as a spectrum. Tick focuses her argument on three design fields: architecture, fashion, and interior design. In short, her argument stems from the concept that Modernism, a vague term for much of the design of the mid 20th century, was fundamentally tied up in a generally sexist paradigm of self-glorification and mass production, with women being consigned to ancillary roles (Tick). However, Tick believes that an increasing widespread internalization of feminism in the west is bringing about a move away from strict masculine industrial hardness to a more sustainable model focused on the feeling of living spaces. Furthermore, she argues that this has already picked up a fast pace in the fashion world, where this intersection is increasingly leading towards a uni-gender fashion scene, where feminine clothing for men and masculine clothing for women are becoming par course, leading to a stylistic androgyny that comes hand in hand with the increasing resistance against the gender binary (Tick). Tick ties this into what is by far the most symbolic fight over gender identity: bathrooms. Finally, Tick suggests that the move to have more gender neutral restrooms ties into a greater need for accessible design in regards to alternative and nontraditional gender identities, something she ties in with the Americans With Disabilities Act as worth enforcing through legislation.

Through this essay, Tick hits on some of the more interesting aspects of the “gender revolution” we’re on the brink of. While some of her points may be arguable academically, especially vis a vis the entire modernist movement being dominated purely by masculine ideals, Tick shines when she points that, on the more distant edges of society, we are increasingly moving to a more uniform acceptance of more diverse gender identities, which will define much of the subtler aspects of our world for decades afterwards. However, I must sadly note that these arguments do seem a bit overly optimistic in light of current political events. While the predominantly liberal artistic class will likely be quite accepting of these values in maybe even a decade, issues like racism and gay rights, which are issues spanning back beyond 60 years in American politics, still play an out-sized role in the problems of the U.S., which doesn’t suggest as much utopian progress will be made as Tick hopes. However, despite this, it’s still important to make the first step.

Noted philosopher John Locke had a theory of the mind as a tabula rasa– a “blank slate” engraved by one’s environment. While this is scientifically arguable, the fact is that our environments throughout life have a large impact on our life. However, while most would assume environment to include social factors or pollutants, Schindler suggests that even the physical structure of our built environment can have great effects on our lives, both intentional and unintentional.

London’s infamous Camden benches, well known for appearing to be a sub-par modern art project designed purely for sitting- and nothing else.

Schindler goes into depth about how one can shape behavior through the modification of built environments. One of her core arguments, the thing that makes this a legal paper rather than a psychological or architectural one, is the concept of architecture as a method of subtle rule-making or, as she puts it, “extra-legal regulation” (Schindler 1944). She describes several real world examples of this concept, most notably park benches, like the Camden benches pictured above, designed to prevent anything but sitting. This sort of design, described as “hostile architecture,” is often used to push agendas that are politically poisonous but economically desirable, such as removing the forms of shelter the homeless would typically use for sleeping, such as park benches and canopied store windows, by the creation of benches that make laying flat impossible and the placing of spikes on windowsills. She points out how even larger developments, such as the placing of a highway, can, purposefully or not, create cultural, economic, and often racial barriers between communities within a few blocks of each other.

Spikes placed into steps of a building of France to prevent them from being used for anything but a seeming decorative purpose.

Schindler’s thesis suggests a wide variety of inquiries, making us question whether the de facto segregation of the first half of the 20th century every really ended, or was just replaced by increasingly insidious patterns of building that geographically fenced in communities even when things like redlining were overturned. While the intentionality of this can be argued to death, even Schindler’s opening arguments leave massive room for further inquiry, and suggest a new paradigm in thoughts about urban planning and systematic inequality.

Works Cited:

Quinn, Ben. “Anti-homeless spikes are part of a wider phenomenon of ‘hostile architecture.’” The Guardian, 13 Jun. 2014.

Schindler, Sarah. “Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation Through Physical Design of the Built Environment.” Yale Law Journal, vol. 124, no. 6, April 2015.