Professoressa associata presso la Mount Allison University

Professoressa associata di geografia e ambiente e direttrice del programma su donne e studi di genere presso l’Università canadese Mount Allison, Leslie Kern è autrice di Feminist City: claiming space in a male made world, “Città femminista: rivendicare lo spazio in un mondo fatto da uomini”, saggio non ancora edito in Italia. Coach universitaria, svolge ricerche sul rapporto tra genere e città, gentrificazione e giustizia ambientale. Sul suo sito di coaching dichiara che ogni servizio da lei offerto è basato su una visione del mondo femminista, inclusiva, LGBT+ friendly e antirazzista.

Mediante esempi che prendono spunto dal pubblico e dal privato, dalla narrazione mediatica, dalla sorellanza e dall’esperienza della maternità, in Feminist City Kern racconta come i moderni spazi urbani siano disegnati esclusivamente su misura d’uomo, dimenticando completamente i corpi delle donne e le loro necessità come lavoratrici e madri. Simulando il binarismo della casa e del focolare, l’ineguaglianza di genere permea le città che costruiamo, le piazze in cui passeggiamo, i quartieri in cui viviamo, e pur non vedendolo, è sotto gli occhi di tutti. Con la speranza che il futuro delle città sia ben diverso, Kern descrive i difetti della moderna vita urbana attraverso una prospettiva femminista intersezionale.


Pubblichiamo qui un estratto di contenuto nel libro di Leslie Kern, Feminist City, Verso 2020. Si ringrazia l’editore e l’autrice per la gentile concessione.


Our night on the town isn’t the kind of teen girl story you’re likely to see in a movie or television show. In her study of major teen films from the 1980s and 1990s, feminist geographer Alison “Bain found that films reproduce “the notion that girls’ culture doesn’t extend beyond the bedroom.” In these popular films, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless, Sixteen Candles, and Heathers, among others, girls’ bedrooms are the primary sites for scenes of friendship and interaction among girls, although the semi-private school bathroom also figures regularly. In public spaces, especially urban spaces, girls are portrayed as boys’ “appendages” while out on dates or at public events. Urban spaces were often totally absent. Bain found “little cinematic coverage of intersections or street corners as gathering points for girls,” except in films like Foxfire where girls’ rebellion against male violence and social control is the movie’s explicit theme. The city doesn’t seem to be a place where mainstream filmmakers imagine teen girls interacting with one another, building relationships, and claiming space.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these films showed little racial or class diversity within the teens’ social groups, always centring white characters. Racial invisibility may hint at where we imagine diversity to exist: not in the private spaces of the home or the affluent suburbs. Movies that centre Black and Latina girls and their friendships are seem more likely to be set in cities, such as 2016’s The Fits (Cincinnati) or 2000’s Our Song (Brooklyn). The girls in Our Song struggle with everyday urban issues facing girls of colour: the closure of their high school due to asbestos, living with the threat of violent crime, and the lack of affordable health care. They try to stay connected to each other through their marching band, but face the possibility of a future where their circumstances will drive them apart.

Outside of the movies, the needs and wants of girls and young women are almost completely ignored in architecture and planning. When communities advocate for “spaces for youth,” the kinds of spaces they come up with are skate parks, basketball courts, and hockey arenas. In other words, spaces that have boys in mind as “users, and where girls have trouble finding access, acceptance, and safety. When Swedish architecture firm White Arkitekter actually approached teenage girls to design scale models of public space, the girls came up with


“places for sitting together face to face, protected from weather and wind, to see without necessary [sic] being seen, a sense of intimacy without being constrictive; and most of all, to be able to leave an imprint on their city.”


Despite the lack of attention to their needs, girls do use urban spaces, and in a variety of creative ways. Geographer Mary Thomas studies how girls use public space in cities, querying how they resist, and also reproduce, gendered norms through their patterns of “hanging out” in various consumption spaces. Subject to more spatial control than boys, girls struggle to find places to hang. They must develop their own strategies for avoiding adult surveillance and gaining permission to explore, including using the power of friendship to assuage parental fears about girls alone. Girls can even work together to make direct claims on the city. For example, girls in Hanoi formed a collective to create ‘zines to educate bus drivers and passengers about girls’ safety from harassment on public transit. In Kampala, a youth collective fought to improve hygiene in the city as well as more walkable infrastructure to make sure girls could continue to go to school or work.

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