A Field Guide
Between the Lines
REVIEWED BY EMILIE KADIN
Feminist geographer Leslie Kern, who teaches at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, was raised with her brother in the suburbs, but her love of cities was seeded in visits to Toronto, New York City and London, England.
In Feminist City: A Field Guide, she writes of having been shoved for taking up too much space with a stroller; about being catcalled; and about walking home with keys in her hand, ready for an attack.
Kern set about writing Feminist City: A Field Guide with the goal "to bring feminist geography into conversation with the everyday nitty gritty of trying to survive and thrive, struggle and succeed in the city."
She finds there is no blueprint for a "feminist city," just as there are no absolute design solutions to manspreading, high-heel-catching pavements, phallic architecture and the constant dangers and pervasive harassments of city life.
Kern recounts the reasons women are fearful in cities while calling on us to move pastfear and to find delight and support in these dense environments. She defends the choice to pursue anonymity (e.g., with headphones) to achieve autonomy and avoid harassment, yet she also urges women to pursue interactions with people who do not look, talk or act like them. Feminist City calls upon women to claim more space but encourages them to do so in a way that does not perpetuate colonialism or stymy the efforts of Indigenous peoples to reclaim colonized lands.
Kern cites interesting findings in feminist urban studies: "Women are afraid in enclosed and open spaces; in busy places and empty places; on transit and while walking; isolated under a bright light or invisible in the dark."
What's a woman to do? Kern encourages us to nurture the "little feminist cities" that are sprouting up in neighbourhoods. She also weaves inspirational stories of feminist interventions in cityscapes like a vein of gold through her field guide, leaving us, in the end, with more hope than despair.