Listen I don't Know
I was once asked to compare two buildings of my choice for an assignment. Stunned by the rigidity of heterosexual patriarchy and the invisibility of gender fluidity at the school, I decided to present a comparative analysis of Louis Kahn’s Center for British Art and Dean Berke’s Green Hall at The School of Art, raising the underrepresentation of female architects’ work on campus. After broaching these issues of inequality at our review, I recall a cis male faculty member roasting me - a student who had just arrived on campus - and asking if I knew what to do about gender imbalance at Yale. Girl, what the fuck, of course I didn’t have a single clue.
Some of you might ask, how was that a roast? It sounded like he was being attentive and inquisitive about resolving gender inequality at Yale, but instead what this faculty did was dismissing the issue at hand. I would like to believe that at this moment he simply failed to recognize the severity and magnitude of the gender bias that still existed today. With a female new dean, a balanced biological gender representation in student body, and increasing exposure of female architects and artists’ work in exhibitions and symposiums on campus, namely, the Room(s) exhibition last year celebrating the work of female graduates of Yale School of Architecture, many may think that we have somewhat achieved the white feminist ideal. Come on, let’s be real, feminism is not here yet. As long as the binary gender system prevails, society will always be constructed gravitating towards male interests. In Cruising Utopia Jose Muñoz states that “queerness is a longing that propels us onward, beyond the romances of the negative and toiling of the present.” Presenting that same notion, feminism is also “that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing.”1 This is particularly evident in architecture and architecture schools: just because there are female students in the building, and they are given a floor to play badminton, it doesn’t mean that we have become any more appreciative of femininity. We have heard stories of successful women in architecture only when they overcame femininity, such stories are rarely illustrations of exemplification of femininity. Whoever does acknowledge this continuing fight will be well aware that no one in history has ever solved “women’s problems”, not Marx, not Smith, and you and I are no exception.
I would hope anyone in school would recognize the occurrence I described as an act of ignorance, but if this faculty member intentionally accepted the status quo of gender exploitation, it would put you and I in a dire situation. Demanding solutions knowing there isn’t one demonstrates a lack of sympathy and understanding that we are in this together. It is what people do when they consider themselves a central power isolated from the rest of the community. This roast would then become a form of active avoidance, and sadly, you cannot wake a person who is pretending to sleep. Regardless of what propelled this faculty to ask me such a question, this is the reality you and I are still working with: men in power throwing problems back at us. Indeed, the university has allocated more space and budget for gender-related discussions, but our message has not been received from across, not yet. No constructive conversation is going to activate change unless cis men relinquish their privilege and position as the center of the community, and no man is going to give it up unless we reexamine why masculinity has been considered the key towards success. The Women’s Table is not Yale’s trophy for any advancement in feminism. The sculpture is no proof that we have found a solution to the issue at hand, we might never will. Instead, it should serve us as a constant reminder that feminism is a never-achieving goal, and our vigilance requires perseverance.
Today, I am not directing this article at a specific man in power. I’m addressing you - the students - directly, so we can chat about how you and I can deliver this motherf**king message. We need to hold the men accountable, and we need to call out whenever they babble nonsense to us. Chandra Mohanty in Feminist Without Borders writes: “It is not the center that determines the periphery, but the periphery that, in its boundedness, determines the center.”2
You and I have the power to choose who to crowd around, but the only way this is possible is when we unite in solidarity. Solidarity does not mean that there is only the binary “us” and “them”. It does not mean that you and I have to identify as the same people in the fight for equality. For example, agreeing with me to support women does not label you as gay, communist, Asian, or any other character that you do not identify with. In the same book, Mohanty argues that “rather than assuming an enforced commonality of oppression, the practice of solidarity foregrounds communities of people who have chosen to work and fight together.”3
To be in solidarity is to empathize with people that are different from you. It is to build interdependence between individuals.
It might have been a little bit late, but this is the message I had hoped to share with you; because nobody knows the answer, but we are all in this together. I want to end my message with an excerpt from an interview in Mohanty’s book. The interview is with a Filipina worker in Silicon Valley, her name is Irma:
“We dream that when we work hard, we’ll be able to clothe our children decently, and still have a little time and money left for ourselves. And we dream that when we do as good as other people, we get treated the same and that nobody puts us down because we are not like them… Then we ask ourselves, ‘How could we make these things come true?’ And so far we’ve come up with only two possible answers: win the lottery, or organize. What can I say, except I have never been lucky with numbers. So tell this in your book: tell them it may take time that people think they don’t have, but they have to organize!… Because the only way to get a little measure of power over your own life is to do it collectively, with the support of other people who share your needs.” 4
- José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia : The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, c2009). p1. ↩︎
- Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism without Borders : Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham ; London: Duke University Press, c2003). p42. ↩︎
- Ibid, 8. ↩︎
- Ibid, 139. ↩︎