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Male Appropriation of Public Spaces

Writer: Naomi Martínez

Editor: Renata Daou, Adelyne Koe

Illustrator: Heidi Wong

Historically, women have been associated with private spaces such as at home, where for centuries they were restricted to. In contrast, men have been assigned to use public spaces freely as an element for the construction of their identity. Although this topic is analyzed from a binary perspective, we must remember that gender is a social construct.

It is predominantly defined by the roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that society considers appropriate for men and women. Yet our societies maintain a relationship between gender and the categories of biological sex (man and woman), which does not necessarily correspond to them. And despite the advances that some countries may have in gender equity, the association of women in the private sphere and men in the public sphere is still visible to this day, exemplified by the appropriation of public spaces by the male gender.

Public spaces allow the movement of the population and the interaction between them, which encourages the proper development of the personality of citizens. However, the appropriation of these spaces by the male gender has negative effects on the urban rights of women (and non-binary genders), which are affected by the limited use of spaces such as squares, parks, streets, public bathrooms, among others. This problem arises under the allocation of public space and private space with respect to gender, creating a gap between public space for men and private space for women.

Andrea Milena, a Mexican researcher, shares: "For men, the world is a place to do things, while for women, it is a place to relate to things." This symbolism between the "home" and public life is not only manifested in our society, but also reproduced in families and in educational institutions. Throughout history, girls have been encouraged to be less outspoken and more cautious. They have been encouraged to be less involved in outdoor activities and, in general, they have been restricted from using public space. These differences in gender roles mean that girls are trained for private spaces, seeking less competitiveness and more cooperative work, while boys are trained for public spaces, conversely becoming more competitive and individualistic.

Today, although local governments and international organizations advocate for the respect and recognition of the educational rights of girls, schools can promote harmful stereotypes and encourage the conception of being masculine and feminine in children. Educational institutions are one of the most important gender-socializing agents, so it is essential that education systems do not perpetuate the subordination of the female gender by the male gender. This subordination is not only present within the classroom, but is made visible in the use of public space in schools, where certain rest spaces are mostly used by boys, leaving girls out of that space.

We must stop associating girls and women as “less fit” to use public space, and instead promote its use for all existing genders. Phrases such as "She belongs to the streets" or “Street girl” should no longer be used and normalized. We all have the right to use public spaces.




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