What Would A Non-Sexist City Be Like? – Dolores Hayden
by Sara Finzi and Carola Hartmann
Review of Dolores Hayden’s article of 1980
„What Would a Non-Sexist City Be Like? Speculations on Housing, Urban Design, and Human Work”
Dolores Hayden, born in 1945, is an American professor of architecture, urbanism, and American studies at Yale Universi- ty, urban historian, architect, author, and poet. She is the author of many award-winning books. Her work focuses on the suburban development in the USA and how it contributes to the isolation of women in society. She offers a critical view on capitalism and searches for pragmatic solutions in order to improve women‘s situation. Since Hayden is also a trained architect, her approach is often characterised by an urbanistic view.
A women‘s place in urban planning
The text starts with the statement that too little debate is made about how the architectural principle that „a woman‘s place is in the home“ (p.170) influenced the contemporary American city. The planned new city was primarily based on capita- listic ideas and totally depending on millions of private automobiles and on an enormous waste of energy. Nevertheless the women rejected their homebound role and entered more and more the paid labor force. But the urban structure is still constraining some of them. The built environment was designed for the housewife and the infrastructure for working women is now missing. Hayden claims the necessity to “develop a new paradigm of the home, the neighborhood and the city” (p. 171) to help employed women and their families.
Hayden suggests two possibilities: Either rehabilitate the existing buildings or build new housing. She analyses that most population in the urban region is living sprawled in suburban areas. The owner of the houses are mostly “male white skilled workers” (171). The journey to work is long as the workplace is usually in the city center, which explains why Americans owe 41 percent of the cars of the world. The form of the American settlements is a result of economic policies. The idea was to make good homes to make the workers happy and to make them work better. So the man that wanted to have a better home and be happy had to work to pay the mortgage and so the women became the unwaged manager of the new house. After World War one, through the advertising industry, the private single family suburban house became a national goal, the American Dream.
The reality of the working woman
The society became more and more obsessed with consumption and over all to conform with the suggested dream. This brought married women outside home to gain more money to sustain all the bills. Hayden notes that “by 1975, the two-wor- ker family accounted for 39 percent of American households” and that “another 13 percent were single-parents families, usually headed by women” (p.171-172).
Hayden observes that the existing form of housing is not suitable for working women because it relies on someone taking care of the cooking, cleaning and of the children of course. The main issue is that the suburban houses are far away from any shared community space. Employed mothers are socially expected to do more housework than men even if they usu- ally spend more time travelling to work because of their reliance on public transport. The residential suburbs are not meant for the working woman and by reading Hayden’s text we understand that it’s a matter of architecture and urban planning. Millions of women are suffering of this condition and live isolated and depressed into their houses, suffering from domestic violence and taking medication.
Searching for a way out
The woman who decides to leave her place in the suburb usually doesn’t really find the suitable alternative for her, which should be a place where job, facilities and housing are united. This doesn’t exist yet because the government is still as- suming that the traditional household is still the goal to be achieved. Better housing and services are obviously needed. Hayden points out that “the logistical problems which all employed women face are not private problems and they do not succumb to market solutions”. A solution that unifies household and workplace is therefore required. A non-sexist city is now necessary, but how would it look like?
Hayden makes some examples of other countries that have started a new approach, like The Cuban family Code of 1975 which requires men to share the housework and child care or special housing facility program in Copen- hagen. In Hamburg public housing was combined with supporting services, hints that home and work can be reunited. In the US some feminists (domes- tic scientists) purposed some projects but weren’t very successful together with the utopian socialist communities. The matter is not to live in communal families but to create community services that support the private household. The ideal solution would make women economically independent and free of taking decisions. Hayden’s idea is to create groups called HOMES (Home- makers Organization for a More Egalitarian Society) that have to reorganize home and work on an equal basis between genders. HOMES should improve the life of the whole urban area and not only for the residents. The proposed HOMES should enable the revitalization of a suburban neighborhood through the creation of new common space and facilities and by converting the single houses into duplexes or triplexes ones. The American cities are designed on the principles of another era, the struggle for homemakers now is against gender stereotypes and wage discrimination.
Hayden wrote her text in 1980 and while many of her arguments remain true today, society has changed a lot since then, offering new possibilities. For example the concept of doing home office was made possible by the internet, bringing work and home life closer together, which gives new possibilities to work even in the suburb. The proposal that Hayden makes for a non-sexists city by describing HOMES is interesting in several ways. First of all she is very pragmatic in searching for a realistic solution and precise when considering the needs of the working woman. This hands-on approach is less revolutio- nary and emotional than for example Silvia Federici in her text “Wages against housework”. We also note that she does not only look for solutions for women but for minority groups and underprivileged people as well. She offers a broader view on society and goes beyond the gender problem. HOMES is not an utopia but could be implemented in the existing structure of suburban life. The only thing standing in the way would be a change of the zoning law. Therefore it is just a matter of the will of the people but over all of the government. What kind of society does America want to sustain or permit?
By imagining Hayden’s new structure for society, other architectural projects come to mind. For example, Familistère by the French Architect Jean-Baptiste André Godin developed between 1856-59, trying to build a community for workers and their families. Even though this example took place in another time, we could still learn from it. Women and men were working. A nursery, an infant school and various little shops were part of the project. However it remained an isolated experiment. One of the reasons might be that people found it hard to adapt to this kind of very public life, giving up the level of privacy they were used to.
Other projects that comes to mind are today’s Genossenschaften. Especially in Zurich there are many projects looking for new ways of living. In Genossenschaft Kalkbreite, many facilities are provided that resemble Hayden’s HOMES project. For example, people can use the services of child care, get meals in a big kitchen/restaurant, share a laundry room or book a conference room directly in the house per hour, which makes it easy to combine family life and work. However, this project has very different preconditions compared to what Hayden has in mind because the urban structure in Zurich already sup- ports the working woman lifestyle a lot more than the sprawled suburban life.
While the Familistère, HOMES and today’s Genossenschaften each offer new and interesting solutions, it can be assumed that most people in society might not be willing to commit to such a life in a community. Since these attempts never resulted in a mass-movement, the reasons should be carefully evaluated and learned from. One might say that those solutions only suit for a certain part of society. Is it a solution that is only suitable for certain parts of society and not for the masses or is the political will to find new concepts of life missing?