Woman-Designer or Designer-Woman?
Goes gender matter in the field of architecture & design? Does race matter? How about culture or age, do they matter at all? Should they matter as one goes about their daily business?
These are not binary issues, rather they form a collective of identities that we each deal with in a variety of combinations on any given day in our personal and professional lives. These identities are a part of who we are as individuals, and they inevitably shape our reality.
There are two camps of thought on the relevancy of gender in the profession: one professes that focusing on strong ideas is the critical issue, the other recognizes that it plays a role in shaping experiences and craves to find ways to navigate it through the industry. I see these as two sides to the same coin; we cannot ignore that human perspectives play a role in how we treat one another, yet we should not focus on this subject narrowly & lose sight of the greater purpose; to design great spaces, experiences, or products.
DESIGNER FIRST: challenging thoughtful & powerful ideas should be our focus as professionals in an industry that shapes environments. We should focus on our purpose & core values in having chosen to be in a creative service industry that gives us room to think big & create beauty in the world. It's true that our ideas should hold a higher power to speak on who we are. It’s true that we are designers first. But let's not turn a blind eye to the realities that are still very much present in our current industry culture.
GENDER SECOND: we will be blissfully ignorant if we don’t address the reality of human beings. Gender, gender identity, race, & age all factor into real experiences; from how we are spoken to or treated by our colleagues, to our own self-image, self-confidence & the ‘softer’ skills of being a professional that are not taught in school or the workplace. These things all play a role in our lives. The beauty of it is that they can be navigated & developed into a positive power. They must not be swept under the rug as this is not productive to success. Instead we must be cognoscente to create safe spaces for gathering & support of one another, to discuss how to navigate the challenges. We must stand shoulder to shoulder, mentor & coach one another, advocate for & empower one another so we can be productive in focusing on our big ideas that will impact the world.
As a fundamental human rule, women & men should support one another to success, not beat each other down at the chance of stepping ahead. I applaud feminist men for recognizing the value we bring to the table. When women succeed, we all succeed.
Annie Chu eloquently reminded us of Simone de Beauvoir’s powerful words, “if we keep thinking about ourselves as women only, then we'll continually be nailed by the rules that men set for us in the first place.” Let’s work on changing our perspectives & focus on the DESIGNER that is our primary identity; let's just make it happen & make it the new normal.
This post is a reflection on conversations with colleagues, personal experiences & reflections, & the recent AWA+D Symposium: Does Gender Matter? held at the MAK Center for Architecture / Schindler House Los Angeles.