Sy Adler & Johanna Brenner “Gender and Space: Lesbians and Gay Men in the City”

Spatial utility differs among various identity groups, and it is no different for gay men and lesbians. Prior research done by Manuel Castells argues that while gay men prefer to share a physical location where business and lives can be conducted in an attempt to find a place among other gay men wear their lifestyle will be acceptable, lesbians, on the other hand, are not concerned with a territory but rather they are “placeless”. He states that lesbians rely on interpersonal networks rather than physical location. But Castells as well as Deborah Wolf also

adler gayAdler and Brenner attempted to replicate Castells research. Using five different sources to locate areas of concentrated lesbians, key informants from the lesbian community, location of lesbian bars and other social gathering places, location of lesbian businesses, and mailing lists of lesbian organizations, they confirmed differences in the way in which gay men and lesbians utilize space. Adler and Brenner found that areas of concentrated lesbians had lower levels of homeownership, lower rent prices, and less traditional family households. This is plausible given that females have lower incomes and therefore are limited to low rent areas, and as purported by Markusen and Gilbert, women with low incomes lack transportation and therefore tend to spatially root themselves close to their networks, and in areas which are beneficial to their children, defining their own spatial areas in this manner. They also found higher concentrations of lesbians in countercultural, or nontraditional, areas. In these areas, there was also a large number of female headed households and women living alone. The researchers found it hard to differentiate whether women chose to live there alone because of the high proportion of women in the area and making this area a “women’s community”, regardless if they’re lesbians or just heterosexual single woman.

adler femalesAdler and Brenner conclude that there are spatial concentrations of lesbians but it is considered hidden as compared to areas with gay males, where there are concentrated areas of openly gay businesses and services run by gay people, for gay people. The lack of lesbian owned business could be attributed to the general lack of capital among females for business startups. There is also a lack of collective organization and community activism within the areas of concentrated lesbians that would heighten awareness of such communities. Differences in political activism and the way the community organizes also varies, most likely because of gender. Whereas gay males organize around homosexuality, lesbians organize on two axes, gender and homosexuality, leading females to be more global in their views than males. Lesbians focus not only on rights for gays and lesbians but also for rights of women, a”double vision” if you will.

It is very interesting to understand patterns of settlement among and between groups. In the three readings this week, I find the theme to be that women are forced to spatially organize themselves and their families in areas because of the negative consequences stemming from dysfunctional social and economical structures that preclude women, especially poor, African American single mothers, from living in an environment of their choosing. We can’t argue this enough, policy changes in the gender wage gap, and a cultural shift to accept females and males as equal in the workplace and in the household, would begin to provide more freedom in mobility for women and their children.



The video ‘Gayborhoods’ Have A Profound Sociological And Economic Effect On Urban Areas provides a few perspectives on the way in which urban spaces are organized.


Melissa Gilbert “Race, Space, and Power: The Survival Strategies of Working Poor Women”

Echoing the discussion of Markusen, Gilbert provides theory on why poor, urban women are cut off from better paying jobs and remain in the inner city. It is argued that these women are spatially trapped in the inner city, cut off from better jobs typically found in the suburbs. Gilbert however doesn’t blame this spatial entrapment all on social structures, she believes that the intersectionality of race, class and gender interact to prevent mobility to suburbs for homes and jobs. Gilbert doesn’t consider them trapped per se, rather they become rooted in the inner city neighborhood because that is the location of their social ties and networks, which serve as resources and strategies to survive.

gilbert 1Space and power interact to influence mobility of women, especially African American women.  People are spatially bound by two areas, work and home, because of resources and network ties, but there are degrees to the boundedness leading to levels of mobility or immobility. Being mobile gives one a certain power from being able to freely move through spaces on one’s own volition. As opposed to immobility which provides no power. Personal networks provide women with resources such as childcare, transportation, friendship, and family, so they become rooted in areas where these networks are primarily located. However, being rooted in the areas where networks are located can also prevent women from accessing other resources such as jobs, information about jobs, and housing because of the limited strength of these ties. Social networks vary between men and women and even between race and ethnicity. Women’s networks are usually centered around family and community whereas male networks are centered on work ties. In family and church networks are very important to African-Americans. These networks and spatial locations have significant consequences for economic resources and survival strategies for women.

There is an idea that with welfare supplementation, poor women with children can become self-sufficient, find employment, and get off of welfare. This assumption does not take into consideration that women, more so than men, are in low-paying jobs with little to no advancement opportunities and a encounter a substantial gender wage gap. These labor market inequalities are maintained through space and place; women are relegated to certain jobs in certain locations because of factors related to being the primary care provider, including needing to work close to home and daycare, and lack economic resources that would allow them to, a) either move closer to better paying jobs or, b) acquire transportation to commute to those jobs. All of these factors work to prevent women from fully supporting their families on their own.

Gilbert’s research found that African-American women were more spatially trapped than whites.  Gilbert points to several factors for this including residential segregation race of networks these both make them require them to make decisions based on their limited residential locations. Contradictory to their prior notion, African American women traveled 11.29 minutes to work compared to 17.8 minutes for whites. They posit that because mothers also have to make a trip to childcare they require jobs with less commute times so that their overall commuting time is feasible. They found  that adding a trip to childcare locations increased commuting time by 18.2 minutes on average with white women spending more time in total commuting time than African American women which adds to their hypothesis that African American women are more spatially trapped than whites. Many women decide on location of employment, childcare and housing based on other factors including needing help with childcare, hours required to work at their job and what type of job they do. Some women choose their jobs based on hours that allow them to be at home when their children are out of school. Child care influences a lot of their decisions including type of job and hours required. Fifty-eight percent said they did not get their desired job because of childcare responsibilities and 30% said they can go back to school because of a lack of childcare.

Spatial boundaries affect survival strategies because of their space networks can be constraining. Personal networks were very helpful for women to find employment housing and childcare but also can prevent them from finding good quality employment housing and childcare. Different strategies to find employment childcare and housing were employed by African-Americans and white’s. African Americans rely more heavily on kinship ties to find resources while white women relied on a variety of strategies including yellow pages and newspapers. These networks help to spatially bind women to their locations limiting their power of mobility.

Ann Markusen “City Spatial Structure, Women’s Household Work, and National Urban Policy”

Two forms of labor, wage labor production and household reproduction of labor power are very similar but each greatly impact the spatial organization as well as the organization of division of labor for those filling these roles. Markusen argues that household reproduction of labor, the work that’s done within the home, greatly influences residency and work location decisions for families and mothers. She argues that gender, specifically the power held by men in a patriarchal society, helps to shape and order urban and suburban environments, as opposed to the environment shaping gender relations. Markusen states that patriarchy has “profoundly shaped American urban spatial structure” and “promotes the single-family suburban housing”.

Illustrative image of professional woman feeding her baby while using laptop

Wage labor production is formally recognized in a capitalistic society. This type of labor is done by workers that are hired by businesses to produce something that can be sold for profit. The employees earn a wage and the employers earn a profit. This type of work influences how the environment space is used including transportation for employees, available workforce, and available space for production. Social reproduction of labor involves activities within households that produce “both current and future generations of labor power”. I think I’m understanding this to mean that the household unit is basically expected to produce future workers. If so, then women become the primary producer of all wage labor workers, not just a “passive consumption unit”. I would go so far as to say the sole producer, a monopoly in the market so to speak. However,  these employees do not earn a wage and these self employed producers do not earn a profit.

The informal marriage contract hides the efforts put forth in the household reproduction of labor power and therefore prevents it from being considered a production job. I appreciated the comparison the author made between women in the household purchasing groceries and preparing a meal and the employee in the foodservice sector doing the same thing but getting paid a salary as well as the employer getting a return on their investment. Also, I had never thought about how washing machines dishwashers and other electronics make household work more efficient. This increased efficiency with machines is no different than implementing more efficient techniques in the private manufacturing sector.

markusen 3Women who work in the home contribute to the maintenance of society by providing for their family and maintaining a household etc. However, being that is not a formal job, no formal pay or formal recognition is received. This relationship is unjust in that the household reproduction of the workforce has greater impacts for females than for males as it primarily women who take care of the household and children, and many of them have formal jobs outside of the home as well. This spatial division of urban and suburban areas corresponds with the division of labor within the two areas. The division of labor within the household is not equal, women typically do more of the household and child rearing work than men. The only one well served by this arrangement are males.

In addition to receiving no recognition for the informal labor that occurs in the household, households are also excluded from considerations in the urban environment through the separation of the work sphere and the home sphere. Urban space is organized around the wage labor worker who are predominantly males while the suburban space is organized around household reproducers who are predominantly females. The impact that the work sphere has on the homes here and vice versa goes unrecognizable for the most part as patriarchs are not negatively affected by the arrangement. The spatial disparities between locations of jobs outside the home and locations of houses create problems for mostly mothers as they have to work in both places every day which is inefficient.

Women may choose to move to the suburbs for the safer, cleaner environments, access to quality schools, shops and services, but they are forced to compromise and choose household reproduction of labor over wage labor production. Because of the spatial separation of the two places, access to local jobs is diminished and labor time is wasted in commuting. While limited accessibility to jobs is argued to be the major reason why women stay in the household, other factors such as low wages for women and no advancement opportunities deters females from entering the wage labor force. All of these factors reinforce the power and security males hold in the workforce, it also reinforces their role as breadwinners and controllers of the household, perpetuating the patriarchal society.

Markusen and other theorists argue the that the urban spaces are being reshaped by namely three significant demographic changes in the US; 1) gentrification; 2)  retired persons moving to non-urban settings;  and 3) the fast growing small town non-urban areas. Although these trends are inflicting changes in the spatial design of urban areas the patriarchal structuring of households in the urban space appears to be permanent. Social structures that prevent women from joining and progressing in the wage labor market, including unequal pay, accessibility to work locations, limited advancement opportunities, need to be addressed. Additionally the notion that women are primary caregivers and primary household maintainers should be revisited.