Feminist City: A Field Guide

Feminist City: A Field Guide by Leslie Kern analyzed the ways cities make themselves less accessible, and less safe, for women. In ways that city-dwellers themselves might not even be aware of, Kern raised remarkable points that show how women’s abilities to use a city are hindered. While urban men may have no worries about navigating a city site, women are often stymied by a city’s architecture and infrastructure. Aside from the obvious ways of making a city more friendly to women–good lighting, accessible and affordable transit, shops and daycare facilities within short distances–Kern also pointed out how public washrooms can influence a woman’s ability to move around. Snow removal is usually targeted first on major roads, yet women, being the primary caregivers of young children, are often stuck inside their homes until the plows can clear their residential sidewalks to accommodate prams and baby strollers. Thus winter confines a portion of our population indoors.

Creating the feminist city is not an easy task, as Kern bluntly states:

“Making cities seem safe for women also tends to make them less safe for other marginalized groups.”

Revitalization or beautification projects tend to target the removal of groups of people seen as undesirable, forcing them to relocate to other areas.

Academic reads I have found tend to be repetitious, and I encountered the same observances about city life throughout each of the chapters. I suppose this is the best way for Kern to cement her points into the minds of her readers, as it certainly made me conscious of how to better construct a city.

Kern made visible what seems invisible to my experience as a single white man in a city. For this I commend her in opening many pairs of eyes. Yet in spite of her valuable advice towards feminist city planning I was taken aback by the first line on page one when Kern wrote:

“I have an old picture of my little brother and I surrounded by dozens of pigeons in London’s Trafalgar Square.”

My flow of reading was immediately spoiled. I had to stop and reread it multiple times, as I expected her use of the pronoun I in that sentence to be the start of a second clause, joined by the preceding conjunction and. In this very first sentence, I interpreted it that she had an old picture depicting solely her little brother, and, by the way, she, surrounded by pigeons in Trafalgar Square, also did something else.

Wrong. Kern was using I as a direct object. How would she phrase that sentence if the picture she had depicted only herself, without her little brother in it too? Would she write “I have an old picture of I”? Of course not. She would write it correctly: “I have an old picture of myself”. When listed in a series, objects do not change their grammatical case, thus myself is the correct form after she lists her little brother first.

I would not have excused this error, even once (and it was magnified in my eyes by being on the first line of page one) yet Kern used I as an object three more times. She is an academic. Why didn’t she, or any of her proofreaders or editors, catch any of these errors, such as:

“Even though those long nights of endless intimate talk are few and far between for my friends and I, we haven’t stopped picturing our futures together.” (pp. 79-80)

and:

“There were lots of families around, but our nearest neighbours were boys a few years older than my brother and I.” (p. 143).

and:

“One afternoon the boys pretended to kidnap my friend and I by corralling us behind the hockey net in their garage, saying they weren’t going to let us leave.” (p. 143).

Please, fix these unfortunate errors before the next printing. The correct form of the pronoun in each of these cases is me. It taints an otherwise stellar academic work.

Although likely no fault of the author, who seems to be an advocate for inclusion and accessibility of all people, the publisher certainly gave me, a reader with a visual impairment, a terrible time with the minuscule font and even smaller numbers used in pagination. I could never tell which page I was on nor discern what endnote superscripts to consult next.

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