- The Gender of Geography
Geography is a notoriously male-dominated field. To cite just one recent statistic, a 1993 profile of the Association of American Geographers (the largest professional organization in the discipline) showed that only 18.6 percent of the membership who were employed by colleges and universities were women. Evidence has shown that, in addition, a disproportionately large number of the 18.6 percent probably hold less influential temporary, part-time, and/or lower paid positions within departments. As Gillian Rose asserts in Feminism and Geography, women’s under-representation in geography departments (and its byproduct, academic publishing) points to some serious problems. Not only does it mean that most geographic research is about men and men’s activities, but more fundamentally, it produces a bias in what passes for geographic knowledge itself. The subject of her book is how one type of human geography, “masculinist,” has been constituted and defined as geography in male-dominated academia, and how feminist perspectives can respond to it.
This book brings academic geography up to date with current feminist theory, something geography badly needed. Indeed, this is the only book-length work of its kind (at least in English). Whereas geographic studies of women’s work, women’s status in less developed countries, women’s relationship to imperialism, and women and the land have broadly taken off within the field, few attempts have been made to discuss feminist geography theory, at length, within the context of the history of geographic thought. More characteristic are widely-cited works such as R.J. Johnston’s Geography and Geographers: Anglo-American Human Geography Since 1945 (4th ed., 1991), which devotes only three pages to feminism. Though Rose brings together some of the substantive works in feminist geography, her primary concern is with the way geographers think and produce work, and she therefore focuses more on the “gender of geography” than the “geography of gender.”
A lot is packed into this small volume (200 pages, including notes). Rose argues that as a masculinist discipline, geography is stuck in dualistic thinking and in producing grand theories that claim to speak for everyone but that actually speak only for white, bourgeois, heterosexual males. Though masculinism effectively excludes women as researchers and as research subjects, Rose says that it is not “a conscious plot” by males (p. 10), and that both men and women are caught in it. And indeed, Rose finds herself caught in it. She attempts to create a more personal geography, locating herself through her whiteness, her lower-middle class upbringing, her “seduction” by the university. (She is now a lecturer at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London.) But she’s not all that successful at maintaining this personalism. Recognizing this, she admits how “extraordinarily difficult [it was] to break away . . . from the unmarked tone of so much geographical writing,” admonishing her own “complicity with geography” (p. 15). At the same time, Rose consistently tries to avoid overarching theories, which she believes are antithetical to feminism, and spends a good deal of text positioning authors of both masculinist and feminist writing.
Rose’s primary task is to mark the territory of masculinist thinking in geography. She demonstrates how just as there are many feminisms, so also there are many masculinisms, with boundaries that are not fixed and clear but permeable and unstable, and each invoked for particular purposes. Overall Rose discusses geographic thought at three scales: the scale of “places” (of humanistic geography), the scale of “landscapes” (of cultural geography), and the scale of individual “spaces” (of social and economic geography). She discusses the degree to which each associated branch of geography is embedded in masculinist thinking and/or holds promise for more feminist interpretations.
Humanist geography, which would seem to share feminism’s goal of recovering the places of individual and everyday experience, turns out to have constituted “place” itself as feminine. Rose asserts that humanists talk about places as homes, in strictly idealized and feminized terms associated with women—as nurturing places, free of conflicts. Rose...