Gendered spaces are areas in which specific gender expression and genders are considered appropriate while others are not. For instance, washrooms can be considered gendered spaces when some are specifically made for women while others are made for men. Gender involves three aspects, that is, physical sex, gender expression, and gender identity. Gendered spaces can be identified in various forms including dividing a space into men’s and women’s, private-public divide, based on certain types of femininity and masculinity, and in symbolic landscapes. In this paper, a discussion on the extent and ways in which space can be represented as gendered in ‘The Return of the Soldier’ by Rebecca West and in ‘Orlando: a biography’ by Virginia Woolf has been provided. In West’s book, use of the domestic sphere and war sphere, and writing about gendered tensions between home and war fronts shows how space can be gendered. Similarly, in Woolf’s book, presenting Orlando as unhappy in the presence of men, the narrative on the differences between women and men, and women not being allowed on a walk on public spaces alone shows how spaces can be gendered. Spaces can be gendered based on society’s norms and values.
Gendered space is a critical concept in gender geography. Gendered spaces are identified as areas in which certain genders and certain gender expression types are considered appropriate while others are considered inappropriate (Doan, 2010). In this case, gender comprises of three aspects. First is physical sex which refers to body shape and functioning. Physical sex comprises of genitals’ shape, X and Y chromosomes, hormonal balance, and secondary sex characteristics such as beards and breasts among others (Danielson, n.d). Sometimes it is not enough to look at these characteristics to classify one as a male or female. Second is gender expression which refers to social roles, practices, and behaviors of an individual in the society. Gender roles are considered to be given by nature depending on an individual’s physical sex (Danielson, n.d). However, they vary from one community to another. For instance, some communities associate use of makeups with women while others associate it with men.
The third aspect is gender identity which refers to an individual’s internal sense about their gender. That is a person identifying himself or herself as a male, female, or another gender. Commonly, gender identity matches with gender expression and physical sex (Danielson, n.d). However, gender identity may sometimes fail to match with physical sex and gender expression. In such cases, the individuals are referred to as transgender or transsexual. Then, there is sexuality which is the sexual practices that one pursues. Every community has set gender roles essential in maintaining gender organization (Danielson, n.d). Also, the gendering of spaces enables social systems to maintain gender organization. The gendered spaces strengthen certain ways of being female or male. This also helps in maintaining relationships between women and men.
Gendered spaces can be seen in societies in various forms. First, gendered spaces are seen when a community divides space into men’s and women’s space. For instance, women may be allowed to grow crops for sustaining household while men are allowed to grow crops that bring money. Second, gendered spaces can be seen in the private-public divide. This is where private space is considered to belong to women while public space belongs to men (Danielson, n.d). In such a case, women are expected to stay home and take care of family affairs while men manage family group interactions and other activities in the public realm.
Third, gendered spaces are assigned based on certain types of femininity and masculinity. For instance, an individual’s gender expression must conform to social expectations to use certain facilities such as women or men’s public restrooms. Otherwise, a transgendered person may be excluded from using the facilities. Fourth, gendered spaces are seen in symbolic landscapes (Danielson, n.d). For instance, symbolic spaces are divided into domestic and wilderness sphere into some communities. In such a case, the domestic sphere is associated with women whole wilderness sphere is associated with men. Space gendering help promote gender norms in a given culture (Danielson, n.d). It guides people on expected character and duties. Also, space gendering enables dominant gender to remain in control.
The Return of the Soldier, Rebecca West
In ‘The Return of the Soldier’ by Rebecca West has to an extent represented space as gendered in various ways. First, West shows the domestic sphere and war sphere as associated with femininity and masculinity (West, 2009). For instance, Chris Baldry left home for war while his wife Kitty was left home. He left for France where he went to fight as a British soldier in the trenches of World War 1. At home, Kitty was occupied with domestic management of the estate of Baldry outside London. When Chris is fully exposed to the horrors of war, Kitty and other women, Jenny her cousin, and Margaret are almost fully removed from these horrors (West, 2009). During the war, Chris does not only suffer mental trauma but is also sent home after an injury.
In many communities, women are considered weak compared to men. This is why most war zones are dominated by men. For instance, during the First World War, there was almost no woman in the Canadian armed forces. The few who participated were nurses. For the few females who got a high ranking position, men felt that they were not fit for the job. Majority of women were left home where they kept up with their responsibilities at home. During the Great War, women were not allowed to participate (Sultana, 2010). Their work was in the domestic sphere.
Some researchers have argued that because men are faster, taller, and stronger compared to women, they are more suitable to go for war. Because of this advantage men are more likely to be successful during battles than women. This is why women were not expected or needed to go to war. Throughout history, men are considered aggressive than women and hence the pattern of male-dominated warfare (Sultana, 2010). Not even ecological or technological changes would change this notion. For instance, primitive war weapons needed brute force. This made men to be the fighting sex during the war.
Even when technological advances made things easier even for women, the notion that men are better at war could not be impacted. This is because the male-only war has already evolved (Sultana, 2010). Again in the war, men were expected to prove and improve their manliness by going through the struggle against all odds. On the other hand, women were expected to maintain civilization virtues by taking care of the domestic sphere both at homes and at settlements. This is why Kitty was left managing Baldry estate where she and other women felt almost no horrors of the war while the man almost died in the war proving his masculinity (West, 2009). West shows gender expression which expects men to participate in war while women are given responsibility for domestic activities. Representing war sphere as a place for men and the domestic sphere as a place for women, West shows how space is gendered.
Second, West represents space as gendered by writing about gendered tensions between home and war fronts (West, 2009). West shows the difference between male and female spaces of war. Newspapers and films have blurred the differences between female and male spaces in war-making trench war to pervade. However, West shows gendered war spaces by focusing on Jenny’s experiences as well as Chris’s experiences during the war. While Chris experienced trench warfare, Jenny had her own set of experiences (West, 2009). Through recurrent nightmares, Jenny experiences war like scenes which serve as a metaphor for her traumatic experience. She talks about having bad dreams of Chris. The dream was like a cinematically clear representation of a war scene.
Jenny remembers seeing Chris running across No Man’s Land brown rottenness. Jenny narrates how on the war films she had seen men slipping down softly from trench walls and only a few would claim to reach safety by their fall (West, 2009). She is disturbed by this precise battle scene. By seeing this struggle for survival for Chris, West shows Jenny’s traumatic dilemma. Through these experiences, West represents space as gendered. West shows different experiences that both men and women go through during wars (West, 2009). Women are shown to have a set of their experiences even when not at home. These include the traumatic experiences that Jenny is going through. Men are also shown to have a set of their own experiences, trench warfare.
Orlando: a biography, Virginia Woolf
Woolf Virginia in the book ‘Orlando’ also represents space as gendered to an extent. Woolf does so by, first, presenting Orlando as unhappy in the presence of men (Woolf, 1973). This shows that men have their space and women as well. A woman would not fit in men’s space. At the beginning of the narrative, Orlando is a young man and a poet. After losing his lover Sasha, he decides to do extensive writing. He wrote poems and plays among other types of literature. After meeting Green an author who he wants to publish his work, he is disappointed as the author fails to do so (Woolf, 1973). Later a civil starts and rebels plan to kill Orlando. After this attempt, Orlando woke up naked and in a woman’s body. Orlando accepts the change and started dressing like a woman. She slowly got used to being a woman. At this point, Orlando is happy because she can freely think about nature as well as love. However, she feels powerless when in the presence of men (Woolf, 1973).
This is supported by the principles of traditional masculinity which holds that men are superior to women (Edwards, 2015). This viewpoint is traceable to Aristotle, the Greek philosopher. Aristotle based the claim on the reason principles. He concluded that masculinity was likened with men’s human rationality. On the other hand were identified by their bodies, emotion, and sexuality. This view supported the idea that women are inferior to men. Beauvoir, a French feminist philosopher argues that men consider human as constructed in their image. She argues that a man considers himself a redeemer, liberator, and donor, and expects women’s subjection. This view explains why Orlando felt powerless in front of men (Woolf, 1973).
Sultana (2010) argues that, traditionally, society was patriarchy. This is a society in which men dominate. In such a situation, women are powerless and act as subordinates to men. This subordination and domination make women inferior both in public and in homes. Women are expected in all life spheres to be dependent on men since all power is in the hands of males. This can be associated with the feelings that Orlando was going through. Although she is used to being a woman, she struggles relating to men (Woolf, 1973). She feels powerless when in the presence of men and indication that men had their space and women too. This feeling of powerlessness in the presence of men is a representation of gendered space in Woolf’s book. Being a woman, Orlando couldn’t feel powerful among men (Woolf, 1973). This is considering that she was entering the territory of the powerful, men. Things were different after interacting with women where she felt more confident.
Second, based on Woolf’s narrative, the differences between women and men also serve as a representation of gendered spaces (Woolf, 1973). For instance, Orlando identifies man’s desires as martial ambition, rule of the world, love of power, and prancing on a warhorse down Whitehall (Woolf, 1973). This represents a space for men. These ambitions take the most time for men. Similarly, women have their space. This is characterized by hairdressing, washing, and powdering. For instance, Orlando worries that she has to spend one hour on hairdressing (Woolf, 1973). After that, she is expected to spend another hour looking in the looking-glass. She also has to wash and powder among other activities. Being a man and a woman, Orlando knew the strengths and weaknesses of each gender. Woolf compared this state as being in the most whirligig and bewildering state of mind (Woolf, 1973). Orlando kept on comparing one sex against the other.
Apart from these desires, both men and women have to dress according to society’s norms. This is the only way to be accepted as part of that society. Orlando explains how a sailor almost died after seeing her body (Woolf, 1973). She had to cover up to avoid conflicts. This is why she/he kept on changing her clothing from time to time. When Orlando wanted to be a man, he had to dress as a man. When she wanted to be a woman, depending on her mood, she dressed as a woman (Woolf, 1973). This indicates that both men and women in this book had their own space. Men had to act like men as expected in society and women too. Otherwise one would be going against the norms which would make one an outsider.
Every time she found each sex to have deplorable weaknesses that she was no longer sure to which sex she belonged. She almost left for Turkey to become a gypsy again (Woolf, 1973). She even preferred being clothed with poverty and ignorance which she says are dark cloths of the female sex. This to her would enable her to enjoy contemplation, love, and solitude. These views represent gendered spaces. While men’s spaces are characterized by desires of power, ruling others, and aggressiveness, women’s space are characterized by hairdressing, washing, powdering, and most of all desire for love (Woolf, 1973). Also, women’s space was characterized by changing from silk to lace to paduasoy and being chaste every year.
Having a man’s experiences made her feel impatient for women’s experiences. Through these views, Woolf shows a representation of space as gendered where men’s space is different from women’s in terms of desires in life. This explains the difficulty Orlando had in choosing between being a man and a woman (Woolf, 1973). This is because being both was a hindrance in fitting in neither of the two spaces. Third, Woolf shows gendered spaces by stating that women were not supposed to walk alone in public places (Woolf, 1973). Orlando had to be offered protection by a tall gentleman after forgetting that women were not supposed to walk alone in public places. This was after she found herself at the center of a crowd staring at her (Woolf, 1973). The fact that men could walk alone in public places while women could not show a representation of gendered spaces in Woolf’s book.
Clearly, spaces can be gendered based on the norms and values of a society. This was clear when analyzing ‘The Return of the Soldier’ by Rebecca West and in ‘Orlando: a biography’ by Virginia Woolf. Use of the domestic sphere and war sphere, and writing about gendered tensions between home and war fronts shows how space can be gendered in West’s book. Additionally, presenting Orlando as unhappy in the presence of men, the narrative on the differences between women and men, and women not being allowed on a walk on public spaces alone shows how spaces can be gendered in Woolf’s book.
Danielson, S. (n.d). Gender and Sexuality: Human Geography (e-textbook). Retrieved from http://debitage.net/humangeography/index.html