As a student of the humanities, there are few subjects that get the cerebral juices flowing like gender. Entering the Chrystal MacMillan Building (singular in George Square in its dedication to a female academic), I was expecting a tour-de-force from the witty architects of such a loaded play-on-words (Sex and the.. yep, got it!).
Walking the Walk
I wasn’t disappointed. Scanning the seminar room, it was hard to avoid noting the disproportionately high female attendance at the workshop. But just as I began to silently lament society’s tragic mistranslation of gender studies as women’s issues, my own gendered assumption was knocked off balance. It turns out, it’s too simplistic to see one dimension of our identities (like gender) as separate from others (like age, ethnicity or class).
A good walk often clears your mind, and the ‘Privilege Walk’ proved no different. Having lined up and adopted an alternate identity, we evaluated statements like, “I can refuse a proposition of sex for money, housing or other resources” from the perspective of our given identities. A step forward signified an area of privilege; a step back, one of oppression. As the tangible inequality in the room grew clearer, one particularly privileged participant explained, “we’re a small reflection of how the world works”.
Urban Space: Gendered Frontiers
We then focused on the experiences of men and women in Mumbai and Beijing through film, which provided a really accessible basis for discussion. Whether to public toilets or the right to belong, we witnessed in stark detail how local ideas about gender differences are used to exclude women from access to public space.
Before I could fall over the final stumbling-block of simplicity however, we mapped the inner workings of masculinity (literally) to find that despite patriarchy, masculinity, even in Edinburgh, remains a double-edged sword.