Feminism, Homophobia and Space: Greig Garden Safety Audit
Greig Garden, University of Washington Campus
Safety Audit & Literature Review
There have been many studies done in feminist geography and how it relates to the different ways women use and experience space. I will be looking at the safety of women in Greig Garden, on the University of Washington campus. I plan on using feminist studies in geography as a resource to show how the landscape of Greig Garden is not built for the comfort of women, and its geography is still within the constructs of a patriarchal society. I will also be suggesting improvements based on the literature available and the results from a safety audit.
It was mainly through the interpretation of literature provided in class and that of books on gendered spaces that I was able to synthesize the information and build an argument for the safety of women in public spaces. My findings are based on quantitative research, but as the safety audit was performed by me, the results for that are qualitative. It is based on my own perception of Greig Garden, and the surrounding areas; it is undoubtedly influenced by my own personal experiences. I utilized key applicable elements of both the METRAC general safety audit, and the campus safety audit checklist.
Throughout history, spaces have been defined as “public” or “private,” and their corresponding uses prescribed by the dominant culture and institutions, namely, patriarchy (159 Andrew, 92 McDowell & Sharp). We hear things such as, “it’s a man’s world,” often enough to understand that the social constructions present in the world today have been built from a patriarchal, heterosexist perspective. Institutional control through the appropriation of (and indeed, ease in appropriating) public spaces keeps women in fear, out of the range of power, and functioning within the limits of a patriarchal society.
Spatial appropriations and assertions of territory systematize the “[mechanisms by which] dominance and subordination are maintained;” such a “privileged condition” is “virtually invisible” to those in power – in fact, “[t]hose in subordinate status may [not recognize it] (26 Spain). These spatial appropriations may be either location-specific (such as 2nd & Pike, in Seattle), temporal (daytime, night time), or typecast spaces (parking lots, woods, or parks, etc.). The inclination toward, or avoidance of such areas by marginalized people signals to the observer that there are institutional power structures at work. From the beginning we know we are spatial creatures; unfortunately, spatial dominance has heavy correlations with social markers, such as gender;
[N]ot all children who grow up in a patriarchal society learn the same territorial lessons […]. Little boys are socialized to become the men who will continue to safeguard male supremacy; little girls are socialized to become the women who will support them. Boys are raised to be spatially [dominant, and adventurous…]; [g]irls are raised in our society to expect and accept spatial limitations […]. They are taught to occupy but not control space […]. Territorial behavior is intended to put and keep people in their literal and figurative social places (24 Weisman) [italics mine].
The behavior of women is seen as something that requires regulation. The female body is viewed as public property – it represents and embodies the nation, symbolically speaking (144 Staeheli & Martin): “The nation-as-women equation constructs women either as passive or as objects of veneration and purity,” and in either case, portrays them as the weaker sex – neither able to control the situations around them, nor control themselves (144 Staeheli & Martin). In a patriarchal society, this places the men in the position of “actively protecting the feminine nation,” although these gender boundaries and restrictions may do more harm than good – it debilitates women by making certain places inaccessible. Not only for fear of danger, but for fear of “punishment” – “consequences,” such as rape and murder occur when women don’t stay in their socially ascribed places (159 Andrew).
Women’s use of space in a patriarchal society is limited by their fear of being attacked by men (386 Valentine: 1989). This “female fear” is learned very early, “reinforced by such social institutions as the school, the church, the law, and the press” ( 47 Gordon & Riger);
While the impact of the lessons varies, the message is uniform: (1) men are in charge of institutions and define how the institutions will view issues; (2) women and women’s issues are not important; (3) rape is a women’s issue and therefore not important; and (4) institutions do not devote resources to combating rape (47 Gordon & Riger).
Women know the destructive emotional outcome of rape, and as such, patriarchal society holds them accountable for preventing it. Not going out at night for fear of safety becomes an internalized “choice,” as the blame is shifted from her would-be attacker to the spaces in which she could be attacked. Additionally, blame shifts to the woman for allowing herself to become a victim by, “being in a dangerous or inappropriate place” to begin with (386 Valentine: 1989). It is men who label these spaces as “inappropriate,” and they who make it dangerous for women, as the temporal space of “night time” is primarily utilized by men.
In the evening it is “men who are visible;” more often than not it is men who have the time and resources to “go out in the pursuit of leisure activities and therefore numerically dominate public space” (388 Valentine: 1989). Thus, during the evenings, outside of the home becomes male dominated territory, and simply by being outside, women are trespassing. “Female fear” is learned from birth; the “effect of the threat of rape on women […] operates as an instrument of social control, encouraging women to restrict their behavior and keeping them in a state of continuous stress” (118 Gordon & Riger). Whether it is on a conscious level or not, control is exerted through rape – “men do not rape because they are out of control but as a way of maintaining it” (69 Weisman) [italics mine].
Architecture and city planning reflect patriarchy in the fear that locations inspire in women. The areas viewed by women as most dangerous are: (1) open spaces which are frequently empty of other people, such as “parks, woodland, wasteground, canals, rivers and countryside” (386 Valentine: 1989); or (2) “closed spaces with limited exits where men may be concealed and able to attack women out of the visual range of others” (386 Valentine: 1989). An increase in fear is noted in areas where there is a “lack of activity, lack of surveillance [or] visibility; poor environmental quality, design and maintenance; and the existence of graffiti and violence” (107 Morrell). Such things are indicators to women that these areas are not built with their safety or comfort in mind.
Women experience space on a very different level – on a daily basis, even during the day, women find their personal space invaded by harassment in the form of unwanted hugs, comments, whistles, stares, gestures – quiet acts of violence that mark a significant change in how they will react to their surroundings (386 Valentine: 1989). These quiet acts of violence, “continually [remind] women they are vulnerable” (6 Gordon & Riger). The damage done to the psyche by fear informs a common female assumption – that the entirety of the male population is dangerous; simply by being male makes men active participants in the patriarchal power structure. Gordon & Riger state that, “the distribution of fear appears to follow existing social cleavages delineated by […] power inequalities in our society” (118); as neither dominant nor subordinate may realize this, it is a cycle that, once institutionalized, is repeated again and again. Through daily reminders, women learn that “public” streets and parks are indeed “private;” they belong to men – especially at night, when it is thought that women ought to be at home. This is confirmed by Andrew, who states that, “[w]omen are seen, and see themselves, as illegitimate users of urban space at night, or at least as people whose right to be there is questionable” (158).
Indeed, this is also true of homosexuals in a heterosexist world. Homophobia and the violence that comes with it have been built into our society. Non-heterosexuals that are not “passing,” or using “coded” language, are at risk of harm from a culture built around heterosexuality, as, “gay bashing is a common occurrence in many American cities” (256 Frisch). Even as such, gay men have the “benefit” of being men – if they cannot pass as heterosexual, they can at least pass as participants in a patriarchal society. Gay men have been known to use public spaces (such as parks) to their benefit, utilizing them as, “a point of entry into the rest of the gay world, which was sometimes hidden [to protect] it from hostile straight intrusions” (262 Frisch). Lesbians do not have this advantage – they have the social double-disadvantage of being women in a patriarchy, and of being homosexual in a heterosexist society. They share heterosexual women’s fear of male sexual violence, and fear violence against them for their homosexuality (96 Valentine:1995). This can be further problematized when patriarchy intersects with race, class, gender self-identification, disability, marital status, and age. The, “degree of attachment or alienation that individuals might experience,” changes in relation to specific spaces and what they signify for the individual, for instance, whether the space is male or female dominated, gay friendly, racially segregated, or is accessible by ramp for wheelchairs (140 Staeheli & Martin).
However, through the use of safety audits, conscientious community planning, and social activism, these problems can begin to be acknowledged (166 Andrews). The causes of women’s subordination in “public” spaces, once redesigned or updated, can help reinvent spaces that are safe for all marginalized people. Landscape changes are a part of the solution, but, “they must be related to the explanations about how ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ public spaces are constructed socially. The real solutions are through political organization and action” (167 Andrews). Safety audits and the participation of women in the creation of safe communities will make spatiality less of a patriarchal appropriation and more of a shared urban experience.
During the day, Greig Garden is a nice spot to lunch. It is secluded, though in a spot central to campus activities. It is right next to the HUB yard, and just north of Allen library. There are 4 openings to access the 2 paths into the garden. The foliage is made up of large, tall trees, dense large-leaf bushes, smaller-leaf shrubs, and small ground cover in some spots. Once inside the garden, there is a “peanut” shaped grass lawn. The walkways through Greig Garden are paved, and there are no holes / significant cracks in the asphalt. It appears to be reasonably well kept.
Few people know of the garden’s existence, as the lawn itself cannot be seen from the entrances except through the short, straight entrance on the side shared by the Thomson building. There are rarely more than 3 – 6 people in the garden, though there is sufficient space to hold a 30 person class on the lawn. People often use the pedestrian walkways on the perimeter along 3 sides – however, Skagit lane, parallel to the Smith building, is infrequently used by anyone but service vehicles and employees.
Because of the dense foliage, it is impossible to see into the garden from the outside. In fact, from the path between Smith and the garden lawn (which is the area of pathway I will be focusing most intently on), one cannot see the garden or Skagit lane clearly. Pedestrians cannot see what is ahead of them, see what is to either side of them (through the brush), or see what is around the corners / bushes. It would be fairly easy for an assailant to hide in the bushes or behind a tree.
The size of the leaves and outer density of the large bushes make them obstacles to visibility. By using smaller-leaf, lower-density shrubbery, it would improve visibility greatly. Or, using rope lighting wound around the trunks and inner spaces of the larger bushes – it would both be an aesthetically pleasing and safety improving maneuver.
Also, cutting the bushes away every 5 – 7 feet to allow through visibility would increase safety by making visibility to would-be assailants unverifiable. Michel Foucault states that visibility is key – if one never knows whether they are being watched or looked at, they are less likely to act out; it creates an automatic functioning of the informal power of the observer (201). This will help during daytime hours and dusk, but less so at night when the buildings are closed; there is simply no one around to be the anonymous observer.
At night, there are tall yellow-light streetlamps that turn on. The lighting is fairly good, and reasonably even – it lights the path itself adequately. However, the density of the foliage makes it impossible to see inside in many areas. This lack of visibility through the bushes makes it more dangerous for women, so less women use the park. In turn, because less women use it, it becomes even more dangerous to women, turning the garden into an “inappropriate place” (386 Valentine: 1989). By cutting back the bushes from the path (1 ½ feet would be sufficient) on one side and illuminating the other side with short path lanterns, it would help illuminate the areas with the most problematic shadows without destroying the “feel” of the garden during the day. Rope lighting the insides of the bushes would also help. The lighting surrounding the park is also sufficient and properly maintained.
Two of the four entrances to the garden are on this side, so deserves discussion as well. It runs along the “back” side of Smith Hall, and is a service road. It is mainly used by service vehicles and employees. There are signs along the side of the road that create a generally unwelcome feeling (photo right). Temporary (?) chain link fences are up, surrounding some of the parking spots, and there is a large several-unit storage container. These all create a feel that students are not welcome on this side.
Additionally, since it is a less used avenue, it makes pedestrians more vulnerable to attack (it would not be very difficult to rape a woman behind the storage container, or to abduct someone in the back of a vehicle). It is “out of the visual range” and has “a lack of activity,” that increases the sense of danger and fear for women and minority groups (386 Valentine: 1989, 107 Morrell). Though the lighting is adequate, it is still dangerous simply because it is the least used avenue. Despite it being the most dangerous perimeter length of Greig Garden, it holds two of the garden’s entrances.
There is a map of campus (mainly the Quad area) across Skagit lane on the corner of the Miller building. There is not an area map specifically for the park, which is understandable, as it is a small park. However, the entrances to the park itself are not marked. As there is a low wall that runs along two sides of the garden and demarcates it as a more “private” space, posting “Greig Garden” signs at each entrance would help to create a welcome feeling, and remove some of the anonymity and lack of knowledge about the space.
Getting assistance would be quite easy most school-year weekdays during normal school hours. Plenty of students pass by and the spaces around the park are used often. But it becomes difficult at night, during weekends, in summer quarter, or quarter breaks. I have included tables that show the hours of the buildings nearest to Greig Garden. They clearly show that the hours most unsafe in the park are:
Few students use this area at night because once the function of the buildings is null, there is no specific reason to be in the area. There are no residential housing buildings near the park, so there is little traffic that comes through the area at night. This isolation makes the park more dangerous – call boxes and patrols by UW campus police would help with this danger. A surveillance camera would also discourage would-be attackers (even a non-functional dummy camera, so long as it is visible to pedestrians).
Emergency Call Box
The nearest emergency call boxes are (1) at the intersection of Spokane Lane & Pierce Lane, on the NW corner of Gowen Hall, and (2) across the HUB yard and through the parking lot to the North side of the HUB. There should be a call box in the park itself, perhaps at the intersection where three of the external park entrances converge with the south-western entrance walkway to the garden. The near proximity of help would deter assailants for fear of being caught, and would give women more confidence in their safety within the area.
During the day, there are enough people nearby for someone to be able to call for help and someone nearby to hear it. However, if an assailant was able to silence their victim, there would be no way to get help, as passer-byes would not be able to see the attack. After normal school hours, or on weekends, the campus is virtually deserted. During these times, Greig Garden is frequently out of range of hearing. An audible alarm button would make the garden safer, especially if connected to UW police. Possible pranksters could be deterred from pushing it by warning that it automatically dispatches police. This would give women more support from institutional powers, thereby increasing women’s footing in a patriarchal society by putting the law behind them, and helping to smooth out some of the male/female power inequalities present in society today (Gordon & Riger 118).
Overall, Greig Garden is fairly safe for women during normal school day hours, but less so afterwards. There are areas which the campus could improve upon for the safety of its students. The most important aspects which hampered the safety of women in the park were: lighting, visibility and the emergency call button. The park could be much safer for all marginalized minorities with a few small changes and installations. A few minor alterations would help to alleviate the pressures to conform to a heterosexist society within the confines of the garden’s walls. It would also allow passage through, and use of the park by women by reducing the “female fear” that keeps the area of Greig Garden labeled as a male territory. It would make Greig Garden a true “public” space, a small place removed from the majority spaces of a heterosexist, patriarchal landscape. By existing as such an unbiased geography, it would mark itself as a form of quiet resistance that could possibly spur on further improvements to surrounding areas.
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© Michelle Ferris 2006
Geog 476: K. England