room of your own
June 4, 2003 06:25 PM

On WHB this week, Alison asks whatís in a room. She says (among other things):

But what is the female equal to a garage? The house is a shared family place, yet, in our culture, the garage is primarily a male bolt-hole. Where do females go when they need a place?

Why is it that this exists? Does this inequality in 'rooms of one's own' exist in your life? Or do you and each member of your family - past and present - have their own space as well as a common space for all to come together? How do you define this space? Do you feel that this is a necessary space for you? Do you feel that females are more willing to compromise their space to nurture a space for others? And, if you could have your ideal room - space - that was all yours, how would it look?

There is, undoubtedly, a tradition of the garage or shed, something outside the house proper, as a manís space, and the rest of the house as a womanís space. I donít think this is about giving up oneís identity in a household for most women, though Ė I suspect that it ties back to the notion of a house as an expression of a woman, a wife.

When you were a kid, did anyone ever say to your dad: ďNice house!Ē or ďGreat color choice on that wallpaper!Ē Probably not. Most of us address comments about a house we visit to the more wifey occupant (even with single sex couples, I find myself doing that), because itís easy to assume that person is the decorator and organizer. Easy to assume because thatís the cultural norm, still, for a ďwifeĒ to own the space everyone shares, and the ďmanĒ to own a less invaded, less integral, space.

Where do females go when they need a place? The bathroom!

My barometer of normal, the PAWs (People At Work), talk a lot about having separate mom/dad/kid bathrooms. A womanís private bathroom can be the place where she works on being beautiful, but itís also the place of ďCalgon, take me away!Ē Ė where she does the work of processing the day, planning, indulging in herself. It might sound trivial, but thatís important work for a woman, something personal to follow the second shift.

And of course, the bathroom is also a mysterious, feminine shared space (speaking in cultural norms again). We go in together! We re-emerge prettier (er, or at least, with makeup re-applied). Men wonder what we do. Et cetera.
The whole bathroom as feminine space thing is a little odd, but itís functional. Maybe itís simply the natural outgrowth of garages and studies and smoking lounges reserved implicitly or explicitly for men?

I do not have an individual, all-mine, space at our house. And my partner is giving up his to make a guest room (or possibly to house a friend, should a certain other friend flake) in the near future. What we have is a variety of functional areas: bedroom, bathrooms, television-watching and eating living room, party and rehearsal space living room, kitchen, outdoor chat space, library & CD listening room, workout/training room (the last is primarily his space, but itís rarely used now). With two of us in a two-floor apartment, itís pretty easy to carve out temporary alone space in one of those functional areas, which just seems more practical.

Itís important for anyone, not just women, to have the ability to define a personal space for working or playing. Something you can draw boundaries around and call mine, even temporarily.

And I find it useful to be able to work or play independently with someone else there, in the room, doing something else. Basically, claiming your own mental space, without physical distance. We do that a lot, too. I imagine thatís a lot easier with a partner or a roommate than it would be with even one young kid, and it certainly requires a tendency towards semi-obsessive focus on the object of your interest (say, working on a website design, which Iíll find myself doing for hours while my partner reads, watches television, dances a violent polka, moves to Japan, etc.), but itís something we cultivated when living in a tiny one bedroom apartment with no room for a sofa, let alone clearly defined personal space boundaries.

Do I think women are likely to give up their space for others? Well, not exactly. I do think women are likely to think (as said previously) that the whole house is ďtheirsĒ and so to grant men or children personal rooms without thinking that women need rooms, too. The cultural norm seems to be that men are ďgrantedĒ personal alcoves in houses where women dictate the flow of space, what goes where, how things look Ė and so women arenít as likely to need space. [As an intriguing aside Ė I recall my mid-century great grandmother having her own sitting and sewing room, which seems to have been pretty typical for her time. Maybe women used to claim more space?]

Claiming space is equivalent to claiming time, too. And itís clear that women of the middle class mainstream, particularly those with children, still feel obliged to do most of the house and child work; I think thereís definitely room to claim productive time and space for yourself, and itís probably something women donít, as a group, do well (or feel theyíre allowed).

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your wicked thoughts

ironically, I was about to head off and clean out the last remaining "guy-bits" from my garage when I popped in to read your thoughts. maybe i'll think about this topic while i'm out there.

these are the thoughts of eris on June 5, 2003 03:21 PM

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