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A city for women?

26 of July '23

Review fromA&B 06|2023 issue

"A City for Women" is Leslie Kern's debut on our literary scene. We lived to see the Polish translation of the book published three years ago, whose original title is "Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World." Czarne Publishing House and translator Martyna Tomczak are responsible for the publication.

Leslie Kern is a Canadian activist and researcher. She works as an assistant professor in the departments of geography and environment and gender studies at Mount Allison University in Sackville, Canada. Her work focuses on research on urbanism, gentrification and environmental justice.

A feminist city, the subject of "A City for Women," is a just, equal city, accessible to all, not just the strongest or those in the majority. Today's world, countries, cities are designed according to norms. And norms are designed with the model man in mind - a white, able-bodied, heterosexual cis male [the prefix "cis" refers to the consistency of sex assigned at birth with gender identity - ed. note]. belonging to the middle class. Social inequalities are built into the fabric of our lives, our cities, neighborhoods and homes, and we are so accustomed to them that we sometimes don't notice them. We realize that in cities, streets are often cleared of snow before sidewalks, right? The statistic that men are more likely to drive cars and women to walk is no longer so obvious. And maybe there was no premeditation in this whole situation, maybe it wasn't about women having it worse than men, but they do. The same goes for the issue of the delineation of public transportation routes or the now well-known and high-profile issue of toilet availability. In "A City for Women" we will also read about women's sense of security or the impact of gentrification on our lives. The book shows the city in many guises, Kern writes about the city of men, mothers, friends, the city alone, the city of protests, fear, but also opportunities. The frequent change of perspective helps us understand the complexity of the problem we face. Citing numerous examples, the Canadian author illuminates successive aspects of inequality and shows solutions that have proven effective. And although they were usually only local, worked on a small scale, writing about them can lead to their spread and globalization.

Leslie Kern „Miasto dla kobiet” - tłumaczenie: Martyna Tomczak, Wydawnictwo Czarne, Wołowiec 2023

Leslie Kern "A City for Women" - translated by Martyna Tomczak, Czarne Publishing House, Wolowiec 2023

© Czarne Publishing House

With such complex issues, there is never a single, easy solution, which makes it seem all the more valuable to me that the author's intersectional approach and constant emphasis on the fact that approximating the city for women is not about pasting a normative white, able-bodied, heterosexual cisgender woman to a normative man, but rather a sensitive and in-depth analysis of the situation from different perspectives. Without talking about fighting sexism, racism, ableism, prejudice against LGBTQ+ people, there cannot be a better world for all of us.

"A City for Women" is not just a study of sociological and architectural problems, but also a diary of sorts, a summation of Kern's experiences and skirmishes with the city, or rather the cities in which she lived. The scene of her life is mainly North American cities, with Toronto at the forefront, as well as large world metropolises, including London. So from a Polish perspective, it is sometimes difficult to get a feel for certain issues, such as post-colonialism, but it is certainly an interesting and important source of information. The book is also a record of the author's feelings, frustrations and fears. I do not always share Kern's feelings, above all, I tried to avoid putting men in the role of enemies of women, which, I feel, happened to the author.

There is also some controversy over the translation of the title. The English-language "Feminist City" in the Polish version became "City for Women." As the saying and many Internet memes go, there are two wolves in me. One a bit more forgiving, who understands that "de-feminizing" the title may make more Polish readers reach for the reading, because unfortunately in Poland we continue to be afraid of feminism, and some even look at it with disgust. The second, the more radical one, however, pouted a bit at Publishing House Black. If we are making a dodge from feminism in such a feminist book, where is the place for it? When will Polish readers finally be ready for it? Kern's most important message is to create a city for everyone: women, men, non-binary people, children, old people, people with disabilities, followers of different cultures, skin colors and different sexual orientations. In this aspect, "feminist city" expresses this message much better than "city for women." It is also worth mentioning the subtitle - "Claiming Space in a Man-Made World," "Claiming your place in a Man-Made World." - which was completely omitted in the translation. I can't begrudge it, because it captures in a nutshell what the author is writing about and fighting for. And it is an important struggle.

Leslie Kern shows us that it is time to challenge what we take for granted and unchangeable about cities, and ask ourselves how we can collectively build more just, sustainable and friendly cities. Reading the book opens one's eyes to many painful issues, sometimes overwhelms, saddens and raises the pressure, but ultimately shows the possibility of change and, above all, that we are not alone in our struggle for a better space. And this is what the city for women is all about.

Aleksandra GRYC

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