me too via gender

Architecture’s #MeToo Moment is About Power Imbalances, Not Sex

In the wake of architecture’s #MeToo moment—which started with five women’s allegations against Richard Meier that quickly precipitated the creation of a Shitty Architecture Men list—many men have expressed trepidation, anxiety, fear, and confusion about how to get involved in this movement. Their reaction is understandable. Wading through the widespread accusations and evidence of bad, abusive, harassing behavior, it’s easy to feel like men are inherently all bad.


That’s simply not true. No gender is inherently bad, just as no gender is inherently good. Rather, we live in a world where structures of power benefit some people (cis, white men) over others (everyone else). That system—capitalism—is in turn upheld by other power structures, like sexism, whose symptoms are not always directly related to the capitalist social relation, but that serve to supplement it. This dynamic is illustrated clearly in the New York Times piece about Meier: the power differential starts in the capitalist order—Meier owns the labor of many of the women he harassed and abused—and is doubly reinforced when he exerts his power through sexual means. But, gender-based discrimination and abuse have their own cultural logics outside of their ties to capitalism. We see this clearly exemplified by the story of Carol Vena-Mondt, who, though she wasn’t Meier’s employee, still felt like she didn’t want to report his abuse for fear of offending him.


Non-men make these decisions all the time, choose to keep their job, or to save themselves some embarrassment, or to protect their reputation, over the sometimes seemingly impossible task of taking on structures of power beyond their control. This is the system that we are all in, and we really are all in it. That’s why the response to #MeToo—from men or anyone else—is not about empathy. It’s about solidarity.


I’m referring here to Ned Cramer’s open letter to the “Men of Architecture,” published in Architect Magazine last week, where he implies that testosterone and an “imperfect nature” are often to blame for men’s discriminatory treatment of women. He’s wrong. This isn’t about men removing the hormonal stops and disregarding basic decency in favor of their libidos. It’s about people taking advantage of those with less power then them. Sexual harassment and abuse are not about having sex. They’re about reinforcing power.


Cramer concludes his letter by asking men to “shut up and give women the floor.” Many men have reacted to Architecture’s #MeToo like this, with an urge to divide the moment. Men over here, women over there. They ask, how can we give you space to do your work?


At its core, the impulse to divide men and women in this movement stems from men’s fear of being wrong, of being corrected, of learning something they didn’t want to know. And, on top of excluding the many non-binary and genderqueer people in the architectural community, the understanding of this movement as “your work”—women’s work—places the burden of responsibility on the groups of people who are often victimized to fix the problem. It also obscures the fact that fixing the problem is in everyone’s best interest, not just the best interest of women. When we acknowledge that power comes from a system that extends beyond gender, we realize that it’s not just women who fall on the wrong side of it. We realize that this work is all of our work.


No one is free from oppression until everyone is free. That means we all have to come together to fight gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment and abuse.


If you’re a man in architecture and nervous about how to get involved in this movement, just show up in earnest. Bear public witness to abuse. Don’t turn a blind eye. Shut up, but only about things over which you have no authority. Ask questions about the things you don’t know. Start conversations instead of waiting for them to fall into your lap. As Cramer says, you do need to experience discomfort. Not as a punishment, though, but rather as a step toward being comfortable fighting for justice even when you aren’t the one who’s been wronged.


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