Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Flaneuse/'London as a man's city'

I recently read Laura Elkin's 'Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London' which explores the act of women's public presence on the streets as a subversive practice:

'It would be nice, ideal even, if we didn't have to subdivide by gender - male walkers, female walkers, flâneurs and flâneuses - but these narratives of walking repeatedly leave out a woman's experience... I like the built environment, I like cities. Not their limits, not the places where they become not-cities. Cities themselves. The heart of them. Their manifold quarters, sectors, corners. And it's the centre of cities where women have been empowered, by plunging into the heart of them, and walking where they're not meant to. Walking where other people (men) walk without eliciting comment. That is the transgressive act. You don't need to crunch around in Gore-Tex to be subversive, if you're a woman. Just walk out your front door'.

Elkin, a New Yorker who has spent much time in Paris, lived in Brockley when she was working on the book and mentions some of her London haunts: 'I have walked everywhere, and come to know Peckham High Street and Highgate, Bethnal Green and Green Park, Holland Park and Honor Oak, the Isle of Dogs and Dulwich, Clerkenwell and Camberwell, Greenwich and Gravesend'.

I was reminded of this when browsing an old guide to London,  Clarence Winchester's 'Let's look at London: A Travelogue for the Short Time Visitor' (Cassell 1935) which asserts that London is not a place for women... and that seemingly this is a good thing! (yes Clarence is a man in case you were wondering):

'If an Englishman's home is his castle, a Londoner's home is his thrice-moated strong-hold, even though the front wall stands on the pavement and there is only a yard of grass at the back. Perhaps that is why London strikes us as a man's city... 

It is true that London is by no means short of women, but they are not predominantly noticeable unless you take a stroll along Regent Street and Oxford Street about tea-time. We do not notice women in London as we do in New York or in Paris, or in Nottingham even. There are the "castles" to be looked after, and it is the women's job to see to that, which is just as well if we consider- as we should- that the domesticated man is an anachronism and an offence against nature.

In no other city in the world are men so well provided for as in London. In no other city is there a Clubland that so adequately symbolizes masculinity'

1 comment:

Tom Murphy said...

Lizzy Stewart's Walking Distance might also be of interest