The essay explores the relationship between adult women and the infinite in the 19th Century metropolis, highlighting its significance for contemporary women. It focuses on women's rights, particularly in Britain, during the 1800s to 1900s, and also briefly considers women in other countries. Additionally, it investigates migration reasons, adaptation to new environments, and personal outcomes.
Cities and migrants in the 19th and 20th century
`When considering a city, what comes to mind? Its streets. Streets serve as both living spaces and transportation routes "from the lifeworld to system" (Lash and Friedmann, 1992: 10). The purpose of streets is to enhance urban lifestyles and reclaim them from mere participation in the system (Fyfe, 1998:1). Relocating from one city to another for settlement offers a distinct experience compared to brief visits. People migrated due to vario
us factors such as scarcity, floods, wars, diseases, or economic fluctuations. Cities are where strangers converge and embark on new lives. There exist two types of individuals: those who were born and raised in a specific area with familiarity of every shop, restaurant, bar, street; then there are those who share their neighborhood with them.
In addition, there are individuals who relocate and wander the streets as though they are foreigners, viewing others as foreigners too. This migration phenomenon has led to cities becoming overcrowded due to impoverished individuals from towns and suburbs moving in search of job opportunities in expanding factories, mines, shipyards, and steel mills (McDowell in Allen, Massey and Pryke 1999). In just 1847 alone, around 80 million people migrated from Ireland to Liverpool and different parts of Britain. Some opted to travel even further to the United States where the
established themselves in cities like New York, Chicago, and other American urban areas.
During the 20th century, there was a significant movement of people from rural areas to overcrowded metropolises in the Third World, while individuals from the Third World migrated to the First World. It is important to note that at this time, large metropolises were primarily located in the West (McDowell in Allen, Massey and Pryke, 1999). According to Massey (1999), some of today's most popular cities include Mexico City, Bombay, Chicago, Seoul, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, and Beijing. Despite this trend towards migration and urbanization, economic and political power remains concentrated in advanced countries (Massey 1999). As a result of this migration process,
former settlements are dismantled and poor countries have become home to a diverse population originating from advanced nations. This mix includes migrants from China,
Korea,Vietnam,Greece,Turkey,and Portugal who have joined descendants of earlier migrants from Ireland and Eastern Europe.
Urban population has received increased attention due to factors such as scarcity, floods, and religious intolerance. This has resulted in people from rural areas constructing houses in the city, leading to migration and movement becoming vital for urban transformation. Nevertheless, by the end of the century, a new aspect called fluidity emerged, adding complexity to this process. With advancements in transportation, individuals were able to easily travel between different locations.
Both the people who moved from their old homes to new ones and those who were unable to leave their new homes due to poverty, fear of persecution, or immigration controls could maintain connections between cultures and places thanks to technological advancements. Individuals living in a different country than their native one could stay updated on events
in their home country by watching television (McDowell in Allen, Massey and Pryke 1999).
In today's society, people with diverse preferences, opinions, races, and religions are now coexisting. Whether they reside in western states or elsewhere in the world, individuals from different states and countries share similar circumstances. For instance, women from cities like New York, London, or Bombay predominantly seek employment within their homes. Meanwhile, men of various nationalities collaborate in pursuit of common goals for global corporations (McDowell, 1999). The living conditions during the early nineteenth century were deplorable both in urban areas and smaller towns.
Urban areas were polluted, unsanitary, and overcrowded. Impoverished individuals had sewage accumulating outside their homes, with infrequent cleaning. Only the affluent had flushing toilets, while poor families had to share communal latrines and wait in lines on Sundays. As a result of these distressing conditions, the occurrence of diseases among the population was widespread.
During this time, the life expectancy in towns was brief and infant mortality rates were high. Cholera outbreaks occurred in 1831-1832 and 1848-49, but fortunately, efforts were made to combat it ( source).
Starting from the seventeenth century, migrants in London were divided into two areas: East and West (Rendell in Fyfe, 1998).
The eastern territories and the metropolis served as the center of industries and commerce, attracting the working class and a large number of Irish immigrants (George, 1992). On the other hand, the affluent business class primarily resided in the western areas of London, such as Soho and Covent Garden, before moving to St. James and Piccadilly (Smeeton, 1828). Notably, a significant improvement was introduced in 1807 when gas lighting was implemented in Pall Mall,
Gas street lights were first introduced in many towns in the 1820s. In the 18th century, Improvement Commissioners or Pavement Commissioners were established in towns and cities to clean, pave, and occasionally light the oil lamps on the streets. However, during this time, England was divided into parishes and these commissioners had jurisdiction only over certain parishes. As the town expanded, individuals began constructing homes in other parishes where the commissioners held no authority. Consequently, these new suburbs had very dirty streets.
Frequently, rubbish was left in the streets and it kept rolling uping. The trash was mostly organic and frequently used as fertilizer when it turned black and gluey. However, in the late 19th century, cloacas were dug in towns and pipe water supplies were built, making life easier and healthier (hypertext transfer protocol://www.localhistories.org/19thcent.html). London was known to be an exciting but awful place, with a vibrant nightlife and populated by prostitutes and criminals. "The places of leisure in the 19th-century city represent and control the perception of men and women as both spectators and objects in public spaces" (Rendell in Fyfe, 1998).
Women in Space
At one point in time, women's lives were regulated, policed, and controlled (Marsh, 1985; Marsh and Nunn, 1989).
According to Wilson (2001), middle category adult females were portrayed as passively embodying femininity, while working category adult females were depicted as completely lacking femininity. The relationship between women and the city has long been a concern for reformists and altruists, as women could not fully engage with the city like men. The presence of working class women is now being replaced by feminists, who are primarily focused on ensuring women's safety and comfort
on urban streets. The crucial question at hand is whether women are viewed as problems for the city or if the city itself poses problems for women (Wilson, 2001).
According to Rendell in Fyfe, 1998, the sexual identity of women is determined by their spatial location and movement rather than selling their physical bodies for money. Wilson, 2001 suggests that women resisted the law of desire by either transforming themselves into objects of desire or adopting more masculine qualities. In the present day, women experience increased fear and insecurity in urban areas due to violence, particularly urban violence. Daily challenges faced by women include invasion of privacy, inappropriate gestures, and personal comments.
Both the workforce and adult females have different ways of accessing urban public spaces. The media often highlights cases of women experiencing physical or mental torment in these spaces, leading to limitations on women's mobility (McDowell in Allen, Massey and Pryke 1999). Research indicates that older women are afraid to use certain areas in cities, such as parks or walking alone on the sidewalk at night, due to the fear of violence (Pain, 1991; Valentine 1989). On the other hand, statistics from the Home Office show that young men are more likely to become victims of urban violence in public spaces (McDowell in Allen, Massey and Pryke 1999). Feminist critics argue that one of the main reasons women are afraid to access restricted areas in cities is because there is an assumption that they need protection from the disturbances of public spaces.
According to Pateman (1988), women have become reliant on workforces and depend on them for financial support, moral support, or due to the belief
that they are inferior to men. This dependence limits their rights to freely use public spaces. There have been numerous instances where women are held accountable for rape and harassment incidents. Some argue that women should confine themselves indoors as a protective measure, while men who are perceived as dangerous and accused of wrongdoing go unpunished. Interestingly, in cases of rape, women often face blame for their actions that supposedly attract men and lead them into committing wrongful acts.
The British Government advocates for the punishment of women who are out late at night or in inappropriate places, blaming the women themselves instead of the men who attack them. To safeguard women and discourage their mobility, curfews and feminist campaigns are often implemented. However, this inadvertently grants men more power and freedom to occupy public spaces. The societal perception of women's identity is frequently tied to their spatial location, determining their worth based on moral standards. This belief becomes apparent when judgments about a woman's character rely solely on her whereabouts.
In 1970, a hunt was conducted in Leeds for the 'Yorkshire Rippers'. The police mistakenly assumed that all of Peter Sutcliffe's 10 female victims were prostitutes, solely based on their appearance and being in public alone. This case occurred over 20 years ago, and since then there have been significant changes in the social circumstances of women. Many women are now employed and enjoy economic independence, as well as social support (McDowell in Allen, Massey and Pryke 1999). Griselda Pollock (1988) argued that women, especially middle-class women, were denied access to the city's infinite spaces.
But, Pollock (1988) argued that some women did have access to certain
parts of the city that were considered masculine areas. However, according to Wolff (1985), the belief that women's place was in the domestic sphere permeated society as a whole. Contrary to popular belief, the private domain was actually dominated by men and not designed for the convenience of women (Wilson, 2001).
Janet Wolff asserts that women were completely excluded from the public sphere:
``The experience of anonymity in the city, the brief and impersonal interactions described by social observers like George Simmel, the ability to wander and observe without disturbance first observed by Baudelaire and later analyzed by Walter Benjamin, were all experiences enjoyed solely by men. By the late 19th century, middle-class women had been essentially relegated (both in ideology and in reality) to the private sphere."
The respectable adult females were excluded from the public sphere of work, city life, bars, and coffeehouses. However, by the late 19th-century, shopping became an important activity for women, with the emergence of department stores and the consumer society providing a somewhat legitimate but limited participation in public life. Nevertheless, it is important to note that modernist literature was not concerned with shopping. (Wolff, 1990: 58).
According to the ideology, adult females being harassed, teased, stared at, or assaulted in public innumerable times does not matter because they are still seen as belonging in their homes (Wilson, 2001). Taking into account Wolff's perspectives, middle-class women are perceived as objects for displaying wealth. They were owned by their husbands. The elaborately dressed women were seen as symbols of their husband's prosperity (Veblen, 1957). In Italian cities and northern European cities like Paris or London, Prostitutes attained wealth, prominence, and respect because of
their connections with the aristocracy, intellectuals, and officials (Wiesner, 1993).
During a certain period, there existed a threat to men's safety and a blurring of the line between public and private life in the city due to the presence of Cyprians or cocottes. These women were perceived as objects for display and consumption. Consequently, any woman seen in public spaces during that time was automatically assumed to be a prostitute and associated with immorality and lack of civilization (Rendell in Fyfe, 1998).
Deductions for women today
Throughout history, society has held onto the belief, whether consciously or unconsciously, in the traditional family structure where the husband assumes leadership within the household and provides financial support while the wife remains at home to care for children and manage domestic tasks.
We must not forget that cities have provided many women with greater freedom (Wilson, 2001). While places like St. James and Bond Street were focused on men's fashion, the emergence of consumer-capitalism encouraged women to leave their homes and become workers and consumers (Rendell in Fyfe, 1998). Although social opportunities in the city were influenced by class and ethnicity during the 19th and 20th centuries, urban life remains crucial for bridging gaps between different social classes, workers, and women. Janet Wolff fails to acknowledge that middle-class women were becoming more prominent in public spaces during the late 19th century (Wilson, 2001). Elizabeth Wilson argues that the anonymity and excitement of cities in the 19th and 20th centuries played a vital role in promoting feminist politics (Wilson, 1992). In London, working women became a social issue from the early-1830s to mid-1840s (Alexander, 1982).
In the late 19th century, there was an uptick
in white-collar businesses catering to women, creating a need for comfortable dining venues exclusively for them. Unfortunately, such establishments were scarce in London at the time. Nevertheless, guidebooks from 1870 indicated that the number of places in London where women could conveniently have lunch while shopping alone without male companions had grown. Numerous restaurants and coffeehouses emerged with female-only staff members. Notable examples include Bishopsgate, Crosby Hall, and various establishments that went out of their way to ensure women felt at ease. Janet Wolff, Griselda Pollock, and Elizabeth Wilson argue that women were both exploited and oppressed in the urban landscape of the 19th century. However, Wilson presents a dissenting opinion on two key grounds: firstly, she believes that women served valuable purposes; secondly, she questions whether the construction of urban spaces is inherently biased against and exclusive towards women or if it is instead a complex and ever-changing environment that can be claimed by women.
For the new adult females of the 20th century, the metropolis offered many opportunities and welcomed women from diverse backgrounds (McDowell in Allen, Massey and Pryke 1999). However, it is crucial to ponder upon whether the metropolis has indeed provided numerous opportunities for women or if it remains unsafe for them. In the early 20th century, Gwen John faced challenges in her life as an artist. Painters in Paris, regardless of their gender, had a difficult time gaining recognition compared to men (Wolff, 1994).
The true meaning of Flaneur remains uncertain today, whether it is simply women strolling, lounging, or engaging in window shopping, or if it must be presented in a specific manner to be considered as Flanerie (Wilson, 2001).
Young and attractive women continue to be subjected to male objectification. In contrast, older women and those dressed poorly can avoid attention and go unnoticed. However, the situation for women has evolved over time. They have begun to engage in activities that were previously exclusive to men.
They started emulating them, traveling to various places throughout the city. An example of this is seen in Jeanne Mammen in Berlin, described as "small, unremarkable, wearing an old waterproof, sporting a beret over her short hair, with a drawing pencil in one hand and a cigarette in the other... Mammen enjoyed the freedom to be ignored" (Lutgens, 1997: 92). Both genders' chivalry is in danger of fading in this grim and depressing urban existence (Wilson, 2001).