What does a city with "female energy" look like?
July 8, 2012 7:52 PM   Subscribe

What does a city with "female energy" look like?

A little background: While combing through the archives of an artist run centre here in town, I came across a small booklet put together by an art college student who passed away in 2010.

I found the booklet interesting because it was like a little diary; she lived in Calgary only for her college education. She notes that Calgary, Alberta, Canada, has a lot of "male energy" and that it needed more "female energy". I realized I had no idea what a "female" city looks like.

Certainly, Calgary is pretty male, from the giant phallic symbol downtown ;-) to the roughneck cowboy image that it likes to uphold. Since I can't ask the artist what her idea of a city with female energy looks like, I thought I would query the hivemind. Any ideas?
posted by Calzephyr to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
(Just a guess/feeling)

Female energy: curved architecture, colors, flowers and plants

male energy: lack of color (gray), architecture with straight edges, more austere

Maybe she also was referring to the actual lack of females?
posted by bearette at 8:01 PM on July 8, 2012

Maybe Honolulu? It's surrounded by curvy mountains, and the clouds often echo their shape.
posted by spunweb at 8:05 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're looking for what this particular person thought, it's going to be awfully tough, because it's not really a hard categorization. However, the concept of yin as the feminine principle is pretty well-known - "Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity and nighttime."

It's also entirely possible that she was drawing from one of the modern neopagan traditions, where "Feminine energy deal with problems by seeking other approaches, shifting problems aside or bypassing them entirely. Further, male energy focuses more on victory, while female energy focuses on the safety of all concerned. While masculine energy confronts all obstacles, feminine energy seeks to keep everyone safe."

It'd be totally possible to pick a tradition and imagine how it affects city planning. It's not necessarily going to mesh with what that artist had in mind, though.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:12 PM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

This seems to me to be in the eye of the beholder. Paris has that big phallic tower yet is considered to be feminine.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:12 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

The opposite of NYC, specifically, Manhattan??


The comments about architecture -- since the isle of Manhattan is only 26 miles long, and few blocks wide, architecture MUST go deep and high. Very high! Tall buildings, very phallic.

Perhaps that has informed our character? I'm female, and as recently as last Thursday, a fellow female NYC ex-pat here in LA had to explain to my Husband exactly why my demeanor is so... hard.

The flavor of NYC is def aggressive, and very male. As a product of those environs, so am I.
posted by jbenben at 8:13 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

As an alternative, how feminist the place is.

In a number of different ways, mind.

Also consider that she, or indeed anyone, would project certain traits as feminine or otherwise, to reflect childhood and adult socialization.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:16 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the emphasis on curviness and color are on target, but I'm guessing she was also referring to the feel of a city. Cities associated with aggressiveness, ambition, and a fast-paced lifestyle might be considered more male, while cities that are more fluid, accepting, and have a more leisurely, contemplative pace would be more female. Also, an emphasis on aesthetics versus function might represent a female vs. male energy. Personally, I chafe at the idea of categorizing elements of a city as male or female, so I'm just grasping at straws here, but I think focusing on qualities normally associated with women or even goddesses would clarify things.
posted by katemcd at 8:17 PM on July 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Northampton, MA!
posted by pazazygeek at 8:24 PM on July 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

New Orleans has a more feminine energy I think.
posted by fshgrl at 8:29 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

If we want to use restless_nomad's criteria, she's talking about Seattle.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:31 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

If she used the words "female energy" I'm likely to believe it's more about the "yin" aspect mentioned by restless_nomad than the actual architecture. Architecture in general tends to be pretty straight and tall; I don't think it's fair to assess a "male energy" for a city based on that. But a place that has a culture that is a throwback to a male-dominated time I think would be easily categorized as having a "male" energy.
Off the top of my head I don't know of enough places that I would describe as having "feminine" energy though I bet the other suggestions in this thread along those lines are good.
posted by bleep at 8:56 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

A writer/speaker I've met (who does a lot of stuff about gender) spoke of coming to NYC to find their yang, more or less, because NYC was masculine in that way. The writer had lived in Seattle before that, which backs up Ghostride The Whip's comment that Seattle is feminine or has yin.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:00 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Traditionally, cities/the urban were masculine spaces while suburbs were feminine spaces, where women worked and made homes havens for men. So I think most metropolises (ex: Manhattan) would be classified as "male," while less industrial/bustling cities like Seattle, Portland and New Orleans would be classified as "female."

Another interpretation may be how male/ female-friendly a city is.
posted by ichomp at 9:09 PM on July 8, 2012

Seaports have sometimes been categorised as female, from a very particular male perspective; i.e. they're a temporary home, site of romance, sex and comfort, which nonetheless doesn't constrain the traveller's independence. Somewhat doubt that was your author's intent, though.

San Francisco strikes me personally as quite feminine, all that breezy art-deco glamour and nostalgia, with a gentle modernity.
posted by pickingupsticks at 9:21 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

feminine influence, look to the south east coast gulf coast, New Orleams, Natchez and coastal southern cities like Savanaha, Charlotte and Charlston Those are the larger cities but many smaller in the areas fell under the same spell. And the men like it!
posted by Carbolic at 9:44 PM on July 8, 2012

After a recent trip to London and Paris, I would say that London is male (grand, dignified, lots of red brick, Gothic and Tudor influenced architecture, emphasis on trade/finance/politics) and Paris is female (elegant, pretty, soft creamy stone, Rococo and Belle Epoque influences, emphasis on food/fashion/pleasure). Even the Eiffel Tower, which some have called "phallic," can also be seen as lacy and ladylike.
posted by clair-de-lune at 11:03 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would say that Park Slope in Brooklyn has a lot of female energy. So do Santa Barbara and Berkeley (and seconding San Francisco.) Asheville, NC. Tons and tons of small towns across New England, though they are not cities. I also associate Minneapolis and Chicago with having female energy but I don't think I'm objective on those two - I think they may seem full of female energy to me only because I have a lot of female friends living there, and no male friends there.
posted by cairdeas at 12:09 AM on July 9, 2012

Once more with photos:

Park Slope
Santa Barbara
posted by cairdeas at 12:37 AM on July 9, 2012

If pressed, I'd say that Venice is a good example (possibly the best example) of a feminine city. Water everywhere and tidal to boot, very secretive and withdrawn, changeable, and with a lack of straight lines. It has grown organically rather than been laid out. It has had several names, but I'm thinking of the feminine La Serenissima in particular.
posted by ninazer0 at 1:52 AM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The historical origins of a city perhaps? Places which started out as markets, ports, pilgrimage sites and college towns might be more female. To my mind "male" cities are those which grew up around the administration of power: capitals, cathedral cities, garrison towns, citadels and walled towns for example.

Also: the bigger the city the more it is likely to have both male and female regions (London has just about all of the features I have listed above for example). So it is the smaller cities and towns that will tend to be easiest to sex.
posted by rongorongo at 1:53 AM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Or, now hear me out here, the person who wrote that was full of you know what. It's a bit like saying that one city has a purple aura compared to another that is orange.
posted by slkinsey at 5:21 AM on July 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

Considering that cities are large and that we don't know which parts of them she saw, I think it's entirely subjective. I do suspect it may have had more to do with feminism or social instincts than with aesthetics.
posted by hermitosis at 7:02 AM on July 9, 2012

The funny thing is that Calgary, because of its oil money, has waaaay more of a varied arts scene than does Vancouver, which you would think was more of a "female" city.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:03 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Considering that cities are large and that we don't know which parts of them she saw, I think it's entirely subjective. I do suspect it may have had more to do with feminism or social instincts than with aesthetics.

I agree; you say that the author just wrote of the cities having feminine energy, but it's not clear that the author based this on appearance. I've always heard "feminine energy" being applied to the culture of a place rather than its appearance.

Or are you asking about appearance just as a tangential "it got me thinking...." kind of question?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 AM on July 9, 2012

Best answer: In SimCty 2000, there was, in the library, a button marked 'Ruminate.' It displayed this essay, by Neil Gaiman.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:40 AM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

What does a city with "female energy" look like?

Fictional unless you define "female energy" in measurable, unfluffy terms that can be compared from city to city without having to actually visit every city and feel the vibe. Something based on the number of women compared to men? The number of women in power? Number of women with money? Number of crimes against women? Number of convictions for crimes against women? Measurable support for mothers? You could poll women to see how they feel about things, but you're still going to get a lot of data that may be mostly fluff and hard to compare reliably from city to city.
posted by pracowity at 9:41 AM on July 9, 2012

Hmm, I disagree that something is fictional unless it can be quantified/unless it's based on statistics.

To me, cities with female energy are those where (for example):

-Women feel comfortable, or even in control in most areas of the city; there are not many areas where women feel unsafe, harassed, uncomfortable, or out of place.

-Visibility: you just see lots of women out and about, the number of men you see doesn't overwhelm the number of women.

-The city offers a lot of things that are targeted to women, or primarily to women. These could be health services, shops, social organizations, events, etc. These things that are targeted to women are visible and aren't outnumbered by the things targeted to men.
posted by cairdeas at 11:22 AM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi peeps, I haven't had a chance to post again - really surprised at all the comments and interesting responses (and to see it featured on MeTa).

Here is some extra info:

The artist's name is Jasmine Valentina. The line about 'energy' was a single statement in the booklet and regretfully I can not share a picture of it. I sense that some might have thought I was trolling. Jasmine was killed in an accident in Brooklyn while riding her bicycle.

I can't infer whether she meant feminine or feminist energy.

There are plenty of women here :D It's Fort McMurray that has a lady shortage.

I have been to San Francisco; I had no idea that ports could be considered feminine. Interesting!

I will I will try to catch up when I am not on my phone.
posted by Calzephyr at 4:42 PM on July 9, 2012

Green, little twisty pathways, terraces, courtyards, low rise, open-air markets. I think more of rural areas or quiet villages than cities. Lots of benches, fountains, squares. Lots of rest, slowness. Less forward movement and more curving rambling twisting movement. Maybe in a valley. Restful. Cities with a distinct centre. Trees. More stone and wood, less metal and grass.
posted by windykites at 11:43 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whoops! Glass, not grass!
posted by windykites at 7:34 AM on July 10, 2012

Best answer: I think it depends on whether we're talking about the city, devoid of its people or its inhabitants without paying much attention to the structures. For example, you can have two identical houses, and the families inhabiting them will give each a different "energy".

I don't think it's that uncommon for large corporations, for example, to be described has having a strong "male energy". That can have multiple meanings, from being openly hostile to women, or to having a culture or set of shared norms that are typically masculine (highly competitive, aggressive, etc).

I'd be inclined to use this general sense when talking about cities. In some cities, there's a tendency to be in-your-face with everyone, where people interact with one another based on their perceived dominance. Old-world sexism issues aside, you can also talk about things like domesticity as being generally identified as a female quality. So you could ask: does a particular city feel more like a corporation, or more homey? Do the people seem warlike, or nurturing?

Then there's external and internal space. I would argue that in cities with masculine energy, the external intrudes on the internal: even within the home, external things intrude in the home, like commerce, competition, etc. Whereas in cities with feminine cities, the internal spreads out to the external. So in masculine energy cities you find there might be a culture of bringing your work home with you, of competing all the time, of multitasking. In feminine energy cities there might be a culture of not taking work as seriously, of informal collaboration and cooperation. I feel like cities with feminine energy would have more open spaces dedicated purely to recreation or gathering.

What's interesting is this doesn't necessarily have to do with men or women per se. For example, Italians are (or at least have been) notoriously sexist. Nonetheless, I think I would characterize many Italian cities as "feminine" based on the general feel of the architecture and the cultural norms of those cities. Almost any city that traditionally has a siesta strikes me as having a feminine energy. The siesta is in reaction, partially, to the heat of the afternoon. And so the humans gently yield to nature. Contrast that to cultures which work through the hottest part of the day regardless.

The artist may also have been talking in a smaller personal sphere. Maybe she found it harder to find a safe space of female friends when in Calgary.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:51 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: KokuRyu, I'm surprised to hear that Cowton has a more varied arts scene than Vancouver. The art college is not as influential as it could be, and there has been an artistic brain drain for years. Despite the oil money, events do have to be careful... the film festival lost some of that funding when they aired an anti-oil sands documentary. I grew up in Edmonton, which has a very caring, laid back vibe.

Slkinsey... Lol, this is why art school drives me nutty. That's totally a possibility too :)

Jbenben... Very interesting! I found when I first moved here that people were generally "hard", less open. I had mostly architecture in mnd when I asked the question, but you and some other posters have showed me other considerations.

One of my reasons for asking was that I'm not well versed in architectural symbolism, so I was thinking maybe the artist new something I did not.

So much of 'place' she is determined by feelings and impressions, so I totally get pracowity's thoughts.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:58 PM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: Cairdeas, I have really liked your answer. One of my reasons for posting this question, and perhaps I should have included this detail, is that I also assumed there would be MeFites who were more well-travelled than myself. I have only ever lived in Edmonton and Calgary; I love travel, but the only cities I have ever visited were North American ones. If there is a city with lots of places and services for women, it would be interesting to visit.

Empress...My whole impetus for the question was 'It got me thinking' :)
posted by Calzephyr at 5:07 PM on July 11, 2012

Response by poster: Hi peeps, the next time I get an assignment about "place", I'll probably get a good mark :D I think that the artist was just barely scratching the surface of that question. Knowing the different ways that place called be expressed - energy, architecture, history, plain gut feelings - all makes for much consideration and closer inspection. Sorry if my answers are a little piecemeal - the heat isn't great for formulating responses right now.
posted by Calzephyr at 6:44 PM on July 11, 2012

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