Breaking the Gender Code
Women and Urban Public Space in the Twentieth-Century United States
272 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 13 b&w photos
Sales Date: December 12, 2023
A history of the activism that made public spaces in American cities more accessible to women.
From the closing years of the nineteenth century, women received subtle—and not so subtle—messages that they shouldn’t be in public. Or, if they were, that they were not safe. Breaking the Gender Code tells the story of both this danger narrative and the resistance to it.
Historian Georgina Hickey investigates challenges to the code of urban gender segregation in the twentieth century, focusing on organized advocacy to make the public spaces of American cities accessible to women. She traces waves of activism from the Progressive Era, with its calls for public restrooms, safe and accessible transportation, and public accommodations, through and beyond second-wave feminism, and its focus on the creation of alternative, women-only spaces and extensive anti-violence efforts. In doing so, Hickey explores how gender segregation intertwined with other systems of social control, as well as how class, race, and sexuality shaped activists' agendas and women's experiences of urban space. Drawing connections between the vulnerability of women in public spaces, real and presumed, and contemporary debates surrounding rape culture, bathroom bills, and domestic violence, Hickey unveils both the strikingly successful and the incomplete initiatives of activists who worked to open up public space to women.
Georgina Hickey stands as one of the foremost experts on the history of women and the city. In this much needed and highly readable work, Hickey unpacks and questions the systems of social control that declared urban public spaces dangerous for women and girls during the twentieth century. Hickey examines cities throughout the United States and admirably addresses race, class, and sexuality differences among urban women. Women pushed back against the urban gender segregation that arose in the nineteenth century and the variants of this social pressure that endured throughout the twentieth century. Black women and white women, both heterosexual and homosexual, sought to lessen the impact of the gender code that curtailed their access to public space. Everyone who has traversed the urban landscape will understand the power and importance of Hickey’s timely scholarly contribution. This examination of the past helps us to understand the present and the heated debates about gender, sexuality, and urban spaces that continue within public discourse.~Lisa Krissoff Boehm, Bridgewater State University, author of Making a Way out of No Way: African American Women and the Second Great Migration
Profoundly important. In charting women’s efforts across the nation to secure inclusion in urban public space over the long twentieth century, Georgina Hickey reveals how fundamental gender segregation was--and remains--to 'organizing and stratifying' American society. While gender segregation constrained white Native-born women in the name of protection, 'it also justified harassment and violence against other women,' particularly women of color, immigrant, queer, and working-class women. This is a major contribution to both urban history and women’s, gender and sexuality studies.~Tamar W. Carroll, Rochester Institute of Technology, author of Mobilizing New York: AIDS, Antipoverty, and Feminist Activism
- 1. Right and Reason: Understandings of Women’s Presence in the Modern City
- 2. Building Women into the City: Infrastructure and Services in the Early Twentieth Century
- 3. The City and the Girl: Midcentury Consumption, Civil Rights, and (In)Visibility
- 4. When Girls Became Women: Confronting Exclusion and Harassment in the Long 1960s
- 5. The Public Is Political: Demanding Safe Streets and Neighborhoods
- 6. Taking Up Space and Making Place: Late-Century Institution Building
- 7. Privacy in Public: The (Almost) Policy Revolution
The publication of Breaking the Gender Code was made possible by the support of the Louann Atkins Temple Women and Culture Endowment.